Babel Phish

A recent Economist Online article describes an intriguing study done by Cambridge University computer scientist Joseph Bonneau. Bonneau analyzed passwords used by roughly 70 million (anonymous) Yahoo members worldwide in search of trends. One particularly interesting aspect of Bonneau’s study focused on the use of dictionaries, though not the sort of dictionaries that list words and their definitions. Here, a “dictionary” is a list of common passwords either worldwide (“global dictionary”) or in a particular language (“same-language dictionary”). Bonneau decided to see what fraction of each language’s passwords–within his 70 million-participant study–could be guessed within 1,000 attempts using both a global password and a same-language password. The results were surprising. Indonesian passwords were by far the easiest to guess, with 15% found using a same-language dictionary and 9.3% found using a global dictionary. Chinese passwords were the hardest to crack, with 4% found with a same-language dictionary and 2.9% found with the global dictionary. English scored near the middle, as 8% were correctly guessed with a same-language dictionary and 7.9% were correctly guessed with a global dictionary.

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