The relationship between an owner and a pet is one of the strongest bonds we experience in life, but is that love putting our online safety at risk?
Ahead of World Pet Day on 11th April, figures from the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) show millions of Brits are putting themselves in danger by using their pets’ name in passwords, a trend which the centre said must stop.
Up to 15% of the population uses a pets’ name in their passwords, NCSC research revealed, while 14% use the names of a family member or loved one.
Anniversaries are also a popular choice of password for many web users, with 13% choosing a notable date and, as one would expect, sports teams are also frequently used by around 6% of users.
Although easily-remembered passwords are convenient for users, they also place many at heightened risk, with cybercriminals able to crack passwords and access accounts with ease.
“Predictable passwords can be easily cracked by hackers, who could force their way into your accounts by simply guessing common pet names,” the NCSC said.
Some of the UK’s most popular pet names include Bella, Luna, Lola and Alfie, all of which can be guessed by hackers through simple research online.
Stats available via Comparethemarket highlight some of the most popular names for cats and dogs, with additional insights even available for specific breeds.
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Nicola Hudson, NCSC director for policy and communications, said the figures are a cause for concern given the increased use of online platforms over the last year.
More than one-quarter (27%) of respondents to a recent NCSC survey revealed they now have more than four new password-protected accounts compared to this time last year. Around 6% said they have added at least 10 new accounts in the last 12-months.
With millions working from home and spending more time online due to the pandemic, Hudson warned that many are ripe targets for cybercriminals.
“We may be a nation of animal lovers, but using your pet’s name as a password could make you an easy target for callous cybercriminals,” she said.
“I would urge everybody to visit cyberaware.gov.uk and follow our guidance on setting secure passwords which recommends using passwords made up of three random words,” Hudson added.
The NCSC’s new Cyber Aware campaign offers fresh guidance for web users across the country and aims to prompt a re-think of password security and online safety.
Tips highlighted by the campaign include:
- Using a strong and separate password for an email account
- Creating strong passwords using three random words
- Do not use words that can be guessed
- Saving passwords in a web browser
Did you know 15% of British people use their pet’s name as a password?
— NCSC UK (@NCSC) April 9, 2021
Additional guidance from the Cyber Aware campaign includes using two-factor authentication (2FA) for important accounts such as online banking.
Although many online banking services use 2FA automatically, the centre recommended that users ensure they are using this additional security measure.
Keeping your devices up-to-date is also a key recommendation from the NCSC, as out-of-date software, apps and operating systems contain weaknesses that leave users exposed.
“Companies fix the weaknesses by releasing updates. When you update your devices and software, this helps to keep hackers out,” the centre said.
“Turn on automatic updates for your devices and software that offer it. This will mean you do not have to remember each time.”