Breaches Like Yahoo Will Continue to Happen… If You Keep Reusing the Same Passwords

Morey Haber, Chief Technology Officer
September 26th, 2016

Yahoo Breach

How many times do I have to say this? I do not know how many times a breach has to occur before people realize that password re-use is an exceptionally dangerous practice. And now, another incident is responsible for an Earth-shattering breach of 500 million Yahoo accounts. And, as scary as that sounds – what’s even scarier is it happened in 2014 and is just now becoming public based on foreign nation sponsored attack.

While the news dives into the details of the breach, from usernames, passwords (even though they are encrypted), security questions (not for all accounts), and addresses, the fact of the matter is that many of the credentials obtained in 2014 are still valid across many resources businesses and users still depend on today and not just from Yahoo themselves (maximum 2% or 10,000,000 accounts based on research collected by CNET). Compromised information from Yahoo  as a lower risk target is potentially being used for high risk assets that share the same passwords or the basic security questions like “What is your mother’s maiden name?”  The IRS get transcript service from 2015 is a perfect example of how this reuse occurs, and how a simple exercise of copying the password (or answers to security questions) from one insecure system to one highly secure system can lead to devastating results.

It’s Plain and Simple – Dumb Human Mistake to Let This Go Unannounced For TWO Years.

As people, we make mistakes. If you read my blogs often enough you have heard me state this. We need to learn from our mistakes. But this topic just keeps coming up over and over again. Administrators and end users need to think of it this way; just like learning at four years old to look both ways before crossing the street, we need to learn not re-use passwords across systems. This includes using the same passwords between work and home, social media sites and banks, and definitely not across insecure environments and sensitive assets. While this may sound elementary, another failure to look both ways just created a nightmare for Yahoo and potentially up to 10 million users that do not follow best practices for password security.

Heed My Advice on Passwords – Please!

To that end, heed this advice. It may save your business or even your personal account if a service you use like Yahoo has a breach like this one.

  • Never re-use the same password between work and home
  • Never re-use the same password for financial institutions and social media
  • Never re-use the same password for an administrator account at work as your standard logon
  • Never tell anyone your password. If you need to share it, change it when the other person is done with using it.
  • Change your passwords frequently. Yes, ALL of them.
  • For individuals, use a secure personal password manager like Apple iCloud Keychain, or third party application to remember your passwords and create new randomized ones.
  • For organizations use a enterprise password management solutions at work for password tracking, release, randomization, and workflow.

Now, I am realistic and there are always exceptions. These should be your basic guidelines and be embedded in your habits just like saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ We all need to learn this and more importantly, we all need to practice it. If not, you’re the next Yahoo or even the CEO of Facebook.

Morey Haber, Chief Technology Officer

With more than 20 years of IT industry experience and author of Privileged Attack Vectors, Mr. Haber joined BeyondTrust in 2012 as a part of the eEye Digital Security acquisition. He currently oversees BeyondTrust technology for both vulnerability and privileged access management solutions. In 2004, Mr. Haber joined eEye as the Director of Security Engineering and was responsible for strategic business discussions and vulnerability management architectures in Fortune 500 clients. Prior to eEye, he was a Development Manager for Computer Associates, Inc. (CA), responsible for new product beta cycles and named customer accounts. Mr. Haber began his career as a Reliability and Maintainability Engineer for a government contractor building flight and training simulators. He earned a Bachelors of Science in Electrical Engineering from the State University of New York at Stony Brook.