Password Policy and Procedures

Passwords are an important aspect of computer security. They are the front line of protection for user accounts. A poorly chosen password may result in the compromise of Urban Institute (UI) entire corporate network. As such, all employees are responsible for taking the appropriate steps, as outlined below, to select and secure their passwords.

1. Purpose

The purpose of this policy is to establish a standard for the creation of strong passwords, the protection of those passwords, and the frequency of change.

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2. Policy

  1. All user-level network password must be changed at least every three months.
  2. Each successive password must be unique. Re-use of the same password will not be allowed.
  3. Passwords must be a minimum of eight (8) characters long.
  4. Passwords must not be inserted into e-mail messages or other forms of electronic communication.
  5. All user-level and system-level passwords must conform to the guidelines described below.
  6. Passwords should never be written down or stored online.

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3. Standards

A. General Password Construction Guidelines

Passwords are used for various purposes at UI. Some of the more common uses include: user-level accounts, web accounts, e-mail accounts, screen saver protection, voice-mail password, and local router logins. Since very few systems have support for one-time tokens (i.e., dynamic passwords which are only used once), everyone should be aware of how to select strong passwords.

  1. Poor, unacceptable passwords have the following characteristics:
    1. x mark The password contains fewer than eight characters
    2. x mark The password is a word found in a dictionary (English or foreign)
    3. x mark The password is a common usage word such as:
      •      • Names of family, pets, friends, co-workers, fantasy characters, etc.
      •      • Computer terms and names, commands, sites, companies, hardware, software
      •      • Acronyms for the agency or city.
      •      • Birthdays and other personal information such as addresses and phone numbers
      •      • Word or number patterns like aaabbb, qwerty, zyxwvuts, 123321, etc.
      •      • Any of the above spelled backwards
      •      • Any of the above preceded or followed by a digit (e.g., secret1, 1secret)
  2. Strong (acceptable) passwords have the following characteristics:
    1. check mark Contain both upper and lowercase characters (e.g., a-z, AZ)
    2. check mark Have digits and punctuation characters as well as letters (e.g., 0-9, !@#$%^&*()_+|~-=\`{}[]:";í<>?,./)
    3. check mark Are at least eight alphanumeric characters long
    4. check mark Are not a word in any language, slang, dialect, jargon, etc.
    5. check mark Are not based on personal information, names of family, etc.
    6. check mark Try to create passwords that can be easily remembered. One way to do this is create a password based on a song title, affirmation, or other phrase. For example, the phrase might be: "This May Be One Way To Remember" and the password could be: "TmB1w2R!" or "Tmb1W>r~" or some other variation.

NOTE: Do not use either of these examples as passwords!

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B. Password Protection Standards

Do not use the same password for UI accounts as for other non [Agency Name] access (e.g., personal ISP account, option trading, benefits, etc.). Where possible, don't use the same password for the various UI access needs. For example, select one password for the E-mail systems and a separate password for network systems.

Here is a list of "don'ts":
  • x mark Don't reveal a password over the phone to ANYONE.
  • x mark Don't reveal a password in an e-mail message.
  • x mark Don't talk about a password in front of others.
  • x mark Don't hint at the format of a password (e.g., "my family name").
  • x mark Don't reveal a password on questionnaires or security forms.
  • x mark Don't share a password with family members.
  • x mark Don't reveal a password to co-workers while on vacation.
  • x mark Don't write a password in an obvious place that is accessible to others.

Do not share agency passwords with anyone, including administrative assistants or secretaries. All passwords are to be treated as sensitive, confidential UI information.

If someone demands a password, refer them to this document or have them call someone in the Office of Network and Information Systems.

Do not use the "Remember Password" feature of applications (e.g., Eudora, Outlook, Netscape Messenger).

Again, do not write passwords down and store them anywhere in your office. Do not store passwords in a file on ANY computer system (including Palm Pilots or similar devices) without encryption.

Change passwords at least once every six months (except system-level passwords which must be changed quarterly). The recommended change interval is every four months.

If an account or password is suspected to have been compromised, report the incident to the Office of Network and information Systems and change all passwords.


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4. Links

Norton Password Generator

How Secure is my Password?


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