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The Forgotten Password: A Solution to Selecting, Securing and Remembering Passwords

Internet passwords are required of us more and more. Personal experience and research shows us that it is difficult to create and remember unique passwords that meet security requirements. This study tested a unique method of password generation based on a selection of mnemonic aids aimed at increasing the usability, security and memorability of passwords. Fifty-one engineers, accountants and university students aged between 17 - 61 years participated in the study. They were randomly assigned to one of three groups: mnemonic, self-selection and random. All passwords in the study had to meet the following criteria: they had to be unique, at least eight characters long with a mixture of letters and numbers, and not include complete words or personal identifiers, sequential or repetitive numbers, and the passwords could not be written down or recorded anywhere. The mnemonic group created passwords based on a variety of mnemonic processes, the self-selection group generated passwords that complied with the above criteria, and the random group were assigned random passwords generated by the experimenter. Password recall was tested online once a week for three weeks, and then the passwords were renewed, with participants staying within the same groups for the length of the study. The second password was tested weekly for three weeks, then the passwords were renewed for the third and final time and tested for a further three weeks. The expectation was that the use of mnemonics in password creation would improve accurate recall of passwords, more so than if the password was 'self-selected' or a random password was assigned. The results showed that participants in the mnemonic group were able to accurately recall all three passwords significantly more often than participants in the self-selection and random groups. Furthermore, passwords created by the mnemonic group were more secure than passwords created by the self-selection group, as their passwords generated had a greater number of characters in them, slightly larger alphabet size, and a higher degree of entropy. The results are discussed in terms of the practical relevance of the findings.
Type of thesis
Filmer-Clark, T. J. (2008). The Forgotten Password: A Solution to Selecting, Securing and Remembering Passwords (Thesis, Master of Social Sciences (MSocSc)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/3269
The University of Waikato
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