Each October, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security shares tips and tricks for tech safety during National Cybersecurity Awareness Month. Naturally, a key focus is using strong, secure passwords — tips the father of the computer password, Fernando Corbató, could have perhaps used himself.
The birth of the computer password
Corbató implemented the first use of computer passwords in the early 1960’s at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The MIT researchers working on the Compatible Time-Sharing System needed a way to assign each user accessing the CTSS a unique set of files. The CTSS made it possible for multiple users to simultaneously access a mainframe computer.
Corbató’s goal wasn’t high security; rather, he wanted to offer some compartmentalization in a communal setting. After all, as Corbató told the WSJ, “Passwords are not a super high level of security but are enough to protect against casual snooping.”
A key focus of National Cyber Security Awareness Month is using strong, secure passwords — which the father of the #ComputerPassword, Fernando Corbató, could have used himself.
Still, some of the CTSS staff were tempted to become hackers. Graduate student Allen Scherr confessed upon the 25th anniversary of the CTSS that after his initial system privileges were removed, he secretly printed a list of all user passwords and used them to continue accessing the system for his research. Twenty-five years after the fact, CTSS program director Robert Fano assured Scherr his PhD wouldn’t be revoked.
Encourage computer users to check out the National Cybersecurity Awareness Month password tip sheet so they can be #BeCyberSmart.
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