Password Psychology

A lttle explanation around the reasons for our password choices

We’re sitting there, in front of the computer and in the middle of signing up for a shiny new account on some website or another and the usual sorts of questions are there:

What’s Your Name?

Yup, I know that one..  No problem.”

What’s Your E-mail address? 

“Damn, was it dot-com or dot-net?  Ahh, here we are; dot-net.  Sorted.”

What Password Are You Going To Choose? 

“Ummm..  Errr.. Hmmmm.. What can the hell can I use for a password?”

And here’s our first problem.  Unless we’ve given it some thought before we’ve gone to whatever-we’re-signing-up-for.com and started filling everything in, we’re under pressure.  We need to come up with an answer to that fateful question and most of us feel the need to do it fairly quickly.  Anxiety starts to set in (for the average computer user, it really does), or we’ve got to go and feed the cat, pick the kids up from school or simply want get the order done because ‘it’s just so shiny’.

So our thought process leads us to think of things based on two different but related themes.

  • Familiarity:  We’ll think of things that are familiar to and have meaning for us, normally something that has lasted the test of time.  Alternatively, it could be something that’s still in our short term memory.  Perhaps that film we saw last night or the brand new Ford Mustang we saw this morning while filling up with fuel. All these sorts of things will pass through as we’re considering the options.
  • Memorisation:  The majority of us, whilst considering such things as the new Mustang this morning, will disregard those as options relatively quickly.   This is because we’re less likely to remember them over time than things that have a lasting meaning for us. Obviously, our being able to remember the passwords we choose is vital, otherwise we’re soon going to find ourselves unable to access whatever we’re signing up for.

Generally speaking, a very high percentage of our passwords are chosen through impromptu generation, based on that familiarity and memorisation. Looking a little deeper though, we’re able to break things down some more.

Based on a study carried out in 2002 by a British Psychologist, Dr. Helen Petrie, Ph. D, our familiarity/memorisation choices are centered in one of four genre subsets:

  • Family-orientated (almost half of those surveyed)
  • Fan-based (approximately one-third of those surveyed)
  • Fantasists (approximately eleven percent of those surveyed)
  • Cryptics (approximately ten percent of those surveyed)

Family-orientated password creators will generally choose names, nicknames, birthdates, places or other things that they have strong emotional or family ties with.  This subset of people tend to fit into the bracket of ‘occasional computer users’, often having fewer online accounts than the average.

Fan-based password creators will generally focus their attentions onto things that they really like.  Such as films, tv, music, games and so on.  Two of the top choices in this genre from those who were surveyed were Homer Simpson and Madonna.  In 2016, one of the top most common passwords was ‘StarWars’, following the release of Episode VII in 2015.  For this reason, this subset of people may have some of the easiest passwords to crack, their commonality and general public presence causing these words to hit most hackers lists.

Fantasists tend to be slightly narcissistic in their choice of passwords and will often focus their choices around terms of self admiration, whether knowingly or not.  Whilst the majority of those surveyed who fell into this genre were male, a surprising thirty seven percent were female.  Fantasists often have a sexual focus in their passwords, choosing words such as ‘sexy’ or ‘goddess’.  If you’ve taken a look at the 100 of The Most Common Passwords, you’ll maybe have seen that there are a number of similarly related words in there.

Cryptics are the most cyber-security conscious of us all.  Their passwords are often made up of meaningless and unintelligible strings of numbers and letters (e.g. jft922+x).  Whilst they certainly have the most secure passwords, they are also the least interesting.


Type ‘A’ or Type ‘B’ Personality?

One of the other things that affects the choices that we make in regards to passwords is our general personality type.  This is somewhat more vague than the findings of the above study, but does still hold considerable relevance in defining the words or phrases that we use.

Type ‘A’

Those of us that fall under the Type ‘A’ personality type tend to derive our passwords from a desire to be ‘in control’.  We have a tendency to believe that our accounts are not at risk and will often reuse passwords across different logins.  Some of this tendency is based around us wanting to ensure that we don’t forget the passwords we use.

