Your password passing habit may not be as be as harmless as you think. And yes, that includes Netflix login info too.

That’s one finding to come out of our newly released study of 2020’s Most (and Least) Cyber-Secure States. In this year’s analysis of the cyber readiness of all 50 U.S. states, and in partnership with Wakefield Research, we created a “Cyber Risk Hygiene Index” based on 10 metrics meant to measure individual and state-level cyber resilience against adverse online events.

Is your state cyber secure? Or is it one of the most hackable? Find out in our fourth annual Cyber Hygiene Risk Index report.

Unfortunately for many Americans, two of those cyber hygiene metrics involved questions about their password habits:

  • Do you avoid sharing passwords with others?
  • Do you avoid reusing passwords?

Now, these questions weren’t the only reason no American received a passing grade on our Cyber Risk Hygiene Index, or that no state scored higher than a D, but they didn’t help. In all, the report found that more than one-third (34%) of Americans admit to sharing passwords and login credentials with others. Nearly half (49%) report having more accounts than passwords, meaning passwords are being reused across accounts.

Perhaps even more troubling is the finding that sharing passwords for streaming services—that famously widespread and supposedly benign new-age habit—has a worrying correlation: Americans who share passwords for streaming services (38%) are twice as likely to say they have had their identity stolen than those who do not (18%).

This is alarming because sharing and reusing passwords is especially dangerous during this golden age of phishing attacks. It means that, as soon as a cybercriminal achieves success in one phishing attack, those pinched credentials are likely to work for several other popular sites. A single successful phishing expedition could yield catches on banking sites, credit card applications, online marketplaces, and in a host of other potentially lucrative instances.

Even by sharing passwords with those a smidge less than trustworthy—or just careless—you’re increasing your attack surface area. Now that network of individuals who now have access to your accounts are susceptible to giving your information away if they take the bait in a phishing attack.

“Instead of giving away the keys to the guest room when you share passwords, it’s more like giving away keys to the castle if they are reused across multiple accounts,” says Webroot threat analyst Tyler Moffitt, “you could begiving away the keys to the whole kingdom if that’s the only password you use.”

More password facts from the report

  • Tech Experts, one of the riskiest categories of users studied in our report, are more likely to share passwords (66%) than the average American (44%). Clearly, we at Webroot are in no position to point fingers.
  • On brand, 66 percent of so-called “Mile Markers” refrained from sharing passwords, compared to 63 percent for the average American. This group scored the highest on our index and is defined by having progressed through life markers such as earning a degree, owning a home, or having children.
  • Home-based Very Small Businesses (VSBs) are less likely to work with a dedicated IT team. As a result, they are more likely to use their personal devices for work and share passwords. Of these, 71 percent use the same passwords for home and business accounts, potentially cross contaminating their work and personal lives with the same security gaps.
  • By generation, Gen Z is most likely to share passwords (56%), followed by Millennials (47%), Gen X (33%), and Boomers (19%).

How to address poor password practices

In terms of a personal password policy, it’s important to set yourself up for success. Yes, it’s true the amount of passwords one is responsible for can be dizzying, 191 per business according to one popular study.

That, and the parameters for creating a sound password seemingly grow more complex by the day. It used to be enough just to have a password. But now, they must be x characters long, contain one number and one special characters and so-on… And did we mention we recommend it be a passphrase, not a traditional password?

You get the gist.

That’s why our single strongest piece of advice to users looking to upgrade their cyber resilience is to use a password manager. This allows you to create long, alphanumeric and otherwise meaningless passwords without the need to keep tabs on them all.

After you’ve created a strong bank of passwords, managed through a password management service, supplement your security by adding two-factor authentication (2FA). Measures like 2FA pair your login credentials—something you know—with something you have, like a biometric feature or a mobile phone. This will ensure lifting your password (a unique one for each account, no doubt) isn’t even enough to crack your account.

“Put simply, an account simply isn’t as secure as it could be without 2FA,” says Moffitt. “And that means your credit card info, home address, or bank accounts aren’t as safe as they could be.”

No more reusing passwords. And, hopefully, no more sharing passwords. But that part’s up to you. You just have to ask yourself, is Netflix access worth having your identity stolen?

Tyler Moffitt

About the Author

Tyler Moffitt

Security Analyst

Tyler Moffitt is a Security Analyst who stays deeply immersed within the world of malware and antimalware. He is focused on improving the customer experience through his work directly with malware samples, creating antimalware intelligence, writing blogs, and testing in-house tools.

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