When it comes to the password behaviors of computer users, there's bad news and there's more bad news.
A new survey by LastPass by LogMeIn of some 2,000 individuals in the United States, Australia, France, Germany, and the UK has revealed what can only be described as broad apathy among a majority of users on the issue of password use.
Though 91% of the respondents profess to understand the risks of using the same passwords across multiple accounts, 59% said they did so anyway. For 61%, it is the fear of forgetfulness that was the primary reason for password reuse. Fifty percent say they reuse passwords across multiple accounts because they want to know and be in control of their passwords all the time.
The situation is equally depressing around the issue of password change. More than half - 53% - of the respondents confess to not changing their passwords in the past 12 months even though they were aware of the risks, and despite news of a data breach involving password compromise. Not only did nearly six in 10 of the users polled use the same password across accounts, they rarely if ever change the password over time. In fact, 15% of the respondents say they would rather do a household chore or sit in traffic (11%) than change their passwords.
Exacerbating the situation is the sheer number of online accounts that users have these days. Nearly eight in 10 (79%) of the LogMein survey takers have between one and 20 online accounts for work and personal use.
Forty-seven percent don't do anything differently when creating passwords for personal and work use; less than one-fifth (19%) create more secure passwords for work. A surprisingly high 62% reuse the same password for work and personal accounts.
The LogmeIn survey results are another reaffirmation of the notoriously poor password behaviors of online users. Previous studies have revealed a similarly lackadaisical attitude when it comes to selecting and managing passwords controlling access to online accounts.
Default and easily guessable passwords (12345 anyone?) have led to countless individual and corporate account takeovers and compromises in recent years, and prompted widespread calls for a move away from password-based authentication mechanisms altogether.
"I’d say the biggest surprise is that even though people are aware of the major cyberattacks and increases in costly data breaches, it's still not translating to better password security practices," says Sandor Palfy, CTO of identity and access management at LogMeIn.
This password neglect is creating huge risks and undermining overall security both for individual users and for employers. "The lesson for enterprises is most of their employees do not recognize the critical role that passwords have in protecting their personal and work information," Palfy says.
Many employees seem unaware or uncaring of the fact that weak passwords can potentially put the organization at risk, he says. "Enterprises need to rethink security policies and implement ways to centralize, automate, and securely store employee passwords."
The most common mistake that organizations can make is to underestimate the danger posed by weak passwords. The reality is that each password is like an entry point into the enterprise and needs to be secured like any other entry point. "Organizations need to take steps to both regularly educate and communicate password best practices to all employees, including how and why to use strong passwords," Palfy says.
Organizations also need to ensure they have the right password management tools and processes for enforcing strong password practices across the enterprise. "The organizations that can rapidly and effectively address that challenge are well-positioned to keep their businesses safe," Palfy notes.