Lorrie Cranor, Associate Professor of Computer Science and of Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University, is an expert on computer privacy and security. During the 2012-2013 academic year she spent her sabbatical as a fellow in the The Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry, where she worked on fiber arts projects that brought together her interests in privacy and security, quilting, and computers. Not a usual combination, but a winning one!
Using her academic acumen with her artistic sensibility, Lorrie took inspiration from her research on the security and usability of text passwords, to create the Security Blanket, a quilt illustrating the importance of using quality passwords online.
Lorrie’s research group of students and colleagues collected tens of thousands of passwords from users, comparing these passwords with the archives of stolen passwords that have been made public over the past few years. One of the largest archives analyzed contained 32 million passwords that were stolen from the social gaming site RockYou.
“As with other breaches, password and 123456 figured prominently. But after you get past the obvious lazy choices, I find it fascinating to see what else people choose as passwords,” Lorrie explained on her blog. “Not surprisingly, the top 1000 passwords list includes a fair share of swear words, insults, and adult language. However, impolite passwords are much less prevalent than the more tender love-related words, appropriate for all audiences.”
“The colors, size, and format of this quilt were designed to be reminiscent of a baby quilt, which I imagine might become a security blanket. Like the passwords included in this piece, a security blanket offers comfort, but ultimately no real security.”
Using Wordle, an online word cloud generator, Lorrie grouped selected passwords based on themes and assigned a color and weight to each group. She saved the output as a PDF and edited it in a purposeful way to create a unique and impactful design. The fabric was printed and then used to put together the finished quilt.
The Security Blanket quilt won honorable mention in the International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge, hosted by the National Science Foundation. Lorrie says about her submission, “No, they don’t have a category for quilts, but that didn’t stop me from entering (and winning).”
Following the success of her quilt, Lorrie used the same wordcloud program to create a new fabric to make this super fabulous dress, which she donned for the opening of an art show featuring her quilt.
For those of you who want to make your own security blankets, pillow, ties, curtains, or dresses, Lorrie has versions of her “bad password” fabric available by the yard.
To learn more about your online privacy, check out Lorrie’s recent piece “Self-Defense” on MIT Technology Review.