Windows 8 to let you use a picture as your password

Adopting an alternative to traditional passwords, Windows 8 will let users log in by tapping and drawing on photographs in a manner designed to be safe and secure.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
3 min read
Windows 8 will let you log in by using a photo as your password.
Windows 8 will let you log in by using a photo as your password. Microsoft

Windows 8 will offer a unique approach to logging in by letting you use a photo as your password.

Since traditional passwords and PIN numbers can be hard to remember and use, Microsoft wanted to cook up a different log-in method, especially one that would prove more user-friendly on touchscreen devices.

As detailed in the latest Building Windows 8 Blog, Zach Pace, a program manager on Microsoft's You Centered Experience team, explained how using a photo as your password can make things simple to remember as well as secure. Already available in the Developer Preview, this new method consists of two components.

First, instead of grabbing a generic image, you can use one of your own photos to ensure that it's distinctive and therefore more secure and memorable. That photo would then appear on the lock screen of your phone or other device.

Second, the true security comes from you highlighting or drawing on certain parts of the photo with your finger (or mouse if you're using a PC). Those gestures then serve as your actual log-in as Windows interprets them to give you access to the device.

In field tests conducted with Windows users, Microsoft learned that people typically preferred one of three gestures: tapping on a section of the photo to indicate a location, connecting or highlighting different areas of the photo, or enclosing areas. When trying more free-form gestures, the testers found the process slower and more difficult. With those tests in mind, Microsoft came up with tapping, drawing a line, and drawing a circle as the minimal or limited set of gestures required to log in.

Beyond being a quick and easy way to log in, drawing with specific gestures on a photo also carries with it a healthy dose of security, says Microsoft.

"When you draw either a circle or a line on your selected picture, Windows remembers how you drew it," Pace said. "So, someone trying to reproduce your picture password needs to not only know the parts of the image you highlighted and the order you did it in, but also the direction and start and end points of the circles and lines that you drew."

But rather than replace your traditional text password, your photo password is considered an additional or alternative log-in method. If you enter your picture password incorrectly five times, you're locked out until you log in with your text password. The picture password is also unavailable for remote or network log-ins.

"When we started the process of designing picture password, we knew that we wanted a sign-in method that was fast, fluid, and personal to each and every user of Windows 8, but still had a robust security promise," Pace added. "Through our research and refinement of both the experience and the concept, we believe we've hit on a method of signing in that's secure but also a lot of fun to use."

Of course, like much of Windows 8, the new photo password feature is designed more for touchscreen devices than for computers. But since the gestures can be carried out with a mouse, this option could be an effective PC alternative to those hard-to-remember text passwords.