Fresh start: Time to reset passwords and rethink your password management strategy

Most people have probably broken their new year’s resolutions by now, but here’s one I plan to stick with: resetting my passwords and rethinking the strategy behind password management solutions. 

Here’s why. If you work in information security, you already know how severe the LastPass breach of security, announced in late December 2022, was. By at least one account in Wired, the LastPass hack was “actually a massive and concerning data breach that exposed encrypted password vaults—the crown jewels of any password manager—along with other user data.”  

The big problem for users is that, as Wired points out, changing the LastPass master password that protects the vault data won’t be able to protect the data that has already been stolen. And that’s a big issue.  

Over the past decade, we relied on LastPass (or alternatives like 1Password, or Apple’s iCloud Keychain) to keep our critical passwords accessible – and more importantly – safe. We were relieved that we could have the convenience of an automated solution that could also keep our passwords protected in an encrypted format. We assumed the security measures were foolproof. But with this latest LastPass breach, it’s time to rethink the password strategy.  

Password resolutions 

It’s a new year, so why not make a fresh start with your password security? Update and refresh your passwords, regardless of whether you think you’ve been compromised or have a chance of being compromised. This is critical, even if you don’t leverage a password manager, relying instead on a sheet of paper or dozens of sticky notes.  

With this latest breach and those earlier in 2022, it’s more than likely that your employees have at least one or more of their passwords sitting out there exposed in the wild. And it doesn’t matter whether you point the finger at LastPass or something else. If somebody has had a password that’s been live for more than a year, they’re probably putting themselves and the company at risk. 

It’s also time to rethink your use of password managers. Do you want to place that much trust with all your passwords in the hands of one vendor? There may have been a time about 5-7 years ago when it was super convenient and safer to use password managers. But the LastPass breach proved that even the most convenient and secure ‘foolproof systems’ have flaws and can be hacked as well.   

Managing employee access 

Taking it a step further, make it a point to do continuous employee training to help your teams avoid being duped by phishing and malware tactics. User behavior in organizations has proven over and over to be a significant vulnerability for organizations, often leading to exposed credentials. 

At least two studies on data breaches during 2022 found that employee errors or mistakes caused either 88% or 95% of data breaches. You choose which number you believe. In any case, that is too high of a percentage to ignore, and it’s likely going to grow unless organizations rethink how they provide and manage access to their critical systems. More often than not, too many employees have access to things that they don’t really need.   

What about cloud security? 

Organizations must also better understand who can access corporate assets in the cloud. In theory, cloud security should be stronger as some of the very best enterprise organizations manage it. But breaches can occur, even within those organizations, like one did in May 2022 at AWS.  

In your cloud environment, access monitoring should also be a priority. Managing permissions and levels of permission can get complicated with revolving contractors and provisioning issues, and potentially hundreds of layers of functionality, each with its own layer of permissioning. Limiting access is important not just for improved security, but also for cost reduction. Why pay for access for people who don’t need it or shouldn’t have it? 

Among my portfolio companies is an enterprise security company that’s helping to refine exactly how to automate access management for cloud environments and SaaS applications. Their MO is all about determining which employees or contractors have access to which systems and projects; and enabling the continuous provisioning and management of these. The solution can quickly prune employees who are no longer employees or contractors who are no longer on the project, which improves security and drives down costs. This is all done while ensuring that users only have the access they need to do their jobs. I’m confident that efforts in this direction will become more commonplace moving forward.  

Beyond limiting access, reducing human error will also lessen opportunities for a cybersecurity attack on your organization. This requires continuous training around phishing, password cycling, and web surfing behavior, among other topics. Taking these proactive precautions within your organization can reduce human mistakes leading to cybersecurity data breaches.  

Consolidation driving progress 

While it appeared that 2022 was going to have a pretty weak showing when it came to growth rounds and exits for cybersecurity firms, a late investment surge in Q4 led to a better-than-expected investment scenario, according to Momentum Cyber research.  

The year ahead could see consolidation among firms in cybersecurity and data management. As financial markets start to recover and larger companies gain more confidence, they may be more inclined to buy the advanced technology that the startup world provides, likely at lower multiples than what may have been previously achievable a few months ago. And with market consolidation, CISOs may see some relief as one-off relationships get tucked into one of the larger providers. This would be good for the startup world, and more so for security execs looking to drive down the number of vendor relationships to manage. 

The year ahead looks promising. By taking a proactive stance to resetting passwords, rethinking password management strategies, improving employee cybersecurity savvy, and limiting who has access to what and when – you may just be able to better safeguard against some of the nefarious attacks 2023 might have in store for us.   

Password Managers, Passwords, Security