Two-thirds of U.S. consumers surveyed use the same one or two passwords for all Web sites.
Although consumers claim to be concerned about security, they have little tolerance for sacrificing convenience to safeguard that security, according to Gartner. Despite widespread security concerns, consumers continue to rely on service providers to protect their safety and persist in using unsafe password management practices, preferring to maintain the status quo rather than exploring new security methods.
In September of 2008, Gartner surveyed approximately 4,000 U.S. online adults regarding consumer Internet security and fraud issues, and ascertained their interest in various ways to manage passwords for online authentications. The results remained consistent with previous years' survey findings that show consumers prefer convenience when it comes to security features. While the data collected focused on the use and management of passwords, Gartner believes that it has implications for consumer-facing Internet sites requiring authentication and for the use of user-centric identity frameworks.
"Two-thirds of U.S. consumers surveyed use the same one or two passwords for all Web sites they access that require authentication," said Gregg Kreizman, research director at Gartner. "Most U.S consumers want to continue managing their passwords the same ways they do now. They don't favor using software or hardware to help manage passwords, and user-centric identity frameworks such as OpenID and information card architectures face scarce consumer demand."
Web site owners seeking to improve authentication are grappling with how to accomplish this task while not turning away customers; as a result, new solutions must be found to balance security and ease of use.
"The survey findings serve to confirm our belief that there is a limited business for identity providers to manage general-purpose consumer identities and passwords to be used to access sites across multiple business contexts, such as financial services, government and healthcare," said Avivah Litan, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner. "Instead, it is more likely that these providers will have some success managing identities for limited use on multiple sites within a specific business."
Gartner analysts said providers have a duty to provide a compelling justification for consumers to adopt additional security measures; a change in perception could precipitate an increase in sales.
Kriezman said that online product and service vendors should redouble their marketing efforts to illustrate the advantages and practicality of routine and stronger authentication for consumers, and should provide appropriate pricing to encourage adopters.
"Enterprises with consumer-facing Web sites that require stronger controls than weak password authentication alone should continue to augment passwords with complementary mechanisms, such as device identification, geolocation and transaction verification," Litan said.
Additional information is available online in the Gartner report "Consumers Don't Want to Change the Ways They Manage Online Passwords."