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Monday, 17 July, 2000, 12:42 GMT 13:42 UK
When hacking is guessing
Clinton and Buddy
Clinton picked a "Buddy" to be his online password
By BBC News Online internet reporter Mark Ward

You do not have to be a computer genius to break a password just a good guesser.

A survey by credit card giant Visa has found that 67% of passwords chosen to protect information are easy to guess names or numbers.

It revealed that the majority of people choose their birth date, nickname or favourite sports team as a password.

Visa says many people are putting themselves at risk by choosing passwords that are easy for hackers or criminals to crack.

Net names

Software tools to crack encrypted passwords are available on the internet but Visa has found that in many cases a good guess will give a hacker access to confidential information.

US President Bill Clinton set a bad example when he signed the US digital signature bill. The password he chose when signing the bill was the name of his dog Buddy.

Almost a fifth (19%) of people use their own name or their nickname as a password for personal or private information. Next in the list is the name or nickname of their partner.

Top of the passwords
Own name or nickname 19%
Partners name or nickname 11%
Birth date or star sign 11%
Sports team 8%
Holiday destination 8%
Fave pop star 5%
Home town 5%
"We're constantly surprised by the simplicity of passwords - family names would almost certainly be the first thing I'd try," said Paul Lothian, manager of Visa EU Fraud Management.

As worrying Visa said was the revelation that many people use the same password to protect more than one online account.

The survey also found that many people use the same password to protect access to the different online accounts and confidential information.

Numbers and names

Half of the PC population admits to using the same password to access more than one application and over half (51%) uses the same word to access three or more applications.

Almost 6% of people even admit to accessing 10 or more services with the one password.

Visa recommends that when thinking up a password people choose one that mixes numbers with upper and lower case letters.

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See also:

30 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
Clinton OKs e-signatures
11 Feb 00 | UK
A - Z: Hack attack
13 Jul 00 | Americas
Mexican opposition hires hackers
10 Feb 00 | Business
Beating the hacker attack
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