Learn to balancing security and usability


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I just received notice that my Windows password will expire soon. Once again, I'm confronted with the task of memorizing a random eight- to 10-character alphanumeric string. Inconveniently, my brain retains passwords from years ago, and each new, non-reusable one is more difficult to remember. It literally has been only two weeks since I finally felt confident enough remembering my password that I stopped carrying it around in my wallet.

The password conundrum is just one way security has become increasingly intrusive during the last decade. The return on all this security is questionable and in some cases, the results are farcical.

For example, the message "Windows Firewall has blocked this program" provided a recent entertaining workplace security moment. The program turned out to be Microsoft Office Communicator, which we had just implemented in an attempt to wean employees away from "insecure" non-corporate forms of IM.

After IT rebuilt my laptop, I thought I'd finally be able to use Wi-Fi when visiting my parents, but after struggling mightily for 30 minutes, I gave up. The Wi-Fi configuration software on my laptop still has the WPA-PSK option blocked out, forcing me to use a primitive Ethernet cable. Maintaining tight control over Wi-Fi configuration is done to accommodate the enterprise authentication process in our offices, which is not very compelling for someone who spends only four hours a year working in one of them.

Overly protective security

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functionality happens at home too. My wife and I used to practice business continuity by regularly cross-backing up important data files between our two PCs, but the home LAN broke when SP2 arrived. It turned out to be a trivially simple NetBIOS issue that I quickly fixed. Connectivity went away, though, when my wife insisted on installing a $90 security package on her laptop. I doubt if it has actually prevented any malware and it certainly hasn't helped performance.

This was first published in October 2007

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