‘Password fatigue’ haunts Internet masses

June 25, 2013
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Looking for a safe password? You can give  HQbgbiZVu9AWcqoSZmChwgtMYTrM7HE3ObVWGepMeOsJf4iHMyNXMT1BrySA4d7 a try. Good luck memorizing it.

Sixty-three random alpha-numeric characters — in this case, generated by an online password generator — are as good as it gets when it comes to securing your virtual life.

But as millions of Internet users have learned the hard way, no password is safe when hackers can, and do, pilfer them en masse from banks, email services, retailers or social media websites that fail to fully protect their servers.

And besides, with technology growing by leaps and bounds, why does the username-and-password formula — a relic of computing’s Jurassic era — remain the norm?

“The incredibly short answer is, it’s cheap,” said Per Thorsheim, a Norwegian online security expert and organizer of PasswordsCon, the world’s only conference dedicated to passwords, taking place in Las Vegas in July.

“If you want anything else — if you want some kind of two-factor authentication that involves using a software-based token, a hardware-based token or biometric authentication — you need something extra,” he told AFP.

“And that will cost you extra money.”

Back in the beginning, it was all so easy.

laptop users

The very first computers were not only room-sized mainframes, but also stand-alone devices. They didn’t connect to each other, so passwords were needed only by a handful of operators who likely knew each other anyway.

Then along came the Internet, binding a burgeoning number of computers, smartphones and tablets into a globe-girdling web that required some virtual means for strangers to identify each other.

Passwords have thus proliferated so much that it’s a daily struggle for users to cope with dozens of them — and not just on one personal computer, but across several devices.

There’s even a name for the syndrome: password fatigue.

“People never took passwords very seriously, and then we had a number of really big password breaches,” said Marian Merritt, Internet security advocate for software provider Norton.

“As people are increasingly accessing websites from smartphones and tablets, typing passwords is becoming an ever bigger pain,” added Sarah Needham of Confident Technologies, developers of a picture-based password alternative.

In a 24-nation survey last year, Norton found that 40 percent of users don’t bother with complex passwords or fail to change their passwords on a regular basis.

Rival security app firm McAfee says its research indicates that more than 60 percent of users regularly visit five to 20 websites that require passwords, and that a like-sized proportion preferred easy-to-use passwords.

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