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Staffers hardly ever use alphanumerics, let alone complex passwords - report

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Business people using mobile devices are securing them with easy-to-crack PINs rather than more difficult passwords, a survey has found.

The survey of mobile device password usage by mobile device management firm Fiberlink found that 93 per cent of corporate users applied a simple PIN password to their smartphone or tablet in cases where some kind of password was enforced.

One in six (15 per cent) devices had no password or PIN restrictions at all. Alphanumeric passwords were applied to only one in 25 devices (4 per cent) while complex passwords were even rarer, only showing up in one in 50 smartphones or tablets (2 per cent).

Passwords serve as a first line of defence for mobile devices, protecting data when a phone or tablet is lost or stolen. Other techniques such as a remote wipe can be applied but this doesn't take away the need for passwords, which make it difficult for miscreants to harvest sensitive data from corporate devices before their loss is detected.

People are using personal devices for work more than ever before, and security is a top concern for businesses, yet the majority of workers are not required to protect their devices with anything more complex than a simple PIN.

Among devices with PINs, 73 per cent have a 4-5 character length requirement, or the minimum password that can be enforced. Just over a quarter (27 per cent) have pin length greater than 5 characters.

Although considered more secure, only 7 per cent of devices were locked with a complex or alphanumeric password.

The weakness of four-digit PINs was laid bare this week by a demo at DefCon. White hat hackers Justin Engler and Paul Vines have developed a robot, nicknamed Robotic Reconfigurable Button Basher (R2B2), which can work its way through every numeric screen-lock Android password in 19 hours, Forbes reports.

The bot, built for just $200 using a 3D printer, doesn't work on screen-patterns or iOS devices (which are programmed to increase lockout times between unsuccessful password attempts). Even so, the device is a good argument for longer PINs because six-digit PINs would take an estimated 80 days to crack. It might even be possible to optimise the four-digit attack still further by focusing on commonly selected PINs.

Fiberlink's study also looked at the relative security of industry verticals. Healthcare leads all industries, enforcing passwords on 97 per cent of their devices. The public sector comes a close second, requiring an alphanumeric or complex passcode on 18 per cent of their devices.

The study was based on a sample of password practices applied to 200,000 of the one million smartphones and tablets Fiberlink’s technology manages. The sample includes BYOD and corporate-issued devices from a random sample of 1,000 of Fiberlink’s 5,000 customers worldwide. ®

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