Additionally, those of us who fall into this personality trait are often quite focused on details and will have a methodology around how we remember the passwords we use.  60-70% of us Type ‘A’s are normally quite proactive about trying to keep our online selves secure, even if our efforts might be a little misguided at times.

Type ‘B’

On the other hand, those of us who lean more towards the Type ‘B’ personality are more inclined to believe that our accounts are not at risk, mainly because they aren’t worthy of a hackers time.  This has a tendency to reinforce any bad habits we’ve got into around our password choices and, eventually, to make us believe that those bad habits are acceptable.

In fact, 40-50% of us Type ‘B’s are under the impression that we have nothing of value enough to a hacker for us to be targeted and will primarily choose a password based on how easy it is to remember.


Whilst password psychology does give us some indications as to why we choose the passwords we do, it’s not enough to be accepting of those reasons.  In order to keep ourselves, and those connected to us, safe from the attempts of hackers, we need to rethink and improve how we approach our password choices.

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Aeroplane Heaven’s Spitfire Mk IV (Payware/FSX)

A good look at the wonderful Spitfire MkIV from Aeroplane Heaven and justflight.com

As a youngster I was almost permanently fascinated by the Spitfire, possibly the best known of all the aircraft used by Great Britain in WWII.  Graceful, elegant and yet deadly against it’s foes,  it will always be one of the most legendary aircraft ever to have graced our skies.

Continue reading “Aeroplane Heaven’s Spitfire Mk IV (Payware/FSX)”

Aspects of Display Device Configuration

The different variations about the configuration of display devices

Due to the high variation in the number of uses for computer systems, and their associated display devices, there is a common need to have to configure the devices to meet those uses.  This post looks at the various settings and features that may need to be considered when configuring a display device.

In the majority of cases, display devices can either be configured using buttons on the device itself or, in the case of computer systems, using a form of setting application within the computers OS.  One such example of this is the ‘Control Settings’ application on the Windows Operating System.

A dual, twin-monitor workstation.

Resolution
The ‘resolution’ is the name used to describe the number of pixels that make up the dimensions of a computer display.  The value of the resolution is given as the number of horizontal pixels on the display by the number of vertical pixels (e.g. 1280 x 960).  In older displays, this was very often in the ratio of 4:3 (e.g. 1024 x 768).  In present day, widescreen display devices, including both computer display devices and televisions, have become much more popular.

Display device resolutions are significant because they represent how much information is able to be fitted onto a screen at the same time. For example, a widescreen display device with a resolution of 1920 x 1200 would be able to fit more than twice as much information, than a 4:3 ratio monitor with a resolution 800 x 600.
Table of various display device resolutions

Resolution # of Pixels Aspect Ratio
320 x 200 64,000 8:5
640 x 480 307,200 4:3
800 x 600 480,000 4:3
1024 x 768 786,432 4:3
1280 x 1024 1,310,720 5:4
1600 x 1200 1,920,000 4:3
1600 x 900 1,440,000 16:9
1920 x 1080 2,073.600 16:9
1680 x 1050 1,764,000 16:10
1920 x 1200 2,304,000 16:10

In 2015, information gathered from two surveys indicated that the current most popular display device resolutions are 1920 x 1080 and 1366 x 768.
✝ Information taken from Wikipedia

Native Resolution
Some LCD or other flat panel display devices can have a fixed resolution, otherwise known as a ‘native resolution’.  Devices which have a native resolution will only display a best quality image when the input signal is operating at the same native resolution of the display device.  A display device with a fixed resolution may display signal inputs at other resolutions, but this will always result in a loss of image quality.

Refresh Rate
Refers to the number of times per second that a CRT monitor is ‘refreshed’, meaning that the screen image is redrawn.  The rate of refresh is always described in hertz (Hz).  The most common value for refresh rate is 60 Hz, meaning that a screen with this value will get ‘redrawn’ sixty times every second.

It’s worth noting that these refresh rates are only applicable to CRT display devices and do not apply to LCD display devices.

The refresh rate may also be referred to as the ‘frame rate’, although this term is very often also applied to the rate at which software, such as games other resource heavy applications, are able to refresh their image on the screen.  In this latter example, the ideal ‘frame rate’ is still considered to be 60 Hz.

