It's a rare Windows 8 computer that doesn't have you typing your password as your computer returns from its sleep state.
From a security point of view, this is sensible, but if you have strong passwords of a decent length that contain letters, numbers, and punctuation, it can quickly become irritating to repeatedly enter them – especially if you need to switch screen keyboards to get access to numbers and symbols.
Windows 8 offers another method for device security: Picture passwords. If you select the Settings Charm, Change PC Settings, and then Users, you'll see the option to create a picture password.
Once selected, you'll be prompted to re-enter your password and then asked to choose a picture. The picture can be anything on your device, and will appear instead of the normal password prompt when your computer starts.
Having selected a picture, you'll be prompted to select three gestures: Circles, straight lines, or taps. The size, position, and direction of the gestures will be your new password. You can make it as simple as three taps on different parts of the picture or a combination of the gesture types.
Once you have recorded three gestures, you'll be asked to repeat them to set the picture password. If you make a mistake, you'll be given hints until you manage to repeat the gestures successfully. Your picture password is then set, and the next time you need to sign in to the computer, you'll see the picture you selected waiting for gestures and an option to switch to the normal text password. If you don't have a touchscreen, the gestures also work with the mouse, although circles are a little more difficult.
If you are worried about the relative security of picture passwords versus text, then this blog might reassure you. In it, Jeff Johnson, the director of development for the Windows 8 user experience team, covers the issue in detail.
To summarise the advice, always choose a picture with at least 10 points of interest, combine gestures, and vary their size and direction. A useful tip is to always keep your touchscreen clean to prevent any smudges that may reveal your gestures – although these are likely to be buried under all your normal touch gestures. Of course, the normal practices for text passwords should also be followed, such as changing your picture and gestures regularly.
I've been using a picture password on my Surface RT for a few months, and I'm much happier with using three gestures than typing in a strong text password. I've also just changed my desktop over to a picture password using a mouse instead of touch, and that's also a small relief.
If, like me, you're tired of typing passwords but don't want to lower your security settings, consider a picture password instead.
Tony is the owner and managing director of Microcraft eLearning and is one of the creators of the AUTHOR eLearning Development System.