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. Owner of the WyzCo Group Inc. In addition to consulting on security products and services, Bob also conducts security audits, compliance audits, vulnerability assessments and penetration tests. Bob also teaches Cybersecurity Awareness Training classes. Bob works as an instruction for CompTIA’s non-profit IT-Ready Program in the Twin Cities. IT-Ready is a tuition free 8-week program designed to teach students of all ages the fundamentals of IT support to prepare them for an entry level position in Information Technology Support. Graduates of the classes take the exams to become CompTIA A+ certified. Bob is a frequent speaker at conferences such as the Minnesota Bloggers Conference, Secure360 Security Conference2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, the (ISC)2 World Congress 2016, and the ISSA International Conference 2017, and many local community organizations, including Chambers of Commerce, SCORE, and several school districts. Bob has been blogging on cybersecurity since 2006 at

Add a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.