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Child-Suitable Alternatives To Passwords? 895

Posted by kdawson
from the you-must-remember-this dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Two months ago I donated my old PC to my little sister, who is 7 — I had promised she would get her own computer as soon as she can read and write properly. I then proceeded to answer her questions about how it works, as far as she inquired, and tried to let her make some choices when installing Debian (she can already use GNOME). As I explained password protection and encryption to her, I was pleasantly surprised when she insisted on protection measures being as strong as possible, so that no one else can screw with her computer. She knows that my younger brother has to endure strict parental control software that was installed on his machine without his consent. The significant problem is that she cannot permanently memorize abstract passwords, even if they are her own creation. I talked with a teacher who assured me that this is common at her age. My parents would probably be able to guess non-abstract passwords. What mechanism of identifying herself does the Slashdot crowd suggest?"
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Child-Suitable Alternatives To Passwords?

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  • Pictures (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Aliencow (653119) on Friday February 22, 2008 @12:50PM (#22516116) Homepage Journal
    I guess picking the right pictures in a list in the proper order would be a good idea....I think I saw something like that posted on slashdot in the last year.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by AtomicSnarl (549626)
      As opposed to:

      I watched my daughter enter the password -- she typed "minniemickydonaldpluto."

      I said, "Wow, darling, that's a really big password!"

      She replied, "Well, they said it had to be at least four characters..."

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 22, 2008 @12:51PM (#22516118)
    Would a fingerprint reader be suitable?
    • by youngerpants (255314) on Friday February 22, 2008 @01:18PM (#22516694)
      A fingerprint reader wouldn't work. Fingerprint reader software (such as the wonderfully open source ThinkFinger) map out a fingerprint by locating easily identifiable marks, such as swirls or dead-ends, and map their proximity to other easily identifiable marks. As this girl is seven its fair to assume that in a few more years her fingers will be twice their current size.



      The fingerprint will be the same, but scaled up so all proximity will be lost.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Fingerprint reader software (such as the wonderfully open source ThinkFinger) map out a fingerprint by locating easily identifiable marks, such as swirls or dead-ends, and map their proximity to other easily identifiable marks. As this girl is seven its fair to assume that in a few more years her fingers will be twice their current size.

        The fingerprint will be the same, but scaled up so all proximity will be lost.

        All that may be true, but it doesn't prevent them from simply re-enrolling her fingerprints every year or so as she grows.

      • by KillerBob (217953) on Friday February 22, 2008 @02:10PM (#22517666)

        A fingerprint reader wouldn't work. Fingerprint reader software (such as the wonderfully open source ThinkFinger) map out a fingerprint by locating easily identifiable marks, such as swirls or dead-ends, and map their proximity to other easily identifiable marks. As this girl is seven its fair to assume that in a few more years her fingers will be twice their current size.

        The fingerprint will be the same, but scaled up so all proximity will be lost.


        The fingerprint readers we use in our computers at work read by proportional distance, not physical distance. If you define the distance between two key points at opposite ends of the finger as a distance of 100% and an angle of 0 degrees, the rest of the points are defined using those terms. So Point C may be at 23 degrees left, 15% distance, point D may be 16 degrees right, 4% distance, etc.

        In that case, the fact that the finger grows larger over time makes no distance, because the points it's measuring are still in the same position, proportionally, just with a different scalar multiplier.
    • by SQLGuru (980662) on Friday February 22, 2008 @02:24PM (#22517914) Journal
      And as a little kid with an "owwie" on her finger covered up by a Strawberry Shortcake bandage, she's now unable to access her computer. Congrats.

      Layne
      • by Mr. Jaggers (167308) <jaggerz@nOspam.gmail.com> on Friday February 22, 2008 @03:26PM (#22519014)
        So, the first time that happens, you walk over with her, and retrain it for her thumb. BIG DEAL. Until she cuts her thumb, then you help her train it for the other thumb, etc.

        If you have a fingerless daughter, train it to her toes (and retrain as above, when Strawberry Shortcake makes her rounds amongst the little piggies).

        If you have a fingerless, toeless daughter who wants to use the computer anyway, for fucks sake, memorize her password for her, you heartless clod!
  • passphrase (Score:5, Informative)

    by moderatorrater (1095745) on Friday February 22, 2008 @12:51PM (#22516120)
    Teach her to use passphrases, something like 'My favorite food is steak'. This is something that's easy for her to remember and also hard to break just from the sheer size of the password. When she's old enough, she'll figure out how to make hard passwords on her own; just give her a few suggestions about capitalization, numbers and symbols.
    • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn.gmail@com> on Friday February 22, 2008 @12:55PM (#22516268) Journal
      Naturally as humans, we are very capable of memorizing lyrics, poems, quotes & the like from our favorite media. I've suggested this before and I'll suggest it again. Pick something that your little sister loves, like pokemon, Harry Pothead, Celine Dion or whatever the devil kids are watching/reading/listening to these days. And simply have her pick the most memorable quote or verse from that thing. Then you simply strip down to the first letters of each word (punctuation and capitalization included) and you have something that is easily memorized but fairly random.

