Category Archives: 12397

Win8/RT Tip: Make your Picture Password harder to guess

One of the nice things that Microsoft have done in Windows 8 and RT for people using a touchscreen, like on the Surface, is provide a new way of signing in with a Picture Password. They expain in a comprehensive post how secure it is, but in practice I believe that many users will reduce the level of security by too closely following Microsoft’s examples.

What are the chances that a large percentage of Picture Password users select an image of family members or pets, or similar and then create their three gestures by circling heads and drawing dots on, or lines between, noses? With no scientific basis other than the experience I’ve had of seeing how bad most people are at selecting passwords, I’m going to say it’s going to be a significant number.

My solution is actually pretty simple and effective from both an aesthetic and security perspective.

Don’t use a single photograph, but instead select 6-10 images of your chosen subjects and then use Microsoft’s free Photo Gallery software to create a collage with far more points of interest and more potential points to use in your gestures.

In this case, I’m selecting a few pictures of my son: 

You then go to the Create menu and select Auto Collage (I choose Large Landscape in case I also want to use it as desktop or lockscreen wallpaper).

At this point you’ll be asked to name the file that’s going to be produced. Now, because it’s an auto collage, you don’t get any say over the positioning or order of the images so you might not like the result first time round. I removed one of the images from the selection and then created a second collage:

Now, just think of the different number of things that I could circle, or draw points or lines on, in that image. Yet it’s still personal to me and it’ll be easy for me to remember my own gestures.

I think the images produced by this method make for a really nice looking and more complex picture to use for Picture Password. You could obviously use a different method to produce your own collage where you take more control of it, but I was going for free and easy here.

That said, if you’re set on a less complex single image for some reason, please consider how easy your gestures might be to guess. If they were easy for you to think up, they could be pretty easy for someone else to guess in five attempts if they manage to get hold of your device, so put at least one of your gestures in an area of the image that lacks an obvious point of interest.

I wish Microsoft hadn’t discontinued these products…

Now I’m not the sort to get sentimental over software. In fact the opposite is usually true. Something newer and more shiny comes along and I forget about all the old stuff. I can’t think of many long-gone products that I wish would come back, software or otherwise. However, I got thinking about this over the weekend when I was using one of my favourite applications that Microsoft has ever produced.

Digital Image Suitewas a photo editor, which had previously gone by the name Picture It!, along with image library management. The reason that I liked it so much was that the barrier to entry for a large number of tasks was really low, but you could add functionality for more complex operations because it supported the use of PhotoShop plugins.

Microsoft discontinued the product, stating that many of the features are available in new Microsoft titles, which is true, but many is not all. It’s fair to say that Windows Live Essentials is one of the first things that I install on a fresh copy of Windows, and I like its included Windows Live Photo Gallery, but it’s no Digital Image Suite.

As I was manipulating some photos to print for family members as Christmas presents, I had to hunt out my copy of Digital Image 2006 Anniversary Edition (the last release, which supported Windows Vista and fortunately continues to run on Windows 7) because Photo Gallery was just too basic for what I needed to do.

Now I’m sure that everyone, especially all my photography buddies, will tell me that I should be using PhotoShop, but it’s expensive and significantly more complex than the Digital Image editor. I dare say there will come a day when I’ll have to move on to something else, but until then I’ll keep on with my favourite old package from 2006!

While I’m a big fan, I can understand that the Digital Image Suite may not have been a great product for Microsoft in revenue terms. Not being a market leading package, I get why it was cut. I find it harder to understand why you’d get rid of another product that was doing ok in terms of revenue and was clearly a market leader…

Microsoft Flight Simulator pre-dates even Windows and was easily the most popular consumer flight simulator. It was damn good too. I remember very clearly my first experience of Flight Sim 98 along with Microsoft’s marvellous SideWinder force feedback joystick (also sadly no longer with us) – having recently spent some time flying a Cessna thanks to the RAF, I was amazed at how real the experience was. Of course that was before the graphical improvements, real-world weather and ATC in the later versions.

It’s fair to say that for a bunch of years, the reason that I kept upgrading my PC hardware was to continuously be able to turn up graphic detail and milk more performance out of Flight Sim. Each new version that came out was like a gift that kept on giving (or taking, depending on how you look at it). I spent a crazy amount of time experiencing different aircraft and airports, knowing that it translated well to the real world (even though that’s experience I’ve never taken advantage of since). I’ve flown helicopters and gliders too in the past, and Flight Sim did as good a job of modelling them as it did light aircraft or airliners (I’m guessing, since I’ve never flown one of them). Overall, I’d say that Flight Sim could well beat Elite as my most played game ever.

When the studio behind Flight Sim became a victim of Microsoft’s cuts in early 2009, I know that I wasn’t the only, or the most, disappointed fan of the series. Hopefully the team members, who have formed an independent studio, will be able to release a product worthy of the legacy.

You never know, it being the festive season, perhaps Microsoft will announce that they’re re-launching these products, along with the other item on my Microsoft Christmas list – releasing BitLocker To Go as an update for every SKU of Windows 7 (not restricting it to Enterprise and Ultimate), because the world will be a better place if everyone can easily encrypt their USB keys!