The Surprising Reason Why You Keep Forgetting Your Passwords

A new study explores why this frustrating phenomenon seems to occur.

In 2018, logging onto your email account can sometimes feel like trying to hack into the Pentagon. If you follow all of the guidelines, you need to use a different password for every one of your accounts; use a incomprehensible variety of letters, numbers, and symbols; sign up for two-step verification;; and change every password every time one of them is compromised. More often than not, you then have to choose photos that include a street sign, as this apparently provides incontestable evidence to your computer that you are, in fact, a human being.

It's no small wonder most of us forget our passwords more often than our keys.

Now, a new peer-reviewed study by researchers at Rutgers-New Brunswick and Aalto University in Finland, presented at the 27th USENIX Security Symposium in Baltimore, Maryland, is attempting to figure out how and why we forget our passwords in order to help abate this frustrating phenomenon.

Their findings suggest that how likely you are to remember your password has less to do with the intricacy of the password itself and more to do with how often you anticipate using it. Which is to say: you're far more likely to remember a complicated password if you know you'll frequently be using it to log into an account than you are to remember a simple password for an account that you don't expect to log into very often. (Got it? Phew!)

"We propose that human memory naturally adapts according to an estimate of how often a password will be needed, such that often-used, important passwords are less likely to be forgotten," the paper reads.

The researchers advise websites to include more of an incentive for users to log in more often in order to help them remember their secret codes.

"Websites focus on telling users if their passwords are weak or strong, but they do nothing to help people remember passwords," Janne Lindqvist, an Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Rutger's University and co-author of the study said. "Our model could be used to predict the memorability of passwords, measure whether people remember them and prompt password system designers to provide incentives for people to log in regularly."

And for more guidance on password security, check out The 50 Most Common Passwords You Should Never Use.

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Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more