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We are all familiar with the best password practices for websites which will be used by adults, such as storing passwords in one-way hashes, using password resets instead of emailing password, etc. But has there been any usability study regarding authentication systems in a classroom setting with young children? I wasn't able to find one with a quick search, but maybe I just don't know where to look.

The following are some considerations that need to be taken into account:

  1. It is commonly known that children forgot their password, especially younger ones. Is there any evidence that children forget their password more often than adults? How often do children forget their password?
  2. Usability is just as important as security. If a classroom is delayed because of password issues, then the system has failed. However, we do not want to be teaching children bad password practices either.
  3. We want to avoid burdening both teachers and students with a vicious cycle of children who keep forgetting their password because the teacher had to keep resetting it every week. This makes it tempting to save the password in plain-text/reversible encryption so teachers can just tell students their previous password instead of changing it, but is this really worth it?
  4. The site is used in a school setting, so when in a classroom, there will always be a teacher available to reset students' passwords as necessary. However, sometimes the student may need to access the site from their home computer.
  5. Not all children own an email address. While most public schools in our state provide students with school addresses, many private schools don't. Therefore, an over-the-shoulder password reset is necessary. For the same reason, SSO isn't always available.
  6. Presumably pranking another student's work will happen if everyone knows everyone else's password.
  7. Presumably there will be some teacher that will think about setting everyone's password to the same value.
  8. Presumably children wouldn't yet be reusing passwords with their banking account (because most wouldn't have a bank account yet); but fifteen years from now, some of them may keep using the same password since they don't want to learn a new password (I personally know some people that do this).
  9. Should the password input be masked? Many children may still be learning to type, so a masked password may present a usability problem. Is this a real concern?
  10. Presumably best practice varies depending on the age of the children. My concern at the moment would be for primary school aged children.
  11. Should the system or teachers assign students their password or should students pick their own password? Should the teacher know the students' passwords? Would it not be sufficient that teachers can reset the students' passwords?

Has there been any study done in this area?

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Is this for an actual system to be designed? I think it is an excellent question since a large proportion of online users are in the younger age group. I would be interested in what existing websites for children actually do (maybe UX people who are parents can answer this) since it would be a bit wrong for us to sign up to the sites and try to find the answer. –  Michael Lai Aug 14 '13 at 3:16
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I guess this is where alternative forms of authentication will be worth exploring in the context of their suitability for children. Things like answering a security question, clicking on a picture, or even selecting their favourite colour or shapes might be useful. –  Michael Lai Aug 14 '13 at 3:20
    
@MichaelLai: yes, this is for an actual system (though since the system is already half implemented, what is learnt here may not end up in the final implementation). One of my colleagues who were an educational researcher said, many systems sidesteps this issue by not collecting any data in the system (e.g. submissions are paper-based, profiles are only per-session), there are also another system that basically accepts the burden for teachers to reset passwords, and another that makes the teacher know everyone's passwords. Nothing that we know of have a satisfactory solution. –  Lie Ryan Aug 14 '13 at 8:05
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I think you could try graphic passwords, as @MichaelLai said. But as memory uses associative rules to keep things better in mind, you could use set of pictures which are known for the children: places of city, teachers' faces, etc. –  Alexey Kolchenko Aug 14 '13 at 9:38
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Could it be that your system needs just identification, and not authentication? (These are easily confused, see here for more: danielmiessler.com/blog/…) Off the top of my head, I can't imagine something that is so important as to need password protection, yet so unimportant that we would trust a kid to choose a password for. Can you maybe give more details of what your system does? –  Erion Aug 14 '13 at 12:59

7 Answers 7

This comes down to it being an Access v. Security issue. Are the children logging in to identify themselves within a system and get acquainted with the concept of "logging on"? Or are they legitimately securing their session and data from other kids? I'm presuming the former.

I think it is important to avoid personal preferences, favorites, or names. Things like Favorite Food, Pet Name, Mothers Name, etc. can have unexpected consequences. On the "lighter" side of these, a child can have a "new" favorite food. On a "heavier" side, perhaps their mother or pet just died - or child's parents are a sensitive subject to them. Kids aren't as stable as adults are, and having to forcibly deal with and/or explain the situation could be traumatic to them.

Many schools implement a Roll Number system. If not, they can arbitrarily assign students a number. This could follow any convention, and since it's more of an access/learning task (I'm presuming), and not an actual matter of classroom network security, shorter passwords could be used. "First letter of your first name, then your roll number", for example.

