The Password is...Passwords

New Edge  In the “it comes as no surprise” department: a recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center finds that a majority of Americans have personally experienced some type of hacking of their personal data, many feel that they have less and less control over their personal information online, and there is a continued erosion of confidence in the ability of large institutions to protect consumers’ privacy.

In the “that doesn’t make sense” department: despite these beliefs, a large number of Americans fail to follow digital security best practices that would make their personal information more secure online.

Approximately half of those surveyed—49%--said they would not trust the federal government to protect their data, only slightly fewer than those who do not trust social media sites (51%.)  Twenty-six percent do not trust cellphone manufacturers, 30% their credit card companies, 30% their cellphone service providers, 30% their email providers, and 36% companies/retailers they do business with.

This is not surprising, given that 64% of respondents have been personally impacted by a major data breach. Forty-one percent have encountered fraudulent charges on their credit cards, 35% percent have received notices that some type of sensitive information has been compromised, 16% have had and email account hijacked, 15% have received notice their Social Security number has been compromised, 14% say someone has tried to take out lines of credit in their name, 13% has had a social media account hijacked, and 6% have had someone impersonate them in order to file fraudulent tax returns.

Yet despite this dismal track record, Pew found that few Americans take steps toward protecting their online information. Asked about how they keep track of their online passwords, 86% said they memorize them, 49% write them down on a piece of paper, 24% save them in a computer or mobile device, 18% save them in their web browser, 12% use a password management program, and 3% use some other method. (Totals exceed 100% as respondents may use more than one method of keeping track of their multiple passwords.)

Further, 41% of respondents admit to sharing the password to one or more online accounts with a friend or family member, 39% use the same or very similar passwords for different online accounts, and 25% admit to using a simpler password than they otherwise might because it’s easier to remember.

Fifty-four percent use public wi-fi networks to conduct sensitive online business, such as banking.

Apparently, despite being aware of the risks—and, in many cases, having been personally impacted by a data breach—many Americans remain unwilling to sacrifice convenience for security.

Pew conducted the survey in the spring of 2016, and 1,040 adults responded.

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