A Google/Harris Poll released earlier this week on Safer Internet Day found that 52% of respondents reuse the same password for multiple – but not all – accounts, while another 13% reuse the same password for all of their accounts.
"When you take the two numbers together, you're looking at 65% who use the same passwords for multiple accounts," says Emily Schechter, product manager for Chrome security at Google.
As a result, Google this week released the Password Checkup extension for its Chrome browser, which warns users whether their credentials have been compromised. Web users can enable these new features by downloading the extension.
Wherever a user signs in, if the user name and password entered appears in a data breach known to Google, the person will receive an alert to reset the password. Password Checkup, developed in a partnership with Stanford University, was built with privacy in mind. According to Google, it never reports any identifying information about a user’s accounts, passwords, or devices. However, Google does report anonymous information about the number of lookups that surface an unsafe credential, whether an alert leads to a password change, and the domain involved for improving site coverage.
"We've developed technology that will alert you that the credentials are compromised without knowing what the credentials are," Schechter says. "We'll also only notify you about current user names and passwords. We gave this a lot of thought and want to avoid spamming people to the point where they get warning fatigue."
The Google/Harris Poll also reveals that just 24% of those surveyed use a password manager, and 69% give themselves an A or B when it comes to protecting their online accounts.
Avivah Litan, a vice president and distinguished analyst who focuses on security at Gartner, says the low usage numbers for password managers are not surprising.
"Password managers are easy to use once you get it," Litan says. "They can create more problems for users because all their passwords are now in one place. As of right now, they are too much for average users to manage."
Frank Dickson, a research vice president in IDC's Security Products research practice, thinks the industry needs to move toward eliminating the password.
"The average person handles something like 200 user names and passwords," he says. "I think we are expecting a lot for people to manage all those passwords and change them every three months."
Regarding the finding that 69% of respondents give themselves high marks on security, Gartner's Litan says consumers are naïve.
"There are keyloggers out there all the time and serious security threats that are not visible to consumers," Litan says. "Many think that they know how to look for phishing emails or they use a complicated password. ... The NSA isn't confident they can protect their online accounts, so how can consumers?”