Scientists have unveiled a new, state-of-the-art password meter that offers real-time feedback and advice to help people create better and secure passwords. The meter works by employing an artificial neural network: a large, complex map of information that resembles the way neurons behave in the brain. The network “learns” by scanning millions of existing passwords and identifying trends. If the meter detects a characteristic in your password that it knows attackers may guess, it will tell you. “Our new meter led users to create stronger passwords that were no harder to remember than passwords created without the feedback,” said said Blase Ur, assistant professor at the University of Chicago in the US.
To evaluate its performance, the team conducted an online study in which they asked 4,509 people to use it to create a password. “Instead of just having a meter say, ‘Your password is bad,’ we thought it would be useful for the meter to say, ‘Here’s why it’s bad and here’s how you could do better,'” said Nicolas Christin, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University in the US. The key result is that providing the data-driven feedback actually makes a huge difference in security compared to just having a password labelled as weak or strong.
“The way attackers guess passwords is by exploiting the patterns that they observe in large datasets of breached passwords,” said Ur. “For example, if you change Es to 3s in your password, that’s not going to fool an attacker. The meter will explain about how prevalent that substitution is and offer advice on what to do instead,” Ur said. This data-driven feedback is presented in real-time, as a user is typing their password out letter-by-letter.