Online social networkers invite data marauders to compromise their accounts by choosing a convenient but risky option offered by many websites, according to a survey released on Tuesday.
The worldwide survey of more than 10,000 people performed by the computer maintenance software makerÃ'Â IObit revealed that nearly a third of the participants in the project (30 percent) routinely choose "Keep Me Logged In" when accessing their social media accounts.
This data shows that there are still many people who choose "Keep Me Logged In" features no matter what risks they pose to their online privacy and security, the company said in a statement.
When you choose Keep Me Logged In, the website stores a "cookie" on your computer. "Malware can harvest that cookie from you and send it to an attacker who can use it to impersonate you," OneID CSO James Fenton said in an interview.
For example, several years ago, a malware program called Firesheep hijacked information on Wi-Fi networks. Among the things it harvested were cookies sent with Web sessions.
When you log off a website, it will remove the cookie that identifies you to site or change it so you need to login the next time you appear there so you have an extra measure of protection.
In addition, sites where Keep Me Logged In is activated are open invitations to anyone accessing your computer without your permission.
"That can be dangerous for a number of reasons," Emmanuel Schalit, CEO of Dashlane, a password management app maker, said in an interview.
For example, if your email account is set to Keep Me Logged In, a computer thief could start stealing your online identities, as happened with journalist Mat Honan.
"In today's world, there is strictly no good reason to select that option on a website," Schalit said.
The IObit survey also found that nearly half the respondents (45 percent) confessed that they changed their passwords only when force to do so. Some 15 percent said they never changed their password.
Convenience is a primary motivator behind that behavior, Schalit said. "When confronted with a choice between convenience and security, most people will choose convenience because they have not yet grasped the reality of the threat," he noted.
"What most people don't realize is that since a lot of our personal data has moved to the cloud," he continued, "the only thing that protects that extremely valuable data are passwords."
Offering a Keep Me Logged In option can encourage poor password management practices, contended Kevin O'Brien, an enterprise sales architect with CloudLock. "By allowing users to remain authenticated, the impetus to change those passwords is reduced even further," he said in an email. "It is a classic example of 'out of sight, out of mind' -- and exactly the wrong approach to password management."
Changing passwords can be an important defense against identity hacking and it should not be ignored, said Ori Eisen, founder, chairman and chief innovation officer at 41st Parameter. "If we could give users one advice, it would be 'change your password,'" he said in an email.
"To borrow from an election tongue-in-cheek, 'change your password early and change your password often,'" he said. "By doing so, you are effectively rendering any password credentials that may have been compromised useless." Ã'Â Ã'Â Ã'Â
Read more about social networking security in CSOonline's Social Networking Security section.