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Employees have no qualms in selling corporate passwords

Taylor Armerding | April 7, 2015
Plenty of people are careless with their own personal passwords -- using the same one for multiple sites, and/or making them so simple that they are comically easy to crack -- but hardly anyone would intentionally sell them for a few bucks to someone they know would use them to do them harm.

Sudhakar said he suspects workers know that if their personal passwords were compromised, the consequences would be certain and severe, while they might view a corporate password as, "someone else's problem or think there might not be a consequence to misusing it."

Frenz said some workers might not realize how important their corporate passwords are. "This is particularly true if the data they handle at work would not normally be considered sensitive," he said, "as they likely fail to grasp that their account may provide a doorway that can be used a staging ground to gain access to more sensitive data via privilege escalation and like methods."

Sudhakar agreed. A compromised password is just the first step, he said. "Bad guys establish a foothold within the enterprise, escalate privileges, move laterally to get at the data, maintain their presence until they can get at sensitive data and ex-filtrate the goodies," he said.

Some argue that selling passwords is not as big a problem as weak passwords, because they are so easy to hack. Indeed, any password of fewer than 10 characters that is an actual word, even in reverse with a few upper-case letters thrown in, is like an unlocked door to hackers with even minimal skills and the right software. That, they say, makes for a sale price of next to nothing.

Loomis doesn't buy that entirely. He said offering passwords for sale does make it easier for criminals, since it eliminates them having to try even two or three times to gain access — an anomaly that security countermeasures could pick it up as suspicious.

Whatever their value on the market, a relatively new group — the FIDO (Fast Identity Online) Alliance — says it is one more reason to eliminate passwords entirely.

FIDO Vice President Ramesh Kesanupalli, also founder of Nok Nok Labs, said in a statement that, "enterprise users selling passwords demonstrates yet another example of how flawed and risky password-centric authentication is."

FIDO, a nonprofit formed in 2012, has developed a two-factor authentication system that, "exchanges cryptographic data with FIDO servers — not vulnerable personal information of any kind," Kesanupalli said.

Still, even with authentication credentials much more secure than passwords, if people are willing to sell them, the problem remains, or perhaps could be even worse, since those credentials would likely be more valuable.

That, experts say, means the need for better security awareness training is essential. Frenz said it is important to let employees know that it is not just corporate data that is at risk. "Reminding people that work not only stores customer data but a lot of their personal data in the form of HR and payroll records can often help to put things in perspective," he said.

 

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