UNIX Sysadmin Boot Camp: Passwords

November 11, 2011

It's been a while since our last UNIX Sysadmin Boot Camp ... Are you still with me? Have you kept up with your sysadmin exercises? Are you starting to get comfortable with SSH, bash and your logs? Good. Now I have an important message for you:

Your password isn't good enough.

Yeah, that's a pretty general statement, but it's shocking how many people are perfectly fine with a six- or eight-character password made up of lowercase letters. Your approach to server passwords should be twofold: Stick with it and Be organized.

Remembering a 21-character password like ^@#*!sgsDAtg5t#ghb%!^ may seem daunting, but you really don't have to remember it. For a server, secure passwords are just as vital as any other form of security. You need to get in the habit of documenting every username and password you use and what they apply to. For the sake of everything holy, keep that information in a safe place. Folding it up and shoving it in your socks is not advised (See: blisters).

Want to make your approach to password security even better? Change your passwords every few months, and make sure you and at least one other trusted colleague or friend knows where to find them. You're dealing with sensitive material, but you can never guarantee that you will be available to respond to a server-based emergency. In these cases, your friends and co-workers end up scrambling through bookshelves and computer files to find any trace of useful information.

Having been one of the abovementioned co-workers in this situation, I can attest that it is nearly impossible to convince customer service that you are indeed a representative of the company having no verification information or passwords to provide.

Coming soon: Now you've got some of the basics, what about the not-so-basics? I'll start drafting some slightly more advanced tips for the slightly more advanced administrator. If you have any topics you'd like us to cover, don't hesitate to let us know in a comment below.