Saturday, August 09, 2008

Trading security for chocolate

I recently heard about a study done in Britain, in which pollsters quizzed subway commuters to determine their security savvy. The survey's a few years old, but still surprising. A third of the participants would tell a complete stranger their computer password. And, over 70% would tell their password in exchange for a chocolate bar. I was a bit surprised that so many people would give their password when asked. But I don't buy that so many more would be willing to part with their password for chocolate. That is, I'd believe that 30% of computer users are so unwise -- that they don't realize how much damage someone could cause with their password. But I doubt that 70% are so unwise.

But I can explain the survey results. I'm picturing myself getting asked this question. I wouldn't give away my password, no matter what. But if they offered me chocolate, I'd rattle off a string of random characters, or my cat's name (which is extremely not my password), or something, then take their chocolate. What I suspect this survey actually shows is that 40% of the population is willing to lie for chocolate. And this number seems completely reasonable. It's less about honesty, and more about giving an appropriate response when a complete stranger asks an inappropriate question.

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