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Computerized Investing > Third Quarter 2012

Password Strength Across Age Groups

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by Wayne A. Thorp, CFA

These days the news is seemingly filled with stories that make us feel less and less safe. However, a recent study by The New Scientist should make the typical CI reader feel a little bit safer. Researchers examined the passwords of nearly 70 million Yahoo subscribers and found that the over-55 crowd has passwords that are twice as strong as the passwords of those under age 25. And in the useless trivia department, Korean and German speakers had the strongest passwords, while Indonesians had the weakest. (Don’t worry, though, no personal information was at risk. Using a protection technique called hashing, researchers obtained passwords without accessing user accounts.)

The news wasn’t all good, however. The New Scientist study also revealed that the typical password is still less secure than security experts recommend. A randomly chosen six-character password comprising numbers and upper- and lowercase letters should offer 32 bits of security, but the study revealed that the average Yahoo! user password offers less than 10 bits of security. Bits are a measure of password strength, where cracking one bit is equivalent to the chance of correctly calling a fair coin toss, and each additional bit doubles the password’s strength. While passwords with less than 10 bits of security would still require around 1,000 attempts to try every possible password, with today’s hacking technology, this is not out of the realm of possibility.

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