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Passwords Overwhelming End Users

September 13th, 2006

RSA Security has announced results of the company´s second annual password management survey, which polled businesses on issues pertaining to password management. More than 1,300 business professionals participated in this global study, which confirmed that the burden of multiple passwords continues to pose significant security risks, and encourages end-user behavior that endangers compliance initiatives.

RSA Security´s survey polled respondents with jobs related to corporate password management on a number of issues related to compliance and overall IT security. Of note, 57 percent say their company´s desire to avoid end-user frustration prevents the organization from requiring frequent password changes and/or strong password policies.

Passwords in the Era of Compliance: Most companies surveyed view password management as fundamental to compliance. In fact, 59 percent said password management is “extremely important” to compliance. Regionally, 66 percent of U.S. participants responded with “extremely important,” while 48 percent of Europeans answered the same.

Passwords and IT Security: RSA Security´s survey revealed that organizations are very concerned about the impact of passwords on IT security. Forty-one percent called passwords “extremely concerning;” 44 percent said “moderately concerning.”

Passwords and IT Security Breaches: Twenty-six percent of respondents know of a corporate security breach that has occurred due to a compromised password. Those in the Asia-Pacific region were most aware (35 percent), while those in the U.S. were the least aware (14 percent).

Passwords Required versus Passwords Remembered: Eighteen percent manage more than 15 passwords, but only five percent can easily remember that many. Thirty-six percent manage between six and 15 passwords. Responses were similar to 2005, when 35 percent said they manage between six and 15 passwords, and 23 percent said more than 15.

Continued Frustration with Managing Passwords: The majority (82 percent) of end users are frustrated with managing passwords at work. Globally, 12 percent find it “extremely frustrating” – in the U.S., 15 percent answered in this manner, while only nine percent did so in Europe. Last year, 88 percent reported some degree of frustration.

Password Change Requirements: Thirty-nine percent of respondents in the Asia-Pacific region and 34 percent in Europe are required to change passwords monthly; only 23 percent of U.S. respondents are required to change passwords with the same frequency.

Strong Password Policies: Most organizations enforce strong password policies, according to survey respondents. Specifically, 70 percent say their company requires passwords between eight and 14 characters, using a combination of letters, numbers and symbols. However, 17 percent said their company has no password requirements. In addition, 48 percent say their company does not allow the re-use of old passwords.

RSA Security´s survey also asked respondents whether it would be helpful to have a “master password,” replacing all other passwords at work. Fifty-six percent of those surveyed said a master password would be “extremely helpful.” However, the vast majority – 81 percent – also believes that it would be “extremely important” to provide an added layer of protection for a master password. This is a significant increase from 2005, when 55 percent of respondents said an added layer of protection would be “very important.”

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