      For instance, in high school I listened to Tomorrow Never Knows off of the Revolver record by The Beatles nonstop. Since I know every lyric [lyriki.com] of that song, I might pick the opening line:

      Turn off your mind, relax and flow downstream
      Which would render the password:

      Toym,rafd
      Not a bad password, in my opinion. You could do the same with the opening line of a book, quote from a movie, TV show or even a line from a poem. All of these things are very memorable and produce hard to break passwords.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by RDW (41497)
      How about:

      mybigbrotherissuchageek

      or

      nowicantalktocreepsonlinewithoutmyparentsknowing

      ?

      Why on earth does a kid of this age need a secure password?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by CarpetShark (865376)

        Why on earth does a kid of this age need a secure password?


        Every login account on an internet-connected computer needs a secure password.
    • Re:passphrase (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Culture20 (968837) on Friday February 22, 2008 @01:18PM (#22516700)
      Memory... a seven year old's is quite fluid. "My favorite food is steak" might morph into "My favorite food is ice cream" or "I like steak" or "I like eating" or "I like my little pony". Passphrases might be easier than g%jP22094jmqqlDMSk, but they're still memory-based.
  • Fingerprint? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ThinkingInBinary (899485) <thinkinginbinaryNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday February 22, 2008 @12:51PM (#22516126) Homepage

    A fingerprint seems like a reasonable idea. If she's just trying to keep other family members off of it, rubber-hose cryptanalysis is unlikely to become a problem, and she's highly unlikely to forget her fingers anywhere.

  • Shape (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ami Ganguli (921) on Friday February 22, 2008 @12:51PM (#22516142) Homepage

    Have her make a pattern on the keyboard that she can remember. I've actually had a number of PIN codes that I didn't actually remember apart from the pattern they make on the numeric keypad.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by coldcell (714061)
      This method of remembering a password as a rhythmic/spatial pattern rather than an actual representation of symbols helped me easily create and recall huge passphrases, complete with non-alphanumeric characters. It probably helped that I'm naturally inclined to tap out rhythms with my fingers anyway, but I could see a 7 year old being taught a secure passphrase this way (much like learning a piano melody).

      Of course, I ran into the main problem with this the day my keyboard broke; I went and got a cheap rep

  • Strange quote... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Foolicious (895952) on Friday February 22, 2008 @12:52PM (#22516160)

    My parents would probably be able to guess non-abstract passwords.
    I find this interesting. Is the goal to set up a machine for a 7-year-old that parents cannot access? If so, I personally think this is silly. I do admit I RTFS very quickly and perhaps missed something.
    • by Harmonious Botch (921977) * on Friday February 22, 2008 @12:54PM (#22516224) Homepage Journal

      My parents would probably be able to guess non-abstract passwords.
      And exactly why is this a problem? If your parents are totally and completely incompetent, go to child protective services now, for you have more important issues than passwords.
      Otherwise, quit undermining your parents and let them raise your sister. You can contribute if you want by teaching her about computers, but do it in assistance to your parents, not in opposition.
      • by moderatorrater (1095745) on Friday February 22, 2008 @01:10PM (#22516566)
        This can be solved by giving the parents the root password and letting the girl keep a secret password. That makes it so that she gets the feeling of privacy and, for the most part, the reality of privacy while still allowing the parents to do and see whatever they want on the computer.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by dpninerSLASH (969464) *
          This can be solved by giving the parents the root password and letting the girl keep a secret password. That makes it so that she gets the feeling of privacy and, for the most part, the reality of privacy while still allowing the parents to do and see whatever they want on the computer.

          That's a slippery slope. A seven-year-old child should be entitled to the kind of privacy necessary to protect their dignity (in other words, the same privacy to which any human is entitled) and keep them safe. Sending
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by pla (258480)
        If your parents are totally and completely incompetent

        "Unable to grasp how to admin a computer" doesn't necessarily mean "incompetent to raise a child".

