Designing Password Policies for Strength and Usability
Author(s): Richard Shay, Saranga Komanduri, Adam L. Durity, Phillip (Seyoung) Huh, Michelle L. Mazurek, Sean M. Segreti

Date: May 2016
Publication: ACM Transactions on Information and System Security (TISSEC), Volume 18, Issue 4
Publisher: ACM
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Abstract or Summary:
Password-composition policies are the result of service providers becoming increasingly concerned about the security of online accounts. These policies restrict the space of user-created passwords to preclude easily guessed passwords and thus make passwords more difficult for attackers to guess. However, many users struggle to create and recall their passwords under strict password-composition policies, for example, ones that require passwords to have at least eight characters with multiple character classes and a dictionary check. Recent research showed that a promising alternative was to focus policy requirements on password length instead of on complexity. In this work, we examine 15 password policies, many focusing on length requirements. In doing so, we contribute the first thorough examination of policies requiring longer passwords. We conducted two online studies with over 20,000 participants, and collected both usability and password-strength data. Our findings indicate that password strength and password usability are not necessarily inversely correlated: policies that lead to stronger passwords do not always reduce usability. We identify policies that are both more usable and more secure than commonly used policies that emphasize complexity rather than length requirements. We also provide practical recommendations for service providers who want their users to have strong yet usable passwords. Note: Additional authors not listed above: Blasť Ur, Lujo Bauer, Nicolas Christin, Lorrie Faith Cranor

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