National Cyber Security Centre: Password managers ‘good for now, but not forever’

Written by Rebecca Hill on 27 January 2017 in News
News

Password managers may offer advantages in the short-term, but password-based authentication has “outstayed its welcome”, the National Cyber Security Centre has said.

Person hacking computer

Password managers are good, but have their downsides, says NCSC - Photo credit: Pixabay

Password managers are software applications that retain and automatically enter passwords for a range of sites, and can either be standalone or browser-based.

The UK’s cyber security centre has previously come out in favour of password managers as a way to protect multiple accounts, saying that stops bad behaviours, such as writing passwords down or making them easy to remember – and therefore guess.


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n a blogpost published this week, the centre sets out its stall more clearly, saying that password managers are generally “a good thing” because they make security measures easier and more convenient.

This is because having a manager makes it easy to use long, complex and unique passwords across different sites and services – the manager remembers them all for you and enters them automatically – and can be synced across devices.

But they also come with disadvantages, including that they are can be attractive targets in themselves – meaning all your passwords get stolen in one go – they require you to remember a master password and they can’t be used for everything. For instance, some banks might not refund you for cyber fraud if you have used a password manager.

The centre also noted that browser-based password managers may not sync across devices on different operating systems.

And, while the centre recommends the use of password managers in the short-term – saying that it was drawing up guidance for the use of managers in organisations – it added that “password-based authentication has outstayed its welcome.”

Instead, it advocates greater use of different authentication mechanisms that are more usable in everyday life and stop people being forced to remember passwords in the first place.

The centre suggested, for instance, that people consider using biometrics – like fingerprint readers on smartphones – and cutting down the number of passwords you use in the first place.

“Use multi-factor authentication or single sign-on where available,” it said. “For infrequently-used passwords, use a password reset mechanism when you need to log in (instead of making any attempt to recall or store the password).”

The centre concluded: “Password managers are a good thing - for now. But we hope not forever.”

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