A Combo of Bad Employee Behavior and Dark Web Data Spells Trouble for Businesses
The struggle to get users to make good, strong, unique passwords and actually keep them secret is real for IT professionals. It can be hard to demonstrate to users just how dangerous their bad password can be to the entire company, even though an estimated 60% of data breaches involved the improper use of credentials in 2020. There’s no rhyme or reason to why employees create and handle passwords unsafely, no profile that IT teams can quickly look at to determine that someone might be an accidental credential compromise risk. Employees of every stripe are unfortunately drawn to making awful passwords and playing fast and loose with them – and that predilection doesn’t look like it’s going away anytime soon.
Everyone is Managing Too Many Passwords
The average adult has an estimated 100 passwords floating around that they’re using. That’s a bewildering tangle of passwords to manage. About 300 billion passwords are currently in use by humans and machines worldwide. The global pandemic helped put even more passwords into circulation as people on stay-at-home orders created an abundance of new online accounts. According to the conclusions of a global study conducted by Morning Consult for IBM, people worldwide created an average of 15 new online accounts per person during the main thrust of the pandemic.
Many of those logins were compromised from the start thanks to abundant dark web data. An estimated 15 billion unique logins are circulating on the dark web right now. In 2020 alone, security professionals had to contend with a 429% increase in the number of corporate login details with plaintext passwords exposed on the dark web. That dramatic increase in risk per user comes back to haunt businesses. The average organization is now likely to have about 17 sets of login details available on the dark web for malicious actors to enjoy. That number is only going to continue to grow thanks to events like this year’s giant influx of fresh passwords from the RockYou 2021 leak.
Employees Are Dedicated to Making Bad Passwords
Research by the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) shows that employees will choose memorability over security when making a password every time. Their analysts found that 15% of people have used their pet’s name as their password at some point, 14% have used the name of a family member,13% have used a significant date, such as a birthday or anniversary and another 6% have used information about their favorite sports team as their password. That makes cybercriminals’ jobs easy even if they’re trying to directly crack a single password. After all, those users have probably told them everything that they’d need to know to do the job in their social media profiles.
US companies aren’t any better off. In fact, their bad password problems are just a little bit worse. 59% of Americans use a person’s name or family birthday in their passwords, 33% include a pet’s name and 22% use their own name. We can’t chalk that blizzard of bad passwords up to ignorance of good password habits, because even employees who know better are slacking on password safety. Over 90% of participants in a password habits survey understood the risk of poor password hygiene, but 59% admitted to still engaging in unsafe password behaviors at work anyway.
Password Sharing Is Rampant
Worse yet, employees are also sharing their passwords with other people at an alarming rate, even if the people they’re sharing a password with don’t work at the same company. Over 30% of respondents in a Microsoft study admitted that their organization had experienced a cybersecurity incident as a result of compromised user credentials that had been shared with people outside their companies.
- 43% of survey respondents have shared their password with someone in their home
- 22% of employees surveyed have shared their email password for a streaming site
- 17% of employees surveyed have shared their email password for a social media platform
- 17% of employees surveyed have shared their email password for an online shopping account
Based on our analysis of the top 250 passwords that we found through the application of Dark Web ID’s dark web search function that uncovers exposed credentials, these categories of information were used to generate the weakest passwords in 2020 were: Names, Sports, Food, Places, Animals and Famous People/Characters. Here’s a breakdown of people’s dreadful passwords.
The Most Common Passwords Spotted by Dark Web ID by Category
- Names: maggie
- Sports: baseball
- Food: cookie
- Places: Newyork
- Animals: lemonfish
- Famous People/Characters: Tigger
Top 20 Most Common Passwords That Dark Web ID Found on The Dark Web in 2020
Every Organization in Every Industry is in Password Trouble
No industry is immune to the powerful lure of terrible password habits, especially that perennial favorite password recycling and iteration. In a study of password proclivities, researchers determined that some sectors did have a little more trouble with passwords than others though. The telecommunications sector had the highest average number of leaked employee credentials at 552,601 per company. The media industry had the highest password reuse rates at 85%, followed by household products (82%), hotels, restaurants & leisure (80%), and healthcare (79%).Security firms stacked with IT professionals don’t get off the hook any more easily than any other business – a staggering 97% of cybersecurity companies have had their passwords leaked on the dark web.
From SMBs to giant multinationals, it doesn’t matter how high-flying a company is either. Password problems will still plague them. A trove of exposed data about Fortune 1000 companies on the dark web was uncovered by researchers earlier this year, including passwords for 25.9 million Fortune 1000 corporate user accounts. Digging deeper, they also unearthed an estimated 543 million employee credentials from Fortune 1000 companies circulating on commonly used underground hacking forums, a 29% increase from 2020. Altogether, they were able to determine that 25,927,476 passwords that belong to employees at Fortune 1000 companies are hanging out on the dark web. That’s an estimated 25,927 exposed passwords per Fortune 1000 company, marking a 12% increase in password leaks from 2020.
Busted Credentials Are Plentiful on the Dark Web
If data is a currency on the dark web, then credentials are solid gold. Credentials were the top type of information stolen in data breaches worldwide in 2020, (personal information took second place just over financial data in third), and bad actors didn’t hesitate to grab batches of credentials from all over the world. Cybercriminals snatched them up in about 60% of North American breaches, 90% of APAC region breaches and 70% of EMEA breaches. Researchers disclosed that the average company experiences 5.3 credential compromises that originate from a common source like phishing every year, a number that should give every IT professional chills.
An abundance of records on the dark web has spawned an abundance of passwords for cybercriminals to harvest, and that’s bad news. Giant password dumps on the dark web like the 100GB text file dubbed RockYou2021 have ratcheted up risk too. That giant dump of of data is estimated to contain 8.4 billion passwords. Bad actors make use of that bounty quickly and effectively. In the aftermath an enormous 2020 hack, ShinyHunters breached the security of ten companies in the Asian region and brought more than 73 million user records to market on the dark web. A group like ShinyHunters will of course try to profit by selling that stolen data at first, but when the data has aged or there are no interested buyers, cybercriminals will just offload it in the vast data dumps of the dark web making it available for anyone to sift through.