Brightness
Brightness simply refers to the amount of light being emitted from the display device.  Measured in lumens, the standard unit of measurement for visible light emitting from a light source.  On practically every display device manufactured, it’s possible to increase or decrease the amount of light that is emitted.

If the brightness is set too high, it can cause an aura effect to be displayed on the screen.  If it’s set too low, it may make information difficult to read.  In either case, it’s important to consider how extended use of an incorrectly set monitor may affect a users eyesight.

Analogue Versus Digital
This is largely dependent on the make and type of the display device.  In the majority of cases, devices providing the input signals for a display device are inherently digital.  Display devices such as LCD or LED also innately support those digital input signals.

Privacy/antiglare filters
Privacy or antiglare filters are a physical accessory that can be attached onto a display device.  They can provide a number of benefits. For example;

  • Reduction of the glare from the screen (in relation to the user sitting in front of it)
  • Protecting the screen from scratches or dust
  • Prevents others, who are not sitting in front of the screen, from being able to view the information being displayed.  This can assist in enhancing privacy and protecting confidentiality.

Colour Depth Quality
Relates to the number of bits used to store the colour of a pixel.  The more bits that a pixel has, the more colours are able to be displayed.  It’s important to note that colour depth is only one aspect of the quality of the colours on a display device.  The other is gamut, but for the purposes of this information it’s not necessary to go into detail.

Table of various display device resolutions

Bit Depth # of Colours Scheme Name
1 bit 2 colours Monochrome
2 bits 4 colours
4 bits 16 colours
8 bits 256 colours Colour
8 bits 256 colours Grayscale
15 bits 32,758 colours High Colour
16 bits 65,536 colours High Colour
24/32 bits 16,777,216 colours True Colour
30/36/48 bits 1 billion + colours Deep Colour

For further information on colour depths, click here.

Contrast Ratio
The contrast ratio of a display device is defined as the difference, in luminance, of the ‘white’ brightness being divided by the ‘black’.  This figure is expressed as a ratio.

For example; a contrast ratio of 500:1 means that the ‘white’ areas of the screen are 500 times brighter than those of the ‘black’. A high contrast ratio is a desired aspect of any display device.

Multiple Displays
As technology has improved and computer systems have become more and more able to run a number of different software packages at the same time, many users have chosen to use more than one display device, in order to monitor or perform a number of concurrent tasks and increase the amount of display space.

Typically, a multiple display setup will include two display devices, although more than two devices can be configured with the appropriate expansion card(s) that are able to support such a setup.  Multiple displays like this are commonly used for professional computer workstations or for higher end gaming environments, where an extended desktop space is useful.

A multi-monitor gaming station, powered by the AMD Infinity

Within the display properties within a computer settings system, it’s possible to designate one of the monitors as the ‘Primary’.  This monitor typically displays the controls where all of the desktops administrative features can be called on (note: Since the release of Windows 10, these functions can be called upon from either monitor).  The second monitor would typically contain extra ‘workspace’, extending the available visible area to work in.

Whilst it would normally be the case in the situations described above to have the desktop span the different monitors and have alternative windows in each, it’s also possible to set the system up to duplicate the desktop image onto both windows.  This latter setup is useful to offer presentations.

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Display Device Connectors, Cables and Interfaces

A look at the wide range of display device connections and cables

There are a variety of connection types that are used to connect display devices to computer systems, although the majority that we are likely to come across are one of the following three types:

Video Graphics Array (VGA) is possibly the longest standing and most commonly seen display device connector.  It’s implemented with a 15 pin DB-15 high density connector that contains 3 rows of 5 pins. This type of connection is found on a great many computer systems, monitor devices and high definition television units.  In some instances, this type of connector may also be called a HD15 or DE15 connector.  On laptop computers and other small devices, a smaller ‘mini-VGA’ port is sometimes used instead of the normal, full size VGA connector.

