"It Basically Started Using Me:" An Observational Study of Password Manager Usage

Sean Oesch, Anuj Gautam, and Scott Ruoti

There is limited information regarding how users employ password managers in the wild and why they use them in that manner. To address this knowledge gap, we conduct observational interviews with 32 password manager users. Using grounded theory, we identify four theories describing the processes and rationale behind participants' usage of password managers. We find that many users simultaneously use both a browser-based and a third-party manager, using each as a backup for the other, with this new paradigm having intriguing usability and security implications. Users also eschew generated passwords because these passwords are challenging to enter and remember when the manager is unavailable, necessitating new generators that create easy-to-enter and remember passwords. Additionally, the credential audits provided by most managers overwhelm users, limiting their utility and indicating a need for more proactive and streamlined notification systems. We also discuss mobile usage, adoption and promotion, and other related topics.

Sean Oesch, Anuj Gautam, and Scott Ruoti. 2022. "It basically started using me:" an observational study of password manager usage. In Proceedings of the 40th ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM.