Want a safer PIN for your bank account? Use emojis

Replace your password with... emojis?!
Replace your password with... emojis?!   

Emoji's could soon replace numbers on your bank PIN, thanks to a new system launched by a U.K. firm.

Intelligent Environment, a financial technology company, thinks people who have trouble remembering their PIN numbers and passcodes may find emojis—those small cartoonish images used in instant messages—easier to remember.


The emoji passcode system from Intelligent Environments
Intelligent Environments
The emoji passcode system from Intelligent Environments

According to the company's press release, a survey of more than 1,300 U.K. residents revealed that a third of adults have forgotten their PIN codes in the past.

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In a video released by the firm, memory expert Tony Buzan, inventor of the "Mind Map" technique, explained why emojis might be easier to remember.

"Forgetting passwords is because the brain doesn't work digitally or verbally. It works imagistically," he said. "Images are the prime way of remembering anything you want to remember."

Four emojis?

Intelligent Environment's system—which it hopes will be adopted by banks—will allow users to create a 4-character passcode from a set of 44 emojis. The company claims their system is mathematically more secure because it allows for 3,498,308 combinations of non-repeating emojis, compared to 7,290 combinations of non-repeating numbers.

David Webber, managing director at Intelligent Environments, said he expected lots of bank customers to switch over to the emoji passcode, as they find them easier to remember than traditional PINs.

"The reaction we've had from consumers has been overwhelmingly positive," he told CNBC.


Brute force

But industry experts were split over the value of emoji passcodes.

Stephen Pao, general manager of security at IT company Barracuda, said the system should be harder for hackers to crack.

"The weakness in numerical PINs is often not the math. It is the human problem of remembering them and the social engineering of cracking them," he told CNBC.

"What I like about this emoji PIN concept is that numerical PINs are generally never random. Often people pick their birthdays…sequential digits (e.g., '123456'), or even patterns on the keyboard—all attempts which can be easily brute forced (by hackers) with a little bit of knowledge about those who the attacker is targeting."


What the emoji passcode system looks like on a Smartphone
Intelligent Environments
What the emoji passcode system looks like on a Smartphone

However, Sian John, chief security strategist for EMEA at digital security provider Symantec, was not as convinced, saying the same security risks applied to emojis as traditional pins.

"Just as hackers can guess weak passwords that use pet names or memorable dates, picture-based arrangements could be cracked by anyone who knows which emojis someone uses most frequently, and therefore are likely to choose for their passcode," John told CNBC.

"A strong(er) form of verification such as Two Factor Authentication, which provides unambiguous identification of users via the combination of two different components, will still be required to protect sensitive information such as banking logins."

The company said it is in talks with U.K. lenders about adding the system to their security measures. Several banks already use images and pre-selected phrases as an extra layer of security for Internet banking customers.


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