'Passwords Keep Me Safe' – Understanding What Children Think about Passwords


Mary Theofanos and Yee-Yin Choong, National Institute of Standards and Technology; Olivia Murphy, University of Maryland, College Park


Children use technology from a very young age, and often have to authenticate. The goal of this study is to explore children's practices, perceptions, and knowledge regarding passwords. Given the limited work to date and the fact that the world's cyber posture and culture will be dependent on today's youth, it is imperative to conduct cybersecurity research with children. We conducted the first large-scale survey of 1,505 3rd to 12th graders from schools across the United States. Not surprisingly, children have fewer passwords than adults. We found that children have complicated relationships with passwords: on one hand, their perceptions about passwords and statements about password behavior are appropriate; on the other hand, however, they simultaneously do not tend to make strong passwords, and practice bad password behavior such as sharing passwords with friends. We conclude with a call for cybersecurity education to bridge the gap between students' password knowledge with their password behavior, while continuing to provide and promote security understandings.

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@inproceedings {272104,
author = {Mary Theofanos and Yee-Yin Choong and Olivia Murphy},
title = {{\textquoteright}Passwords Keep Me Safe{\textquoteright} {\textendash} Understanding What Children Think about Passwords},
booktitle = {30th USENIX Security Symposium (USENIX Security 21)},
year = {2021},
isbn = {978-1-939133-24-3},
pages = {19--35},
url = {https://www.usenix.org/conference/usenixsecurity21/presentation/theofanos},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = aug

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