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Guidelines for University Passwords

Guidelines for University Passwords

University Passwords

  1. Overview

    Passwords are an important aspect of computer security. They are the front line of protection for user accounts. A poorly chosen password may result in the compromise of McNeese State University's entire university network. As such, all McNeese State University employees (including contractors and vendors with access to McNeese State University systems) are responsible for taking the appropriate steps, as outlined below, to select and secure their passwords.

  2. Purpose

    The purpose of these guidelines are to establish a standard for creation of strong passwords, the protection of those passwords, and the frequency of change.

  3. Scope

    The scope of these guidelines include all personnel who have or are responsible for an account (or any form of access that supports or requires a password) on any system that resides at any McNeese State University facility, has access to the McNeese State University network, or stores any non-public McNeese State University information.

  4. Guidelines

    1. General

      1. All system-level passwords (e.g., root, admin, application administration accounts, etc.) should be changed on at least a quarterly basis.
      2. All production system-level passwords should be part of the Information Security administered global password management database.
      3. All user-level passwords (e.g., email, web, desktop computer, etc.) should be changed at least every six months. The recommended change interval is every four months.
      4. Passwords should not be inserted into email messages or other forms of electronic communication.
      5. Where SNMP is used, the community strings should be defined as something other than the standard defaults of "public," "private" and "system" and should be different from the passwords used to log in interactively. A keyed hash should be used where available (e.g., SNMPv2).
      6. All user-level and system-level passwords should conform to the guidelines described below.
    2. Password Construction Guidelines

      1. General Password Construction Guidelines

        Passwords are used for various purposes at McNeese State University. Some of the more common uses include: user level accounts, web accounts, email accounts, voicemail, and local router logins. Since very few systems have support for one-time tokens (i.e., dynamic passwords which are only used once), everyone should be aware of how to select strong passwords.

        Poor, weak passwords have the following characteristics:

        • The password contains less than fifteen characters
        • The password is a word found in a dictionary (English or foreign)
        • The password is a common usage word such as:
          • Names of family, pets, friends, co-workers, fantasy characters, etc.
          • Computer terms and names, commands, sites, companies, hardware, software.
          • The words "McNeese State University", "lakecharles", "lakechuck" or any derivation.
          • Birthdays and other personal information such as addresses and phone numbers.
          • Word or number patterns like aaabbb, qwerty, zyxwvuts, 123321, etc.
          • Any of the above spelled backwards.
          • Any of the above preceded or followed by a digit (e.g., secret1, 1secret)

        Strong passwords have the following characteristics:

        • Contain both upper and lower case characters (e.g., a-z, A-Z)
        • Have digits and punctuation characters as well as letters e.g., 0-9, !@#$%^&*()_+|~-=\`{}[]:";'<>?,./)
        • Are at least fifteen alphanumeric characters long and is a passphrase (Ohmy1stubbedmyt0e).
        • Are not a word in any language, slang, dialect, jargon, etc.
        • Are not based on personal information, names of family, etc.
        • Passwords should never be written down or stored on-line. Try to create passwords that can be easily remembered. One way to do this is create a password based on a song title, affirmation, or other phrase. For example, the phrase might be: "This May Be One Way To Remember" and the password could be: "TmB1w2R!" or "Tmb1W>r~" or some other variation.

        NOTE: Do not use either of these examples as passwords!
      2. Password Protection Standards

        Do not use the same password for McNeese State University accounts as for non-McNeese State University access (e.g., personal ISP account, email, banking, benefits, etc.). Where possible, don't use the same password for various McNeese State University access needs. For example, select one password for the Engineering systems and a separate password for IT systems.

        Do not share McNeese State University passwords with anyone, including administrative assistants or secretaries. All passwords are to be treated as sensitive, Confidential McNeese State University information.

        Here is a list of "dont's":

        • Don't reveal a password over the phone to ANYONE
        • Don't reveal a password in an email message
        • Don't reveal a password to the boss
        • Don't talk about a password in front of others
        • Don't hint at the format of a password (e.g., "my family name")
        • Don't reveal a password on questionnaires or security forms
        • Don't share a password with family members
        • Don't reveal a password to co-workers while on vacation

        If someone demands a password, refer them to this document or have them call the helpdesk.

        Do not use the "Remember Password" feature of applications.

        Again, do not write passwords down and store them anywhere in your office. Do not store passwords in a file on ANY computer system (including smart phones) without encryption.

        Change passwords at least once every six months (except system-level passwords which should be changed quarterly). The recommended change interval is every four months.

        If an account or password is suspected to have been compromised, report the incident to the helpdesk and change all passwords.

        Password cracking or guessing may be performed on a periodic or random basis by Information Security. If a password is guessed or cracked during one of these scans, the user will be required to change it.

      3. Application Development Standards

        Application developers should ensure their programs contain the following security precautions.

        • should support authentication of individual users, not groups.
        • should not store passwords in clear text or in any easily reversible form.
        • should 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.
        • should support secure LDAP retrieval, wherever possible.
      4. Use of Passwords and Passphrases for Remote Access Users

        Access to the McNeese State University Networks via remote access is to be controlled using either a one-time password authentication or a public/private key system with a strong passphrase.

      5. Passphrases

        Passphrases are generally used for public/private key authentication. A public/private key system defines a mathematical relationship between the public key that is known by all, and the private key, that is known only to the user. Without the passphrase to "unlock" the private key, the user cannot gain access.

        Passphrases are not the same as passwords. A passphrase is a longer version of a password and is, therefore, more secure. A passphrase is typically composed of multiple words. Because of this, a passphrase is more secure against "dictionary attacks."

        A good passphrase is relatively long and contains a combination of upper and lowercase letters and numeric and punctuation characters. An example of a good passphrase:


        All of the rules above that apply to passwords apply to passphrases.

    3. Definitions

      Application Administration Account
      Any account that is for the administration of an application (e.g., database administrator).
    4. Revision History

      Fri Dec 13, 2013