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At the annual RSA Conference in 2006, Bill Gates predicted the death of the password. He said, "There is no doubt that over time, people are going to be relying less and less on the password because it cannot meet the challenge of keeping critical information secure."

Gates joins a long line of security visionaries who have predicted the password's demise. Yet to date none of them has been right and reports of the password's death have been greatly exaggerated.

In fact, passwords are still the predominant form of authentication for IT security. While admittedly weak from a broad security perspective, the reason for this is simple: they are easy to use and ubiquitous.

That being said, for many organizations, password management has become a complex administrative burden. For example, in an organization with 10,000 employees using two dozen applications with a unique password for each, the IT department could have up to 240,000 different passwords to manage. Add strict password creation and change policies to the mix, and it is clear why passwords can become such a source of frustration.

Employees can create huge password problems just by following basic human instincts. When given the freedom to choose their own passwords, they often select easy-to-remember passwords. Unfortunately, easy to remember often translates into "obvious," which makes them easy to hack.

In addition, many users pick the same password, or a close variation, for every application. But when users are forced to make the passwords more complex, they inherently become more difficult to remember, resulting in passwords being written down or stored all together in a desktop file.

There is no doubt about it: passwords introduce security issues. But security needs to be balanced with business enablement -- and passwords are also a very business-friendly means of authentication. Generally, they provide users with rapid access to their applications, and with automated password reset, synchronization, single sign-on and other technologies, the IT help desk costs associated with passwords have been significantly reduced.

The solution to the password problem, then, is not to eliminate passwords altogether, but to eradicate the need for users to remember them, which is the source of many problems associated with password management. Enterprise single sign-on (ESSO) eases the authentication process for users and IT administrators.


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