Many government procurement web sites are secure sites that require vendors to establish passwords in order to gain access. What many people don’t understand is that there is a real need for selecting good passwords.
Identity theft could be just a minor consequence of establishing a weak password on a government site. Actual theft — theft of payments made by the government to a vendor — can result from lack of serious attention being given to password selection.
A data security firm in 2010 analyzed 32 million passwords that a hacker stole from an application developer called rockyou.com, and published a report of the findings earlier this year – including the 10 most-commonly used passwords. As you can see below, all 10 of these most-commonly used passwords are terrible:
Hackers and others intent on stealing or changing your on-line information can easily guess any of these 10 passwords. In fact, people who want to do you harm have sophisticated automated programs that guess at probable passwords until they discover the correct letter/number combination.
You might be curious about Entry No. 7, “rockyou.” You might think it’s uncommon enough to be a good password. Hardly. “Rockyou” is actually the name of the web site for which the users created the password. These users’ Amazon.com and Audible.com passwords are probably “amazon” and “audible,” respectively!
It is estimated that nearly half of all passwords can be easily guessed — they include the users’ names, common dictionary words, and strings of consecutive numbers, according to the report.
Weak passwords represent a problem on any web site. But weak passwords — and lack of password security — on government web sites can cause especially serious problems.
Let’s take the System for Award Management (SAM), for example. SAM is the federal government’s vendor database, containing information on more than 650,000 businesses. All of the data is entered by vendors themselves, including bank routing information on each business. This information is used by federal agencies to facilitate electronic payments for contract work performed.
A hacker who successfully guesses at a SAM registrant’s password can both steal and edit that vendor’s bank routing number. Armed with bank account information, the evil-doer might be able to withdraw funds from a vendor’s bank account. In addition, by changing a vendor’s bank routing information in CCR, an even more insidious act is set in motion. A hacker can just sit back and wait for the government to electronically transfer contract payments … right into the hacker’s off-shore account on the other side of the world.
In this scenario, the vendor has delivered a product or performed work for the government, the government paid, and the hacker benefitted — all caused by either selection of a weak password or by sloppy handling of a password.
As Michael Hardy, managing editor of the 1105 Government Information Group, recently observed: “You might think that after nearly two decades of data breaches, identity theft and other online risks, your average end user would understand by now the importance of creating strong passwords and protecting them. You would be wrong.”
To paraphrase, you should give serious thought to the selection of passwords — especially on government web sites — and then keep them secret.
“Everyone needs to understand what the combination of poor passwords means in today’s world of automated cyberattacks: With only minimal effort, a hacker can gain access to one new account every second — or 1,000 accounts every 17 minutes,” said Amichai Shulman, Imperva’s chief technology officer, in a written statement that accompanied the release of the report referenced earlier in this article. “The data provides a unique glimpse into the way that users select passwords and an opportunity to evaluate the true strength of passwords as a security mechanism. Never before has there been such a high volume of real-world passwords to examine.”
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