Learning Assigned Secrets for Unlocking Mobile Devices

  • Stuart Schechter
  • Joseph Bonneau

Symposium On Usable Privacy and Security |

Published by USENIX - Advanced Computing Systems Association

Nearly all smartphones and tablets support unlocking with a short user-chosen secret: e.g., a numeric PIN or a pattern. To address users’ tendency to choose guessable PINs and patterns, we compare two approaches for helping users learn assigned random secrets. In one approach, built on our prior work [16], we assign users a second numeric PIN and, during each login, we require them to enter it after their chosen PIN. In a new approach, we re-arrange the digits on the keypad so that the user’s chosen PIN appears on an assigned random sequence of key positions. We performed experiments with over a thousand participants to compare these two repetition-learning approaches to simple user-chosen PINs and assigned PINs that users are required to learn immediately at account set-up time. Almost all of the participants using either repetition-learning approach learned their assigned secrets quickly and could recall them three days after the study. Those using the new mapping approach were less likely to write down their secret. Surprisingly, the learning process was less time consuming for those required to enter an extra PIN.