Windows 8 To Support Picture Passwords

Martin Brinkmann
Dec 17, 2011
Windows, Windows 8

Entering text on a tablet PC without physical keyboard can be a frustrating experience. Especially so if you need to enter characters that are not displayed by default. One of the situations where this may be encountered is during sign in on the system. If you are using special characters in your account password, you may feel that it is very frustrating to enter it whenever you need to work with the tablet.

And while it is certainly possible to configure automatic log ons if you are working on a single-user system, it is not always possible or advisable to configure the system to load a user account without password.

Microsoft's upcoming operating system Windows 8 will therefor provide users with the option to switch from password strings to picture passwords.

How to picture passwords work? They basically consist of a single picture and set of gestures. Supported by Microsoft's picture password implementation are gestures that point at a location, connect areas or highlight passes. These gestures have been mapped to the tap, line drawing and circle functionality of touch based devices.

Windows in addition remembers the drawing direction of circles and lines.

picture password windows 8

Tests revealed to Microsoft that tablet users were able to sign in in about four seconds using picture passwords, whereas it took up to 30 seconds or more to sign in with the tablet's onscreen keyboard.

The technology behind picture passwords is not as complex as it looks like on first glance. Microsoft uses coordinates and a scoring function to determine if a spot matches one of the picture password's reference points. Users do not have to hit the spot right on, it is sufficient to hit near that spot to trigger a positive response.

Security is another aspect to consider. Microsoft compared standard character based passwords to gesture based passwords. The conclusion was that taps were always more secure than entering the same number of plain text characters during login.

Microsoft's conclusion was that a three gestures are sufficient when it comes to security. Three gestures beat a complex five character set password and a simple a-z six character set password.

Safeguards have been implemented to make repeated attacks less effective. Windows 8 will automatically switch to plain text passwords after five failed attempts to sign in with a picture password. In addition, picture passwords have been disabled in remote and network scenarios to prevent network attacks using the feature.

Picture passwords, according to Microsoft, are also more robust when it comes to determining the password from smudges left by a user who entered the password.

Here is a video demonstrating the functionality.

Picture passwords can definitely improve the sign in time of tablet users who do not have access to a physical keyboard. It remains to be seen though if the system is as secure as Microsoft claims it is. System and domain administrators can disable the picture password functionality in the group policy.

What's your take on picture passwords?


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  1. vikarm said on December 18, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    It is just useless! Passwords are meant for security , other should not have even a slightest of idea about it. here , you are showing whole picture , FUNNY!

    1. allinthefamily said on December 18, 2011 at 9:50 pm

      How is it useless? I think you can define any gestures you want on whatever picture you choose. Use a pic of your dog and give him horns and a long tail. And then draw a bird in the sky that is not in the pic. Use a pic of your least favorite sports team and draw tutus on every player with an odd numbered shirt, except for primes. Or whatever you want. The picture doesn’t give away anything, because the possibilities for gestures are still many. The pic just serves as a reminder for where to start your gestures.

  2. Paul(us) said on December 17, 2011 at 8:07 pm

    Looks quit alright, but surely this is mainly developed to sell new laptop’s – and stand alone PC with touch screen.

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