"1234" and Birthdays Are the Most Common PINs
Research paper: “A birthday present every eleven wallets? The security of customer-chosen banking PINs,” by Joseph Bonneau, Sören Preibusch, and Ross Anderson:
Abstract: We provide the first published estimates of the difficulty of guessing a human-chosen 4-digit PIN. We begin with two large sets of 4-digit sequences chosen outside banking for online passwords and smartphone unlock-codes. We use a regression model to identify a small number of dominant factors influencing user choice. Using this model and a survey of over 1,100 banking customers, we estimate the distribution of banking PINs as well as the frequency of security-relevant behaviour such as sharing and reusing PINs. We find that guessing PINs based on the victims’ birthday, which nearly all users carry documentation of, will enable a competent thief to gain use of an ATM card once for every 11-18 stolen wallets, depending on whether banks prohibit weak PINs such as 1234. The lesson for cardholders is to never use one’s date of birth as a PIN. The lesson for card-issuing banks is to implement a denied PIN list, which several large banks still fail to do. However, blacklists cannot effectively mitigate guessing given a known birth date, suggesting banks should move away from customer-chosen banking PINs in the long term.
EDITED TO ADD (2/22): News article