Why people forget their email passwords the most often

Many users save their email password and so don't remember it if they have to enter or reset it, says NordPass.

Password management. Laptop with memo sticks on the screen.

Image: iStockPhoto/designer491

Juggling all your website and account passwords is one of the most challenging and frustrating aspects of using technology. You may use simple passwords, complex passwords, or a combination of both. However you set them up, if you don't enter a certain password on a regular basis, it's easy to forget it. A recent study and survey from password manager NordPass reveals which types of passwords people typically forget and need to reset.

SEE: Zero trust security: A cheat sheet (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

In new research released on Tuesday, NordPass found that email passwords were the types of passwords most often forgotten. Looking at the kinds of password-related web searches conducted by people across three different countries, NordPass discovered that searches for "how to reset email passwords" were the top ones for 40% of those in the US, 49% of those in the UK, and 48% in Australia.

Looking at different email providers, searches on how to reset a Gmail password was the leading email password reset query in all three countries. But, people also wanted to know how to reset passwords for Outlook, Hotmail, and Microsoft Live (which now defaults to Outlook).

The second most popular search about password resets was on how to reset them for different operating systems, most notably for Windows, with a small percentage in the US for Apple and Android platforms. Password reset queries for Google accounts came in third, followed by more general searches for "forgot password" or "change password." Less searched were queries for password resets for social media providers, entertainment sites, various devices, and productivity applications.

Searches for resetting an email password likely were the most common for a few different reasons, according to NordPass.

In a survey conducted earlier this year, NordPass found that people considered email accounts one of their most valued accounts. In just the US, 73% of respondents said it would be very or extremely harmful if their email account was hacked. However, less than half of those surveyed said they use a unique password to protect their email.

Further, most of the respondents have saved their email password on their computers and don't need to enter it each time they log in, according to NordPass security expert Chad Hammond. For that reason, they have trouble remembering the password and have to learn how to reset it when required.

On the other end, people are better at remembering passwords for their productivity apps because those passwords tend to be simple.

"According to the same password habits survey from April 2020, users rarely use unique passwords to protect their productivity applications," Hammond said. "Only 21% of respondents from the US use a unique password. Since the passwords are simple and memorable, users are less likely to forget them and don't need to search how to reset them."

Whatever systems and devices people use, why do they need to reset their password so often? NordPass offers a few explanations.

  • No need for a password to log in. Most people don't log out of their accounts or their personal devices and only need their credentials when signing in to a new device. If the password hasn't been used in a while and is suddenly required, the person isn't likely to remember it.
  • Too many passwords. The average person has around 80 passwords. Unless you make your passwords rhyme or use the same one for every account, you'll find it difficult to remember them all.
  • Passwords can be automatically saved. If we create a password knowing that it can be autosaved, we are more likely to forget it. A study conducted by Rutgers-New Brunswick and Aalto University in Finland suggests that the likelihood of remembering a password has less to do with its complexity than with how often we anticipate using it. You're far more likely to remember a complicated password if you know you'll be using it frequently and less likely to remember a simple password if you don't expect to use it often.
  • Complexity of resetting a password. With data breaches and leaks happening every day, each reputable website makes resetting your password more and more complex. You might need to answer additional security questions or use two-factor authentication. While this is a great security practice, many users find it too complicated and often turn to Google for help.

How can people better handle their passwords? Well, since NordPass makes a password manager, the company naturally advises people to use such products to help juggle their passwords. No matter what the source, that advice is always sound and people can choose from a variety of products, including NordPass, LastPass, 1Password, Dashlane, and Roboform.

"These tools will not only remember your password for you and make it secure and convenient but will also help you generate unique credentials as well as check if they have been breached before," Hammond said.

Also see