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Password problems: digital natives more careless than silver surfers

Sep 6, 2021
3 min.
In a new study, Nevis discovered some surprising facts about the online behaviour of digital natives and silver surfers. Find out more.
Sebastian Ulbert

Whether it’s shopping, banking or social networking – we are spending more and more of our time nowadays online. And concerns about the security of our private data during online activities are a matter for all age groups. According to a recent study conducted by Nevis among German consumers, of those surveyed, the 14- to 39-year-olds are even more concerned than their elders. Nevertheless, younger people, many of whom have actually grown up with smartphones and the Internet, are sometimes more careless than their elders when it comes to navigating the digital world. They are more likely to use a single password for multiple accounts or even share it with their friends. And it’s not just in terms of password security that the study reveals surprising differences between young and old. 

In April 2021, Nevis surveyed a representative group of 1,000 German consumers aged 14 and over for the study in collaboration with the online market research institute mo'web research. The questions revolved around topics such as passwords, the acceptance of social logins as a form of single sign-on (SSO) or the use of multi-factor authentication. The study participants were divided into four age groups: 14 to 19, 20 to 39, 40 to 59 and over 60. 

One thing that was striking was that more than 50 percent of the groups aged 40 to 59 and over 60 say they never use the same password for different online accounts. Only 41 percent of 20- to 39-year-olds make the same claim, and 43 percent of 14- to 19-year-olds. Among those study participants who admit to sometimes using one password for multiple accounts, the younger respondents are by far the largest group with an alarming 57 percent.

Older people are also more cautious when it comes to shared passwords. While 14 percent of respondents over the age of 60 have shared their password at least once, the figure is more than twice as high among younger people up to 39 years of age. Among 20- to 39-year-olds, almost a third admit to taking such risks with their own password security

The younger respondents also value convenience in terms of passwords in other areas. Although using browser extensions to secure passwords is not recommended, more than a quarter of 14- to 19-year-olds and 20- to 39-year-olds use them. 

Younger people are more likely to use multi-factor authentication 

The study also asked users how they change the way they protect their accounts after a cyberattack. In all age groups, changing passwords was the most frequently employed method. People most often switch to more complex passwords. In addition, after a security incident, users choose many and more complicated passwords or change their password regularly. Multi-factor authentication – the question asked was specifically about two-factor authentication – ranks just fourth among the measures taken. Younger people are more open to this method, which is certainly more secure than simply relying on a password for authentication. In the age group up to 39 years, around 39 percent use the safer method mentioned above, and among those aged 40 to 59 as many as 46 percent. Among those over 60, the figure is only around 29 percent. 

Older people sceptical about single sign-ons via social login

To make registration and login as easy and convenient as possible for their (new) customers, many companies are now turning to single sign-ons (SSO). This is a method in which customers can authenticate their identity using the already-verified credentials of their social media accounts. Facebook or Google are then the intermediaries for verification. For consumers, a major benefit of this kind of single sign-on is that it eliminates the inconvenience of having to set up yet another online account. Instead, they can simply use the username and password of their social media account. The study participants were asked to rate their trust in this very convenient form of login on a scale from 1 to 10. Their responses differ considerably across the different age groups. The oldest study participants most frequently assign the lowest values: 37 percent of the over-60s, 27 percent of the 40- to 59-year-olds and 21 percent of the 20- to 39-year-olds gave this method a confidence rating of 1 to 2. None of the 14- to 29-year-olds gave these kinds of scores. Rather, they showed the highest level of approval, awarding the top values 9 and 10. This high approval rate decreases continuously with the age of the respondents. 

In summary, it can be said that, contrary to expectations, digital natives are more careless about some aspects of password security than those users who have grown up in a predominantly analogue world. However, they are ahead of the game when it comes to modern technologies such as multi-factor authentication, which also serve online security. 

By the way: Nevis has summarised further results of the study among consumers and a survey of 500 IT decision-makers on the topic of IT and login security in the new Security Barometer 2021. 

You can download it here. Nevis Security Barometer

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