Microsoft 365 PIN vs password: Which is the more secure option for logging in?

You’re looking for ways to improve your company’s security, particularly with Microsoft 365. You know passwords are a major reason for data breaches, and maybe you’ve heard people compare the security of an Microsoft 365 PIN vs password. Which is the better choice? Though you’re curious about PINs, you’re unsure they’re right for your business. You need to know more.
PINs and passwords have similarities but also key differences. Some of those differences offer benefits in security, user experience, and protection against the human error and misjudgement often involved in password choice and phishing attacks.
While logging into Microsoft 365 account with a PIN instead of a password may be a new idea, using them is not complex. In fact, you could say PINs are even less complex than passwords. If you’re confused now, don’t worry. This article will cover everything you need to know about PINs—from their similarities and differences to passwords, their benefits, the shortcoming of passwords, and more. But first, it’s critical to understand the importance of Microsoft 365 login security.

Why Microsoft 365 login security is vital to your organization

You know better than anyone that cloud platforms like Microsoft 365 come with many advantages. You and your staff can access your company’s files and data from anywhere. Microsoft 365 makes business easy. The problem is, what’s easy for you and your team is also easier for hackers to compromise.
If you’re like many businesses, you probably store sensitive data in the cloud. What would happen if a bad actor accessed it? Today’s work trends like remote working and cross-collaboration increase the risk of a breach. Employees may login to your Microsoft 365 platform and share files via their own devices, which are likely less secure than your company’s hardware.
As convenient as Microsoft 365 is, it increases the surface of your business for attackers. This fact obviously doesn’t mean you should avoid cloud platforms (afterall, Microsoft 365 is very secure). It just means the risk of a breach is higher in today’s world than ever before. This is why the Microsoft 365 PIN vs password debate is so important—how you choose to login can have a major impact on your company’s security. Before we get into those details, let’s take a closer look at the differences between PINs and passwords.

Security: Microsoft 365 PIN vs password - What’s the difference?

You’re surely familiar with passwords. They’re one of the oldest forms of cybersecurity and everyone in your organization—from the CEO to admins—use them every day. But what is a PIN? Understanding the similarities and differences between a Microsoft 365 PIN vs Microsoft password can help answer that question.
  • Secures your account: Passwords and PINs ultimately serve the same purpose: they’re used to secure your account. And they do that in a similar way…
  • Use of characters: Both passwords and PINs require you to enter characters (numbers, letters, etc.) to unlock your account.
  • Typically numeric: Unlike passwords, Microsoft Account PINs are numeric by default, like your ATM PIN. However, it is possible to add other characters, but you will have to tick the “Include letters and symbols” box during the PIN setup process.
  • Shorter: Microsoft 365 passwords can be as long as 256 characters. While most people don’t make them that lengthy, passwords generally are much longer than PINs. The length of a PIN is typically four numbers.
  • Device specific: A key difference between an Microsoft 365 PIN vs password is, the former is device specific. Unlike a password that can be used on any computer, tablet, or phone, your PIN is attached to just one device. This is an important security feature that you’ll learn about in more detail later in this article.

The problem with passwords

Most people live under the false pretense that if their password is long, complex, and unique, they’ll be safe from cybercriminals. The reality is far from the truth. Online passwords, like those you use for Microsoft 365, have inherent problems that make them a risk—even when 50 characters long and 100% unique.
A fundamental issue with online passwords is they don’t live locally on a device. Instead, they’re transmitted to a server where they’re stored. Think about that for a second. If your password is stored on someone else’s server, its security is completely out of your control. This is part of the reason why data breaches that make headlines are a big deal. The people who had their passwords stolen may have had the longest, most complex passwords imaginable, but all their efforts were in vain. Their security is at risk because a server out of their control was compromised. But this isn’t the only way passwords are heisted.

Your password can also be stolen if it’s intercepted while in transmission to the server, through a phishing attack, or if your password is guessed. While everyone likes the idea of a complex password for security purposes, most people don’t use one. According to password management company NordPass, millions of people are using easily guessed passwords like “123456” and “password.” It’s hard to blame people for this, especially when the average person has 100 passwords. It’s human nature to want tasks to be as simple and easy as possible. The problem is, from a password standpoint, easy for the user is also easy theft for the hacker.

3 ways a PIN is better than a password

Now that you have an understanding of the inherent flaws in passwords, let’s look at this Microsoft 365 PIN vs password debate in another light. How are Microsoft account PINs superior to passwords? Let’s examine three ways.
1. Tied to a specific device
As you learned earlier, one of the fundamental reasons passwords offer weak security is they aren’t connected to a single device. If someone steals your password, they can use it anywhere in the world on whatever device they choose. A Microsoft account PIN, however, corrects this shortcoming. A PIN only works on the device it is linked to. For example, the PIN you use on your home desktop only works on your home desktop. This means if a hacker gets a hold of your PIN, they’d also have to steal your home desktop to login to your account. The key lesson here is, the higher level of security provided by a PIN isn’t attached to the strength of the PIN, but instead the connection of the PIN to a unique device.
2. Backed by Trusted Platform Module (TPM)
Microsoft account PINs come with the added security of the Trusted Platform Module (TPM). A TPM is a security chip that is on a computer’s motherboard and offers a hardware-based approach to carry out cryptographic operations and make your device tamper-free. There are no reports of software ever hacking a TPM. For example, brute force apps, which repeatedly try to guess a PIN, don’t work on a TPM as the device will lock itself after too many failed login attempts.
3. Better user experience

Last but not least, PINs offer a better user experience than passwords. As you may recall from earlier in this article, PINs are typically much shorter than passwords and are meant to be simple in nature. Often PINs only use numerals. For these reasons, you’ll experience a quicker login with a PIN and won’t waste time like you would if you forgot an overly complex password. According to Gartner, 40% of all support calls are due to password resets, which are expensive. Forrester Research has found that each password reset costs an enterprise around $70.

Best practices to create a secure Microsoft 365 PIN

While Microsoft account PINs are more secure than passwords, they’re not impenetrable and can be compromised if your device is stolen. To improve your PIN’s security, consider these best practices below:
Avoid the obvious: The same rules people apply to passwords apply to PINs. Don’t be obvious. Avoid “1234,” “9876,” and other common combinations, as well as your birth date, anniversary, address, or other numbers connected to personal information often publicly available online.
Change words to numbers: One way to avoid the obvious and create an easy-to-remember PIN is to use the number equivalent of a word: choose a four letter word and then find the numbers that correspond with it on your phone keypad. For example, “book” would be 2665 and “cart” would be 2278.
Don’t reuse your PIN: According to Security Magazine, 53% of people use the same password on multiple accounts. As this practice can lead to a data breach, it’s recommended to avoid PIN reuse because it can lead to the same outcome if your device is ever stolen.
Make it complex: Just like with passwords, you can make your Microsoft account PIN complex: you can choose a longer PIN and add special characters and letters. While part of a PIN’s appeal is its simplicity, adding one or two special characters or letters can go a long way in terms of security.

Microsoft 365 PIN vs password: The verdict

By now, it should be pretty clear that PINs are far superior than passwords in terms of security and usability. When all employees use PINs, you’ll help protect against data breaches as well as common security holes that come with remote working and BYOD policies.
If you’re still interested in finding additional ways to improve your security, consider Leverage IT’s Shield – Managed Cybersecurity program. This service adds layers of protection to help keep your business safe from hackers, ransomware, and other cyberthreats. Contact us today to learn more.
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