The 10 PINs you should never use as one in five pick the same three

Personal identification numbers (PINs) serve as gatekeepers to our online financial accounts, devices, and sensitive information and while the concept of a four-digit PIN may seem simple, with only 10,000 possible combinations, achieving true uniqueness can be a challenge. A weak or predictable PIN can leave you vulnerable to unauthorised access, making the choice of a strong, unique PIN crucial.

Trevor Cooke, Privacy Expert at EarthWeb, has explained the PINs people most commonly use, the least used ones, and why it is important to have a PIN that is strong and unique.

According to data gathered from exposed password tables and security breaches, which detailed over 3.4 million four-digit PINs, the most common PINs often feature patterns that make them easy to remember but also easy to guess.

The top 10 most common PINs are:

  1. 1234

  2. 1111

  3. 0000

  4. 1212

  5. 7777

  6. 1004

  7. 2000

  8. 4444

  9. 2222

  10. 6969

These PINs often feature repeated digits, sequential numbers, or significant dates, making them predictable and vulnerable to brute-force attacks.

A whopping 10.7% of the PINs collected were “1234”, while the top 3 PINs accounted for almost 20% of the total. According to the same data, the least commonly used 4-digit PIN is 8068, with just 25 occurrences out of the 3.4 million passwords examined - a minuscule 0.000744% frequency.

The 10 least popular 4-digit PINs found in the study’s dataset, starting with the least common, are:

  1. 8068

  2. 8093

  3. 8398

  4. 7638

  5. 8428

  6. 8285

  7. 7583

  8. 6835

  9. 8629

  10. 7539

These uncommon PINs lack obvious patterns, repetition, or personal significance like birthdays or anniversaries that are common sources for more predictable PINs. Their random and unmemorable nature is likely what makes them some of the least frequently chosen combinations.

While choosing a truly random PIN increases security, it can make the number difficult to recall. Trevor offers some strategies to create memorable yet unique PINs.

  • Use the Word Method: Associate your PIN with a word by mapping the numbers to letters on a telephone keypad. For example, the word "SAFE" translates to the PIN "7233". Choose an uncommon word that's unlikely to be guessed.

  • Utilise Meaningful Dates: While avoiding easily guessable dates like birthdays or anniversaries, you can still use a meaningful date as your PIN, such as the day you adopted a pet or the date of your first date with your partner. Combine or alter the numbers to make it more unique.

  • Create Patterns or Acronyms: Develop a pattern or acronym that is meaningful to you but obscure to others. For instance, use the first letters of a favourite quote or the numeric pattern of your childhood street address reversed.

  • Use Long PINs: Many systems allow longer PINs beyond 4 digits. The more digits your PIN has, the harder it is for anyone to crack. Use a secure password manager to store lengthy, random PINs.

  • Modify an Existing PIN: Take a commonly used PIN and modify it slightly by adding, subtracting, or rearranging some digits to make it unique while still somewhat memorable.

The key is finding a balance between randomness and personal relevance to create a PIN that is both secure and easy to recall. Avoid obvious choices and never use the same PIN across multiple accounts.

Cybersecurity experts emphasise the importance of choosing a unique PIN that avoids common patterns or personal information.

Trevor said: "A strong PIN should be treated with the same level of care as a password, as it serves as a critical line of defence against unauthorised access. Regularly updating your PIN and avoiding the use of the same PIN across multiple accounts can further enhance your security."

As data breaches and identity theft become ever-present threats, taking proactive measures to protect your sensitive information is crucial.

"By choosing a unique and strong PIN, you can significantly reduce the risk of falling victim to cybercriminals and safeguard your personal and financial well-being," said Trevor.