This is, of course, presuming that the real question is a matter of identification and not authentication. Although a bit heavy in details, this answer on this Security stack goes into detail as to the difference, and why/when you'd need either.

You did, however, mention kids pranking one-another's work. I think it would be helpful to know the age of the kids using this system, as you can increase password requirements and complexity the older the kids are.

  • If they're children, very short passwords and simple supervision should suffice.
  • If they're adolescents, where I could definitely see the kids pranking one another, a self-created password would be appropriate. Alphanumeric-only should work, as I doubt any 11-year-olds are going to bruteforce their classmate's homework.
  • The older the kids are, add more requirements. Incorporate length requirements.

I would also say that longer passwords (but not necessarily more complex ones) are viable. Having a password be two or three familiar words and a number could also work. For example, "redshoes", "greenpizza7", and similar color+noun & color+noun+number conventions could be created and registered by kids (of appropriate age). As it's a classroom setting, the students could be tasked with memorizing their passwords prior to use.

In short: If kids just need to log into a system, keep it short, simple, and easy to use. Don't ask for personal details, as they could inadvertently be traumatic for kids. Increase requirements and complexity with age.

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My son has used sites like this before (Dreambox and RazKids) but for 1st and 2nd Grade children (in the US) they were given a roster for their class with their names on it and clicked that item for their Username. Password was typically some combination of symbols that were selected, I think the site for the 1st grade was just one symbol so it was easy for them to remember. This allowed my son to access and use his account from School and we were sent a web link to the site so he could access from Home. Not sure what you would need for password resets by the teacher at what grade level, they all may be different, and I agree with the previous answers that youngers kids are so into their own things and learning that hacking into other accounts isn't primary in their thought processing yet.

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Kidzi and Friv are the two that my kids use all the time. –  17 of 26 Aug 14 '13 at 16:00

It is commonly known that children forgot their password, especially younger ones. Is there any evidence that children forget their password more often than adults? How often do children forget their password?

Everyone forgets their passwords all the time. It's a terrible system for everyone. So, can't we do something without having to remember passwords?

Usability is just as important as security. If a classroom is delayed because of password issues, then the system has failed. However, we do not want to be teaching children bad password practices either.

Teaching them good password practices isn't really viable either though is it? Kids aren't going to have a strongly encrypted list of passwords accessible through a single strong password. Teaching them about having passwords and keeping the passwords secret is the important part. There is the easy playful way (write a word down and don't show anyone) and there is the hard no-fun pain-in-the-*** way (long random string not stored anywhere but in your memory). I vote doing it the easy way.

We want to avoid burdening both teachers and students with a vicious cycle of children who keep forgetting their password because the teacher had to keep resetting it every week. This makes it tempting to save the password in plain-text/reversible encryption so teachers can just tell students their previous password instead of changing it, but is this really worth it?

See question all the way at the end.

The site is used in a school setting, so when in a classroom, there will always be a teacher available to reset students' passwords as necessary. However, sometimes the student may need to access the site from their home computer.

Not all children own an email address. While most public schools in our state provide students with school addresses, many private schools don't. Therefore, an over-the-shoulder password reset is necessary. For the same reason, SSO isn't always available.

Presumably pranking another student's work will happen if everyone knows everyone else's password.

I think this is the core issue the security system should address. There should be an identification that is not too easily breached by students.

Presumably there will be some teacher that will think about setting everyone's password to the same value.

Smart people are always a pain in the ***.

Presumably children wouldn't yet be reusing passwords with their banking account (because most wouldn't have a bank account yet); but fifteen years from now, some of them may keep using the same password since they don't want to learn a new password (I personally know some people that do this).

We can't really prevent people from using a single simple password for everything. It's certainly no reason to require 16-character passwords from kids.

Should the password input be masked? Many children may still be learning to type, so a masked password may present a usability problem. Is this a real concern?

There is no real reason to ever mask passwords: http://www.nngroup.com/articles/stop-password-masking/. Especially in home or classroom situations it makes no sense.

Should the system or teachers assign students their password or should students pick their own password?

Picking your own password helps you remember it. You authenticate with something you are, have or know. If the password is something you already know, you don't have to learn it (you just have to remember it's your password for something). For this situation I would say letting them pick a password is preferable. For other systems for adults that have to handle loads of passwords I would recommend not trying to remember it at all (instead, generate one and email it or store it in a keychain).

