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Cognitive password

Cognitive password definition

A cognitive password is a security mechanism that uses questions based on personal knowledge or experience. Instead of using passwords made of letters and numbers, it focuses on things unique to an individual, like memories or personal facts.

See also: two-factor authentication, biometric authentication, social engineering, password policy

History of cognitive passwords

  • 1980s: Researchers and security experts started thinking about using personal facts as passwords because regular passwords were easy to hack and hard to remember. The idea was to make something both safe and easy to use.
  • 1990s: Researchers studied how to use personal questions as passwords. They had to balance the uniqueness of questions with privacy concerns and the risk of social engineering attacks.
  • Early 2000s: With more people online, websites began using cognitive passwords, especially for account recovery. But concerns were raised about how easy it may be for others to guess the answers or get them through social engineering.
  • Mid-2000s to 2010s: Security improved by combining cognitive passwords with other methods like two-factor authentication. New technologies helped develop smarter security questions that could adapt to user behavior.
  • Today: Cognitive passwords are still used as part of MFA systems, mainly for recovering lost passwords. But there's ongoing work to make them more secure, possibly by combining them with biometric data or behavioral authentication methods.

Creation of cognitive password questions

  • Identifying personal topics. Picking topics that mean something special to the user, like childhood memories or favorite things.
  • Formulating specific questions. Creating questions with unique answers that aren't too hard to remember.
  • Ensuring privacy. Making sure that the questions do not ask the user for personal or sensitive information.
  • Avoiding common knowledge. Ensuring that others can't easily find or guess the answers. That includes avoiding information that may be available on social media or Google.

Examples of cognitive password questions

  • What was the name of your first pet?
  • What was the make and model of your first car?
  • What is your favorite childhood movie?
  • In what city did your parents meet?
  • What was the first concert you attended?