A better way to think about passwords

Mark H. Wood mwood at IUPUI.Edu
Mon Apr 18 17:46:29 CEST 2011

I think the author of the page was on his way to saying something
important but got sidetracked.  Whether his math works or not is
secondary to the bit I think is important.

It's easy to build gadgets which yield passwords that are
mathematically very strong.  The problem is that such passwords tend
to be psychologically and pragmatically weak:  you'll never remember
Instead you'll wind up writing it on a scrap of paper and carrying it
with you, and any pickpocket could take it.  The essence of a password
or passphrase is that it is something you just learn, so that it
cannot be taken from you without violence.

So an "all-around strong" key generation method must take into account
psychology as well as cryptology.  Its output must at the same time be
easy to learn, difficult to guess, and infeasible to calculate.  The
obscured point in the article is that insisting solely on
ever-increasing mathematical complexity is psychologically unsound.
It tends to make the system's users into another class of adversary
whose goal is to bypass the complexity rules so he can get logged on
and do work without first spending an hour trying to recall something
that looks like line noise.  A legitimate user should not have to
crack his own password more than three or four times in a decade.

Mark H. Wood, Lead System Programmer   mwood at IUPUI.Edu
Asking whether markets are efficient is like asking whether people are smart.
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