British computer users are running the risk of online fraud by failing to adopt secure password habits, new figures suggest.

According to a McAfee study, nearly half of those people questioned never change their password, while 16 per cent alter it annually. Experts recommend users change their password three times per year.

The survey also found that one fifth of respondents use a password with a maximum of six characters in length and 18 per cent use letters only.

“The results of this study are incredibly worrying, as it proves just how slack people are,” said ex-hacker Mathew Bevan. “People who use one simple password that is easy to guess are just making cyber criminals’ lives easy, they simply aren’t taking online security seriously enough.”

The most popular passwords included pet names, mother’s maiden name and favourite football team, according to the research.

However, 84 per cent of UK respondents use more than one password for their online accounts.

The survey questioned 3,500 computer users from across Europe.