A Business Technology Place

Easier password rules

Somebody give these guys a high-five.
Finally. There is a glimmer of hope for resolution to the insanity that has become password complexity rules. The National Institute of Standards and Technology recently revised guidelines for password complexity. The prescribed password complexity recommendations are detailed in Appendix A – Strength of Memorized Secrets. The NIST findings not only acknowledge the impact to usability of the existing recommendations for complex password rules, but they reveal the impact to improved security is not significant. This will make you smile and is sure to get a round of applause from everyone. Here’s an excerpt:

“Humans, however, have only a limited ability to memorize complex, arbitrary secrets, so they often choose passwords that can be easily guessed. To address the resultant security concerns, online services have introduced rules in an effort to increase the complexity of these memorized secrets. The most notable form of these is composition rules, which require the user to choose passwords constructed using a mix of character types, such as at least one digit, uppercase letter, and symbol. However, analyses of breached password databases reveal that the benefit of such rules is not nearly as significant as initially thought [Policies], although the impact on usability and memorability is severe.”

The new advice is to consider the length of the password more important than the complexity. Shorter passwords are easier to break for computer programs. Longer passwords are more difficult to break after they have been encrypted and stored. The NIST acknowledges the over complex password rules we’ve been subjected to only enforce bad behavior when we strive to make the password easier to remember. In other words changing your password from “Password1!” to “Password2!” doesn’t really help the password to be more secure.

Randomly generated passwords are OK as long as they don’t create a usability hassle. Some users, like me, use a password vault tool that can randomly generate passwords to use with specific sites. Again, longer password length is better even when using random characters.

I looked at my accounts.
I used this guidance and examined three financial services sites where I have accounts. Here is a look at the current password complexity requirements from each site:

Site 1
At least 8 characters in length
Has at least one letter
Has at least one number

Site 2
Must contain 8 to 20 characters including one letter and one number.
May include the following characters: % & _ ? # = –
May not contain spaces

Site 3
Minimum of six characters
Must use a mix of letters, numbers, or symbols

The good news is I can use my random password generator to create passwords longer than say 8 characters. It’s no more work for me because I go to my password vault tool to retrieve passwords anyways. But even if you don’t use a password vault tool, you can make your password much more secure by creating a phrase that complies with the existing rules. For example: ILove2seemygrandmother would fit the requirements. It is easier to remember and more secure. Hopefully, the new guidelines will find a place with technology compliance and regulation and we’ll be able to more freely submit password phrases in the future.

Onward and upward!

The Yin and Yang of Security Patching

 

My computer is working, don’t change anything.

As an IT manager I observe this behavior regularly with end-users and product managers of eCommerce applications. It’s understandable. When a computer system is working and doing its job then “updates” are sources for creating failure. Updates change code. Updates rock the boat.

If a computer security update hasn’t bitten you yet, then it’s probably just a matter of time. My experience is the number of system issues related to operating system updates is growing.  It’s hard to test all the dependencies of code updates against every combination of hardware and software that exists on computing equipment. A couple of examples I can point to in 2017 are Microsoft Edge no longer working after installing the Windows 10 Creators Update.  Then there was the issue of Microsoft Outlook unable to open attachments which was later resolved with another hot fix.  

But we all know security updates are necessary. Why would we risk our personal data to thieves? In a business setting, why would put our customer’s data at risk? Why would we put the reputation of our business at risk?

Therein we find the yin and yang of security updates. We don’t want to upset the balance of a stable system, but we need to update the system so that it can remain stable in the future.

In the name of audit controls and security principles.

In the business environment, audit standards require staying up-to-date with security patches. ISO 27001/ISO 27002 and SOC2 have controls specifically addressing vulnerability patch management policies and procedures. To meet the requirements of the controls, a discipline in process and procedure is required.  These standards are there to help nudge all of us to change because we all know we resist change.

Plug those security gaps or face the consequences.

The consequences of not installing security patches can be devastating. In the worst case of cyber theft reported thus far, Equifax was robbed of information for 143 million individuals. The attackers found a weakness because Equifax failed to patch a known security vulnerability in website code they use.

Now hundreds of millions of people are exposed to the whims of criminals. The reputation of a large credit bureau is blown. The two highest ranking security officials within Equifax are out of a job. Patching known security vulnerabilities is serious business.

Complementary forces at play.

The next time someone schedules a security update for a system or application, understand the potential consequences fully. Intruders are at the gates. They make a living on our resistance to change.  But if we support the change and work with administrators to report any malfunctions, we can all help to build a safer tomorrow.  That’s how another yin and yang can make a more complete whole.

Onward and upward!

Hope @work

You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.” – Woodrow Wilson

Hope is the great motivator in our world. It gives us anticipation and an expectation for some desirable result. President Woodrow Wilson spoke of the spirit of hope in 1913 while addressing a group of college students. His hope was to inspire the next generation to leave the world a better place than they found it.