    • Analogue or Digital: Analogue
    • Distance Limitations: 30 Metres for low resolution and 5 Metres for high resolution
    • Frequencies:  Needs a frequency of at least 6o Hz (which refreshes the screen 60 times a second, making the images appear constant to the naked eye).  In order for a full frame of pixels to fit 1/60th of a second, the speed at which each is transmitted needs to be adjusted.  This speed is known as the Pixel Clock.
A computer VGA Port

High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) is an audio/video interface for transferring uncompressed video data and compressed or uncompressed digital audio data from a display controller to a compatible peripheral device.  Such devices include display monitors, video projectors, digital televisions or digital audio devices. A HDMI connector is made up of 19 pins and can support a multitude of modes such as; High Definition TV (HDTV), Standard Definition TV (SDTV) and Enhanced Digital TV (EDTV).  HDMI cables can run for up to 50 feet in length and the interface has largely superseded DVI.

    • Analogue or Digital:  Digital
    • Distance Limitations:  5 Metres
    • Frequencies: HDMI 2.0 (2013) supports resolutions of up to 4K (which is 4 times the clarity of 1080p) and up to 1356 kHz audio sampling frequency.  HDMI 2.0 also increased bandwidth to 18 Gbps.
    • HDMI Connectors:
      • Type A: 19-pin connector support all high definition (HD) modes and is electrically compatible with DVI-D Connectors.
      • Type B: 29 pin connector with double video bandwidth of the Type A connector to support very high resolutions (Not yet seen in any products and possibly superseded by Display Port (See below))
      • Type C: Mini HDMI connector which is used in portable devices
      • Type D: Micro HDMI which is the smallest version of HDMI connector and also used in portable devices.
Types of HDMI connection

Digital Video Interface (DVI) is able to transfer both analogue and digital video signals.  It’s common to find this connection type on many computer systems, DVD players, high-definition televisions and home theater systems.

DVI cables use a technology called Transmission Minimised Differential Signaling (TMDS) to transmit large amounts of digital data from the computer to a digital display such as a flat panel LCD monitor.
There are two different types of DVI connection: single-link and dual-link.  Single-link cables use a single TMDS link to carry information.  The single TMDS link has three data channels for RGB information and a maximum bandwidth of 165 MHz.  This can support display devices up to a resolution of 1920 x 1010 at 60 Hz.  DVI dual-link cables use two TMDS links at 330 MHz for each link.  Dual-link connections are able to support resolutions up to 2048 x1536.
A DVI-D Cable
      • Anaglogue or Digital: Dependent on the connector type (see below)
      • Distance limitations: 15 metres for low resolutions and 5 metres for high resolutions
      • Frequencies: In single-link mode the maximum pixel clock frequency is 165 MHz.  This supports a maximum resolution of 2.75 megapixels at a 60 Hz refresh.
      • DVI Connectors:
        • DVI-A: Analogue-only connection that requires a DVI-A supported interface and does not support dual link technology.  DVI-A is commonly used to connect VGA devices to a DVI-A port using a VGA/DVI-A adapter.
        • DVI-D:  Standing for ‘DVI-digital’ is a Digital-only connection. For a single link DVI-D, the connector has 18 pins, arranged in two groups of 9 pins each. To the side of the two groups of pins is another single flat pin, known as a ‘ground bar’.  This cable type is used with DVI-to-HDMI adapters.  A dual link DVI-D connector contains 24 pins, arranged into three horzontal rows of 8 pins.  As with the single DVI connector, it has a flat ‘ground bar’ located off to the side.
      • DVI-I: Also known as ‘DVI-integrated’ it’s capable of both analogue and digital connections.  In addition to the connections available on a DVI-D connector, the DVI-I connector has an additional 4 pins to carry any analogue signal.  In the case of single-link connections, the connector retains the 18 pin setup in the style of the DVI-D with 4 additional pins for the analogue signal.
The different DVI connectors

Other Video Interfaces

DisplayPort is a royalty-free digital display standard that aims to replace the DVI and VGA standards.  Unfortunately, DisplayPort is not backwards compatible with DVI or HDMI but, by using special dual-mode ports and adapters it may still be possible to use DVI and HDMI.

