Illustration for article titled Keep Your Precious Data Safe by Storing Passwords in Your Subconscious

Do you ever fear that, one day, data-hungry bandits will tie you to a chair and make you surrender your Facebook password? It's not an unreasonable fear, actually. Christopher Nolan made a gripping documentary about this very scenario. But, thanks to a new method developed by scientists from Stanford and Northwestern, you may never have to worry about remembering a password ever again.


The technique depends on so-called "procedural memories," the things stored in your brain that you access unconsciously. For example, you ride a bike or play a guitar without thinking about it. These memories are actually stored deep in the part of your brain that handles motor control and habit-forming, as opposed to explicit memories which are stored in the frontal cortex, among other places. However, you can train yourself to access procedural memories when you need them.

Using procedural memories to store an unhackable password just takes a little bit of elbow grease. The Stanford and Northwestern scientists designed a game that looks a little bit like Guitar Hero to more or less train your mind to remember a certain pattern of keystrokes. (You can try it out here.) Over time, typing in the same long password gets stored in muscle memory, and, when participants came back a few weeks after playing the game, they typed in the familiar sequences with slightly better accuracy. That's all it would take: the computer can distinguish the difference in speed and accuracy between someone who unconsciously remembers the password and someone who's never seen it before.


OK, so this is isn't exactly going to replace your Facebook password—at least not right away. It's more time-consuming than the straightforward passwords we use today, but it's also more secure.

And, again, if anybody ever tried to torture the password out of you, their efforts would be futile. You don't even know the exact password. But you can get a feel for it. [Nautilus]

Image via Shutterstock / Sebastian Kaulitzki

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