Policy 9 - Password Policy

1.0 Overview

Passwords are an important aspect of computer security. They are the front line of protection for user accounts. A poorly chosen password may compromise Murray State University’s resources. As such, all students, faculty, staff, or individuals external to MSU who use MSU information technology resources are responsible for taking the appropriate steps, as outlined below, to select and secure their passwords.

2.0 Purpose

The purpose of this policy is to establish a standard for creation of strong passwords, the protection of those passwords, and the frequency of change. Any questions or comments about this policy should be directed to Information Systems.

3.0 Scope

The scope of this policy includes all individuals (students, faculty, staff, or individuals external to MSU) who have or are responsible for an account (or any form of access that supports or requires a password) on any system that resides at any Murray State University facility, has access to the Murray State University network, or stores any Murray State University information regardless of location.

4.0 Policy

4.1 General
  • All system-level passwords (e.g., root, enable, NT admin, application administration accounts, etc.) must be changed at least annually.
  • All user-level passwords (e.g., email, web, desktop computer, etc.) must be changed at least every six months.
  • After the departure of an employee, any user-level accounts for that individual must be disabled or changed to a role suitable to their status, and all system-level passwords known to that individual should be changed as soon as possible, not to exceed 3 days.
  • Passwords must not be inserted into email messages or other forms of electronic communication (unless encrypted in accordance with Acceptable Encryption Policy).
  • Where SNMP is used, the community strings must be defined as something other than the standard defaults of "public," "private" and "system" and must be different from the passwords used to log in interactively.
  • All user-level and system-level passwords must conform to the guidelines described below.
4.2 Guidelines

4.2.1 General Password Construction Guidelines

Some of the more common uses of passwords include: user level accounts, web accounts, email 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.

Weak passwords have the following characteristics which must be avoided:
  • The password contains less than eight characters 
  • The password is a word found in a dictionary (in any language) 
  • 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. 
    • The words "Murray State University", "murray", "racers" or any derivation. 
    • 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) 
Strong passwords have the following characteristics which will be followed regardless of system imposed restrictions:
  • Are at least eight alphanumeric characters long.
  • Are not words in any language, slang, dialect, jargon, etc.
  • Contain both upper and lower case characters (e.g., a-z, A-Z) 
  • Have digits and punctuation characters as well as letters e.g., 0-9, !@#$%^&*()_+|~-=\`{}[]:";'<>?,./)\
  • Are not based on personal information, names of family, etc.
Passwords should never be written down or stored online. 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 any of these examples as passwords!

4.2.2 Password Protection Standards

Do not use the same password for Murray State University accounts as for other non-Murray State University access (e.g., personal ISP account, personal email, forums, etc.). Where possible, don't use the same password for various Murray State University access needs.

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

Compliance with the following is required:
  • Don't reveal your password over the phone to ANYONE 
  • Don't reveal a password in an email message
  • Don't reveal a password to any supervisor 
  • Don't talk about a password in front of others 
  • Don't hint at the format of a password (e.g., "my family name") 
  • Don't reveal a password on questionnaires or security forms 
  • Don't share a password with family members 
  • Don't reveal a password to co-workers while away from the office
  • Don't write passwords down and store them anywhere in your office
  • Don't store passwords in a file on ANY computer system (including Palm Pilots or similar devices) without encryption
  • Don't use the "Remember Password" feature or the "Remember Me" on any application that contains sensitive data as defined by the Information Sensitivity Policy
If someone demands a password, refer them to this document or have them call the Information Security Officer.

If an account or password is suspected to have been compromised, report the incident immediately to the Information Security Officer and change all passwords.

Password cracking or guessing may be performed on a periodic or random basis by the Information Security personnel. If a password is guessed or cracked during one of these scans, the user will be required to change it.

4.2.3 Application Development Standards

Application developers must ensure their programs contain the following security precautions.

  • Should not store passwords in clear text or in any easily reversible form. 
  • Should provide for some sort of role management, such that one user can assume the functions of another without having to know the other's password where possible.
  • Require technical measures to enforce the password complexity requirements.
4.2.4 Pass phrases

Pass phrases are generally used for public/private key authentication. A public/private key system defines a mathematical relationship between the public key that is known by all, and the private key, that is known only to the user. Without the pass phrase to "unlock" the private key, the user cannot gain access.

Pass phrases are not the same as passwords. A pass phrase is a longer version of a password and is, therefore, more secure. A pass phrase is typically composed of multiple words. Because of this, a pass phrase is more secure against "dictionary attacks."

A good pass phrase is relatively long and contains a combination of upper and lowercase letters and numeric and punctuation characters. An example of a good pass phrase:


All of the rules above that apply to passwords apply to pass phrases.

5.0 Enforcement

Anyone found to have violated this policy may be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including suspension of access to technology resources or termination of employment. Students may be referred to Student Affairs for discipline. A violation of this policy by a temporary worker, contractor or vendor may result in action up to and including termination of their contract or assignment with Murray State University.

6.0 Definitions
Application Administration Account
Any account that is for the administration of an application (e.g., Oracle database administrator, SAN administrator).

SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol)
SNMP is used in network management systems to monitor network-attached devices for conditions that warrant administrative attention.

Murray State University Network
Being connected to a Murray State University network includes the following:
  • If you have a network capable device (ex. laptop) plugged into a Murray State University owned building, then you are connected to the MSU LAN (local area network).
  • If you have a wireless capable device (ex. laptop, iPhone) and connect to MSUWireless or MSUSecure, then you are connected to the MSU WLAN (wireless local area network).
  • If you connect from a computer through the Murray State University VPN (virtual private network), you are then connected to the MSU LAN (local area network).