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Pattern Locks: Are They a Good Idea?

If you are an Android user, you can choose a so-called “pattern lock” instead of a passcode or a PIN to protect your phone. When you use such an option, you are asked to draw lines between nine points that form a square. You can, for instance, begin from the middle point, then go left, then down, then right to the opposite edge and then up to the very end of the square. Unfortunately, while this security protection method is fun and looks like a video game, there is still a question of the reliability of pattern password ideas.

Patterns Vs Numbers Vs Strong Passwords

Let us compare pattern locks with numerical passcodes and passwords that use both digits, letters (upper- and lower-case), punctuation marks, and special symbols (like ‘@’ and ‘#’). A simple table shows the number of possible combinations depending on how many pins/digits/characters you use:


Number of used pins/digits/characters

Number of combinations

Pattern lock

Numerical passcode



























The table makes it absolutely clear that from a purely mathematical standpoint numerical passcodes are considerably safer than any pattern password ideas you can use. It also shows that passwords are many times more reliable than both numerical passcodes and pattern locks. Still, there are even more reasons why you should never use patterns to protect your phone.

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Safety first

There are certain ways of doing things that are typical of all people. When it comes to using pattern locks, 44 percent of phone owners start moving from the top left-most point on the screen and as many as 77 percent begin their gestures from one of the screen corners. Movements that go from right to left and from top to bottom are used considerably more often than their opposites. What’s more, most people get tired of drawing patterns after they have used only 5 pins, and 4 pins is the second most common choice.

To make matters worse, people in general were found to be very good at copying patterns. 64 percent of us can copy a pattern if we have seen it just once, and if there is an opportunity to see it for the second time, this percentage rises to an astonishing figure of 80 percent.

Last but not least, the movement of your finger on the screen leaves smudge marks that make it even easier to guess your specific pattern. Thus, cyber criminals don’t really have to brute-force your pattern (i.e. check each and every possible combination). All they need to do is see you draw it, check the smudges on the screen, and, if these two tricks are not enough, try a small number of gestures most people are known to use.

So, it looks like the best of all pattern password ideas is never to use patterns at all. It’s as simple as that.


What to Use Instead of Pattern Locks

As it was shown in the table above, while a passcode is good, it is a unique random password that offers you maximal protection. Unfortunately, while all proud iPhone users can choose to protect their phones with a proper password, this option is not available to all Android owners. You might want to check the settings of your Android phone to find out whether this option is available to you or keep this requirement in mind when deciding on your new smartphone.

The best way to create a truly random password combination for your phone is to use a piece of software called a password generator. In contrast to people, programs do not give preference to certain digits, letters, or punctuation marks: all of them have absolutely equal chances of appearing in your secret combination.

Still, there is a question of remembering your random-generated sequences. Do you have to write them down on a piece of paper and risk losing it at the most inconvenient moment possible? Fortunately, there is a much better idea: you can use Passwarden.

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