Around nine out of ten mobile devices are secured with some form of passcode, but only a tiny number employ a complex or alphanumeric format, an analysis by Fiberlink of 200,000 of its customer’s devices has discovered.

The mobile management firm found that 85 percent of smartphones and tablets used some form of passcode to secure access, with a PIN number being favoured 93 percent of the time.

Unfortunately, around three quarters of these enforced the PIN number using minimum security, that is to say a number with four of five digits. Only four percent employed an alphanumeric passcode, and 2 percent used complexity for added security.

Expressed a different way, 15 percent used no security of any kind while most of the ones who did do so to the most basic standard. Should businesses and CIOs be taking the issue more seriously?

A four-digit bank-style PIN number (including 0) allows 10,000 possibilities, while adding a fifth possibility raises this to 100,000. The problem is that numerous studies have shown that because users have a habit of using predictable combinations (i.e. 12345) the real level of vulnerability is far greater than the arithmetic would suggest.

What makes the difference, then, is the security policy that governs the creation of passcodes or PINs and whether users are allowed to get away with trivial combinations. Fiberlink didn’t look into this issue but the assumption must be that organisations allowing four-digit PINs are probably not imposing any guidelines on creation.

Organisations could increase the length of a passcode but there is general agreement that doing so reduces usability. An important qualification that needs to be made is that some of the devices assessed by Fiberlink would have been managed under BYOD so firms might not either see the need or feel they can impose policies on them.

The situation did vary by sector, with healthcare leading the way with a 97 percent passcode rate, ahead of the public sector on 87 percent. Bottom of the pile was education with 41 percent.

When it came to using alphanumeric or complex passcodes, the public sector led on 18 percent, ahead of financial services on 9 percent. Education again came bottom with only 1 percent.