Your brain can remember passwords without you even realising it

A game developed by a Stanford group showed that players can remember complex sequences without ever knowing the sequence was there.

No matter how advanced our technology gets, passwords remain a weak link when serious security is required. As reported by New Scientist, a group at Stanford University has come up with a possible way around this problem, by developing a way to store complex passwords in the human brain without said human actually remembering the password.

How does this work? The method uses an idea called implicit learning, in which our brains unconsciously learn a pattern we can't actually recognize consciously. Have you ever suddenly forgotten a code you've used hundreds of times, just because you tried to remember it consciously? This is a great example, but it gets much more complex than that.

In the Stanford experiment, a group of subjects had to play a game in which a 30 key long sequence appeared successively over 100 times. As time went by, the players got more and more accurate when using the sequence, although they didn't remember any of it consciously. When tested two weeks later, the players still made fewer errors than they did when they first started, which meant that their brains still remembered the sequence.

While this experiment is still far from being an actual implementation, the basic idea of using a complex password we can't consciously remember could be a great boost for security in places that truly need it. The problem with passwords is they can be extracted from people by any number of unpleasant means, but not if they can't even remember them!

Can you think of any other interesting uses for a password you can use without actually remembering it?

[Hristo Bojinov(PDF), New Scientist]

Yaara is a foodie, horse-lover and biologist who enjoys being a geek as a full-time job. You can also find her on MakeUseOf and tweeting her time away on @ylancet.

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