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March 30, 2006

Password resets in NDS

One of the simplest aspects of increasing security of user accounts and passwords is allowing people to easily and securely change their password whenever they want.

I would not be surprised if the majority of people never changed any passwords once they have been set. In this day and age with everyone registering for so many websites, how you can keep up with regular password changes. Most people just don't see the point, they figure their password is already secure and why would anyone want to hack their account anyway?

As I've mentioned before, we don't quite have Single Sign On at the University because there are still a few places that don't tie into our central NDS LDAP directory. However, for most people that NDS password does cover a lot of things. This is good…and bad. If that password gets compromised then the attacker is going to get into a lot of things. But, if you've only got one password to remember, there would be less resistence to changing it.

At the moment you have to login to our Novell Portal (Insite) to change your password on the web (you can also change it on the managed desktop or via the service desk). However, a lot of people login via the SSO screen that secures things like SiteBuilder, Forums, Blogs, etc… If we had a change password gadget there then it would be much more visible and easy for users to change. Question is…how to do it? Our handy friends at WBS helped us out there with a chunk of code that they use.

env.put("java.naming.security.principal", user);
env.put("java.naming.security.credentials", pass);
LdapContext ldapContext = (LdapContext) getLdapCtxFactory().getInitialContext((Hashtable) env);

ModificationItem removeItem = new ModificationItem(DirContext.REMOVE_ATTRIBUTE,new BasicAttribute("userPassword",pass));
ModificationItem replaceItem = new ModificationItem(DirContext.ADD_ATTRIBUTE,new BasicAttribute("userPassword",newPassword));

ldapContext.modifyAttributes(user,new ModificationItem[] {removeItem,replaceItem});

The trick is that you have to bind as the user who is changing their password and then you must do a remove of the password attribute followed by adding the attribute back again (you can't just do a replace). This works a treat, but it only allows users to change their passwords when they already know them. It does not provide a "I've forgotten my password" facility. This is a lot harder as it means that some web app must have admin access to everyones passwords…so for now we are holding off on that one, but it is something that would be very valuable in the future as I can only imagine how many service desk calls a year we get about forgotten passwords.

Update: Having just looked at our service desk call logging system (HEAT), I see that in the last 2 weeks of term 12% of service desk calls were about forgotten passwords in some shape or form. Obviously an online password reset/forgotten password service would not get all of these, you would hope it could significantly reduce the workload of the service desk.


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