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Emoji Passwords Could Be Coming Your Way. Is That A Good Thing?

A UK banking services provider says emoji passwords will be easier to remember and safer than numeric or letter-based codes.

Soon, you might be able to log into your bank account with a litany of smiling poo emojis, or a string of little chicken wing images, or multiple little monkeys holding their hands over their eyes.

On Monday, a UK online banking service provider called Intelligent Environments announced what they're calling the "world's first emoji-only passcode." Intelligent Environments says the emoji passcode system will allow users to use codes from a bank of 44 emojis — and don't worry, it includes that lady in the red dress salsa dancing.

IE argues the emoji passcodes make sense, because images are easier to remember than combinations of letters and numbers. The company also says that when compared to number-only PINs and passwords, their emoji passcode system is more secure, because it has "480 times more permutations using enojis over traditional four digit passcodes."

And, IE says this is what young people want. David Webber, manager director of engagement at the company said in a statement, "We've had input from lots of millennials when we developed the technology. What's clear is that the younger generation is communicating in new ways." He continued, "Our research shows 64% of millennials regularly communicate only using emojis. So we decided to reinvent the passcode for a new generation..."

Worth The Hype?

But not everyone thinks emoji passwords are that great. Lorrie Cranor, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University who studies cybersecurity and passwords, told NPR, "I think it's a gimmick. I'm not sure that it will make a difference as far as security goes."

And Cranor says it's not particularly a new idea. "Maybe it's fun for people, but I'm not sure it's a big breakthrough," she said. "For years now, people have been proposing various graphical password schemes. Some of them have your password be photographs of faces, and some of them are pictures. Emoji is just another variation on this."

Cranor says the argument that people will remember images better than they will numbers is true to a certain extent, but the reality is that we all use a lot of different passwords in our digital lives, so they'd be hard to remember whether they were pictures or numbers.

And that need to remember multiple passwords makes us lazy with our passwords, Cranor says, using the same patterns over and over. "We all do the same things with numbers and with regular passwords."

Michael Orosz, a behavioral decision-making expert at the University of Southern California, agrees. "The majority of your users are going to use basically the same patterns as everybody else. We think alike. 1-2-3-4? There's gonna be the equivalent of that, in that domain. In theory, a lot more combinations, therefore a lot more security. But in a practical sense, doubtful."

Four smiling poops in a row instead of A-B-C-D might be a bit more fun, but not particularly safer.

Cranor says that's actually not our fault. "We're lazy but part of it is actual rational laziness," she said. "Most of us have dozens of passwords and PINs to remember and if we had to come up with unique and interesting passwords for all of those things we'd have to spend a lot of our time memorizing them the way we memorize spelling words in elementary school. We can blame the people, but actually, maybe we should blame the system and the technology that forces us to do this."

Or you could celebrate the technology that allows you to see your banking statements by typing in a series of smiling suns, pigs and tiny little men on bicycles. Intelligent Environments says they hope to have emoji passcodes rolled out in the next year. The company isn't a bank itself, so it will have to find a banking partner, but it says those talks are already taking place.

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