As far as passwords are concerned, the prevailing wisdom is to treat them like underwear: Change them often, keep them private and don’t share them.
Chances are good that the IT folks at your company have continually pushed for longer, more complex passwords while simultaneously requiring you to change your passwords often. Although this advice is sound from a security perspective, it leaves the user struggling to keep up with a growing list of complex passwords (all of which much include both upper and lowercase letters, at least one number, a special character… you know the drill). Now add the fact that the number of sites and apps people are logging into is growing exponentially and we have a real password problem.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this rise in password usage has corresponded to a rise in password theft. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, the number of data breaches that occur in the U.S. is growing by almost 50% per year.
So, how do we combat both the increasing need for unique passwords and the onslaught of hackers trying to gain access to our credentials? Here are the three best and most common ways to protect your data access, according to MyITpros:
Password management apps
Management apps store all your different credentials in one secure location and are protected by a master password. As long as that master password is secure, your other credentials are safe. These types of apps (which include 1Password and LastPass; check out our top picks here) can be an extremely helpful tool, but they do have their shortcomings. After all, they themselves are protected by a password—and, as we’ve seen in recent years, they’re susceptible to breaches.
Multi-factor authentication (MFA)
MFA has been around in some form for more than 20 years. In fact, banks and corporate networks used this type of authentication (in the form of RSA tokens) for remote access in the early days of the internet. MFA generally requires a phone, a key fob/token or another digital device with the ability to display a code that would only be known to the person in possession of the device. As such, this form of authentication requires both something you know (your password) and something you don’t know (the code), hence “multi-factor.” Using MFA wherever possible has the potential to greatly reduce the number of breaches to which you are subjected, but you must be prepared to always have your device handy, charged and ready to go. After all, if the battery dies or you forget to bring the device with you, you may end up locked out of your account. Check out what one of MyITpros’ systems administrators has to say about MFA!
Biometric access leverages the body’s natural identification markers by running a fingerprint or iris scan and performing facial or vocal recognition. Many people think that biometric access is the future of passwords—it is certainly the hardest to copy, and it also has the most potential for growth of the secure authentication methods described here. Indeed, the major technology companies (Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Google and PayPal) are working on developing new standards and methods that utilize biometric access. The good thing about this technology is that you don’t have to remember a password or carry a device/token to benefit from it.
What is the future of password protection? Well, given that it’s in the future, it’s still undetermined! In the present, most sites simply require you to type in a good old single-factor password, so do what you can to protect yourself—and remember, treat passwords like underwear.