Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC) 2020

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Widely Reused and Shared, Infrequently Updated, and Sometimes Inherited: A Holistic View of PIN Authentication in Digital Lives and Beyond

Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) are widely used as an access control mechanism for digital assets (e.g., smartphones), financial assets (e.g., ATM cards), and physical assets (e.g., locks for garage doors or homes). Using semi-structured interviews (n=35), participants reported on PIN usage for different types of assets, including how users choose, share, inherit, and reuse PINs, as well as behaviour following the compromise of a PIN. We find that memorability is the most important criterion when choosing a PIN, more so than security or concerns of reuse. Updating or changing a PIN is very uncommon, even when a PIN is compromised. Participants reported sharing PINs for one type of asset with acquaintances but inadvertently reused them for other assets, thereby subjecting themselves to potential risks. Participants also reported using PINs originally set by previous homeowners for physical devices (e.g., alarm or keypad door entry systems). While aware of the risks of not updating PINs, this did not always deter participants from using inherited PINs, as they were often missing instructions on how to update them. Given the expected increase in PIN-protected assets (e.g., loyalty cards, smart locks, and web apps), we provide suggestions and future research directions to better support users with multiple digital and non-digital assets and more secure human-device interaction when utilizing PINs.

Hassan Khan
University of Guelph

Jason Ceci
University of Guelph

Jonah Stegman
University of Guelph

Adam J. Aviv
The George Washington University

Rozita Dara
University of Guelph

Ravi Kuber
University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Paper (ACM DL)




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