Password apathy common among IT workers, survey finds

Many IT professionals are apathetic about changing their enterprise passwords and lack rudimentary understanding of IT security, particularly in the areas of password control and privileged log-ins, according to a survey.

Hackers often exploit vulnerabilities in these two areas to breach an organization’s systems and networks. But despite the dramatic spike in data breaches over the past year, senior management in many organizations fails to understand the basics of IT security, said Philip Lieberman, president and CEO of Lieberman Software, a security management company that conducted the survey.

“Password anarchy among the IT staff at major organizations is mirrored by password apathy at the top of the management hierarchy, where senior management seem almost criminally lax in the enforcement of IT security policies - to the detriment of their organizations,” he said.

The company surveyed more than 300 IT professionals to get a sense of password and security practices. Respondents worked in small to large-sized organizations, with the majority (62 percent) saying their organization employed more than 10,000 people.

Survey highlights include:

  • 26 percent of respondents said at least one IT staff member in their organization has abused a privileged login to access information.
  • 51 percent of respondents said they have to remember 10 or more passwords for different systems and applications on their jobs.
  • 42 percent of IT professionals said two or more IT staff in their organization share a password to access a system or application.
  • 48 percent of respondents said a privileged password for a system, network device or application goes unchanged in their organization for more than 90 days.
  • More than 48 percent of survey participants said they have worked at an organization whose systems got compromised by a hacker.

“Management will have to pay far more attention to their basic security practices or be forced to apologize to their shareholders and customers for major data losses and subsequent damage to brand loyalty,” Lieberman said. “The simple, unpalatable truth is that senior management generally is not policing their IT security departments enough to avoid further massive data breaches.”

The 2011 Survey of IT Professionals polled more than 300 IT professionals who attended HP Protect 2011 in Washington, D.C.

About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

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Reader comments

Fri, Dec 9, 2011 Bob

"Many IT professionals ... lack rudimentary understanding of IT security, particularly in the areas of password control " I don't believe that the problem is a lack of understanding, it's more that the rules are impossible to follow. Think about it, I have about 15 passwords, many of them require 14 characters with a combination of upper case, lower case and special characters. When it's time to change your password, many of them require that you don't have too many of the same characters that you previously had, and to top it off, you are supposed to remember all of these passwords (15 in my case) without writing them down. Let me ask you, how many people in the world have a photographic memory good enough to be capable of remembering all of these passwords especially when they constantly need to be changed. I would guess a handful of people (maybe RainMan and a few others).

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