New research published by the United States Naval Academy and the University of Maryland reveals that six-digit passcodes are more effective in protecting smartphones from prying eyes than an unlock pattern, or ‘squiggle’.

In the test, 1,173 people watched a series of videos of people unlocking their phones. They viewed from a distance of between 1.5 and 1.8 metres – the typical proximity of someone snooping over your shoulder.

When they were asked to try to replicate the action, 64% of people managed to reproduce the six-point squiggle pattern typically used on an Android device after a single viewing, a figure that rose to 79.9% after a second viewing.

In comparison, just 10.8% of people were successful in mimicking a phone being unlocked using a six-digit PIN (rising to 26.5% after more than one observation.

Aside from the headline figures, the test also confirmed:

• Patterns without lines are more secure than those without

• The more views, the greater the likelihood of replicating the pattern

• The longer the pattern or PIN the harder it is to replicate

The full report can be found here