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 analyst, pen-tester, trainer, and speaker. Serving small business owners in the St Paul, Minneapolis, and western Wisconsin area since 2001. Cybersecurity and hacking have been a passion of mine since I entered the computer and networking business in 2000. I hold several cybersecurity certifications including Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), Certified Advanced Security Pratitioner (CASP), and Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH). Other computer industry certifications include A+, Network+ and Microsoft Certified System Engineer (MCSE). As Cybersecurity Analyst at The WyzCo Group, I help our clients experience high levels of security on their computers, networks, and websites. In addition to consulting on security products and services, we also conduct security audits, vulnerability assessments and full penetration tests. 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. We also provide Cybersecurity Awareness Training for clients and their employees. I am a frequent speakers at cybersecurity conferences such as the Minnesota Bloggers Conference, Secure360 Security Conference, the (ISC)2 World Congress, and the ISSA International Conference, and many local community organizations, Chambers of Commerce, SCORE, and several school districts. I have been blogging on cybersecurity since 2008.

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