Date of Award

Spring 2019

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Human Factors Psychology

Committee Director

Jeremiah D. Still

Committee Member

Jing Chen

Committee Member

Cong Wang


Authentication verifies users’ identities to protect against costly attacks. Graphical authentication schemes utilize pictures as passcodes rather than strings of characters. Pictures have been found to be more memorable than the strings of characters used in alphanumeric passwords. However, graphical passcodes have been criticized for being susceptible to Over-the-Shoulder Attacks (OSA). To overcome this concern, many graphical schemes have been designed to be resistant to OSA. Security to this type of attack is accomplished by grouping targets among distractors, translating the selection of targets elsewhere, disguising targets, and using gaze-based input.

Prototypical examples of graphical schemes that use these strategies to bolster security against OSAs were directly compared in within-subjects runoffs in studies 1 and 2. The first aim of this research was to discover the current usability limitations of graphical schemes. The data suggested that error rates are a common issue among graphical passcodes attempting to resist OSAs. Studies 3 and 4 investigated the memorability of graphical passcodes when users need to remember multiple passcodes or longer passcodes. Longer passcodes provide advantages to security by protecting against brute force attacks, and multiple passcodes need to be investigated as users need to authenticate for numerous accounts. It was found that participants have strong item retention for passcodes of up to eight images and for up to eight accounts. Also these studies leveraged context to facilitate memorability. Context slightly improved the memorability of graphical passcodes when participants needed to remember credentials for eight accounts. These studies take steps toward understanding the readiness of graphical schemes as an authentication option.


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