Friday, October 5, 2012

Password inequality must end

I know it's been a light week for content, but I've still got a few posts for you on this wonderful fall Friday. I feel like keeping things light around here, so I'll avoid politics and the economy for once (which is honestly why I've been quiet this week—as your mother always told you, if you don't have anything nice to say...). Instead, because I like to provide a public service around here, here's some advice for how to safeguard your ATM pin code so that it's hard to crack.
How easy would it be for a thief to guess your four-digit PIN? If he were forced to guess randomly, his odds of getting the correct number would be one in 10,000—or, if he has three tries, one in 3,333. But if you were careless enough to choose your birth date, a year in the 1900s, or an obvious numerical sequence, his chances go up. Way up. 
Researchers at the data analysis firm Data Genetics have found that the three most popular combinations—"1234," "1111," and "0000"—account for close to 20 percent of all four-digit passwords. Meanwhile, every four-digit combination that starts with "19" ranks above the 80th percentile in popularity, with those in the late—er, upper—1900s coming in the highest. Also quite common are MM/DD combinations—those in which the first two digits are between "01" and "12" and the last two are between "01" and "31." So choosing your birthday, your birth year, or a number that might be a lot of other people's birthday or birth year makes your password significantly easier to guess. 
On the other end of the scale, the least popular combination—8068—appears less than 0.001 percent of the time. (Although, as Data Genetics acknowledges, you probably shouldn't go out and choose "8068" now that this is public information.) Rounding out the bottom five are "8093," "9629," "6835," and "7637," which all nearly as rare... 
Some other interesting anedcotes [sic] from the data:  
- Half of all passwords are among the 426 most popular (out of 10,000 total) 
- People prefer even numbers to odd, so "2468" ranks higher than "1357." 
- Far more passwords start with "1" than any other number. In a distant second and third are "0" and "2." 
- Among seven-digit passwords, the fourth-most popular is "8675309," which should ring familiar to fans of '80s music. 
- The 17th-most popular 10-digit password is "3141592654." 
- Two-digit sequences with large numerical gaps, such as "29" and "37," are found often among the least popular passwords.
Wait a minute... half of all passwords are among the 426 most popular? So then, a mere 4% of the passwords are hogging 50% of the password wealth? This is an outrage! This password inequality must end! OCCUPY PIN CODES!!

I am hereby changing my pin code to 2719, because it sounds unpopular. D'oh, forget that I told you that. What I meant to say was, I'm changing it to 1234, because nobody would ever guess that...


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