Implementing Password Policies

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If you’re planning to take the SY0-501 exam, you should have a good understanding of important password security concepts. This includes the something you know authentication factor.  This factor is the least secure form of authentication. However, you can increase the security of a password by following some simple password policies and guidelines.

For example, can you answer this practice test question?

Q. Ned is reviewing password security for employees of The Leftorium. The password policy has the following settings:

• The password maximum age is 30 days.
• The password minimum length is 14 characters.
• Passwords cannot be reused until five other passwords have been used.
• Passwords must include at least one of each of the following four character types: uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters.

Ned discovers that despite having this password policy in place, users are still using the same password that they were using more than a month ago. Which of the following actions will resolve this issue?

A. Create a rule in the password policy for the password minimum age to be 7 days.
B. Change the password history to 10.
C. Require the use of complex passwords.
D. Change the maximum age setting to 60 days.

More, do you know why the correct answer is correct and the incorrect answers are incorrect? The answer and explanation are available at the end of this post.

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Group Policy

Windows domains use Group Policy to manage multiple users and computers in a domain. Group Policy allows an administrator to configure a setting once in a Group Policy Object (GPO) and apply this setting to many users and computers within the domain. Active Directory Domain Services (AD DS) is a directory service Microsoft developed for Windows domain networks. It is included in most Windows Server operating systems as a set of processes and services. Administrators implement domain Group Policy on domain controllers.

Although you can implement Group Policy on single, stand-alone Windows computers, the great strength of Group Policy comes when you implement it in a Microsoft domain. As an example, if you want to change the local Administrator password on all the computers in your domain, you can configure a GPO once, link the GPO to the domain, and it changes the local Administrator password for all the computers in the domain. The magic of Group Policy is that it doesn’t matter if you have five systems or five thousand systems. The policy still only needs to be set once to apply to all systems in the domain.

Administrators also use Group Policy to target specific groups of users or computers. For example, in a Microsoft domain, administrators organize user accounts and computer accounts in organizational units (OUs). They can then create a GPO, link it to a specific OU, and the GPO settings only apply to the users and computers within the OU. These settings do not apply to users and computers in other OUs.

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Using a Password Policy

A common group of settings that administrators configure in Group Policy is the Password Policy settings. Password policies typically start as a written document that identifies the organization’s security goals related to passwords. For example, it might specify that passwords must be at least 14 characters long, complex, and users should change them every 45 days. Administrators then implement these requirements with a technical control such as a technical Password Policy within a GPO.

The figure shows the Local Group Policy Editor with the Password Policy selected in the left pane. The right pane shows the password policy for a Windows system and the following text explains these settings:

Implementing Password Policies

Password Policy in Windows

Enforce password history. Some users will go back and forth between two passwords that they constantly use and reuse. However, password history remembers past passwords and prevents the user from reusing previously used passwords. For example, setting this to 24 prevents users from reusing passwords until they’ve used 24 new passwords.
Maximum password age. This setting defines when users must change their password. For example, setting this to 45 days causes the password to expire after 45 days. This forces users to reset their password to a new password on the 46th day.
Minimum password age. The minimum password age defines how long users must wait before changing their password again. If you set this to 1 day, it prevents users from changing their passwords until 1 day has passed. This is useful with a password history to prevent users from changing their password multiple times until they get back to the original password. If the password history is set to 24 and the minimum password age is set to 1 day, it will take a user 25 days to get back to the original password. This is enough to discourage most users.
Minimum password length. This setting enforces the character length of the password. It’s common to require users to have passwords at least 14 characters long, but some organizations require administrators to have longer passwords.
Password must meet complexity requirements. This setting requires users to have complex passwords that include at least three of the four character types (uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters).
Store passwords using reversible encryption. Reversible encryption stores the password in such a way that the original password can be discovered. This is rarely enabled.

Implementing Account Lockout Policies

Accounts will typically have lockout policies preventing users from guessing the password. If a user enters the wrong password too many times (such as three or five times), the system locks the user’s account. The figure shows the Password Policy settings. The Account Lockout Policy is right below it and allows administrators to use Group Policy to implement a lockout policy.

Two key phrases associated with account lockout policies are:
Account lockout threshold. This is the maximum number of times a user can enter the wrong password. When the user exceeds the threshold, the system locks the account.
Account lockout duration. This indicates how long an account remains locked. It could be set to 30, indicating that the system will lock the account for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, the system automatically unlocks the account. If the duration is set to 0, the account remains locked until an administrator unlocks it.


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Q. Ned is reviewing password security for employees of The Leftorium. The password policy has the following settings:

• The password maximum age is 30 days.
• The password minimum length is 14 characters.
• Passwords cannot be reused until five other passwords have been used.
• Passwords must include at least one of each of the following four character types: uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters.

Ned discovers that despite having this password policy in place, users are still using the same password that they were using more than a month ago. Which of the following actions will resolve this issue?
A. Create a rule in the password policy for the password minimum age to be 7 days.
B. Change the password history to 10.
C. Require the use of complex passwords.
D. Change the maximum age setting to 60 days.

Answer is A. The best solution is to create a rule in the password policy for the password minimum age. Currently, users can change their passwords five more times in just a couple of minutes, changing it back to their original password on the sixth change.

None of the other settings prevent the users from doing this.

A password history of 10 forces the users to take a couple more minutes to get back to the original password.

The password policy currently requires complex passwords.

A maximum age of 60 days increases how long a user can keep the same password.

See Chapter 2 of the CompTIA Security+: Get Certified Get Ahead: SY0-501 Study Guide for more information on authentication concepts.

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