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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

Abstract

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.
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Last changed: 20 Sept. 2006 ch