Cyberattacks, Passwords, and Russian Roulette

The number of cyberattacks in the U.S. has been skyrocketing, especially since the beginning of the pandemic. A quick Google search finds that one industry after another — the food industry, online gaming, health care, banks and other corporate organizations, as well as utility companies — has seen a dramatic increase in cyberattacks.

These breaches often cost organizations millions of dollars, resulting in organizations taking various steps, including risk assessments, to uncover how these attacks occurred and how they can be prevented in the future.

But what is often overlooked is that we all can take steps to prevent cyberattacks, whether in the workplace or at home, if we just change our passwords more frequently, use stronger passwords, and avoid using identical or similar passwords.

However, according to data going back at least five years, we do not. A 2021 study conducted by LastPass, an online password manager for individuals and organizations, found that 79 percent of those surveyed say compromised passwords are a concern, however, less than 50 percent do anything about it.

Even more startling, 92 percent of those surveyed say that they know using the same password or a variation of the same password is risky. However, 65 percent report they do use the same password or a variation of the same password regularly for all their accounts and password-protected sites.

And talk about startling, nearly half of those surveyed said their passwords have been breached — meaning someone got into one of their password-protected sites — but still did nothing about it. They did not change their passwords after the breach, close the account, or take any action to prevent the same thing from happening again.

Cyberattacks and Lackadaisical Passwords

Whew. Why is this happening? I will answer this question later. But for now, it appears that many people prefer to keep track of easy-to-remember passwords in their memory no matter what the cost. They are playing a new form of Russian Roulette and keep doing so even after they lose.

Here are some other findings from the 2021 LastPass report:

  • People tend to have strong passwords and do change them more often if tied to financial institutions. However, work-related accounts and those passwords linked to their medical records are usually the weakest and least frequently changed.
  • Eighty-three percent in the U.S. said they have no idea if their personal information or passwords are at risk or can be found on the “dark web.” In Germany, it’s almost the opposite. Eighty percent say they know if their passwords and personal information are now circulating on the dark web.
  • Singapore is the most password-conscious country in the world. Ninety-three percent report they are concerned about protecting their passwords, and nearly three-quarters know what to do if they have been hacked, which typically comes down to just changing their passwords.
  • Half of those in the survey indicate they have more password-protected accounts now than a year ago.
  • Only a third of those surveyed in the U.S. use credit monitoring services, which provides some security. This is because only about 40 percent feel they do not need to change their passwords or online security habits because they believe they are already strong. So much for playing Russian Roulette!

As to why so many people are lackadaisical about their passwords, one conclusion reached is that even with our ever-expanding digital lives, people do not change their passwords or take other online security precautions due to habits, emotions, and a lack of urgency. This is true even when they know cybersecurity is a serious threat, especially at work, and they are aware they should be updating their passwords.

In a real game of Russian Roulette, with two people pointing a gun at each other, each with one bullet in their guns, your chances of surviving are 83.3 percent. With cyberattacks going through the roof, it’s doubtful any of us have such a high chance of survival when it comes to being hacked.

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