Most hacked passwords revealed as UK survey exposes gaps in online security

People have been urged to apply steps to stay safe online after results of the UK Cyber Survey exposed exploitable gaps in their knowledge of personal security.

The polling was independently carried out on behalf of the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), a part of GCHQ, and Department for Digital, Media and Sport (DCMS).

The findings, released ahead of the NCSC’s CYBERUK 2019 conference in Glasgow this week and the launch of Cyber Scotland Week, will inform Government policy and the guidance offered to organisations and the public.

The cyber summit will see a range of sessions delivered by industry, academia and government, including a keynote speech by Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington.

A first of its kind for cyber in Scotland, Cyber Scotland Week draws together events across Scotland to showcase the innovation taking place across the sector, while raising awareness of good cyber resilience practice and promoting a career within the industry. The week will bring together influencers, experts and the next generation of talent to explore and learn about the innovation and challenges in this fast-changing threat landscape.

Amongst the survey results – which have been published in full on www.ncsc.gov.uk – were that:

  • Only 15% say they know a great deal about how to protect themselves from harmful activity
  • The most regular concern is money being stolen – with 42% feeling it likely to happen by 2021
  • 89% use the internet to make online purchases – with 39% on a weekly basis 
  • One in three rely to some extent on friends and family for help on cyber security
  • Young people more likely to be privacy conscious and careful of what details they share online
  • 61% of internet users check social media daily, but 21% report they never look at social media
  • 70% always use PINs and passwords for smart phones and tablets
  • Less than half do not always use a strong, separate password for their main email account

The NCSC has also today published separate analysis of the 100,000 most commonly re-occurring passwords that have been accessed by third parties in global cyber breaches. The results show a huge number of regularly used passwords breached to access sensitive information. More than 23m victim accounts worldwide used 123456 as their password.


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“We understand that cyber security can feel daunting to a lot of people, but the National Cyber Security Centre has published lots of easily applicable advice to make you much less vulnerable,” said Dr Ian Levy, NCSC’s Technical Director.

“Password re-use is a major risk that can be avoided – nobody should protect sensitive data with something that can be guessed, like their first name, local football team or favourite band.

“Using hard-to-guess passwords is a strong first step and we recommend combining three random but memorable words. Be creative and use words memorable to you, so people can’t guess your password.”

David Lidington, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office, added: “Given the growing global threat from cyber attacks, these findings underline the importance of using strong passwords at home and at work.

“This is a message we look forward to building on at CYBERUK 2019, an event that reaffirms our commitment to make Britain both the safest place in the world to be online and the best place to run a digital business.” 

The NCSC hope to reduce the risk of further breaches by building awareness of how attackers use easy to guess passwords, or those obtained from breaches and help guide developers and System Administrators to protect their users.

The compromised passwords were obtained from global breaches that are already in the public domain having been sold or shared by hackers.

The list was created after breached usernames and passwords were collected and published on Have I Been Pwned by international web security expert Troy Hunt. The website allows people to check if they have an account that has been compromised in a data breach.

The NCSC was launched in October 2016 and provides a single, central body for cyber security at a national level. It manages national cyber security incidents, carries out real-time threat analysis and provides tailored sectoral advice.