The Purpose of Passwords
We are on a quest that is taking us through Password Purgatory. The victor will be crowned with Password Prowess and, as previously stated, this power comes with great responsibility. The architects of computer security, like Medieval Priests, consider their undertaking sacred. From start to finish, they train and prepare the tenacious Black Knight with fierce ability to ward off, not only direct attacks, but a potentially fatal falter on the King’s behalf! Our Knight stands guard for a reason, to protect us, the Kings—even from ourselves!
In Your Face!
Like a Knight protecting the King’s castle and store houses, the password dialog box is the face of computer security. Passwords keep people out. Passwords keep other computers out. They
authenticate legitimate users, and permit access to a variety of information inside the computer. Both the curious and the corrupt desire access to our realm. They arrive from inside the kingdom and outside the kingdom. Let’s talk about the people approaching the draw bridge and castle gate first.
Castle Security – On the Level
The first level of security permits access to our computer itself. This is called “Administrator Level” access. Gaining “administrator” (King’s) access to a computer, means that you have permission to do anything and go anywhere in the computer, create access accounts for other users, delete anything at any time, and even erase the entire computer hard drive… emptying the castle, so to speak. Without the proper credentials, you will have no access to the castle or very limited access to certain areas. Not all passwords allow access to everything. We don’t issue master keys to the squires, do we? The maidens would have serious issues with this policy! Let’s call this new policy, “levels of access”… and the maidens are rejoicing!
Tale of Two Castles
Home based computers present less of a temptation for a direct front door attack than a computer in an open office. Often, we choose to employ no guard at the entrance of our home computers. The very fact that we have physical access to a heavy, not likely to move, desktop computer is authentication enough. After all, we made it into the house which means we have a key. Our house key becomes our authentication method, doesn’t it?
In an office, serfs, nobles and lords are milling about. This simple fact requires us to be a bit more vigilant. Using passwords for our office computers, is pretty much a given. Mobile devices should always have an authentication protocol. Mobile devices can be lost or misplaced and often are.
While we must consider which level of security to use, based on where our machine resides, there is a secret bit of wisdom to ponder. When we turn on our computer, we are going through authentication, whether we know it or not.
No Password is Still Authentication
“But I don’t have a password on my computer!” We say. Sure, for ease-of-use, we may have set our password to be a blank. Even if our password is blank, the computer still authenticates our access as it starts up. Authentication is not just our password, it is our “User Name” and Password combination which permits access. This is how the aforementioned “levels of access” are permitted. Our User Name identifies us as Squire, Noble or King. This is another “gotcha” in our quest for Password Prowess. When we face the Black Knight, demanding our password, what he is actually demanding is our Name AND Password.
Name Plus Password Equals Authentication
“Please Enter Your Password”, or one of its kin, is the phrase we see in the dialog box as we begin the authentication process. This is our “None shall pass!” window. In many cases, the name portion of this process is already populated for us. How nice! We dutifully and confidently enter our secret phrase. The window wiggles as if shaking it’s digital head “No!” and we try again… and again… and again. Suddenly, we realize, the name portion of the screen is wrong! It’s our squire’s name! Authentication fails.
Always remember, there are two components to authentication, and sometimes more. Remembering this one little tidbit, can save us some serious head-butting from that Black Knight. When our password fails, make sure we have the correct name in the User Name field.
Ease-of-Use vs. Security
The trade off between security and ease-of-use spurs many debates among the theologically elite architects or “Priests” of security and their followers, as they hoist their flagons of ale. The question they wrestle with… “How much security do we create before the King gets his knickers in a knot and questions our ability to serve?” If you have ever been frustrated by access to your own stuff, you just landed in the middle of that debate, but don’t kill the priests just yet.
How secure do you want to be? What is your preference? It is your choice. If we have nothing that needs protected, camp in the field. We can come and go anytime we please and we will never deal with the Black Knight. If on the other hand, we have things we cherish, lock ‘em up somewhere in the castle. The more security we deploy, the greater the difficulty, even for the King to access his treasures and tools. In reality, only we can decide what is best. Remember too, this is all good. These are benefits to us, not burdens. The problem occurs when we forget our password or miss the user name that was pre-populated for us.
Our review of the Black Knight’s duties, only addressed the vulnerabilities at the gate. The castle has tunnels and secret passages. It is possible for someone to enter your computer some other way… but this distraction, a large dragon, is one we shall fight another day. Our quest is for Password Prowess. As your wizard, I must remind you that we must stay focused!
By the way, I have just received some wonderful news. A couple of Squires, whom I think you will really love and appreciate, are waiting for you at the other end of Password Purgatory so take heart. Be of courage, we are well on our way. If you are beginning to feel faint on the journey, try to frame this as Oz, not Dante!
The Third Realm
As we enter the next realm of our quest, I must tell you that it will be a little bit longer realm and a little bit more complicated. It will require some delicate self examination and patient endurance. There will be weeds and tangler trees to navigate but no wild beasts or dangers. What you once thought was yours, may not be. In this next realm, we will lift the mask of the Black Knight and look through his eyes and into his heart, mind and soul!