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McAfee Inc. has today released the results of new research which found that nearly one in four people in Europe are putting themselves at increased risk of online fraud or identity theft simply because of poor password habits. The research, of 3500 consumers in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and The Netherlands, reveals 24% of those questioned always use the same password to access all their online accounts and 43% never change it. The latter increasing the risk of people giving away their complete identity should that password be hacked or stolen.

The research also revealed that expert advice is falling on deaf ears, especially with regard to using longer and more complex passwords. 30% used passwords of only one-to-six characters in length, while 22% were only using alpha characters with no numerical input.

59% of respondents 'always' or 'mostly' use the one same password for everything. A hugely dangerous strategy, but nonetheless a common one as it helps people to remember passwords across multiple sites and services. Across Europe, respondents from France were the worst offenders with 39% claiming they 'always' use one password for everything, they are closely followed by Spain on 37%, Italy with 22%, The Netherlands on 20%, Germany on 17% and the UK doing best of the worst with 16%.

"People are signing up to more and more online accounts and as result more people are leaving their 'digital DNA' online - 41% of our respondents claim to register their details online at least once every day, 20% said they need their passwords between 10-30 times a day. The sheer number of passwords needed means many people are resorting to using few and obvious passwords, we want to help people understand the consequences of this behaviour," said Greg Day, Security Analyst, McAfee.

In addition to the 43% of people that never change passwords, McAfee reveals that 16% only change it once a year and 11% change it three times per year as recommended by the security giant. The worst culprit was Spain with 55% of respondents never changing their passwords, with France not far behind on 51%.

The most popular password was a pet's name, followed by a hobby and then Mother's maiden name. This is unsurprising but worrying in the light of social networking sites, such as Facebook and MySpace, which openly hold much of this information.

The most popular passwords across Europe are:

  1. Pet's name
  2. A hobby
  3. Mother's maiden name
  4. Family member's date of birth
  5. Own date of birth
  6. Partner's name
  7. Own name
  8. Favourite football team
  9. Favourite colour
  10. First school

Mathew Bevan, the high-profile ex-hacker, commented: "The results of this study are incredibly worrying, as it proves just how slack people are. People that use one simple password that is easy to guess are just making cyber criminals' lives easy…it's like leaving your car keys in the ignition. People wouldn't be so blasé with security in the real world i.e. home or vehicle security and, although people are probably aware of the threats, they simply aren't taking online security seriously enough."

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