RSA Security Research Shows Volume of Business Passwords Overwhelming End Users and Hindering IT Security Efforts

Sept. 13, 2006
More than 1,300 business professionals participated in this global study

BEDFORD, Mass., Sept. 12 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- RSA Security (Nasdaq: RSAS) today announced results of the company's second annual password management survey, which polled businesses on issues pertaining to password management. More than 1,300 business professionals participated in this global study, which confirmed that the burden of multiple passwords continues to pose significant security risks, and encourages end-user behavior that endangers compliance initiatives.

"While companies pour huge amounts of time and money into protecting sensitive information, business passwords remain one of the weakest links in the security chain, in large part due to the sheer number of passwords that end users are required to manage," said John Worrall, senior vice president of marketing at RSA Security. "Little has changed since 2005 -- end users are still managing an overwhelming number of passwords, and this is resulting in behaviors which open the door to security breaches and potential compliance issues."

Passwords Impacting Compliance Initiatives and Enabling Security Breaches

RSA Security's survey polled respondents with jobs related to corporate password management on a number of issues related to compliance and overall IT security. Of note, 57 percent say their company's desire to avoid end-user frustration prevents the organization from requiring frequent password changes and/or strong password policies. In addition:

* Passwords in the Era of Compliance: Most companies surveyed view password management as fundamental to compliance. In fact, 59 percent said password management is "extremely important" to compliance. Regionally, 66 percent of U.S. participants responded with "extremely important," while 48 percent of Europeans answered the same. * Passwords and IT Security: RSA Security's survey revealed that organizations are very concerned about the impact of passwords on IT security. Forty-one percent called passwords "extremely concerning;" 44 percent said "moderately concerning." * Passwords and IT Security Breaches: Twenty-six percent of respondents know of a corporate security breach that has occurred due to a compromised password. Those in the Asia-Pacific region were most aware (35 percent), while those in the U.S. were the least aware (14 percent). Examples of breaches resulting from compromised passwords included: - Former employees accessing business accounts using their own passwords - A terminated employee guessing a former manager's password to gain remote access - An employee altering a co-worker's private human resources information. Password Overload Creating Frustration and Security Vulnerabilities

RSA Security's survey shows end users are overwhelmed by the number of passwords necessary to access business applications, Web sites and portals. This, in turn, is leading to risky behaviors:

* Passwords Required versus Passwords Remembered: Eighteen percent manage more than 15 passwords, but only five percent can easily remember that many. Thirty-six percent manage between six and 15 passwords. Responses were similar to 2005, when 35 percent said they manage between six and 15 passwords, and 23 percent said more than 15. * Continued Frustration with Managing Passwords: The majority (82 percent) of end users are frustrated with managing passwords at work. Globally, 12 percent find it "extremely frustrating" -- in the U.S., 15 percent answered in this manner, while only nine percent did so in Europe. Last year, 88 percent reported some degree of frustration. Password Policies and End User Behaviors

RSA Security's survey shows that password policies and end-user behaviors vary dramatically:

* Password Change Requirements: Thirty-nine percent of respondents in the Asia-Pacific region and 34 percent in Europe are required to change passwords monthly; only 23 percent of U.S. respondents are required to change passwords with the same frequency. * Strong Password Policies: Most organizations enforce strong password policies, according to survey respondents. Specifically, 70 percent say their company requires passwords between eight and 14 characters, using a combination of letters, numbers and symbols. However, 17 percent said their company has no password requirements. In addition, 48 percent say their company does not allow the re-use of old passwords. * Unsafe Password Tracking Practices: Most respondents with jobs related to corporate password management know of employees tracking passwords in an unsafe manner: - Sixty-six percent have seen employees keep paper password records at work, but only 13 percent of end users admit doing so (down from 15 percent last year) - Fifty-eight percent are aware of employees keeping electronic password records (e.g., in a spreadsheet), though only 24 percent of end users say they keep electronic records themselves - Fifty percent know of employees tracking passwords in a PDA or handheld device - Forty percent have seen employees track passwords with Post-It notes or other scraps of paper affixed to their computer. Passwords' Impact on the IT Help Desk

RSA Security's survey shows that password-related support requests add significant workload to the IT help desk. One-fifth of respondents say that password-related calls constitute 26-50 percent of help desk requests; one-third says that between 11-25 percent of help desk calls are password-related. Generally, larger companies are more burdened by password-related help desk calls than smaller organizations.

Easing the Password Management Burden

RSA Security's survey also asked respondents whether it would be helpful to have a "master password," replacing all other passwords at work. Fifty-six percent of those surveyed said a master password would be "extremely helpful." However, the vast majority -- 81 percent -- also believes that it would be "extremely important" to provide an added layer of protection for a master password. This is a significant increase from 2005, when 55 percent of respondents said an added layer of protection would be "very important."

Survey Description and Methodology

The RSA Security password management survey was conducted online between August 21 and August 25, 2006. The study polled 1,343 participants from North America, Europe, Latin America and the Asia-Pacific region.

Additional survey results and further details may be found online at