Codes v. People: A comparative usability study of two password recovery mechanisms - WISTP2016

Authors: Vlasta Stavova, Vashek Matyas, and Mike Just

Abstract: Password recovery is a critical, and often overlooked, requirement of account management. Currently popular solutions, such as security questions and out-of-band communications, have recognized security and usability issues. In this paper we evaluate two alternate recovery solutions considered by our industrial partner, using backup codes and trusted people, in order to determine their suitability as a viable password recovery solution. In this paper we focus on the usability evaluation of these two representative recovery methods, and not on the specifics of their design – while our evaluation results do indirectly point to general design enhancements. Our study determined that participants felt that backup codes (implemented as a QR-code in our solution) offer levels of usability and security that are acceptable to users for securing their ``ordinary'' accounts. For accounts perceived to require more security (e.g., online banking) more security was preferred by participants, resulting in a preference for trusted party recovery compared to backup codes. Our results also suggest that further research and deployment considerations should be given to options for other methods of password recovery, such as backup codes and trusted parties.


title={Codes v. People: A Comparative Usability Study of Two Password Recovery Mechanisms},
author={Stavova, Vlasta and Matyas, Vashek and Just, Mike},
booktitle={IFIP International Conference on Information Security Theory and Practice},