Your cat may be the reason why cybercrooks could be wreaking havoc in your company’s infrastructure, warns the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC). Ahead of National Pet Day on Sunday 11 April, the UK’s top cybersecurity authority is pleading with people to stop using their pets’ names as passwords. If they don’t stop making that password faux paw, the NCSC warns that some not-so-furry nice people could claw their way inside their systems.

“We may be a nation of animal lovers, but using your pet’s name as a password could make you an easy target for callous cybercriminals,” said Nicola Hudson, director for policy and communications at the NCSC.

According to a survey conducted by the NCSC, about 15% use the names of their fuzzy little friends as their pawswords for online services. The same poll also found that plenty of people used other easily predicted passwords. Of the people polled, 14% used family members’ names, 13% used a significant date and 6% used their favourite team’s name to gain access to an online service. The researchers also found that 6% still use the word “password” as their password.

The NCSC also highlighted that 27% had added at least four more new password-protected accounts over the past year,  with 6% reporting to have added in excess of 10 new accounts in the last 12 months. People often use the same password across different platforms and systems. The danger is that cybercriminals could gain access to all of them if the same easily-guessed password is used across them all.

The threat of having weak cybersecurity was also highlighted in a recent report from GlobalData that warned that black hat hackers could seriously damage companies’ infrastructures. The recent SolarWinds and Microsoft Exchange Server attacks emphasise the severity of these threats.

In response to these growing dangers, businesses are increasingly investing in their digital defences.

“The need for security, along with the idea that innovation is critical to counter the evolving threat landscape, will drive cybersecurity spending despite Covid-19’s economic impact,” said the GlobalData market analysts, adding that the “global security industry will be worth nearly $238bn by 2030, having grown at a compound annual growth rate of 6.4% between 2019 and 2030.”

However, the NCSC wasn’t all bark, offering in addition some advice on how to protect yourself from allowing cybercriminals to let ransomware and scams off the leash on your devices. Instead of using pets’ names, the government body encouraged people to use three randomly selected words as passwords to boost their digital defences.

It encouraged people to use strong and different passwords for different accounts and emails. By doing so, laptop-wielding larcenists will have a harder time using one hacked account to gain entry into other accounts.

The NCSC also suggested that people save their passwords in their web browsers as it would enable them to manage them more easily and to boost their protection against cybercriminals.

“I would urge everybody to visit cyberaware.gov.uk and follow our guidance on setting secure passwords which recommends using passwords made up of three random words,” Hudson said. “You can even use our Cyber Action Plan tool to generate tailored, free of charge advice to improve your security against online attacks.”