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Americans are pants at password security

Willing to spill the beans for coffee vouchers

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Americans are just as blasé about password security as the Brits, according to a new survey. Two out three three people (180 of 272) approached in a downtown San Francisco street by researchers were happy to provide their password in exchange for a coffee gift card. Of those respondents that declined offering their actual password, 51 provided a clue about their password in exchange for a $3 Starbucks gift voucher.

Only 41 of those quizzed (or 15 per cent) on San Francisco[s Market Street refused to hand over the goodies. Whether these people were adverse to either Starbucks or coffee remains a mystery. It's also possible that people told researchers fibs just to get a freebie, of course, but the suspicion remains that many people are prepared to hand over their password on a whim. Several respondents were so enticed by the allure of a $3 coffee card that they gave away their password and then mentioned to surveyors that they would change their password as soon as returning to their computer.

Similar UK surveys have found that around 70 per cent of UK workers were happy to hand over their password in exchange for a Marks & Spencer's Easter Egg. VeriSign - which sponsored the US survey - admitted it was light-hearted and unscientific. Nonetheless it reckons its poll illustrates real challenges about password management.

Of all respondents, 57 per cent reported having four or more passwords, and 79 per cent reported using the same password for multiple websites or applications, a practice that means one stolen password could jeopardise multiple accounts.

The survey also found that some people continue to store passwords on Post-it notes. Other popular locations for passwords include the contacts folder of email applications, on PDAs and in the notes function of a mobile phone.

VeriSign spins its survey findings to illustrate that more secure forms of user authentication are needed to protect against digital ID theft, such as two-factor authentication products from the likes of VeriSign. Well it had to get a plug in there somehow.

The survey was published yesterday in the run up to the Digital ID World conference in San Francisco next week (9-12 May). ®

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Brits are crap at password security
Surveys are tosh, and so's your reporting
Office workers give away passwords for a cheap pen
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