CENTRE OF INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATIONS TECHNOLOGY SERVICES

Draft Passwords Policy

Passwords are a critical component of information security. Passwords serve to protect user accounts. However, a poorly constructed password may result in the compromise of individual systems, data, or the network. This guideline provides best practices for creating secure passwords.

Target

This policy applies to all employees and students who have or are responsible for an account (or any form of access that requires a password) on any system that resides at any Malawi Polytechnic facility, have access to its network, or store any non-public information for the institution. These include but not limited to:

  • user-level accounts
  • system-level accounts
  • web accounts
  • e-mail accounts
  • screen saver protection
  • local router logins

Strong passwords have the following characteristics:

  • Contain at least eight alphanumeric characters.
  • Contain both upper and lower case letters.
  • Contain at least one number (for example, 0-9).
  • Contain at least one special character (for example,!$%^&*()_+|~-=\`{}[]:";'<>?,/).

Poor, or weak, passwords have the following characteristics:

  • Contain less than six characters.
  • Can be found in a dictionary, including foreign language, or exist in a language slang, or jargon.
  • Contain personal information such as birthdates, addresses, phone numbers, or names of family members, pets, friends, and fantasy characters.
  • Contain work-related information such as building names, system commands, sites, companies, hardware, or software.
  • Contain number patterns such as aaabbb, qwerty, zyxwvuts, or 123321.
  • Contain common words spelled backward, or preceded or followed by a number for example, terces, secret1 or 1secret.
  • Are some version of “Welcome123” “Password123” “Changeme123

(NOTE: Do not use either of these examples as passwords!)

The Policy

Password Creation

  • You should never write down a password. Instead, try to create passwords that you can remember easily. One way to do this is create a password based on a song title, affirmation, or other phrase. For example, the phrase, "This May Be One Way To Remember" could become the password TmB1w2R! or another variation.
  • Users must not use the same password for both official accounts as well as personal accounts. Where possible, users must not use the same password for various official access needs.
  • User accounts that have system-level privileges granted through group memberships or programs such as sudo must have a unique password from all other accounts held by that user to access system-level privileges.

Password Change

  • All system-level passwords (for example, root, enable, application administration accounts) must be changed on at least a quarterly basis.
  • All user-level passwords (for example, email, web, desktop computer) must be changed at least every six months. The recommended change interval is every four months.
  • Password cracking or guessing may be performed on a periodic or random basis by the ICT Team. If a password is guessed or cracked during one of these scans, the user will be required to change it to be in compliance with the Password Construction Guidelines.

Password Protection

  • Passwords must not be shared with anyone. All passwords are to be treated as sensitive.
  • Passwords must not be inserted into email messages or other forms of electronic communication.
  • Passwords must not be revealed over the phone to anyone.
  • Do not reveal a password on questionnaires or security forms.
  • Do not hint at the format of a password (for example, "my family name").
  • Do not share passwords with anyone, including administrative assistants, secretaries, managers, co-workers while on vacation, and family members.
  • Do not write passwords down and store them anywhere in your office. Do not store passwords in a file on a computer system or mobile devices (phone, tablet) without encryption.
  • Do not use the "Remember Password" feature of applications (for example, web browsers).
  • Any user suspecting that his/her password may have been compromised must report the incident and change all passwords.

Application Development

Application developers must ensure that their programs contain the following security precautions:

  • Applications must support authentication of individual users, not groups.
  • Applications must not store passwords in clear text or in any easily reversible form.
  • Applications must not transmit passwords in clear text over the network.
  • Applications must provide for some sort of role management, such that one user can take over the functions of another without having to know the other's password.