A DisplayPort connector

Similar to DVI and HDMI, DisplayPort uses TMDS link technology and it’s cables have 2-pin connectors.  Additionally, and in a similar vein to Peripheral Component Instrument Express (PCIe), DisplayPort is also able to support high-quality gaming or other applications that require high-end graphics.

A SlimPort (brand of Analogix) HDMI to DisplayPort adapter which complies with the Mobility DisplayPort (or MyDP) standard

Component video is an analogue video format that separates colour video signals into three or more channels.  Ordinarily, the three channel wires are identified as Y, Pb and Pr.  Y consists only of luminance and represents the brightness of the image.  Whereas Pr and Pb consist of red and blue, respectively, minus the luminance.  Sometimes component video can also refer to RGB signals and the three wire analogue RGB cable can often be used for high-end video cameras.

Component video cables

Composite video is simply an analogue video format that combines all of the video information into a single channel.  Composite video attempts to combine the information contained on analogue Component video channels and, consequently, does not provide a high level of quality. As technology continues to progress, composite video ports are becoming much rarer on devices.

A composite video cable and jack.

Radio Corporation of America (RCA) cables carry audio and video transmissions to a wide variety of different devices such as; televisions, digital cameras and gaming consoled.  RCA cables can also be used to carry digital audio, to send audio to loud speakers or even as a power cable.  RCA cable male connectors, and their female opposites on devices, are colour coded so as to provide a guide for users to know which cables to connect.  The most common RCA colours are; Yellow, for a variety of composite connections; Red, for the right audio channel connection and; White, for the left audio channel connection.

An example of RCA cables

Coaxial cable, also abbreviated to ‘coax’, is a cable that features a conducting central copper core, which is surrounded by an insulator and braided or foil shielding.  The included insulator keeps the copper core and the shield separate and the entire package is wrapped in another insulating layer, known as a ‘jacket’.   The data information is transmitted through the central conductor, while the outer shielding functions to reduce electromagnetic interference.

Coaxial cable and it’s parts: A – The outer jacket.  B – The shield. C – The insulating layer. D – The central copper core

Bayonet Neill-Concelman (BNC) connectors are used with coaxial cable in order to carry radio signals to and from devices.  BNC cables are commonly used to connect radio equipment and avionic components, although they are also able to carry video signals if required.  The actual BNC connections themselves come in two different versions.the 50 Ω and the 75 Ω.

The two different types of BNC connectors, showing both male and female versions.


MiniDIN-4 connectors are used with S-Video connections.  S-Video is a type of analogue video signal that carries video data as separate, brightness and colour, signals.  S-Video works in only two resolutions, 480i or 576i, and older versions of the system from the 1980s used different sized DIN connectors for various connections.

A miniDIN-4 S-Video connector

Video Adapters and Converters
Computers with built-in video cards and the associated monitors need to have a common connector type in order for them to connect and operate correctly.  Not every monitor has every type of connector and nor does every computer have every type of connector port.  It is possible to buy video graphics cards and add them to a computer system in order for it to be able to connect to a given display device, but it may be possible to achieve the same result more more cheaply by using a converter or adapter.

Adapters and converters can come in a variety of different styles, some simply a plastic housing with the different connectors at each end and others connected by a cable. Some of the more commonly found adapters include:

  • DVI to HDMI
  • DVI to VGA
  • Thunderbolt to DVI
  • HDMI to VGA

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Different Types of Display Device

An overview of the different display device types and technology

As with most things in computer technology, there are multiple types of display technology available. This post takes a look at those technologies, starting with legacy technologies and following through to the types of display device that we use today.

Legacy Display Technology
Legacy display technology includes Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) and Light Emitting Diode (LED) displays.
 
Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) Displays
  • CRT displays make use of electron beams inside a vacuum in order to create images that are projected onto the inside of a fluorescent screen.  There are three of the electron beams within a CRT, one for each of the primary colours (Red, Blue and Green), and these are manipulated in order to correctly display the images in the correct way.
  • In the vast majority of cases, CRT displays are much heavier than their more modern counterparts, as well as being larger and ‘boxier’.  This is down to the components required to build this type of display, especially the thick (black) glass that’s needed for the screen (which can be either curved or flat).
  • CRT monitors have all but been completely phased out by the introduction of more modern LED, LCD or plasma screen technologies (see below).  However, there may still be isolated occasions where a CRT monitor is still used.
A CRT from a legacy 14 inch monitor.
 Light Emitting Diode (LED) Displays
  • LED displays use the same type of screen as LCD displays (see below) but make use of a different lighting technology to create the images on the screen.  Instead of the cold cathode fluorescent lamps (CCFLs) used in LCD technology, LED devices use one of two types of LED as a back lighting source:  Dynamic RGB (Red, Green, Blue) LEDs, which are located behind the panel of the monitor, or white edge-LEDs, which are located around the edge of the screen. The latter type make use of a diffusion panel to distribute the light evenly.
  • Generally speaking, LED display devices are more expensive to purchase than LCD displays, but they require even less electricity to run.
An example of a very large LED display
 Present Display Technology
Liquid Crystal Display (LCD)

An LCD monitor with an integrated DVR (digital video recorder)
  • LCD flat-panel display devices are energy efficient, compact and lightweight displays.  The screens work by having a grid pattern that’s composed of millions of liquid crystals.  When power is applied to  the grid, the crystals are able to twist and realign themselves in order to allow light to pass through in certain ways, thereby creating the images that we see on the screen.
  • LCD monitors use cold cathode flourescent lamp (CCFL) or strips of LEDs to provide the back light source.  CCFLs create a light source through the use of electrodes and mercury vapour, which create ultraviolet light.  Compared to LED lights sources, CCFLs are heavier and more expensive. They also use more power, despite providing a lower brightness and have a shorter lifespan.
  • LCD monitors typically use either In-Plane Switching (IPS) or Twisted Nematic (TN) technology.  Between the two, TN has a faster response rate, higher brightness, are cheaper to manufacture and use less power.  Historically, TN also has a better contrast and blacks than IPS, although improvements in IPS technology have now managed to overcome these limitations.  IPS also has much less colour shift and distortion when viewed at an angle, when compared to TN.
  • LCD technology has also made it possible to introduce touch screen technology, something that is a very common sight in our current day to day life.
  • Virtual Reality (VR) gaming and special imaging needs have led to the development of VR goggles or glasses that can substitute to a normal LCD screen.  The goggles may be comprised of one (which is viewed with both eyes) or two (one screen is viewed with each eye) small LCD monitors that are placed inside a headset.  VR equipment has always been particularly expensive, when compared to other display devices of the same period.  However, this is beginning to change and VR is rapidly becoming more affordable.
A concept LCD Head Up Display (HUD) device
Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED)
  • OLED displays utilise exactly the same technology as normal LED displays with the exception that they use organic compounds, such as carbon or hydrogen, to emit light when they are subjected to an electric current.
  • OLED screens can be used in wider variety of dimensions that normal LED screens and are already currently utilised in tv screens, laptop and computer monitors, tablets, hand held gaming devices and mobile phones.
  • OLED is considered to be a ‘green’, or environmentally friendly, technology.
The Sony XEL – Worlds first OLED television
Plasma
  • Plasma displays use a flat panel of glass, combined with xonon and neon rays, in order to provide a visual experience with high brightness, contrast and very vibrant colours.  Plasma displays, unlike LCD displays, can be viewed from any angle without distortion.
  • Currently, plasma displays are only available in large sizes (typcially over 40 inches diagonal), which makes them fairly unsuitable as computer monitors.  The technology used within also makes them incredibly heavy and cumbersome.  As such, plasma technology is only marketed as a television technology in the current day.
  • Earlier plasma displays were very susceptible to image ‘burn-in’, which is the permanent outline of images on the screen, caused by uneven aging of the phosphors.  In their more current guise, image burn-in is much less common due to phosphors being faster and a lot more efficient than earlier incarnations.  However, burn-in is still not impossible, even with the advances in plasma technology.
Diagram of  a plasma display
 Projectors
  • Video projectors are most often used to display a computers video output onto a much larger ‘screen’ surface (such as canvas or a white board) so that a larger audience is able to view it.
An example of a projector – An Acer model from 2012