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The Case of the Purloined Password

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The History of Passwords and the Case of the First Theft

Fall 2018
David Kalat
ThinkSet, issue 6

You may be surprised to learn that the first recorded use of passwords to gain access to a computing system occurred back in 1961. You may be less surprised to learn that this landmark moment in computer history almost immediately led to another landmark: the first computer passwords to be stolen. And the story of how the first computer password became the first password hack has lessons to teach us today.

The first password — and the first hacker

MIT’s Compatible Time-Sharing System (CTSS) was a pioneering computer science research project. Under the direction of mastermind Fernando Corbató, the CTSS team developed many fundamental computing features we take for granted today, including email, file sharing and instant messaging. As the name implied, the CTSS was intended to provide a working environment for multiple users who would share access. Because each user had his own research domain and files, the CTSS needed to be able to distinguish between them and to present them with only the materials authorized to them.

Read the full article in ThinkSet.

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