Using avatars for improved authentication with challenge questions

Nicholas Micallef, Mike Just

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

8 Citations (Scopus)


We present a novel method for improving the security of challenge question authentication, which traditionally requires a user to answer questions such as "What is your Mother's Maiden Name?". In our method, users create an Avatar representing a fictitious person, and later use the Avatar's information to authenticate themselves. The Avatar Profile consists of basic identifying information (e.g., name, address) as well as personality information (e.g., pets, interests). This info is pseudo-randomly generated from a large corpus of information. For authentication purposes, a small amount of the Avatar Profile information is used to respond to challenge questions. In terms of security, the use of information that is not personally associated with the user is intended to thwart observation attacks such as, for example, knowing the user's mother's maiden name. In terms of usability, our design establishes a bond between the user and their Avatar using graphical images and periodic associations by, for example, presenting an image of the Avatar at each login. This nurturing of the bond between a user and their Avatar leverages known psychological phenomena. At the same time it also provides a novel adaptation to security of the emotional investments that users exhibit in virtual worlds and massively multi-user online graphical environments. In this paper, we describe our workin- progress towards an Avatar Authentication design, partially guided by an initial pilot experiment. Our initial results are promising and point to a possible future for the use of avatars for authentication.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication5th International Conference on Emerging Security Information, Systems and Technologies
Subtitle of host publicationSECURWARE 2011
Number of pages4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2011
Event5th International Conference on Emerging Security Information, Systems and Technologies - Nice/Saint Laurent du Var, United Kingdom
Duration: 21 Aug 201127 Aug 2011


Conference5th International Conference on Emerging Security Information, Systems and Technologies
Abbreviated titleSECURWARE 2011
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
CityNice/Saint Laurent du Var


  • Authentication
  • Avatar
  • Security
  • Usability


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