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ISO27001 and Password Controls

31st January 2011

I visit quite a number of businesses each year and those seeking certification to ISO27001, the information security management standard, are rising in numbers.

The first step in any 27001 assignment involves a gap audit to see how near (or far) the company is from  meeting this standard.  Usually it transpires that some significant work is required to meet this exacting standard.

To put the standard into perspective;  If ISO9001 , the quality management standard, equated to a molehill then 27001 would equate to Everest. I hope I haven’t put you off!!

One of the sections within 27001 deals with access control and the part I want to cover is the control and use of passwords.  Here are some rules for passwords:

  • Passwords should be complex, i.e should be six characters or more, must contain at least one number , one uppercase letter and if possible a non alpha or numeric character.   I often put £ in my passwords because only UK keyboards have this.
  • The password should not be in a dictionary either forwards or backwards.
  • Never use Pa33w0rd (Password) or lEt m3 1n (letmein) or a pet or partners name.
  • Never disclose your password to anyone
  • Change your password regularly
  • Never write it down unless it is heavily disguised.

I see breaches of these rules on a regular basis including:

  • Post it notes with the password stuck to monitors or under keyboards.  
  • Passwords with three characters, 
  • Passwords that are really obvious like January-week 1, which increments to January-week two and so on.

Most systems can be hacked in a relatively short time so I recommend that a computer should lock if more than a set number of incorrect passwords is entered. Make it harder and time consuming for the hacker.

Let us make 2011 a more secure year for our computer systems.  Remember the data on your system is valuable and can cause a great deal of distress, if not financial loss if it is stolen by others.

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