Predictable Passwords Simplify a Hacker's Task

    Date31 Dec 2001
    3311
    Posted ByAnthony Pell
    Even those who are vigilant about guarding passwords may be giving away more than they think. The problem is that computer passwords have evolved into the personality test of a networked society, as millions of people try to sum up their essence through a few taps on the keyboard.. . . Even those who are vigilant about guarding passwords may be giving away more than they think. The problem is that computer passwords have evolved into the personality test of a networked society, as millions of people try to sum up their essence through a few taps on the keyboard. As psychologists know, people and personalities are often very predictable in the aggregate, and thus so are passwords - a reality that malevolent computer hackers often take advantage of. "When you are thinking of something neutral to use as a password, whatever your obsession is will pop into your head," said Helen Petrie, a professor of human computer interaction at City University in London. "It's the new version of the inkblot or word-association test."

    Psychologists say that people can store only five to nine random bits of information in their short-term memory. Users therefore often choose passwords with a personal meaning that they can associate with something in their long-term memory. A recent survey of 1,200 employees of British companies by CentralNic, a London-based domain-registration company, showed that half of them used passwords related to family - passwords based on names, nicknames or birthdays of partners, children or pets.

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