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Heyl: This dress is a steal

| Tuesday, July 29, 2014, 10:30 p.m.
Lorrie Cranor.
Lorrie Cranor.
Lorrie Cranor in her password dress.
Lorrie Cranor in her password dress.

It's a fashion statement. It's a security breach.

It's a password dress.

It's a dress containing many of weakest passwords imaginable, ones that never should be used to protect your online accounts or other sensitive information unless you have some strange urge to be hacked.

The attire is the brainchild of Lorrie Cranor, the director of Carnegie Mellon University's CyLab Usable Privacy and Security Laboratory and director of CMU's privacy engineering master's degree program.

The idea grew out of a similarly adorned quilt that Cranor made while on a sabbatical from her academic duties. “After I designed the quilt with bad passwords, I decided I needed a dress,” said Cranor, 43, of Squirrel Hill.

She made her own pattern by tracing a store-bought dress she owned, then turned to her students for assistance in adding some truly awful passwords.

“We had a data set of about 35 million stolen passwords, and I asked them to extract the thousand most popular ones,” Cranor said. “I then went through the list and then color coded them in thematic groups.”

The categories include a host of password no-nos: male and female first names, pet names, sports teams, foods, obvious numeric strings such as 123456 and unimaginative keyboard patterns such as QWERTY.

Cranor said the dress has been well-received at CMU and the several cyber security conferences where she wore it. But her recent TED video on passwords viewed more than 530,000 times, apparently has sparked interest in the dress.

Kristin Briney, a Wisconsin-based data management specialist, recently made her own password dress using the password fabric that Cranor is selling online. Briney gave the dress a thumbs-up on her website.

There's more.

“Two of my male students are going to a password conference, and they wanted (password) ties,” Cranor said. “I thought about making them myself, but it turns out that ties are harder to make than you might think, so I commissioned someone on Etsy (a website devoted to handmade items) to do it.”

Can password cardigans and underwear be far behind?

If momentum continues to build for the password dress, Cranor could well become the American Eagle of cybersecurity attire.

Eric Heyl is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7857 or

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