Strengthening Data Protection on World Password Day: The Role of Strong Passwords and Multi-Factor Authentication

Strengthening Data Protection on World Password Day: The Role of Strong Passwords and Multi-Factor Authentication

With World Password Day on 2nd May, it’s a great reminder for us of how we protect our data and digital information. Businesses are facing both unsophisticated and increasingly sophisticated cyber threats and data breaches which is why it’s important to remember how passwords help play a part in safeguarding our data from security risks. More than that, passwords are the gateway to all information on our devices, the cloud and more.

Protecting our data is vital, as the consequences of a data breach can be severe, both financially and for your reputation. Data breaches can be costly due to legal fees, remediation costs and reputational damages without considering the idea of ransomware. I don’t say fines, because here in the UK the regulatory regime doesn’t often fine organisations! Should you suffer a breach, you may lose the trust of customers which will have a long-term impact on your business’s stability and growth. This is why we have to make it our priority to emphasise the importance of using passwords and the practices in place for using them.

Passwords are our primary use of authenticating our access to accounts, systems and digital information. They are our first line of defence against cyber threats and often the first element to be targeted. However, in today’s digital climate strong passwords are simply not strong enough to protect us, but they’re a good place to start. According to guidelines from the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), strong passwords should be a combination of different words, including both uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and special characters, and be at least 12 characters long. Creating these unique and strong passwords will help protect your data and make it harder for cybercriminals to break.

The NCSC also emphasises the importance of never duplicating passwords across multiple systems. Reusing passwords can increase the risk of a single compromised password leading to unauthorised access many systems and a significantly worse situation. Instead, employees of your business should use unique passwords for each account or site and update them in line with business policy.

However, as mentioned before, passwords alone no matter how strong are not enough to withstand a breach. Businesses and its employees (both within the organisation and personally) should also adopt strong password practices such as using multi-factor authentication (MFA) to add an extra layer of security to their accounts. This requires users to provide two or more forms of authentication typically through different combinations such as a password, a one-time code sent to a different email or device or by using a security app. There are often misconceptions surrounding MFA such as it’s only available for certain accounts or services, however most online platforms and services support MFA, either directly through their authentication mechanisms or by integrating with third-party authentication apps or services. MFA significantly reduces the risk of unauthorised access, even if a password is compromised and should be used wherever possible so that individuals and businesses can enhance the security of their accounts and protect sensitive data. Preferably authenticator apps rather than the use of SMS (text) messaging should be adopted for the best protection.

Password management software tools such as Dashlane, LastPass or Keeper offer a robust solution to the challenges of maintaining strong, unique passwords across multiple accounts and platforms. Not only does password management software simplify the process of generating and storing complex passwords, it also enhances your security by encrypting sensitive information and providing features like two-factor authentication. By adopting such tools, businesses can significantly reduce the risk of data breaches resulting from weak or reused passwords. Moreover, these tools streamline access to accounts and improve productivity by eliminating the need to remember numerous login credentials. Anyone selecting a password management solution should take care to consider multiple systems and look at all the pros and cons of each. Do your research.

One of the most effective ways to safeguard against cyber threats is through regular staff training focused on passwords and phishing awareness. By consistently educating employees on the importance of strong, unique passwords and the tactics used by cybercriminals in phishing attacks, businesses can significantly reduce the risk of data breaches and financial losses. These training sessions not only equip employees with the knowledge to recognise and avoid phishing attempts, but also empower them to play an active role in maintaining the security of your business. Ultimately, investing in staff training not only strengthens the defence against cyber threats but also cultivates a culture of vigilance and responsibility within the workplace.

Whilst World Password Day is a great reminder in the calendar, password management should be something we are constantly reviewing and considering. To conclude, the best way for your business to be as safe as possible when it comes to password and data breaches is to please ensure that you’re:

  • Using strong passwords in line with NCSC
  • Not reusing passwords across multiple systems
  • Enabling and using MFA on as many systems as possible
  • Providing staff training
  • Appropriate policies covering these areas are in place
  • Regularly reviewing the need for Password Management Software it’s not already in place