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Schwartz On Security: Don't Get Hacked For the Holidays

The Gawker data breach highlights how few companies employ passwords for security, and how many Web site users treat them as little more than a nuisance.

Changed your password for Gawker, or on any of the other 20 Web sites for which you employ the same password? Make it a pre-2011 resolution.

Earlier this month, more than 1.3 million Gawker Media accounts -- including ones at Gawker, Gizmodo, Lifehacker, and Fleshbot -- were exposed by attackers, together with 540,000 related e-mail addresses, plus choice internal Gawker communications.

Not all Gawker passwords, which were encrypted, got cracked and released by attackers -- just the weak ones, of which there were plenty to go around. According to an analysis published by the Wall Street Journal, many Gawker users share an unhealthy affinity for mind-numbingly simple passwords.

Indeed, as gleaned from the 188,279 Gawker Media passwords that were exposed, here were the most popular choices: 123456, password, 12345678, lifehack, qwerty, abc123, 111111, monkey, consumer, and 12345. While all Gawker passwords had been encrypted, many were easily cracked by attackers. On the flipside, however, the data is not a true, representative sample of all passwords selected, since longer and less easy-to-guess passwords apparently weren't cracked by attackers.

Interestingly, many people's password choices are quite consistent with the results of a study released by Imperva in January 2010. Imperva analyzed the 32 million passwords exposed during the breach, and found that the most popular were: 123456, 12345, 123456789, Password, iloveyou, princess, and rockyou.

According to Imperva, "nearly 50% of users used names, slang words, dictionary words or trivial passwords -- consecutive digits, adjacent keyboard keys, and so on."

In addition, many people were recycling their passwords ad infinitum. As a result, according to a statement made at the time by Imperva CTO Amichai Shulman, "employees using the same passwords on Facebook that they use in the workplace bring the possibility of compromising enterprise systems with insecure passwords, especially if they are using easy to crack passwords."

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