Password re-use

We often suppose that some users re-use the same password on many Internet sites. Most probably, the same password will be used to log on their company network. This is an extremely valuable path for hackers, as sometimes some Internet sites are not protecting correctly the stored passwords (if they even protect them). thus, an attacker that get access to such a list of accounts and passwords with a little bit of social engineering may try to log on companies’ accounts.

Gaw and Felten (Princeton, 2006) and Florencio and Herley(Microsoft, 2007) published empirical studies which evaluate the re-use at less than 20%.

Some password accounts have been hacked since the beginning of this year. Joseph Bonneau from Cambridge used this opportunity to make a new empirical study. His conclusions are that the ratio of re-use is higher. With a conservative approach, he estimates that 30% of the people may reuse passwords.

This is worrying but understandable. For every users, the number of sites requiring a logging is exploding. I just checked how many passwords my Firefox password handles (not far from 200 :( and with several different identities!) How can we reasonably expect users to use for each site a different password.

Nevertheless, it may be mitigated by some observations. One of the important factor is what are the sources of comparisons, i.e. the leaking sites. I suppose (or hope) that many people have multi-level approach of passwords: using a weak re-used password for non important sites, and more robust and diversified ones for more important sites.

For the sites where I do not care to be impersonated, I use the same very simple password. For sites where I must not to be impersonated, I use diversified robust passwords. And of course, for Technicolor accounts, passwords radically different from the ones I use on Internet.

What policy do you use?

In any case, Bonneau’s post is ineteresting to read.

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