RSA Security Inc. (Nasdaq: RSAS) today announced survey results that show the challenges end-users face in managing passwords inside the enterprise and the potential corporate IT security risks that result. The survey of almost 1700 enterprise technology end-users in the United States showed that over a quarter of respondents must manage more than 13 passwords at work and that nine out of ten respondents are frustrated with the password management challenge. This frustration is leading to behaviours that could jeopardise IT security, as well as compliance initiatives.
Andrew Braunberg, senior analyst at Current Analysis, said: Compliance initiatives have led companies to enforce and strengthen password policies, which has resulted in additional burdens for the end user, such as requiring that employees change passwords more frequently, or use passwords that are very difficult to remember. Paradoxically, password policies that are not user-friendly spur risky behaviour that can undermine security. These policies also raise IT help desk costs as companies allocate more resources to password resets.
Plethora of passwords creates frustration
The results of the RSA Security survey reveal that employees are managing an incredibly large number of passwords at work. Twenty-eight percent of respondents must keep track of more than 13 passwords, 30 percent of respondents manage between 6-12 passwords. Managing so many passwords is leading to greater end-user frustration, the vast majority of those surveyed (88 percent) reporting frustration with the password management process.
Password overload driving risky IT security behaviours
RSA Securitys survey findings indicate that while end-users may attempt to memorise passwords, employees continue to resort to other, less secure means of tracking multiple passwords. The most common risky password management behaviours include:
Maintaining a spreadsheet or other document stored on the PC (25 percent)
Recording a list of passwords on a PDA or other handheld device (22 percent)
Keeping a paper record of passwords in an office/workspace (15 percent)
The password burden on the IT help desk
Research from the Burton Group reports that each call to the IT help desk may cost between $25 and $50. Despite this, the RSA Security survey showed that the bulk of password reset responsibilities continue to lie in the hands of IT help desk staff, with 82 percent of respondents indicating that IT help desk staff must intervene when passwords are lost or forgotten.
The survey also showed the potential for lost productivity when employees rely on the IT help desk to manage a lost or forgotten password. Twenty percent of respondents said it takes the IT help desk staff between 6 and 15 minutes to address a lost or forgotten password problem; 17 percent said it takes longer than 16 minutes.
Protecting the keys to the kingdom
Respondents were queried on the impact of using a master password, which could be used to gain access to all other passwords. The overwhelming majority of respondents - 98 percent - believe that it would be important to add a layer of protection if they were provided with one master password at work - essentially, protecting the keys to the kingdom. Tellingly, 55 percent of respondents rated adding an added layer of security as very important.
Survey description and methodology
The RSA Security password management survey was conducted online between August 31 and September 19, 2005. 1685 respondents, including CIOs/CSOs, and IT directors, managers and administrators took part in the online survey. The survey polled individuals located in the United States.