I’ll show you my password, if you’ll show me yours

Deborah Salmi, 20 January 2012

I’ll show you my password, if you’ll show me yours

On the heels of the Zappos cyber robbery last Sunday that left 24M customers fretting over stolen passwords and email addresses, articles are being published about how people can protect themselves online. The number one point is always about passwords. Clean up your passwords. Never Share Your Password. Create different passwords for different accounts.

Sage advice, which we at AVAST support. We even have a free, dedicated password manager called Avast Passwords to help you juggle it all. The theft at Zappos and the struggle for greater online privacy made it even more startling when I read about the growing trend among teenagers to share their passwords as an act of trust with their current BFFs.

The Pew Internet and American Life Project discovered that “for some wired teens, a sign of true friendship is for one Internet user to share his screen name and password with a buddy. While such behavior might seem strange in light of concerns about online privacy, the teens who share their passwords see it as emblematic of their trust in their friends.”

The report said that girls are more likely to share their passwords with friends, and teens age 14-17 are more likely to share their security codes than younger ones. Password sharing is especially common among users of social network sites. One-third of all teen Facebook and Twitter users have given others their passwords.

I predict that most of these teenagers will rue the day when they decided to rebel against the voice of authority with password sharing. Interestingly, teens are savvy about their online reputations and what it means for future college entry and job prospects. The Pew report found that over half of online teens say they have decided not to post something online out of concern that it might reflect poorly on them in the future. But they seem to forget that their online reputations can be put at risk if the person they shared log in information with decided to retaliate after an argument or a break-up.

Does this mean we need to start preaching digital sharing abstinence? That will probably work as well as the other kind of abstinence, so we need to look at viable alternatives instead. The National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC) program is working with companies to identify Internet-scale solutions that could rely on password alternatives like trusted identity providers and biometric solutions. But for the near future, safe log ins should be practiced by keeping passwords to yourself.

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