Today, our lives are more digitally connected than ever. The internet has brought us a plethora of benefits, making day-to-day activities, such as shopping, banking, and communication, easier for society. This convenience does come at a cost, however. Every important activity we perform on the internet is associated with a digital identity, and this identity is only as secure as we make it.
Unfortunately, as seen across multiple incidents in recent history, not everyone’s digital identity on the internet has been maintained securely. The primary culprit in these incidents, such as the LinkedIn Data Breach in 2012, the Yahoo Data Breach in 2012-13, or the GoDaddy Data Breach in 2021, is weak passwords.
As software developers, it is essential to remember that our applications’ data is only as secure as the people who use them. Identity verification carries the utmost importance here, which leads us to discuss the necessity of using passwords to secure access to data and resources in our software, or as we say in short, “password protection.” In this blog, let’s learn why strong password protection is essential and what best practices we can keep in mind while implementing the same.
Why strong password protection is necessary to implement
There are numerous reasons why we as developers must implement password protection in our software:
Safeguard User Data
Developers are responsible for protecting sensitive user information such as personal data, financial details, and other private information. Proper password protection ensures unauthorized individuals cannot access this data, helping maintain user trust and privacy.
Protect Application Integrity
Weak password protection can lead to unauthorized access, resulting in data breaches, application functionality tampering, and other malicious activities. By implementing robust password protection measures, developers can maintain the integrity of their applications and minimize the risk of cyberattacks.
Prevent Unauthorized Access
A strong password protection system helps prevent unauthorized users from gaining access to restricted areas of an application, such as admin panels or user accounts. This ensures that only authorized users can access and modify data, reducing the chances of data leaks and minimizing possible attack vectors.
Reduce Support and Incident Response Costs
A secure password protection system can reduce the number of support requests and incidents related to compromised accounts. This, in turn, reduces the time and resources spent on handling these issues, allowing developers to focus on improving the application and delivering new features.
Compliance with Regulations
Various data protection regulations and standards, such as GDPR, HIPAA, and PCI DSS, require developers to implement secure authentication mechanisms, including strong password protection. Failing to comply with these regulations can lead to legal penalties, fines, and reputational damage.
Preserve Brand Reputation
Data breaches and security incidents severely impact a company’s reputation, leading to a loss of user trust and potential financial losses. Developers can help protect their company’s brand and maintain customer confidence by implementing proper password protection measures.
Best practices to implement password protection
Now that we have discussed the importance of password protection, let’s learn about some best practices to remember as you implement password protection policies for your software:
Enforce strong password policies
Encourage users to create strong, unique passwords by enforcing password requirements such as keeping minimum length, having a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters, and removing personal information such as their name, date of birth, or email address. You can use libraries like zxcvbn to estimate password strength and provide suggestions for improvement.
Maintain password dictionary
Utilize a password dictionary that contains commonly used weak passwords to check for when any user sets their password. This prevents any user from choosing a password that can be easily cracked in scenarios such as brute-force attacks.
Enforce maximum password age policy and password history
Enforce a maximum password age to ensure all users periodically update their passwords. Maintaining password history prevents compromised passwords from being used to attack a system or application beyond a limited time frame.
Implement multi-factor authentication (MFA)
Add an extra layer of security by requiring users to provide a second form of verification (or more), such as a one-time password sent via email or SMS to their mobile device generated by an authenticator app like Google Authenticator or Twilio Authy.
Secure password resets
Implement password reset functionality using a secure token that expires after a short period. Send the token via a secure communication channel like email or SMS, and require users to enter the token with their new password to ensure the individual is authorized to update the password.
Hash and salt passwords
Always store hashed and salted passwords instead of plain text. Hashing is a one-way function that transforms a password into a fixed-length string of characters, while salting adds a random value to the password before hashing to prevent precomputed attacks like rainbow tables. Use modern hashing algorithms like bcrypt, scrypt, or Argon2, which are designed to be slow and computationally expensive, making brute-force attacks more difficult.
Use rate limiting and account lockout mechanisms
Prevent brute-force attacks by temporarily locking accounts or requiring users to complete a captcha after a certain number of failed login attempts. Implement rate limiting to limit the number of authentication attempts within a specific time frame. This will also give your team time to investigate and prevent attacks before damage is caused.
Monitor and audit
Regularly monitor and audit your authentication system for suspicious activity and maintain logs to help with incident response and forensic analysis.
Educate your users
Please help your users understand why setting strong passwords is necessary and how password managers like LastPass, 1Password, or Bitwarden can help them generate and manage their passwords.
Security is a shared responsibility between developers and users. Collaborating with them in this process is essential to implement better password protection and keep your applications secure. As a developer, by the way, if you would like to try an authentication solution that implements better password protection policies out-of-the-box, look at Appwrite. With various features such as password hashing, session limits, a strong permissions system, password history, a password dictionary, and personal data checks in passwords, Appwrite Authentication offers an easy-to-implement yet robust authentication system for you to build with.