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Surprising study says over-55 Germans pick safest passwords

The largest ever study of password security shows that the over-55s are much smarter at password choice than teens. Isn't this a little surprising? Less surprising is that Germany and Korea are the most password-secure.

Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

This might make those of advanced years feel a little smug.

Which, those in their 20s who are desperate to find a job and pay off student loans might say, the over-55s have been for at least 20 years.

This new source of smugness, however, comes from research at the University of Cambridge. For it showed that the password strength of Yahoo accounts belonging to the over-55s was twice that of, say, teens.

The New Scientist passes this information along and offers that the researchers concluded that most people have weak passwords.

The computer scientist who led the research, Joseph Bonneau, was given access to 70 million Yahoo passwords. Yes, he may have had yours, but the data was subjected to a security technique called hashing, which meant he couldn't get into your account and e-mail your ex with some choice epithets.

The strength of a password is essentially measured by how great the probability is that someone could randomly guess it. What Bonneau discovered is that the average password would take only around 1,000 random attempts before it was guessed.

Indeed, he seems so distressed at the ease of guessing some of the passwords that he believes everyone should be assigned a random 9-digit number that should be as memorable as a phone number. That way, their passwords would be 1,000 times stronger.

But the part of the brain that remembers phone numbers has been entirely wiped by the smartphone. Doesn't everyone just text their number into someone else's phone? No one actually knows the numbers.

What is odd is that there seems to be no explanation for why the over-55s should be more security conscious.

Some might have imagined that they would be more tech-naive and therefore more prone to making passwords obvious and memorable. Teens, on the other hand, being so deeply tech-aware, would surely create complex formulas for passwords in order to keep their sexting pictures safe.

Yet this does not appear to be the case.

Some might be amused -- or wail uncontrollably -- at the finding that in each population he studied, 0.14 percent of people had precisely the same password. Bonneau speculates, because he wasn't privileged to knowing the actual passwords, that these might be numerical configurations that work across cultures.

Should you be feeling nationalistic, it seems that Germans and Koreans are rather more diligent about creating stronger passwords, while Indonesians, Vietnamese, and Italians don't seem quite as au fait.

I am sure that there are many 58-year-old Germans and Koreans who will be holding special celebrations regarding their momentous achievements.