A few weeks ago, I watched the movie Dunkirk from director Christopher Nolan and I found the presentation of the historical events in the movie deeply moving. The film’s characters reacted to their situation in a variety of ways. Some exhibited a great hope for survival and acted courageously while others felt hopeless and resorted to acts of cowardice and selfishness.

I considered the role hope plays in an office environment:

  • Workers hope for advancement and it motivates them to go beyond their job description.
  • Workers hope to close a sale and it inspires them to create solutions that never existed for a customer.
  • Workers hope to create a new product and it drives them to consider new ways of thinking.
  • Workers hope for a job in a different field and it inspires them to train and study new skills.

The ability to influence actions is powerful. That’s what hope does. While people have different hopes based on their situation, one thing is the same. All of us are driven to action when we have a strong hope for a different tomorrow. Hope is the great equalizer that can help someone who is less skillful or knowledgeable out-perform a competitor. Where there is hope there is achievement.

May the hope be with you.

Onward and upward.

 

Employee Growth Chart

Childhood memories.

Did your mom mark your height on the door frame as a child? Let’s admit it. Those pen marks on the door-frame each year were exciting. It was even more fun if siblings, or other relatives, were marked on the door as well. What was it about the marks that made it so fun? Was it that we could see how much we were growing each year? Was it that we could see how close we were to a height goal? Or was it that mom would see our progress? Whatever the reason, one aspect that jumps out to me is the childhood growth chart was a visual control. We didn’t think about that at the time, but using visual controls play an important part of business life.

 

Employee growth.

A few years ago I wrote about a key concept for employee development, “employee development is better executed as an ongoing part of a business rather than an event.” As I map and transform many of my business activities to TPS and Lean principles, I think about how this relates to Principles 9 and 10.

 

Principle #9 – “Grow leaders who thoroughly understand the work, live the philosophy, and teach it to others.”

Principle #10 – “Develop exceptional people and teams who follow your company’s philosophy.”

 

The verbs ‘grow’ and ‘develop’ describe an ongoing process. To measure progress of the growth journey, we’ll need visual tools and controls.

 

Make a chart.

One tool I started using a few months ago is a flow and performance board for visual management. This is a good spot to track employee growth metrics. I’m doing this with an eye towards professional skills enhancement and team cross-training.

 

Step 1: Create a skills matrix of the staff to document the current state

Step 2: Create an individual training plan for employees that addresses their personal growth as well as overall coverage the team provides to the business.

Step 3: Make it visible just like mom did. J

 

Here’s a very simple chart framework.

(Ratings 1-5)

Skill A Skill B Skill C
Employee A 2 4
Employee B 3
Employee C 2 3

Here’s a simple action plan (employee development plan).

Task Due Date Notes
Employee A increase skill A to level 3. December 31
Employee B learn skill A to a level 2. October 31 Currently employee A has no backup for skill A
Employee C increase skill C to a level 4. November 15

Onward and upward!

 

Photo Credit: Rochelle Hartman via Flickr Creative Commons

 

Work with a rhythm

So many things provide rhythm to life.

  • Music
  • Dance
  • The seasons
  • Waking strides
  • Heartbeats
  • Speech
  • Faith

What rhythm means to me.

Before I ever thought about my daily routines mapping to a rhythm, I was following patterns. Looking back, I remember specific practices I used during high school to complete assignments and study for tests. I used time blocks in college to stay organized with activities and school. Today, I have routines for work, exercise, money management, and a host of other life spaces. These elements provide rhythm to my life.

I don’t see standard disciplines as some robotic repetition. To me, life rhythm is a recurring set of actions that are completed for a purpose. Exercising at set intervals is meant to keep the body healthy. Arriving at work before the official start of business is meant to allow time for uninterrupted planning and thought. Avoiding or minimizing personal debt is done to allow more freedom in spending choices later.

A few of my favorite examples.

Todd Henry, author of The Accidental Creative, says it this way, “There is a way, however, to ensure that you’re always poised to experience creative insights when you need them. You must establish practices that support your creative process and give you the focus, energy and time you need when an opportunity arises“. Establishing rhythmic practices in your routines is a how he supports creative processes in his life.

The Apostle Paul found rhythm in God and his faith. In a speech in Athens his words are recorded in Acts 17 as, “For in him we live and move and have our being.

One of the Principles of Lean and the Toyota Production System is, “Standardized tasks are the foundation for continuous improvement and employee empowerment.” The point of standardized tasks is not to become inflexible, but to find and expose pieces of work that can be improved.

Find a rhythm but understand the why.

Creating and setting a rhythm in life is important for achieving success on our daily ‘to-do’ lists. But the benefits of setting a rhythm are way better than accomplishing a few to-dos. If we use our mission statement, personal or business, as a basis for our rhythms then we are building a foundation s for working on what is most important while at the same time creating opportunity for continuous improvement.  Now that’s a song worth dancing to.

Onward and upward!

Photo Credit: Ineke Hulzing via Flickr Creative Commons