Replacing Passwords and Pins with Icons

We have discussed the sorry state of passwords in many recent articles.  There is an alternative to passwords and pins that may be coming to a smartphone near you.  It is called SemanticLock and it uses emoji-like icons to unlock your smartphone.

Most smartphones go unsecured mainly because most people find it difficult to enter a password using the on-screen keyboard.  4 to 6 digit numeric PINs are slightly easier, but due to their shorter length, easier to crack.  Swipe patterns are easier still, but susceptible to the “grease attack,” or observing where the finger has left skin oils on the screen.  SemanticLock uses 20 icons, which can be rearranged to reproduce a security phrase or visual pattern.  The icons position on the screen are rotated periodically to eliminate revealing smudge patterns.  In theory this should be at least as secure as a PIN.

In terms of ease of use, SemanticLock was a bit slower than pattern locks, but faster than PINS and a lot faster than passwords.  Looking at memory retention, icon location was successfully remembered 90% of the time, versus 30% for patterns and 50% for PINs.

With smartphone manufacturers moving toward biometric solutions such as the fingerprint reader (on the Google Pixel) and facial recognition (iPhone), there may not be an overwhelming rush to this technology, but I expect it will be available as an app at some point, and perhaps worthy of consideration.  It is always nice to have alternatives.


About the Author:

Cybersecurity guru to business owners in the St Paul, Minneapolis, and western Wisconsin area. Computer security and hacking have been a passion of mine since I entered the computer and networking business in 2000. In 2013 I completed a course of study and certification exam to become a Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH). In 2016 I was certified as a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP). As Cybersecurity Analyst at The WyzCo Group, I help our clients experience high levels of computer security, network security, and web site security. In addition to consulting on security products and services, we also conduct security audits, vulnerability assessments and full penetration tests. We also provide Cybersecurity Awareness Training for clients and their employees. We also work with companies and organizations that need to certify compliance with regulations such as PCI-DSS (credit card processing), HIPAA/HITECH (medical records), and GLBA. The views expressed on this Web site are mine alone and do not necessarily represent the views of my employer.

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