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'Passwords Keep Me Safe' – Understanding What Children Think about Passwords



Mary Theofanos, Yee-Yin Choong


Children use technology from a very young age, and often have to authenticate. The goal of this study is to explore children's practices, perceptions, and knowledge regarding passwords. Given the limited work to date and that the world's cyber posture and culture will be dependent on today's youth, it is imperative to conduct cyber-security research with children. We conducted the first large-scale survey of 1,505 3rd to 12th graders (Generation Z) from schools across the United States (US). Not surprisingly, children have fewer passwords than adults. We found that children have appropriate mental models of passwords. The children demonstrated many good password practices and behaviors. However, they did not create strong passwords. Generating strong passwords requires mature cognitive and linguistic capabilities which children at this developmental stage have not yet mastered. Cyber-security education should strive to reinforce positive practices while continuing to provide and promote age-appropriate developmental security skills.
Proceedings Title
Proceedings of 30th USENIX Security Symposium,
Conference Dates
August 11-13, 2021
Conference Location
Virtual, MD, US
Conference Title
30th USENIX Security Symposium,


Children, Passwords, Authentication, Mental model, Perceptions, Password practices.


Theofanos, M. and Choong, Y. (2021), 'Passwords Keep Me Safe' – Understanding What Children Think about Passwords, Proceedings of 30th USENIX Security Symposium, , Virtual, MD, US, [online], (Accessed June 20, 2024)


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Created August 11, 2021, Updated October 14, 2021