There are many reasons password management in network security is one of the most important aspects of overall cybersecurity for all businesses. Passwords are some of the longest established and most ubiquitous cybersecurity measures available. Nearly every activity logged on hardware and software is password protected. But that doesn’t mean they’re all safe, as passwords are also some of the easiest security measures to bypass for hackers.
Passwords are susceptible to compromise in a unique variety of ways. From targeted hacks and interceptions to social engineering schemes, password protected access offers far more vulnerabilities and vectors to attack than many other cybersecurity practices. To keep your network—and company—safe, you’ll need a robust password management plan.
Guide to Password Management for Network Security
Password management involves much more than simply requiring a certain number of letters or characters for users creating login credentials, or requiring users to change passwords once per year (or hopefully more frequently). A robust password security plan is the ticket to full-fledged network security, but it takes a lot of complicated planning and implementation to work properly.
In the sections that follow, we’ll cover everything you need to know about password management in cryptography and network security by breaking down:
- What network security requires
- What password management comprises
- How to optimize password management for network security
Grasping the key threats and best practices for networks and password management, respectively, is key to understanding how the latter can be used to shore up the former. But before we get into how it works, let’s discuss why every business needs to concern itself with password management for network security.
Why Is Password Management in Network Security Important?
Password management is essential for network security because of the sheer amount and variety of risk that passwords pose to an institution’s overall safety.
- Only 15 percent involved abuse of authorized use, and errors accounted for 21 percent
- But 29 percent involved the direct use of stolen credentials for unauthorized access
- And 32 percent involved phishing, which most commonly entails theft of login credentials
Both of these latter vulnerabilities are preventable with strong password management. Even purposeful misuse and accidents can be mitigated to a certain extent.
That’s why small to medium sized businesses, who were targeted on a whopping 43 percent of breaches, need password management as a pillar of their broader network security. And the same goes for businesses of all sizes, across all industries.
Network Security 101
Network security entails protecting all elements of your network against various threats that could allow hackers or other cybercriminals to damage your company. Network protection is just as important as safeguarding physical resources, like safes or sensitive paperwork—in fact, it’s arguably more important, since it can also implicate physical resources if compromised.
But what exactly does the network consist of?
On one level, the network comprises all the physical elements, or hardware, that make up your digital infrastructure. This includes any and all computers used by personnel, as well as all information technology, such as servers, modems, hubs, routers, and wireless access points.
On another level, your network is also made up of any and all software that’s a key part of your business.
Biggest Threats to Network Security
Network security exists to understand and eliminate threats to the best of your ability. Some of the most common and dangerous risks threatening your network include:
- Malware – Malware (or malicious software) includes a wide variety of viruses and other programs that, once installed, spread across your network corrupting data. Outright theft or ransom is the end goal of a trojan, spyware, or other malware-based attack.
- Data interception – Another broad category, these attacks utilize a number of passive (eavesdropping) and active (man in the middle) techniques to collect and analyze data being transported within or across networks.
- Social engineering – These attacks are unique in that they involve exploiting one vulnerability common to all companies: humans. Social engineering attacks, like phishing, seek to trick individuals into compromising valuable information.
- Distributed Denial of Service – A DDoS attack works by overwhelming your servers with more requests than they have bandwidth to handle, making them unusable. This brings your business to a halt and forces you into paying a ransom to resume service.
Across all these vectors, and more, cybercriminals have many ways to gain control of your systems and steal or extort valuable resources from you.
Essential Network Security Safeguards
Luckily, just as there are varied vulnerabilities, there are several tried and true responses and preventative measures to help counter the harm these threats can pose to your network.
Some of the most common and effective practices that shore up network security are:
- Firewall and filters – This is the first line of defense for your networks; firewalls block malare by filtering all incoming data before it even comes into your system. Filters work the same way, typically adding additional screening after (behind) the firewall.
- Antivirus protection – Another baseline protection, antimalware and antivirus software works by tracking and eliminating any and all malicious programs once they’ve already appeared within your system.
- Continuous monitoring – In order to maintain security, it’s essential that your company instills a culture of regular audits and other monitoring. While necessary for legal reasons, like compliance, it also ensures all cyberdefenses and patches are up to date.
- Proximity based security – This practice comprises both virtual and physical measures, like physically barring outsiders from accessing your systems and ensuring that wireless networks are secured, encrypted, and invulnerable.
These protections (and others) work in tandem to help keep your business secure. Arguably the most important network security safeguard is robust password management.
