Why people (don't) use password managers effectively


Sarah Pearman, Shikun Aerin Zhang, Lujo Bauer, Nicolas Christin, and Lorrie Faith Cranor, Carnegie Mellon University


Security experts often recommend using password-management tools that both store passwords and generate random passwords. However, research indicates that only a small fraction of users use password managers with password generators. Past studies have explored factors in the adoption of password managers using surveys and online store reviews. Here we describe a semi-structured interview study with 30 participants that allows us to provide a more comprehensive picture of the mindsets underlying adoption and effective use of password managers and password-generation features. Our participants include users who use no password-specific tools at all, those who use password managers built into browsers or operating systems, and those who use separately installed password managers. Furthermore, past field data has indicated that users of built-in, browser-based password managers more often use weak and reused passwords than users of separate password managers that have password generation available by default. Our interviews suggest that users of built-in password managers may be driven more by convenience, while users of separately installed tools appear more driven by security. We advocate tailored designs for these two mentalities and provide actionable suggestions to induce effective password manager usage.

Open Access Media

USENIX is committed to Open Access to the research presented at our events. Papers and proceedings are freely available to everyone once the event begins. Any video, audio, and/or slides that are posted after the event are also free and open to everyone. Support USENIX and our commitment to Open Access.

@inproceedings {238303,
author = {Sarah Pearman and Shikun Aerin Zhang and Lujo Bauer and Nicolas Christin and Lorrie Faith Cranor},
title = {Why people (don{\textquoteright}t) use password managers effectively},
booktitle = {Fifteenth Symposium on Usable Privacy and Security ({SOUPS} 2019)},
year = {2019},
isbn = {978-1-939133-05-2},
address = {Santa Clara, CA},
pages = {319--338},
url = {https://www.usenix.org/conference/soups2019/presentation/pearman},
publisher = {{USENIX} Association},
month = aug,

Presentation Video