Smiling cat, rose bud, rocket, clover: Your next PIN could use emoji for added security

Emoji have taken over texting, and now those expressive smiley faces and fruits are looking to take over another digital frontier: passwords. British company Intelligent Environments found a way to generate 4-digit passcode PINs with emoji. Believe it or not, the company says these passwords are not only easier to remember, but also more secure.

Using just 44 emoji results in 3,498,308 permutations, which is significantly higher than the mere 7,290 combinations you can get with non-repeating digits. Based on that data, Intelligent Environments concludes that emoji passcodes are 480 times more secure than ones that are made up of numbers. And not only are there more options with emoji, but specific groupings of them might actually be harder for criminals to crack, Cybersecurity expert Professor Alan Woodward told the BBC.

However, the best thing about emoji passcodes may not be the security they bring, but rather how easy they are to remember. Memory champion Michael Tipper told the BBC that people are “hard-wired to remember pictures,” so emoji passcodes should be easier to remember (even though the process of remembering a series of numbers is the same as for remembering a series of images).

Regardless, those who are visually-minded could certainly find it easier to recall the sequence of skull, jack-o-latern, Christmas tree, heart (The Nightmare before Christmas, anyone?) than random numbers like 7854.

Given that around one-third of the 1,300 people Intelligent Environments polled have forgotten their PINs at least once, and “64 percent of millennials regularly communicate only using emoji,” the company concluded that emoji-based passcodes might be worth testing.

David Webber, managing director of Intelligent Environments, said emoji passcodes should appeal to millennials in particular. “Why can’t financial service be fun and innovative?” he said. “It’s just another method of logging in.”

The company is currently in talks with several banks to bring the emoji passcodes to customers over the course of 12 months. Unfortunately, the emoji passcode may be coming to the U.K. only for now, but if it’s successful, we could very well end up with smiling cats, rockets, stars, and clovers as our banking PINs. Once that happens, it may be only a matter of time before emoji become mandatory in many passwords.