Should the teacher know the students' passwords? Would it not be sufficient that teachers can reset the students' passwords?

Security wise passwords shouldn't be recoverable (and don't need to be). Here however, that security feature is secondary. It would probably be better not to have to think up a new password every time, but try and remember the original one. Having teachers be able to easily recover a password would make the system more pain-free to deal with.

Suggestion

Make it more about "something you have". Why not give them a card with a word on it (or an illustration of that word) and let that word be the password. Tell them not to show to the card to anyone and not lose it. That's not super secure, but it's also no less secure than my creditcard's CVC code and that's used everywhere.

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The clue is the word "children":

  • Make it FUN.
  • Make it a SECRET that the child and the computer share.
  • Instead of "registering" (boring, adult), turn it into "inventing a secret!" (Fun, play)
  • Have lots of praises for remembering the secret, and for re-entering it quickly & correctly, e.g, "Wow you logged in so fast, you are so clever!".

. 1. FUN

i. Make it VISUAL & INTERACTIVE - pictures, sounds, stories

  • Example 1: I like the android "connect the dots" password. Make it more colourful. Give each dot a sound/tone!
  • Example 2: Choose a pet. Give it a name. Choose it's colour. etc.
  • Example 3: When it's time to choose password, there's a "buddy" who appears to guide them. A bear? A small tiger? I don't know. I'm thinking Hobbes though :p

ii. Avoid alphabets and numbers. They are kids.

.2. SECRET

ii There can be a story.. it's a secret cave. The buddy and the child must use the secret to open the cave. Whatever, think what would excite the child, to keep them engaged, yet reduce the chances of them sharing the secret.


My suggestion for creating password:

They have to choose a buddy, a pig? a rabbit? a cat? it's up to them. The buddy is crying because she doesn't have a home. Choose a house for the first buddy. Buddy is very happy! Then the buddy and the kid walk along and find another buddy, who is hiding because he doesn't like his shoe colour. Choose a colour for him! Now he's happy and he's your friend! Yay! ... add one more buddy and one more association, and the password is set.

My Suggestion for entering the password:

Child goes to the password page. They have to go ("choose") to the house of the first buddy to find her. She's happy! and journey to find the second buddy .. and the third buddy.

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Children aren't the only ones that struggle with passwords

I'm not familiar with the research, but we all know that people of all ages struggle with passwords. In this regard, children are no different than adults except that their still developing cognitive abilities will exacerbate the problem.

Why use a traditional password at all?

There are alternatives. Authentication can be done using any combination of:

  1. Something you know, such as a password.
  2. Something you have, such as an ID card.
  3. Something you are, such as a fingerprint.

Read more at Professor Fred B. Schneider's Something You Know, Have, or Are

Something you know tends to be the simplest, but there's no reason the thing you know has to be a sequence of alphanumeric characters.

  • It could be a drawn 2D pattern such as Microsoft's picture password or the Android dots lock screen.
  • It could be an image selected from a grid of choices (or you could select a sequence of two or three images).
  • It could be a sequence of colors or shapes. It could be a shape in a particular color.

There are lots of creative possibilities, but only testing on your target audience will tell you what works and what doesn't.

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I think to have Roll numbers in place of username as those are unique and easily remembered by children. Instead of having the label as "Roll Number" we can have the label as question like "What is your Roll Number?"

For password, Actually while registration we can have multiple questions and answers set take 3 for eg, 1) What is your Mother Name?
2) Which colour you like the most?
3) What is your pet Name?

While creating the login page we can have randomly any one of these question asked in place of password. If the answer is wrong it ask anyone of the next question from the set. On correct answer he logs in.

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Questions should be:

Which animal/Bird you like ? Hen  
Hen lays ?                   Egg  
Which colour you like?       Green  
what is you birth  year?     2010  

so password is HenGreen2010 or HG2010

Green Hen lays White Egg

Some small story logic in the password

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I don't really understand how this would work. You've not really explained what it is you're suggesting. Is this better for children? What happens to the Egg part of the password? What happens if their animal/bird isn't a hen - do you change the second question? What is the actual password here? This whole answer is just confusing I'm afraid, and I'm an adult. I have no idea how a child would cope with this. –  JonW Aug 21 '13 at 10:30
    
It looks like a version of Correct Horse Battery Staple. See XKCD and this discussion for some insight into this 4-part password. –  user1757436 Aug 21 '13 at 17:58

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