Improving Computer Security for Authentication of Users: Influence of Proactive Password Restrictions
Author(s): Robert W. Proctor, Mei-Ching Lien, Kim-Phuong L. Vu, E. Eugene Schultz, Jr., Gavriel Salvendy

Date: May 2002
Publication: Behavior Research Methods, Instruments & Computers, 34
Page(s): 163 - 169
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Abstract or Summary:
Entering a username-password combination is a widely used procedure for identification and authentication in computer systems. However, it is a notoriously weak method, in that the passwords adopted by many users are easy to crack. In an attempt to improve security, proactive password checking may be used, in which passwords must meet several criteria to be more resistant to cracking. In two experiments, we examined the influence of proactive password restrictions on the time that it took to generate an acceptable password and to use it subsequently to long in. The required length was a minimum of five characters in Experiment 1 and eight characters in Experiment 2. In both experiments, one condition had only the length restriction, and the other had additional restrictions. The additional restrictions greatly increased the time it took to generate the password but had only a small effect on the time it took to use it subsequently to long in. For the five-character passwords, 75% were cracked when no other restrictions were imposed, and this was reduced to 33% with the additional restrictions. For the eight-character passwords, 17% were cracked with no other restrictions, and 12.5% with restrictions. The results indicate that increasing the minimum character length reduces crackability and increases security, regardless of whether additional restrictions are imposed.

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