"I have no idea what they’re trying to accomplish" Enthusiastic and Casual Signal Users’ Understanding of Signal PINs

Daniel V. Bailey, Philipp Markert, Adam J. Aviv

Symposium on Usable Privacy and Security (SOUPS '21). Virtual Conference, August 8-10, 2021


We conducted an online study with n=235 Signal users on their understanding and usage of PINs in Signal. In our study, we observe a split in PIN management and composition strategies between users who can explain the purpose of the Signal PINs (56%; enthusiasts) and users who cannot (44%; casual users). Encouraging adoption of PINs by Signal appears quite successful: only 14% opted-out of setting a PIN entirely. Among those who did set a PIN, most enthusiasts had long, complex alphanumeric PINs generated by and saved in a password manager. Meanwhile more casual Signal users mostly relied on short numeric-only PINs. Our results suggest that better communication about the purpose of the Signal PIN could help more casual users understand the features PINs enable (such as that it is not simply a personal identification number). This communication could encourage a stronger security posture.

tags: mobile, PIN, signal