Picture this: image-based passwords

MS prototype


Darko Kirovski, cryptography and anti-piracy researcher at Microsoft, last week showed the press a prototype of an image-based password system at the software giant's offices in Mountain View, California.

He clicked on a number of points on a screen emblazoned with the flags of different countries which, he explained, represented a password which users can remember more easily than a text string, but is harder for crackers to break. Users would need only to recall where and in what order they clicked on the images on display.

There's little doubt that users frequently pick insecure default passwords (a recent study discovered 50 per cent base passwords on the name of a family member, partner or a pet while 30 per cent choose a pop idol or sporting hero). Ethical hackers and security consultants tell us weak or default passwords are a major security risk.

But are picture-based passwords any more secure than their text-based alternative?

For one thing, the electronic representation of a series of image selections has to be stored somewhere, and it isn't too hard to imagine someone coming up with a Lopht crack-style utility to break the code.

Implementation is crucial, and any image-based system would be more complex than a text-based system, creating more scope for sloppy coders to make a hash of it.

Neil Barrett, technical director at Information Risk Management (IRM), a security consultancy, said an image-based password system may seem like a good idea but the "devil is in the detail".

IRM has set up a system for children to access a child protection Web site run by the NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) using an easy-to-use picture-based password system.

Despite this, Barrett is against more widespread use of picture-password technology; he argues that educating users to use strong text-based passwords is a better solution.

Experience shows that would-be crackers often find passwords to user PCs through one of three techniques: dictionary attacks, finding notes on wish someone has written their password and 'shoulder surfing'.

Barrett, who tells us he spent months learning to work out passwords using shoulder surfing, said image-based passwords might make easier to do this.

That's because it is easier to look at mouse movements on a screen than what a user types in, he told us. ®


Other stories you might like

  • US won’t prosecute ‘good faith’ security researchers under CFAA
    Well, that clears things up? Maybe not.

    The US Justice Department has directed prosecutors not to charge "good-faith security researchers" with violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) if their reasons for hacking are ethical — things like bug hunting, responsible vulnerability disclosure, or above-board penetration testing.

    Good-faith, according to the policy [PDF], means using a computer "solely for purposes of good-faith testing, investigation, and/or correction of a security flaw or vulnerability."

    Additionally, this activity must be "carried out in a manner designed to avoid any harm to individuals or the public, and where the information derived from the activity is used primarily to promote the security or safety of the class of devices, machines, or online services to which the accessed computer belongs, or those who use such devices, machines, or online services."

    Continue reading
  • Intel plans immersion lab to chill its power-hungry chips
    AI chips are sucking down 600W+ and the solution could be to drown them.

    Intel this week unveiled a $700 million sustainability initiative to try innovative liquid and immersion cooling technologies to the datacenter.

    The project will see Intel construct a 200,000-square-foot "mega lab" approximately 20 miles west of Portland at its Hillsboro campus, where the chipmaker will qualify, test, and demo its expansive — and power hungry — datacenter portfolio using a variety of cooling tech.

    Alongside the lab, the x86 giant unveiled an open reference design for immersion cooling systems for its chips that is being developed by Intel Taiwan. The chip giant is hoping to bring other Taiwanese manufacturers into the fold and it'll then be rolled out globally.

    Continue reading
  • US recovers a record $15m from the 3ve ad-fraud crew
    Swiss banks cough up around half of the proceeds of crime

    The US government has recovered over $15 million in proceeds from the 3ve digital advertising fraud operation that cost businesses more than $29 million for ads that were never viewed.

    "This forfeiture is the largest international cybercrime recovery in the history of the Eastern District of New York," US Attorney Breon Peace said in a statement

    The action, Peace added, "sends a powerful message to those involved in cyber fraud that there are no boundaries to prosecuting these bad actors and locating their ill-gotten assets wherever they are in the world."

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022