Password Resets in the Enterprise

Password Reset may seem like a simple task, but performing it successfully is integral to account security. 

We've all had to reset a password at one point or another. The process can be somewhat tedious, especially when you want to get into an account quickly; however, it's important to look past this minor annoyance, and understand why it is in fact a very important piece to the account security puzzle.

When is password reset required?

Typically, a password reset is done when a user is not able to log into one or more applications - either they forgot their password or it has expired. To construct a secure password reset policy, businesses need to decide:

  • Who should have password reset privileges? 
  • Should password reset privileges apply to all users, a specific group of users or an individual user account? 

Why is having a secure password reset process important?

Having a secure password reset process is crucial for mitigating IT security risks in an enterprise environment. Password resets in an enterprise environment are unique, because a user often has accounts on several applications. This requires users to know and maintain credentials for each individual application, and if the standard protocol for password reset is not secure, the risk of passwords being lost, stolen or compromised increases. 

What does a secure password reset process look like? 

For enterprise environments, password reset typically follows the progression in the diagram below: 


What are causes for security concerns? 

The part of any password reset process that causes several IT security concerns is how to definitively confirm that the source of the request is the owner of the account. Is the appropriate user asking to create a new password or is someone attempting to hack into the account? Another concern is how to send the temporary password to the owner of the account. If either concern is not addressed, any data accessible in an account that had a password reset is not secure.

How are these concerns mitigated?

The specifications for how to validate a password reset request should include gathering information known only to the owner of the account, such as security questions. To further verify the request, any contact information in the account should also be used to confirm that the requester is also the owner of the account. 

To reduce security risks even more, it is best to have the time between a password reset and the next user login to be as brief as possible. This can be done by emailing the user a temporary password reset link that expires after a certain period of time. 

Note: In enterprise environments this option may not always be available if users do not have a secondary email -  the user’s primary email account could be an application that they are not able to access. 

If the user contacted a help desk or if they are not able to access their email account, another possible option is resetting the password while on a call with the user, then having the user set their own password. Both options have the advantage of encouraging the user to set their new password as soon as possible.

An IAM product such as Oracle Identity Manager or Forgerock OpenIDM can be used to configure self-service password resets for users - recover accounts without contacting the help desk. Self-service Password Resets can reduce the amount of help desk calls, but may not always be the best option depending on how your organization confirms the owner of an account.

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Lucas Farrell is a Systems Engineer at Hub City Media, with a focus in implementing Identity and Access Management solutions for clients. In his spare time, he enjoys cooking, gaming and the beach.