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Managing multiple passwords is driving end-users up the wall and leading to rising help desk costs due to frequent password reset calls.

A recent survey of almost 1,700 enterprise technology end-users in the US commissioned by RSA Security showed that over a quarter of respondents must manage more than 13 passwords (28 per cent) at work while 30 per cent juggle between six to 12 passwords. The vast majority (88 per cent) of those quizzed expressed frustration over managing multiple passwords. This frustration is leading to behaviours that could jeopardise IT security, as well as compliance initiatives.

As a leading supplier of two factor authentication products and other software designed to address password management problems, RSA Security is hardly a disinterested party here but that doesn't mean it's necessarily wrong in pointing to signs of mounting password overload. RSA's online survey found that while many end-users may attempt to memorise passwords, employees continue to resort to other, less secure means of tracking multiple passwords. The most common risky password management behaviours include: maintaining a spreadsheet or other document containing passwords on a PC (25 per cent); recording a list of passwords on a PDA or other handheld device (22 per cent) and keeping a paper record of passwords in an office (15 per cent).

The Post-It note containing sensitive corporate passwords left in plain view is alive and well in the offices of America, it would seem.

RSA's survey also showed the potential for lost productivity when employees rely on the IT help desk to manage a lost or forgotten password. One in five respondents (20 per cent) said it takes the IT help desk staff between six and 15 minutes to address a lost or forgotten password problem; 17 per cent said it takes longer than 16 minutes. Separate research from the Burton Group reports that IT help desk calls cost somewhere between $25 and $50 each.

The situation is bad enough already but compliance initiatives, which encourage firms to enforce and strengthen password policies, could make matters worse by requiring workers to change passwords more frequently, or use passwords that are very difficult to remember.

Andrew Braunberg, senior analyst at Current Analysis, said: "Paradoxically, password policies that are not user-friendly spur risky behaviour that can undermine security. These policies also raise IT help desk costs as companies allocate more resources to password resets." ®

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