Could Your Partner Give Up Your Password? New McAfee Survey Says 'Yes'

94 percent of Americans share passwords with their loved ones, study says.

 @YannickLeJacq
on February 06 2013 6:43 PM

We tend to think of cybersecurity as a techno-babble-ridden issue resting solely on the shoulders of giant corporations and the hackers that torment them. But a new survey by computer security firm McAfee puts cybersecurity in a much more intimate and analog world than that: The bedroom.

According to the study published earlier this week, almost two-thirds of all smartphone users keep some sort of personal information on their mobile devices, be it passwords for email and social networking accounts, credit card and bank account numbers or intimate photographs. Only 40 percent of smartphone users, however, have their mobile units password-protected.

This discrepancy between the wealth of personal data contained on these devices and the limits placed on gaining access to it, McAfee said, leaves many a smartphone owner ripe for any number of privacy violations -- be it from the random theft of a mobile device or a soured relationship.

"We're all aware of the cases involving celebrities, but you don't have to be a celebrity to have your personal information exposed," McAfee online security expert Robert Siciliano said in a statement.

The report found that 94 percent of Americans share personal information with their friends and loved ones. Siciliano suggested that this figure shows a cultural trend of Americans sharing their secrets as a way to essentially prove their love to one another. If you really mean it when you say “I love you,” in other words, you have to back it up with a password or two.

“Today, sharing passwords has become a sign of commitment, a signal of love and devotion, like a varsity sweater or friendship ring,” Siciliano said. “But what’s happens when the relationship goes sour (with a divorce rate of 50 percent to back me up here)?”

Thirteen percent of adults have had some of this private information taken and given to others without their consent, the report said. One in 10 exes, meanwhile, have threatened to share their scorned partners' personal information, a threat that 60 percent of them acted on.

"Sharing passwords with your partner might seem harmless, but it often puts you at risk for a 'revenge of the ex' situation, landing private information in a public platform for all to see," Siciliano said. "Everyone needs to be aware of the risks and take the steps to make sure their personal data is safe and secure."

What sparks all of this vengeful data leaking, exactly? As with many things related to doomed relationships, dishonesty. McAfee said 45 percent of people had their information stolen because they lied to their partner beforehand. Forty-one percent of data theft cases were a direct result of infidelity. “Breaking up with me” only accounted for little more than quarter of all cases (27 percent), while calling off a wedding or posting compromising photos with another person accounted for a minority of theft cases (14 and 13 percent, respectively), though the report doesn’t clarify whether or not things like posting suspicious photos or running away at the altar are related to the prominent causes.

Despite these alarming statistics, however, the McAfee report noted that 36 percent of Americans are still planning to send salacious images to their partners for Valentine’s Day. At the very least, the holiday next week gives couples a chance to renew their vows before any cybersecurity breaches happen. The report noted that a majority of people armed with a partner’s passwords will use it for more benign activities than leaking information, such as digging through their emails, bank accounts, and social media profiles, though this type of casual snooping is probably what leads to the dishonesty or infidelity being uncovered in the first place.

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