The Business-Technology Weave

Dec 29 2010   10:27AM GMT

Passwords: It’s the season for sharing, but…

David Scott David Scott Profile: David Scott


You may have heard about the man being prosecuted for using his wife’s password to access her e-mail account.  Many news reports indicate that he “hacked” in to her account.  However, the couple kept a small notebook of passwords next to the computer; he logged in.


Still, the man faces charges under a Michigan statute that, when boiled down, bars access to computers and associated resources without proper authorization.


Without going into the detail or merits of this specific legal case, it serves to remind us of something very important.  If you don’t want your information  read, breached, misused, or otherwise accessed and possibly disseminated, then don’t write your passwords down, and definitely don’t have them laying around for easy access.


Which brings us to the real concern:  I’m aware of several environments that have shared accounts – system accounts – for controls, setups, configurations, etc.  The accounts are shared amongst several, authorized, people.  Sometimes there are multiple shared accounts; each having its own class of personnel availing themselves of specific avenues of access and system influence via this means. 


Reasons for having shared accounts include:


1.     Fewer accounts (and passwords) to create and maintain.

2.     Personnel absences easily covered.

3.     Fewer instances of forgotten passwords and resultant resets…


…and so on.  Whatever the reasons, they are not good ones.  Shared accounts represent a problem on several fronts:


What if there is a data breach due to a human error that occurred within the domain of a shared system account?  Who is at fault and will they own up?


Suppose there is fraudulent activity… who is the guilty party?  This could even include embezzlement, or directing too much authority to a specific user, for example.


If there are setup or configuration errors, it’s important to readily identify the transgressing party for purpose of training, or discipline in the case of sloppy work.



Each person in the organization should have a unique account name and associated password.  Network supervisory roles and other special accounts (for the aforementioned setups, fiscal management programs, etc.) should be tethered to one specific person.  If additional accounts with similar roles and authorities are required, create them with unique names and passwords.


As to people who keep passwords in notebooks next to their computer, be advised:  You’re practically soliciting a breach.  Don’t share passwords, don’t write them down (unless they’re in a locked safe, with a discreet list of access), and for certain don’t have them written somewhere in the vicinity of data’s access point (the computer).


NP:  The Red Garland Trio, Manteca, original 1958 LP.  Wonderful album.


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