Tutorial :Why restrict the length of a password?



Question:

I've just signed up to a site to purchase some goods, and when I tried to enter my (reasonably secure) password I was informed it was too long, and that I should enter a password between 5 & 10 characters! What is the point in that? Who makes decisions like this? Surely the ideal password would be a really long and complicated one? Why do people insist on trying to restrict what types of passwords you can use?

Have you had to implement a login to a website? Was the login for secure purposes (e.g. purchasing goods). What (if any) restrictions did you place on the user's password? What were your reasons for the decision?


Solution:1

Restricting the size of a password is an attempt to save storage space. It pretty much indicates that your password is being stored plainly in their database, so they want to restrict its size. Otherwise it's just a restriction because the implementors don't know any better. Either way it's a bad sign.

You might want to contact the admins of the site and ask them about it. They should be storing hashes, not passwords, which are always the same size no matter how big the password is. There really should be no limit to the size of password you enter, nor the domain of characters you're permitted to input.


Solution:2

The most common reason for this is because the front-end intgrates with some old legacy system that does not handle more than a given number of characters.


Solution:3

Seems especially stupid, given that any half decent website does not store plaintext passwords in their database, they store a one way hash of that password (which will always be a set length depending on the algorithm used, for example sha1 is a 160 bit digest) and then rehash that password on login to make sure that the newly hashed password matches the stored one.

Other than for frontend design asthetics - I agree, it doesn't make any sense to enforce a maximum password length. Minimum length is entirely different though for obvious reasons.


Solution:4

The length restriction is probably due to a storage space concern, but it might be a really bad anti-scripting measure. I'd be a lot more confident if my bank told me my password was too short, rather than too long. Whenever I'm told my password is too short, or "special" characters are not allowed I think, "Oh, they must not have found my password in their dictionary... facepalm."

Any characters should be allowed. Pass phrases should be encouraged, not discouraged. They're much easier to remember than cryptic passwords and much harder to crack since they won't be in a lookup table.


Solution:5

Some (poorly designed) websites have maximum password lengths for a simple reason: that's all the space they have in their database to store your password. There's a good chance they're not hashing it or processing it at all, meaning it's stored in plain text. Websites like that I use one use, throw-away passwords for every time. It's a poor design, and it's unfortunate that people still use it.


Solution:6

It could be that the algorithm they use for encryption doesn't work well with large passwords or that they only have limited storage to store it. Both are very poor reasons, I know, but it's possible.

If I were to make password rules, it would only be things to protect users, like forcing them to use at least one special character and number or mixing lower and upper case.


Solution:7

A case-insensitive 10 character alphanumeric password has 839,299,365,868,340,224 possible permutations. It's going to take a few ice ages to brute force this assuming it can check 1 million per second. That's secure enough for me.

The "best" reason is probably so you can remember the password.


Solution:8

It could be because they are storing your password as plain text and are trying to save space, but it might also be to try and stop people making their passwords really long and then forgetting them, which means that the company has to send an email with your password, which is a bit of a hassle.


Solution:9

The only possible reason to limit a password in that manner would be to simplify the database table, and that's a bad reason. Long, complicated passwords should be allowed!

Futhermore, the site should not be storing the password at all, but rather storing a crypto hash. Since the hash is a fixed size, that makes the database very simple and storage requirements small.


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