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CIO  April 2007

CIO April 2007

Subject:

Re: Releasing passwords

From:

John Manly <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

The EDUCAUSE CIO Constituent Group Listserv <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 25 Apr 2007 17:36:29 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (172 lines)

Yet another John here...

The problem with schemes like this, of course, is that they are only as
safe as the data being used to do the authentication (verifying their
identity).  In the particular example at the beginning, the ERP ID and
the birthdate may offer some minimally better security than not having
them, but really it's the SSN that you are relying on for protection --
a shared secret.  Something you can reasonably assume the user knows and
that you know, but that (you hope) no one else knows.

But if you aren't willing to use SSN for this purpose (and many object
to using it this way for a variety of good reasons), then the problem is
much much harder because there probably aren't many other things that
have the above property that you can use to authenticate.  Address?
Parent's middle name?  None of these are very strong.  How safe is the
ERP ID?  Does it appear on printed schedules?  Can it be derived from
URLs anywhere on your website or in your on-line directory?  (Really the
question is whether it is treated as sensitive data -- if not, it's
probably not very safe.) Mother's maiden name might be better, but only
if you have been collecting it ahead of time, and even it really isn't
that strong.  (Thought experiment: if someone called a student's mother
saying they were conducting some type of survey on behalf of the school
and asked for her maiden name, would she be mindful that it's probably
part of the data protecting her children's information?)

One way to dodge this is by using an external E-mail address as part of
your password reset system -- something you have on file that (again you
hope) no one but the user has access to.  E-commerce sitses use this a
lot.  But then for this to work people need to have to maintain accounts
and keep you apprised of what they are -- it's too late to update that
external address once the local password has been lost.  I suppose you
could do something similar with cell phone numbers, though to automate
it you would need technology that could call a number and ask the user
to enter or speak something they read off a web page.

Another choice is to, ahead of time, establish some other shared
secrets, usually in the form of "secret questions" the way many banks
now do.  The problem again is you have to have done this in advance of
them losing their password, and it turns out that you need to be fairly
careful about your choice of questions (see
http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2005/02/the_curse_of_th.html for
more on this.)

For folks on campus this really shouldn't be that hard, since password
resets can happen in person with real staff members who can verify ID
cards or drivers licenses or something.  But for folks you don't have
face to face contact with, and with whom you haven't established some
shared secrets or agreed upon secure channel (external E-mail or cell
phone number) ahead of time, authentication is extremely difficult to do
safely.

-- John W. Manly  <[log in to unmask]>  (413)542-2641
   Systems, Networking, and Telecommunications
   Amherst College

-----Original Message-----
From: Le Blanc, Jeffery [mailto:[log in to unmask]] 
Sent: Wednesday, April 25, 2007 4:55 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: [CIO] Releasing passwords

John, Jon, John et al,

We do this as well, that is three pieces of data allows them to reset
the password (even after expiration).  I can't imagine if we in IT, or
elsewhere within the institution, would have to field those calls to
reset them for the students without this automation.  I'd have to double
my staff (possibly an exaggeration).

Jeff

Jeffery A. Le Blanc, MBA
VP for Information Technology
University of Northwestern Ohio
1441 N. Cable Rd.
Lima, OH 45805
[log in to unmask]
419.998.3107
Fax: 419.229.6926
www.unoh.edu


-----Original Message-----
From: John Beck [mailto:[log in to unmask]]
Sent: Wednesday, April 25, 2007 2:43 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: [CIO] Releasing passwords

How many Johns does it take to carry on a conversation?  :-)

We do what Jon suggested - we have a web interface that validates the
individual based on a core set of info and allows them to reset their
password.  This permits the password resetting to take place even after
the password has expired (which happens during the summer or when
students are overseas, etc.).

I hear the concern that the core set of identification info may not be
sufficiently secure.  We use three different info items and hope/believe

that's enough.  We may look further into that.

John

--
Give a person a fish and you feed them for a day.
Teach that person to use the Internet and they won't bother you for
weeks.

--
John L. Beck
Director, Computer Services
St. Norbert College
100 Grant Street
De Pere, WI 54115-2099
---------------------------
E-Mail: [log in to unmask]
Phone: (920) 403-3866
Fax: (920) 403-4084


Jon E. Mitchiner wrote:
> John,
>
> What is your definition of "release"?  Does this mean that you would 
> be sharing the password back with the user?  If so, this could be 
> potentially dangerous.  Some users may use the same password for a 
> number of services, such as at their University, for their Yahoo 
> e-mail account, and so forth.
>
> I think a safer mechanism would be to reset the password.  If the 
> legal user notices they can't log into the system anymore, they will 
> know someone changed their password.
> Jon E. Mitchiner
> ITS Director
> (202) 651-5300
> (202) 651-5477 (Fax)
>
>
>
> John Davis wrote:
>> We can easily build a web-page that asks for various items such as 
>> SSN, ERP ID, Birthdate, etc. to validate the person know that 
>> information in order to release a "password".  I have staff members 
>> thinking that this is not secure enough.
>>
>> Can some of you give me an idea how you release passwords to an 
>> individual who has forgotten their password?  Any other information 
>> will be appreciated.
>>
>> Thanks,
>>
>> John
>>
>> ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
>>  John R. Davis, CIO           E-mail: [log in to unmask]
>>  Information Technology       http://www.marietta.edu/~davisj
>>  Marietta College
>>  215 5th St                   Voice: (740) 376-4390
>>  Marietta, OH  45750          Fax:   (740) 376-4896
>> ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

**********
Participation and subscription information for this EDUCAUSE Constituent
Group discussion list can be found at http://www.educause.edu/groups/.

**********
Participation and subscription information for this EDUCAUSE Constituent
Group discussion list can be found at http://www.educause.edu/groups/.

**********
Participation and subscription information for this EDUCAUSE Constituent Group discussion list can be found at http://www.educause.edu/groups/.

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