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Pew Research Study Exposes America's Poor Password Hygiene

Americans feel like they've lost control over their online lives, but they still aren't always practicing proper security.

A new survey by the Pew Research Center on how Americans view cybersecurity finds that most people are concerned about online security but forgo the necessary steps to protect themselves.

The survey of 1,040 US adults shows that 41% of them have shared the password to one of their online accounts with friends or family members. Young adults are especially likely to engage in this behavior – 56% of online adults ages 18- to 29 have shared passwords.

Along with sharing passwords, 39% say they use the same password or very similar passwords for many of their online accounts. And 25% often use passwords that are less secure than they’d like because simpler passwords are easier to remember than more complex passwords.

"When it comes to passwords, very few of us are acing the test," says Aaron Smith, a co-author of the report, and associate director, research, at Pew. "And no age group is doing particularly well."

Smith says the study also found that people feel that they have lost control over their personal information. For example, the study found that 64% have directly experienced some type of significant data theft or fraud and 49% think their personal data has become less secure in recent years.

Americans have also lost confidence in major institutions to protect their data, mostly notably the federal government (28%) and social media sites (24%).  In contrast, 42% of respondents say they are "somewhat confident" and another 27% say they are "very confident" that their credit card companies can be trusted to protect their data.

"In some ways it’s not a fair comparison because social media sites especially don’t have a full customer service staff and 1-800 numbers to call," says Eddie Schwartz, board director at ISACA. "Social media sites like Facebook are free and you get what you pay for."

Schwartz adds that for the most part the Pew data meshes with a recent ISACA/RSA study from last year where 74% of respondents said they expected to fall prey to a cyberattack in the next year, and 60% hsf experienced a phishing attack.

"So yes, we know these cyberattacks are happening, we know they are bad, we’re afraid, but not always willing to do something about it," Schwartz says.

On a more positive note, the Pew study found that 52% of those surveyed use two-factor authentication on at least some of their online accounts. And 57% say they vary their passwords across their online accounts.

Here’s a sampling of some of the other findings of the report:

  • Roughly 10% of those surveyed say they never update the apps on their smartphone, and only 32% do so automatically. Another 14% say they never update the operating system.
  • 51% surveyed say a major attack on our nation’s public infrastructure will "probably" happen in the next five years, while 18% say it will "definitely" happen.
  • 75% of American have heard at least something about the Target breach, and 47% has heard "a lot" about it. Only 33% of those surveyed are aware of the OPM attack with only 12% hearing "a lot" about it.
  • Americans are divided over encryption. 46% believe that the government should be able to access encrypted communications to investigate crimes, while 44% says that technology companies should be able to use encryption tools that are unbreakable to law enforcement. Democrats and younger adults tend to support strong encryption, while Republicans side with law enforcement. 


Steve Zurier has more than 30 years of journalism and publishing experience, most of the last 24 of which were spent covering networking and security technology. Steve is based in Columbia, Md. View Full Bio

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User Rank: Ninja
1/31/2017 | 10:30:57 AM
No password
I am looking for those days that we do not have to use passwords, not helpful, not working, not functional, ...
Joe Stanganelli
Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Ninja
1/30/2017 | 11:27:32 AM
Re: Americans Divided
@ryansepe: Seems Like a reasonable question to (1) either confirm or debunk a common presumption, and (2)provide good press-release fodder for thes tudy. ;)

more tot he point, though, I'm curious what their definition of a "youngeradult" is. 18-35? 18-29? 18-25? Big difference between a 35-year-old and a 25-year-old, IMHO.
User Rank: Strategist
1/29/2017 | 11:36:08 AM
Re: Sharing Passwords
"Legally, their assistants may not be able to view the files that as a physician they are allowed to view"


Actually partially true.  As an x-ray tech, I was legally able to see anything the Radiologist (MD) could see including diagnosis, but only had access to "need to know" data.   For example, If I was performing a MRI to image a suspected brain tumor, I'd have to know what was going on to know what to look for, to get the best images for the Radiologist and Oncologist. 

So basically, as far HIPAA is concerned, you are allowed to see any patient info as long as it has something to do with your need to perform your job to assist the Doctor and Patient.  You also sign a non-disclosure agreement when you take these jobs, and violation of that agreement could end you up in jail.


I don't buy the Democrat vs Replubican bs.  I fully believe Apple cooperated with the Feds backdooring that iphone from the muslim terrorist, but had an agreement with the Feds to save face. 
User Rank: Moderator
1/27/2017 | 3:24:59 PM
Re: Americans Divided
Study was much broader than password hygiene. Go further down in the story and link to the full report, you will see more in-depth info. 
User Rank: Ninja
1/27/2017 | 12:20:21 PM
Americans Divided
"Democrats and younger adults tend to support strong encryption, while Republicans side with law enforcement."

I found it odd that this was a surveyed question on the topic of Password Hygiene.
User Rank: Ninja
1/26/2017 | 10:14:03 AM
Sharing Passwords
Its astounding the amount of people that share passwords. In a business context, I have found that even when their are legal implications this practice is more common then one would think. I've had physicians tell me that their password is to be given to their assistant as they are the ones who log into the machine. Legally, their assistants may not be able to view the files that as a physician they are allowed to view.
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