Okay, we'll admit it: we're definitely not "tough guys" around here, and when we need to use the ATM after dark (heck, even before dark), we're looking over our shoulder every two seconds to make sure no one is scoping our easy-to-guess PIN or lying in wait to snatch that fresh stack of twenties out of our RSI-plagued hands. Well computer engineers at Queen's University Belfast in the UK are trying to make those late-night ATM runs just a little less terrifying, with a new system for password entry that uses tactile feedback combined with on-screen cues instead of the old ten button method we're used to. The whole process centers around a modified computer mouse with sixteen moving pins under both the index and middle fingers; different pin patterns are known as tactons. To enter a password, the user must manipulate the mouse so that a cursor moves through nine different boxes on the display, with each box sending a different, random tacton back to the mouse. Once the user feels the proper tacton correlating to the first element of his/her password, he/she then clicks the mouse button in the appropriate box and proceeds to repeat the process until the requisite number of codes have been entered. While subjects in a study felt more secure with this technique and were able to remember their tacton sequences even after several weeks of non-use, the biggest downside here is that testers needed an average of 38 seconds to negotiate all those boxes and get all their clicks in. So while the tactile system seems to do a good job thwarting nosey parkers, those 30+ seconds of staring at the screen give crooks plenty of time to sneak up behind you and force you to hand over your life savings (or $500 -- gotta love those daily limits).

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Tactile passwords thwart snooping, facilitate old-fashioned muggings