        Most kids have a much better understanding of modern technology than their parents (and I suspect that has always held true). She may legitimately worry that, in their laughable attempts to snoop on her activity, they'll actually cause some damage. The very fact that the FP involves her brother giving her a computer rather than her parents would tend t
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Dhrakar (32366)
          As the parent of 2 children, I need to disagree with you on one big point: No. Kids do not have a right to privacy. Period. It is my responsibility as their parent to guide them and protect them and a big part of this is knowing what they are up to. I allow my daughter (12) to access the internet, but not to do IM or join 'social' sites. I also maintain the admin account on her computer (OS X). For my son (8) I allow him access to our LAN (for printing and multiplayer WCIII with his sister and I) b
        • by Peter Cooper (660482) on Friday February 22, 2008 @01:50PM (#22517296) Homepage Journal
          There is a giant leap between "kids have a right to privacy" and "kids need to be monitored 24/7." Kids have a right not to be under constant interrogation and inspection by their parents, but not a right to privacy when the parent thinks it's necessary to inspect what the child has been doing. That's just parenting common sense.
    • by Imagix (695350) on Friday February 22, 2008 @12:55PM (#22516264)
      I noticed the same thing. Also the quote how the brother had to "endure" parental control software. We're talking about a 7-year old. There should be parental supervision, education, and monitoring.
    • by eln (21727) on Friday February 22, 2008 @12:57PM (#22516322) Homepage
      I agree. At that age, her dealings with computers (particularly computers with Internet access) should be closely monitored by her parents. She should set up a password and be instructed not to tell other people what it is in order to get her into the habit of good security practices, but her parents should nevertheless know the password (or some other way to access the computer).

      Of course, my son is 8 and he's only allowed to use the computer in the living room, and we can easily see what he's doing on it at all times. Kids are already going to obsess about keeping things from their parents when they're teenagers, there's no reason to start building that barrier when they're only 7.
      • by syphaxplh (896757) on Friday February 22, 2008 @01:11PM (#22516576)
        Thank you to all who have pointed out that perhaps locking the parents out is not a sensible goal. While I think it is good for a child this age to understand the concepts of security and privacy, I don't think that it is reasonable for a minor to expect her own little private computing world, free of parental control. There should be some semblance of openness and trust in a healthy household, particularly between parents and their children.
  • None (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SoupGuru (723634) on Friday February 22, 2008 @12:52PM (#22516168)
    Why on earth should a 7 year old be able maintain privacy on a computer that can serve as a portal to many nasty things?
  • at age 7 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tsiangkun (746511) on Friday February 22, 2008 @12:52PM (#22516178) Homepage
    I would suggest the parents have the root password, and their child can ask them to reset her password when she forgets.

    Parents guessing the password of a seven year old is ridiculous, is this a serious question ?
  • by garett_spencley (193892) on Friday February 22, 2008 @12:54PM (#22516234) Journal
    Seriously, she's 7?!

    I have two daughters around the same age. They share a computer that we gave them for xmas. They have their own accounts, with their own passwords and my wife and I maintain the Administrator account. I could not fathom them having an Internet-accessible computer without us having full control over it.

    Am I missing the point ? Because when I read:

    "My parents would probably be able to guess non-abstract passwords"

    it sounds to me like you're trying to keep a 7 year-old's parents off of a computer she uses when they have every right (and reason / responsibility in this day in age) to know what their young child is doing on a computer.

    Of course I am all for teaching kids how to be security conscious and protect their private data. But it's a fine balance. Parents need to keep themselves in the loop in order to, you know, be effective parents.
  • Use a book (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Actually, I do RTFA (1058596) on Friday February 22, 2008 @12:55PM (#22516260)

    Have her take a favorite book, start at a random page (or first page if she only needs to keep family members off.) Read the first letter of each page for 10 pages.

    On a different topic, you said one thing that shocked me:

    She knows that my younger brother has to endure strict parental control software that was installed on his machine without his consent.

    She's 7. I don't know how old your younger brother is, but at some age, it is a reasonable thing for a parent to do. It cannot suppliment for parenting, but it can be handy to insist on a website whitelist, or 2-hour cutoff.

    Seven-year-olds shouldn't have the full rights of adults.

  • by fredrated (639554) on Friday February 22, 2008 @12:55PM (#22516266) Journal
    With phrases like "She knows that my younger brother has to endure strict parental control software that was installed on his machine without his consent" and "My parents would probably be able to guess non-abstract passwords" you are clearly trying to undermine your parents. I know that children, though you don't give your age, usually think that they know better than their parents, but guess what: it isn't usually true! I hope that your parents are smart enough to take your sisters computer away if you succeed in locking them out.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 22, 2008 @12:58PM (#22516340)
    ...like, "My parents are responsible for me." Or, "I live under their roof, so I play by their rules." Or, "My brother is an asshat."

    And yes, I'm a parent.
  • Easy, use a pattern (Score:4, Interesting)

    by JoeShmoe (90109) <askjoeshmoe@hotmail.com> on Friday February 22, 2008 @01:01PM (#22516416)

    I would say the majority of non-computer users have trouble remembering really strong passwords (ones that make use of a mixture of letters and numbers and punctuation marks). I find the solution is to rely on muscle memory.

