Security and usability in password authentication

Yildirim, Merve (2017) Security and usability in password authentication. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

[img] PDF - Published Version
Download (23MB)


This thesis investigates the human-factor problems in password authentication and proposes some usable solutions to these problems by focusing on both forms of knowledge based authentication: textual passwords and graphical passwords. It includes a range of empirical studies to examine users' password-related behaviour and practices in authentication, and helps users to adopt secure password behaviour.

This thesis consists of two parts. The first part focuses on traditional text-based passwords. Design flaws and usability issues of existing text-password mechanisms used by many organisations cause employees to adopt insecure password practices. The first work in this thesis investigates the reasons for employees' lack of motivation regarding password protection against security failures. An empirical study is conducted to identify the factors causing employees’ insecure behaviours in organisations, and several persuasion strategies are tested to persuade employees to use passwords more safely. The results of the study revealed that some persuasion strategies are effective in motivating users to adopt good password practices. The study also found that the failure of password policies and authentication schemes deployed by organisations is a common problem among the organisations.

Considering the results of the first study, in the second work of this thesis, a password guideline/advice study is conducted to help users to create stronger and more memorable passwords. A password guideline including a number of password creation methods and a persuasive message is proposed, and its effectiveness in improving the strength of user-chosen passwords is evaluated. The results show that the users who received the proposed guideline produced stronger and more memorable passwords than the users followed the usual password restrictions while creating their passwords. The results also demonstrate that the given password creation methods can be helpful and inspirational for users to create their own encryption formula.

All these works reveal the weaknesses of user-chosen textual passwords and inefficacy of existing text-based password mechanisms. Although these studies show that text-based password mechanisms can be strengthened, they are still problematic where usability is concerned. Thus, the second part of this thesis focuses on another form of knowledge-based authentication: graphical passwords. A novel hybrid authentication scheme integrating text and images is introduced to minimise the brute force and shoulder surfing attacks which text and graphical passwords suffer. In the last work of this thesis, the proposed hybrid scheme is implemented and evaluated. The evaluation shows that the proposed scheme provides security and usability at the same time, and it also makes the password creation process enjoyable for users.

In summary, the thesis contributes to the analysis of some key security and usability problems which arise in knowledge-based authentication. A series of empirical studies has been conducted. Based on their results, usable solutions to the human-factor problems in password-based authentication are proposed and evaluated.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Engineering and Informatics > Informatics
Subjects: Q Science > QA Mathematics > QA0075 Electronic computers. Computer science > QA0076.9.A-Z Other topics, A-Z > QA0076.9.A25 Access control. Computer security
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 19 Dec 2017 11:20
Last Modified: 07 Mar 2018 11:47

View download statistics for this item

📧 Request an update