Microsoft: 'You're better off reusing old passwords than creating new ones'
Harassed web users are turning to 'coping mechanisms' to remember their growing list of passwords
Internet users who are sick of endlessly memorising passwords would be much better off reusing the same one over and over, according to surprising research published by Microsoft.
Complex, unique passwords should only be used to access highly sensitive data such as a person’s bank account, says the academic paper published by Microsoft Research, the R&D arm of the software firm. Simpler passwords should then be recycled for low-risk websites, the researchers argue.
The savvy web user should make a list of the websites they regularly visit and divide them into sensitive and non-sensitive piles, the paper says, devoting as much brainpower as possible to creating complex passwords for the former and as little as possible to the latter.
Increasingly harassed web users are turning to “coping mechanisms” to remember their growing list of passwords
“Our findings directly challenge some conventional wisdom,” the researchers write. “We find [that] strategies that rule out password re-use or the use of weak passwords are suboptimal. Both are valuable tools in balancing the allocation of effort between higher and lower value accounts.”
They add that increasingly harassed web users are turning to “coping mechanisms” to remember their growing list of passwords – even resorting to a pen and paper. “Despite violating long-standing password guidance, writing passwords down is, if properly done, increasingly accepted as a coping mechanism,” they write.
“Other strategies to cope with the human impossibility of using strong passwords everywhere without re-use include single sign-on, use of email-based password reset mechanisms, and password managers.”
The research was conducted by Dinei Florêncio and Cormac Herley from Microsoft Research and Paul C. van Oorschot from Carleton University in Canada.
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