Getting a computer password out of an IT expert may seem a daunting task, but mention the word 'competition' and almost a third will willingly hand over the information.

A survey commissioned by independent IT assurance provider NCC Group, questioned over 150 people to determine how easily they would reveal their access codes. After a series of questions, the final section on the survey asked respondents to type their computer passwords in order to be entered into a prize draw. Amazingly, 15 percent were only too happy to oblige.

"Even keeping your password secret may not be enough. Obvious words can be easily identified with the use of dictionary programmes. These can be tailored to concentrate on popular passwords such as names, football clubs or popular films or books such as Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings," said Jane Pink, Testing Solutions Director at NCC Group.

According to NCC, a common tactic used by hackers to gain entry to systems is through so-called social engineering. Even though most IT systems are extremely secure, many employees are more than happy to disclose passwords to callers pretending to be system administrators and willingly impart them so that they're eligible for competitions and market research.

NCC's group of experts can crack 50 percent of passwords in under three minutes and in 58 percent of cases can gain unrestricted access to a company's IT server. Figures worth bearing in mind the next time someone asks you for security information.

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