How often do you change your password?

With almost everything being digital, we find passwords being an important part of life. Passwords are used as a way to prevent unauthorised access into our most important accounts such as online banking, email and confidential documents.

Prof Rika Butler of the School of Accountancy at Stellenbosch University and Martin Butler of the Stellenbosch University Business School analysed an online survey investigating South Africans’ password practices.

According to prof Butler, it is important to change passwords regularly, especially for high risk accounts like internet banking, email and maybe social media accounts.

The survey showed that:

  • 65 percent of users are not exactly sure what a ‘strong’ password is
  • Only 11 percent of users can distinguish between more and less secure passwords
  • Even though 75 percent of users believe they employ safe password practices, only 50 percent in fact do so; and
  • People don't change their passwords even when hearing about security breaches in the media or from friends, or after being on the receiving end of a security breach.

Prof Butler says most people use the same password for four to five accounts because it is convenient. By choosing a password that is easily remembered the user is at risk of exposure to cyber criminals, she says.

Users employ weak password practices such as:

  • Using information that is meaningful or can be associated with the user;
  • Not using a combination of upper and lower case alphabetical and numerical characters when creating password;
  • Re-using previous passwords;
  • Simultaneously using a password for more than one purpose;
  • Sharing passwords;
  • Writing passwords down; or
  • Keeping passwords in electronic lists that are not password-protected.

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