A Longitudinal Study on Web-Sites Password Management (in)Security: Evidence and Remedies

Simone Raponi*, Roberto Di Pietro

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Single-factor password-based authentication is generally the norm to access on-line Web-sites. While single-factor authentication is well known to be a weak form of authentication, a further concern arises when considering the possibility for an attacker to recover the user passwords by leveraging the loopholes in the password recovery mechanisms. Indeed, the adoption by a Web-site of a poor password management system makes useless even the most robust password chosen by the registered users. In this paper, building on the results of our previous work, we study the possible attacks to on-line password recovery systems analyzing the mechanisms implemented by some of the most popular Web-sites. In detail, we provide several contributions: (i) we revise and detail the attacker model; (ii) we provide an updated analysis with respect to a preliminary study we carried out in December 2017; (iii) we perform a brand new analysis of the current top 200 Alexa's Web-sites of five major EU countries; and, (iv) we propose Maildust, a working open-source module that could be adopted by any Web-site to provide registered users with a password recovery mechanism to prevent mail service provider-level attacks. Overall, it is striking to notice how the analyzed Web-sites have made little (if any) effort to become compliant with the GDPR regulation, showing that the objective to have basic user protection mechanisms in place-despite the fines threatened by the GDPR-is still far, mainly because of sub-standard security management practices. Finally, it is worth noting that while this study has been focused on EU registered Web-sites, the proposed solution has, instead, general applicability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number9037276
Pages (from-to)52075-52090
Number of pages16
JournalIEEE Access
StatePublished - 2020


  • authentication
  • Password recovery
  • security and privacy on the Web

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Computer Science
  • General Materials Science
  • General Engineering


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