Costs and benefits of authentication advice

13 Aug 2020  ·  Murray Hazel, Malone David ·

When it comes to passwords, conflicting advice can be found everywhere. Different sources give different types of advice related to authentication. In this paper such advice is studied. First, using a sample collection of authentication advice, we observe that different organizations' advice is often contradictory and at odds with current research. We highlight the difficulties organizations and users have when determining which advice is worth following. Consequently, we develop a model for identifying costs of advice. Our model incorporates factors that affect organizations and users, including, for example, usability aspects. Similarly, we model the security benefits brought by such advice. We then apply these models to our taxonomy of advice to indicate the potential effectiveness of the security recommendations. We find that organizations experience fewer costs than users as a result of authentication policies. Reassuringly, the advice our model has classified as good or bad, is in line with the NIST 2017 digital authentication guidelines.

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Cryptography and Security


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