Password Management 101
Password management is the sum total of all measures put in place to protect the integrity of the various identity and access credentials used across your company’s network. It’s one of the most important forms of cybersecurity and needs to be integrated at every level of your architecture. Network security depends upon diligent password management.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology has established particular guidelines governing what password management should look like at all companies. In particular, it emphasizes the use of strong passwords (and passphrases), as well as several other measures that go beyond password protection (like multi-factor authentication).
Below, we’ll take a close look at how exactly these NIST-backed methods (and others) protect your sensitive information. But before understanding what practices are most effective, it’s essential to understand what risks threaten the safety of your passwords.
Risks Impacting Password Safety
A password protected access system works similarly to a padlock: a key (the password) is used to unlock or enable access to protected assets. And, like a padlock, this system is useless if an attacker has access to the key.
The biggest threats to password safety involve cybercriminals obtaining that digital key by:
- Guessing – The simplest way to gain access to a system is to simply guess the password. Cybercriminals will do diligent research to make educated guesses on passwords, trying all combinations of default passwords (123456, etc.), as well as available information about a given victim’s personal life (mother’s birth name, etc.).
- Cracking – When pure educated guessing won’t work, cybercriminals also leverage the power of computing to generate and try scores of potential passwords in a fraction of the time it would take a human to calculate them. This process works best in conjunction with the research involved in a low-level guessing scheme.
- Hacking – Finally, cybercriminals also use methods of theft and fraud to illegitimately gain access to password-protected resources and systems. The social engineering schemes from above are a common vector of attack, as are specific forms of malware, such as keyloggers and sniffers, that enable interception of passwords.
A sophisticated cybercriminal outfit will leverage all these attacks, and more. And compromising just one password could be enough to do irreparable damage to an entire network.
Best Practices for Password Management
Effective password management uses a combination of techniques and measures to make passwords more difficult for hackers and other bad actors to obtain.
Some of the most important are:
- Training – The first and most essential measure for password security is making sure every individual with login credentials is well aware of what he or she needs to do to keep them safe. That involves both strong password creation and regular updates.
- Passphrases – Even the strongest and most frequently updated single-word passwords are not the best way to protect access to sensitive systems. Passphrases containing multiple words generate exponentially more combinations of characters and spaces.
- Password hashing – A mode of encryption for passwords and passphrases, hashing ensures that the characters entered during login are not stored as such. Instead, they are translated into an ever more complex system of numbers illegible to outsiders.
- Multi Factor Authentication – Passwords themselves are not enough. Instead of granting access through one layer or level of authentication, you should require users to loop in at least one additional factor, such as a token sent to a second account or device.
The most effective way to manage passwords and keep your organization safe is to combine these practices with an over-arching cybersecurity framework that reduces harm from all matters of attacks.
Applying Password Management to Network Security
One way to leverage password management for entire network security is to expand the power of passwords through a “zero trust” framework. In the past, cybersecurity frameworks depended on a proximity-based approach focused on making sure that your perimeter was locked down and no one “outside” a particular geographical or virtual border could access your network.
However, once “inside,” a user (or cybercriminal) may not need a password to access particular resources. In practice, today’s landscape of cloud technology and the mobilization of workforces outside the office makes perimeter-focused frameworks less effective.
In contrast, a “zero trust” approach to cybersecurity architecture disregards the concept of a border and assumes any and all access requests could be fraudulent. Therefore, passwords are always needed for access to any resource.
The Benefits of Managed Security Services
Another way to manage passwords for network security involves a robust, all-in-one solution like profesional managed security services. Contracting a private company (like RSI Security) to handle all matters of your cybersecurity provides numerous benefits and synergies, like integration of password management into your overall cybersecurity framework programs.
Password management is most effective when paired with:
- Software patch management
- Regulatory compliance assistance
- Threat detection and incident response
- Firewalls, filtering, and antivirus software
- Vulnerability analysis and penetration testing
Password management alone is an extremely effective way to protect your network. But it’s far from the only thing you need. Combining these measures with robust password management, managed security providers are the best way to ensure your entire network is safe.
Professional Cyberdefense Solutions You Can Trust: RSI Security
Here at RSI Security, we know firsthand how important a robust password management system is to your network and overall security. That’s why we’re dedicated to providing you with all the resources and assistance you need to make a password management plan, implement it as soon as possible, and ensure its success over the long term.
We’re industry leaders with over a decade of experience providing cybersecurity and defense solutions to businesses of all sizes and kinds. In addition to help with passwords, we can also assure your compliance with relevant regulatory guidelines, as well as the overall soundness of your entire cyberdefense framework. We’re a one-stop-shop for all your cybersecurity needs.
So, what are you waiting for? Contact RSI Security today to see the pivotal role password management in network security can play for your organization.