Your new PIN: Smiley face, two surprised cats, small pile of poo

Can emojis make pin codes more secure?

Intelligent Environments, a specialist in mobile and online financial services, has come up with a way of making online banking even more secure by swapping the traditional four number pin code with emoji icons.

The thought of ditching numbers for smiley faces and cartoon thumbs up might sound ridiculous but this could actually make your phone more secure.

Although emojis are more common with youngsters sending texts, Intelligent Environments believes that using emoji icons instead of numbers will make logging in even more secure.

This is because instead of being limited to the numbers 0 to 9, people can instead use any of the 44 emoji icons, which means there are more potential combinations – making it harder for other people to guess or crack.

Smiley security

We spoke to Alan Brown, product development manager for Intelligent Environments about the rational behind using emojis for passcodes.

"We've been looking at different ways of logging into systems as passcodes and passwords are often overused between accounts. We were interested in ways our clients could log in that had both usability and security, and emojis fit into this nicely."

Brown suggested that people could tell a story with emojis, which would make remembering the passcode easier than an arbitrary set of numbers while remaining difficult to guess.

"For example I could choose a baby [emoticon], as one wakes me up in the morning, then I get a bicycle to work, eat an apple for breakfast, then take the train home."

According to Brown there are 3.4million possible combinations when choosing four emojis for a passcode – and you could even use more, though the passwords would then become more complicated to remember.

Will it leave us all sad faced?

While it will potentially be more secure than a numerical pin number, there is a flaw to the security – human laziness.

According to former memory champion Michael Tipper in an interview with the BBC, "statistically it will be harder to crack — but if you're presented with a screen of emojis and you can't be bothered to remember a sequence you're going to pick the ones in the four corners or the top row — and then you are left with an equally insecure technology."

Professor Mike Jackson, cyber security expert at Birmingham City University also got in touch to share his doubts about the new emoji passcodes.

"The difficulty with emojis is that there are several options for the same expression – there isn't just one smiley face, but several alternatives, whereas we all know what a letter or number looks like. Emojis can also vary between Apple and Android phones, which could cause problems if you decide to switch platforms, or want to access your account from a different device".

Jackson also suggested that it would be impossible to use these emojis at ATMs or in shops. However, Intelligent Environments explained to us that a custom keyboard would be included in an app to allow financial providers (such as banks) to allow emoji inputs.

So will we see emojis used as passcodes any time soon? Intelligent Environments told us that "there has been quite serious interest from banks and talks are going on [to bring the service to consumers]' and that it was hopeful that its customers will be using them soon.


Matt Hanson
Managing Editor, Core Tech

Matt is TechRadar's Managing Editor for Core Tech, looking after computing and mobile technology. Having written for a number of publications such as PC Plus, PC Format, T3 and Linux Format, there's no aspect of technology that Matt isn't passionate about, especially computing and PC gaming. Ever since he got an Amiga A500+ for Christmas in 1991, he's loved using (and playing on) computers, and will talk endlessly about how The Secret of Monkey Island is the best game ever made.