Check out the new USENIX Web site.
USENIX, The Advanced Computing Systems Association

15th USENIX Security Symposium Abstract

Pp. 1–16 of the Proceedings

A Usability Study and Critique of Two Password Managers

Sonia Chiasson, P.C. van Oorschot, and Robert Biddle, Carleton University


We present a usability study of two recent password manager proposals: PwdHash (Ross et al., 2005) and Password Multiplier (Halderman et al., 2005). Both papers considered usability issues in greater than typical detail, the former briefly reporting on a small usability study; both also provided implementations for download. Our study involving 26 users found that both proposals suffer from major usability problems. Some of these are not "simply" usability issues, but rather lead directly to security exposures. Not surprisingly, we found the most significant problems arose from users having inaccurate or incomplete mental models of the software. Our study revealed many interesting misunderstandings for example, users reporting a task as easy even when unsuccessful at completing that task; and believing their passwords were being strengthened when in fact they had failed to engage the appropriate protection mechanism. Our findings also suggested that ordinary users would be reluctant to opt-in to using these managers: users were uncomfortable with "relinquishing control" of their passwords to a manager, did not feel that they needed the password managers, or that the managers provided greater security.
  • View the full text of this paper in HTML and PDF. Listen to the presentation and Q & A in MP3 format.
    Click here if you have forgotten your password Until August 2007, you will need your USENIX membership identification in order to access the full papers. The Proceedings are published as a collective work, © 2006 by the USENIX Association. All Rights Reserved. Rights to individual papers remain with the author or the author's employer. Permission is granted for the noncommercial reproduction of the complete work for educational or research purposes. USENIX acknowledges all trademarks within this paper.
To become a USENIX member, please see our Membership Information.

Last changed: 20 Sept. 2006 ch