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Online security – how safe are your staff's passwords?

Online security – how safe are your staff's passwords?

Two out of three workers at Victoria Station gave complete strangers their company password when asked to in a survey about computer scruples at work.

The survey found the majority of workers “forward unsavoury material to co-workers”, “download material on leaving”, “give passwords to friends & colleagues” and “were willing to pass friends competitive information”.

Yet even now there is still an undue focus by organisations including charities on technological security issues. “It’s not safe to give online” has been a popular comment from fundraisers at training events and conferences for several years.

They’re right, of course, but not in technological terms. It’s because they or their co-workers are unlikely to have been trained in computer security.

The survey was undertaken by the organisers of Infosecurity Europe 2002 and the newly formed “human firewall Council” in a quest to find how ethical workers are with the valuable company information they are privy to on their computers.

The survey of 150 office workers found that the majority of them were more than happy to tell interviewers their passwords once warmed up to the survey questions. It came as no surprise that many knew that the most commonly used password is the word “password”. However, it shocked the interviewers that many boasted the origins of their own passwords, such as “my car – a “Porsche boxster”, “my pet’s name – Fred”, “my country of origin – Finland”, “my own name – Hattie”.

Clearly workers are more loyal to their friends than their employer, with 51% admitting that they would download company information if asked to by a friend. Similarly, 42% would be happy to tell their friends their company password.

The “computer scruples at work” survey showed how lax workers are in general about password security, with an ignorant lack of awareness or care, when it comes to protecting their companies information. Sixty-four per cent of workers said they had given their password to a colleague. One man replied, “I am the boss and everyone knows my password”, his IT Director standing next to him looked rather shocked at his MD’s answer. When asked the same question, the IT Director refused to give his password, he said “it would give admin rights to the whole system, I never divulge my password”.

David Blackman, Director of Pentasafe Security Technologies Ltd and founder of www.humanfirewall.org said: “Chief Security Officers who are primarily members of our council know people are the “weakest link” so these findings are no surprise. As a pressure group we are doing everything we can to educate, campaign and learn from good practice to ensure that people are security conscious and respect their employers information.”

Howard Lake is a digital fundraising entrepreneur. Publisher of UK Fundraising, the world's first web resource for professional fundraisers, since 1994. Trainer and consultant in digital fundraising. Founder of Fundraising Camp.

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