Passwords re-used by six out of ten consumers

Passwords remain a brittle security blanket when wielded by many consumers, a new survey has found. Despite routine web breaches, six out of ten continue to re-use the same few passwords over and over.

The survey results from US fraud-detection vendor CSID shouldn't be surprising. As well as risky password re-use which makes multiple sites vulnerable from a single breach, 54 percent of respondents had only 5 passwords or fewer while 44 percent changed these once a year or less.

No surprise to report that the most reckless use of passwords was among users under 24 years old.

The small number of passwords seems to be driven in part by the fact most users access fewer than half dozen sites, although memorisation issues are a concern for more than half which underlines that few bother to use secure password vaults to ease this hassle.

Most passwords are between 8 and 10 characters, although in fairness not all sites allow passwords of a longer or even unlimited length. Complexity wasn't examined.

"Many businesses don't fully grasp how consumers' password habits can impact their security and safety," said CSID CIO, Adam Tyler.

"Our survey results confirm what CSID has long suspected: that consumers tend to practice poor password habits, like reusing the same login information across multiple sites, without even realising that those practices are dangerous," he said.

The end result? Twenty-one percent of these consumers had experienced an online account compromise.

"The survey makes it clear that businesses can't rely on consumers to exercise secure password practices, and need to understand the potential impact of this behaviour and how to mitigate risk."

The survey was based on questioning only 1,200 US adults but it's possible to imagine that the results would have been similar had larger numbers been involved or the questions asked in other countries. Past evidence suggests that password insecurity is an international issue that won't go away.

An issue not addressed by the survey is that even long and unique passwords are vulnerable if the PC on which they are entered has been compromised by keylogging malware. For that reason, two-factor authentication is now probably a basic minimum for anyone with even a modest store of passwords.

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