Since its launch, the Raspberry Pi OS (and most operating systems based on it) has come with a default “pi” user account, making it easier to boot up a Pi and start working without having to connect the device to a monitor or go through a multi-step setup process. But starting today, that’s changing – new installations of the Raspberry Pi OS are dropping this standard user account for both security and regulatory reasons.
Raspberry Pi Foundation software engineer Simon Long explains the mindset in this blog post.
“[The “pi” user account] could potentially make a brute force attack a bit easier, and in response, some countries are now introducing laws that prohibit any internet-connected device from having default credentials,” he writes.
This step will improve the security of the Pi operating system. In the past, even if you assigned a good password to the “pi” account, attackers could almost certainly assume that most Raspberry Pi boards used the “pi” username. Many Pi OS-based operating systems also ship with the “pi” user account enabled by default and are completely passwordless, requiring additional steps to assign a password to the account in the first place.
The downside is that the change could break some software and scripts, especially those that are hardcoded to use the user account and the pi home folder. Well-behaved software uses variables instead of hard-coded folder names, so they work the same way regardless of the user account used. But the Pi’s popularity with independent and amateur developers means you’re likely to run into problems here and there. It’s also possible that distributions based on the Pi operating system will continue to use the “pi” account and choose not to follow the Pi Foundation’s lead in adopting the new security practices.
Removing the standard user account has required some other changes to the operating system and its tools. Like most other operating systems, the Raspberry Pi OS now boots into a dedicated setup mode on first boot, rather than running the setup wizard as an app in the normal desktop environment. And this setup wizard now prompts you to create a username and password instead of simply assigning a password to the default “pi” user account. To make setup easier, Assistant can now pair Bluetooth keyboards and mice without you having to connect a USB accessory first.
Many Pi software distributions run “headless” without any monitor connected, and the Pi imager tool takes this into account as well. You can create a username and password before writing your OS to your SD card, allowing the Pi OS to bypass the setup wizard and boot directly to a desktop or command line, as is currently the case. Creating a text file in the SD card’s boot partition with an encrypted password does the same thing.
The new version of the Pi OS doesn’t bring many new features, but it does include experimental support for the Wayland Display Server protocol, which can and ‘likely will’ replace many (but not all) features of the old X Window System will be the future of desktop Linux,” writes Long. But most people can and should ignore Wayland on the Pi OS for now as it has been specifically marked as “experimental” and “there are many features that are not yet supported on Wayland”.