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5/5/2005
07:30 PM
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Workers Trade Password Security For Starbucks

Internet security and infrastructure company VeriSign said that 85% of participants in a "lighthearted, unscientific" survey compromised their actual password, or revealed hints about their password, for a cup of coffee.

The National Security Agency may want to spend less on code-breaking technology and more on caffeine. Internet security and infrastructure company VeriSign Inc. Thursday said that 85% of survey participants compromised their actual password, or revealed hints about their password, for a cup of coffee.

Strictly speaking, the inducement was a $3 Starbucks gift card, enough to buy two cups of coffee or one latte.

Some 272 passers-by on San Francisco's Market Street took part in what VeriSign calls a "light-hearted and unscientific" survey. Of these, 66% traded their password for coffee. Among those who preferred secrecy to Starbucks, 70% were nonetheless willing to offer a clue about their password.

According to the company, one executive who was too busy to respond to questions but still wanted a gift card sent his administrative assistant back to complete the survey. The assistant promptly revealed both the executive's password and her own.

VeriSign says the findings demonstrate that more-secure forms of user authentication are necessary to protect against online identity theft. The results also could be interpreted to indicate that the survey's respondents aren't as foolish as they appear, since several reportedly said they'd change their passwords upon returning to their computers.

In any event, one solution might be to build coffee makers into PCs. This would keep caffeine-deprived workers seeking java off the streets where they might be ambushed by security companies with a keen eye for self-promotion.

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