    Pick a column on the keyboard and press every key along that line. For example 4rfv. Now hold down the shift key and repeat it. $RFV. So the password is 4rfv$RFV which is relatively strong for most uses but is a snap and simple to remember.

    The only caveat is that it's not a password that you can type while someone is watching but then...really nobody should be watching when you type any password. Although, pressing the shift key can be pretty subtle.

    Other patterns like squares or crosses work as well.

    - JoeShmoe
    .
  • Keyboard patterns (Score:3, Insightful)

    by kieran (20691) on Friday February 22, 2008 @01:02PM (#22516418)
    Something like 3ed4rf5tg (try typing it) or sxdcfvgb should do the trick. Starting with the first letter of her name might help.
  • by rueger (210566) on Friday February 22, 2008 @01:12PM (#22516584) Homepage
    Holy mother of God - what, besides WebKinz [webkinz.com] do you think your daughter is likely to be up to? And if your Linux box won't run that and Bild-a-Bear [buildabear.com] properly then she won't like it anyhow.

    She's seven years old! Let her pick a password that's easy for her to recall. The important thing is that she's accustomed to passwords etc, not that she understands cryptographic science.
  • Easy. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jellomizer (103300) * on Friday February 22, 2008 @01:25PM (#22516832)
    All you need is the following.
    A seporate USB Keyboard a numberpad extenstion can work
    A Lathe.
    A Wooden Dowle.
    A wooden box or sheet metal.
    A drill with a bit the same size as the dowel.

    Ok take apart the USB Number Pad rewire it so all the keys are in a straight line.
    Take the woden dowle on the lathe and cut impressions for all the keys.
    Cut out different sections from the lathed dowle so when spun over they keyboard it presses the keys in a unique fassion. Put the modified keyboard in the box and drill a hole in it just above the keyboard for her to put the Dowle key in. and hook it up to the computer. And have her keep the key. That whay when it asks for a password she just needs to put the key in and turn it. And it will type the password.

    This may sound a bit extream but the instructions are easer then say getting Ubentu to Run in Parallels.
  • Anonymous Child? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by PalmKiller (174161) on Friday February 22, 2008 @01:25PM (#22516840) Homepage
    Quit posting crap articles like this...this is obviously about a 14 year old boy that thinks his sister needs security from his clueless parents.
  • by richardtallent (309050) on Friday February 22, 2008 @01:33PM (#22516996) Homepage
    You need to stay the hell out of your parent's business.

    When you have a 7-year-old, feel free to lock yourself out of their PC.
  • by Shuh (13578) on Friday February 22, 2008 @01:35PM (#22517032) Journal
    I have a seven-year-old child who needs to drive around town in a car, but has problems getting the keys. Is there anyone on Slashdot who has suggestions on how to open, start, and operate a car without keys and otherwise make it so easy even a seven-year-old can do it? Thanks! Signed, A Responsible Human Being
  • Nuts. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Blimey85 (609949) on Friday February 22, 2008 @01:54PM (#22517364)
    A seven year old with an actually secure computer that not even her parents can gain access to. That's just nuts. And why wait until she can read and write to give her a computer? I can half understand the reading part but writing? She could have been learning to type while learning to write and there is a ton of software for young folks that don't require either skill. Edutainment that uses pictures and colors rather than words. But why lock out the parents? That's pretty troubling.
  • by HikingStick (878216) <z01riemer@noSPAM.hotmail.com> on Friday February 22, 2008 @01:54PM (#22517368)
    I was shocked a number of years ago when I was moving some furniture so the floors could get cleaned behind the beds. There, under my (then) five year old's mattress, was a complete list of all of my (and my wife's) passwords. He had everything (from multiple machines): power-on passwords, logon passwords, email account passwords, merchant passwords--even our online banking passwords!

    [No, they were not all the same. Some of them were quite complex, too, like 'ni*45FPN!ng'. I got to play "change-the-password" for a few hours that evening.]

    I asked him how he got them: he shoulder-surfed us for every one of them. The reason he had them? He wanted to sneak down to the computer at 3 in the morning and play Spooky Castle.

    That scared the snot out of me. Now, I know he may not be the typical kid, but it just goes to show that you really can't be too careful with your passwords.

    As to the boy, I started encouraging him to use his powers for good. I teach network administration at an area college, so I started bringing him with when I had to configure the lab. He caught on quick, and was a huge help. He's just over 11 now, and while he's still one of the most tech savvy kids in the house, he has little interest in PCs (that might be a good thing). He'd rather spend time outdoors (even when it's thirty below zero) or with his pet cockatiel.

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