The British are blasé about keeping sensitive personal data confidential. More than 60 per cent of 100 people approached in the street by researchers were happy to give clues about the type of password they used (such as date of birth or family names) on online banking or ecommerce sites. Combine this with other information, obtained through various social engineering tricks, and it is fairly easy to piece together a potential victim's online identity.
The poll by Winmark Research, on behalf of RSA Security, found that two-thirds of consumers used the same password to access different types of websites - from email to bank accounts. One third even admitted to sharing passwords with friends and family, massively increasing the risk of fraud.
Security? That's someone else's problem, isn't it?
Despite a lax approach to personal security, consumers would be inclined to blame websites if anyone misused the information they are so careless about protecting. This could lead to a backlash against online businesses, RSA Security warns. More than half (57 per cent) of consumers quizzed in the survey believe that the responsibility for protecting their online identities and personal information is the role of the large companies running the websites.
Tony Neate, of the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit, said: "Access to online identities through personal information and passwords is the new easy target. The British economy loses millions of pounds a year as a result of identity fraud - this can only increase if people do not become more aware of their responsibilities to protect their virtual identities."
Tim Pickard, a marketing director at RSA Security, said he was "amazed at the level of ignorance from consumers on the need to protect their online identity. "Every day we hear examples of physical identities being stolen, from credit and debit card slips thrown in the bin, or activities such as credit card skimming. However, there seems to be a huge disparity between the perceived risk of physical and online identity theft. Consumers need to be more aware that their willingness to hand over personal information to strangers is actually a greater threat - ultimately it could lead to their identities being stolen online."
According to Pickard, it is unrealistic to expect people to remember multiple passwords (typically 20, according to the survey) and keep them secure. Instead the industry needed to move to a federated ID system based on stronger security, which he compared to the system used by banks to allow users to log into cash machines from different banks using the same PIN number and bank card.
Office workers also clueless about password security
A separate study, also out today, from the organisers of next week's InfoSec conference in London, reveals that office workers are as lax about protecting sensitive passwords as consumers.
A survey of 172 office workers at Liverpool Street Station found that 71 per cent were willing to part with their password for a Marks & Spencer's Easter Egg. Last year 90 per cent of office workers at Waterloo give away their passwords for a cheap pen, so perhaps things have improved slightly.
In the 2004 survey the most common password categories were family names such as partners or children (15 per cent), followed by football teams (11 per cent), and pets (8 per cent), the most common password was "admin". As well as lacking security-savvy, the capital's office workersthere's show lack of imagination when it comes to emails.
Two-thirds of workers use the same password they use at work to access personal financial services such as online banking, a tactic that makes them more vulnerable to financial fraud or even identity theft. Workers used an average of four passwords, the study found. Eighty per cent of workers found using passwords irksome and 92 per cent said they would rather be able to log on using biometric technology such as fingerprints and iris scanners, or be able to log on using smartcards or tokens. The vast majority (86 per cent) said they would like to see biometric and smart card technology extended into electronic banking.
The survey also found the majority of workers (71 per cent) would take confidential information with them when they change jobs and almost a quarter (23 per cent) would not keep salary details confidential if they came across them. ®