When it comes to password security, most British Internet users engage in risky behavior by prioritizing convenience and ease over security, leaving their accounts vulnerable to the collateral impacts of data breaches.
That's according to a new study commissioned by the United Kingdom's communications-industry regulation agency, Ofcom. Of more than 1,800 adults over age 16 who were surveyed, 55 percent said they used the same password to access all or most of their Internet accounts.
In such cases, a hacker who would manage to obtain the login information for an account by breaching one system could potentially use that same information to compromise a victim's other accounts as well.
Ofcom also found that 26 percent of respondents used passwords that were too easy to guess, such as birthdays and their kids' names. While that's not a safe practice, it doesn't come as a surprise, because the study also found that 25 percent of Internet users had trouble remembering their passwords.
Still, the importance of using strong, difficult-to-guess passwords cannot be understated. Internet miscreants are surprisingly adept at breaking into accounts with obvious passwords by gleaning bits of information and then using the data to figure out how to get into an account.
It may have been lax password security of this nature that led to Tuesday's takeover of the Associated Press Twitter feed, which caused brief dips in the stock markets when hackers sent out a tweet that falsely claimed President Barack Obama had been injured in White House bomb blasts.
Ofcom's report is indicative of some alarming trends, but Internet users are nonetheless making strides to improve their security. More than 60 percent of respondents told Ofcom they secured their Wi-Fi networks with passwords, and made sure websites were secure by checking the padlock symbol or HTTPS prefix before giving out their personal details.
Internet users everywhere can avoid the pitfalls of weak password security by diversifying the passwords they use across various sites.
Although multiple passwords can be a pain to remember, there are many password-management software tools that make it easy to keep login information organized. The increased security is well worth the hassle.
Password managers also help users avoid the temptation of using obvious answers. Instead of your birthday or spouse's initials, use a combination of letters, numbers, symbols and upper- and lowercase letters.
As an even better alternative, have the password-management software generate a truly random password. Cybercriminals won't be able to guess it, and thanks to your password manager, you won't need to either.
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