Batman Vs. Superman: The Battle for Password Security

For decades, people have argued about whether Batman or Superman reigns supreme. Batman is a master strategist with razor-sharp intellect and a seemingly endless supply of technical gadgets, but he is only human. Superman boasts otherworldly speed and strength, yet he still finds himself crippled by Kryptonite. This debate is unlikely to be settled any time soon, but hopefully, all can agree that neither “Batman” nor “Superman” makes the ideal password when it comes to protecting against cybercriminals.

Superman Wins the Battle But Loses the War

SplashData recently released its annual list of “Worst Passwords” for 2014, and for the first time, both “superman” (No. 21) and “batman” (No. 24) made the cut. Much higher on the list are perennial favorites “123456” (No. 1), “password” (No. 2), “12345 (No. 3) and, presumably for those sites that require an eight-character password, “12345678” (No. 4).

SplashData

If you’re anything like me, your first instinct may be to laugh or shake your head in disbelief. After all, it’s been 25 years since “Spaceballs” taught us that “12345” isn’t even a secure password for one’s luggage. Why on earth, then, would so many people continue to use such elementary safeguards to protect their identity?

No More Excuses for Password Protection

The most basic answer is, of course, convenience. A 2012 U.K. study found that the average Briton has 26 online accounts but uses only five different passwords. Perhaps Bruce Wayne could remember more than 20 unique login codes, but for most, that is a genuine challenge. However, in the wake of the Heartbleed vulnerability, the Yahoo Mail data breach and so many other security incidents in recent history, the time for excuses is over. While even a tough-to-crack password won’t stop cybercriminals 100 percent of the time, there is simply no reason to hand over our data with passwords such as “password” or “monkey.”

As important as it is to choose (and frequently update) complex passwords that cannot be easily guessed, it’s equally crucial to use unique passwords for each of your accounts. If the risk of exposing your personal details and credit card information isn’t enough motivation to replace “baseball” as your Facebook password, consider the fact that you may also be endangering your company’s corporate assets.

Well aware that many employees reuse corporate passwords on e-commerce sites and social networks, cybercriminals hack these third-party sites with the explicit purpose of extracting those user databases. If you have used the same password on a hacked public site and your work email account, you might be giving cybercriminals the key to your corporate network.

Silver Lining

If there’s any good news in SplashData’s latest “Worst Passwords” list, it’s that the top 25 passwords represented only about 2.2 percent of the 3.3 million leaked passwords analyzed in the study. According to online security expert and author Mark Burnett, “While still frightening, that’s the lowest percentage of people using the most common passwords I have seen in recent studies.”

Another glimmer of hope, at least for mobile users, is that recent reports forecast huge growth for mobile biometric security. Biometric devices may once have seemed like another one of Batman’s futuristic gadgets, but in the years ahead, they are expected to significantly reduce mobile users’ reliance on alphanumeric passwords. Until then, let’s make 2014 the last year we hand cybercriminals our Kryptonite with passwords such as “superman.”

Contributor'photo

Jennifer Tullman-Botzer

Security Intelligence Editor

Jenn joined IBM through its acquisition of Trusteer in 2013. She has been a member of IBM Security's worldwide digital...