Sign in with
Sign up | Sign in

The Earliest Documented Case of Data Theft Was in 1962

By - Source: Wired | B 9 comments

While investigating the first computer password, Wired came across what is supposedly the earliest documented case of password theft.

Passwords are very important. It's something we're all aware of, but we still sometimes choose bad or easy to crack passwords because they're easier to remember. No matter how many times we're reminded to change our passwords often and to never choose something obvious, many people use the same bad passwords as thousands of others ('password,' '123456,' 'qwerty,' or 'abc123' to name a few of the popular ones). That said, our passwords can only take us so far before we must rely on the systems we're trusting with our information to keep intruders out. As we've seen from the increased amount of breaches over the last year, not all companies employ strong enough security and it seems this is nothing new.

Wired this week carries an interesting story on what was apparently the world's first computer password. The story centers around MIT and a massive time-sharing computer called CTSS. CTSS was accessible by multiple different people, so passwords for each individual were a 'no brainer.' CTSS's password system was used for individuals accessing the computer but also to ensure people didn't spend more than their allotted time on the machine. Of course, as we all know, one's allotted computer time is never enough, so one sneaky PhD researcher decided to find a way to bump his usage time. His solution? He committed what is believed to be the first case of computer password theft by printing off everyone's passwords and then logged in as other users.

"There was a way to request files to be printed offline by submitting a punched card," Wired quotes Dr. Allan Scherr as saying. "Late one Friday night, I submitted a request to print the password files and very early Saturday morning went to the file cabinet where printouts were placed and took the listing."

Scherr didn't just keep the passwords for himself -- he also distributed the list among some of the other CTSS users so they could get some extra computer time, too. He left for a job at IBM in the mid-60s and no one at MIT knew about his password theft until he confessed 25 years later. After so much time had passed, Scherr's antics in 1962 didn't really matter. There's also the fact that three years after he stole the passwords, CTSS was hit with a bug that presented every user with a list containing everyone's password when they logged in. Oops.  You can read the full story over on Wired.

Discuss
Display all 9 comments.
This thread is closed for comments
Top Comments
  • 13 Hide
    zak_mckraken , February 1, 2012 2:05 PM
    There was this caveman who used to draw crude maps of good foraging and hunting spots on his cave's walls. One day, a fellow caveman saw his drawings and stole his spots. True story.
Other Comments
  • 0 Hide
    sunflier , February 1, 2012 1:03 PM
    Quote:
    "There was a way to request files to be printed offline by submitting a punched card," Wired quotes Dr. Allan Scherr as saying. "Late one Friday night, I submitted a request to print the password files...

    Never give this sneaky PhD guy access to Active Directory Users and Computers. :p 
  • 4 Hide
    __-_-_-__ , February 1, 2012 1:25 PM
    data exists since humankind exists.
  • 3 Hide
    mrface , February 1, 2012 2:01 PM
    "To spread the guilt around, Scherr then handed the passwords over to other users. One of them — J.C.R. Licklieder — promptly started logging into the account of the computer lab’s director Robert Fano, and leaving “taunting messages” behind."

    And apparently the first trolling incident too... :D  :p 

    I could see it now, "Mr. Fano, Are you mad , brother?"
  • 13 Hide
    zak_mckraken , February 1, 2012 2:05 PM
    There was this caveman who used to draw crude maps of good foraging and hunting spots on his cave's walls. One day, a fellow caveman saw his drawings and stole his spots. True story.
  • -1 Hide
    billybobser , February 1, 2012 2:15 PM
    Summary: Nothing ever changes

    So good luck to any law change that says otherwise.
  • 0 Hide
    mrmaia , February 1, 2012 2:23 PM
    This is a funny story for sure, I laughed imagining the whole thing going on.

    But the article should be named "The Earliest Documented Case of DIGITAL Data Theft Was in 1962", because "data" exists for thousands of years :) 
  • 1 Hide
    JohnnyLucky , February 1, 2012 2:41 PM
    Interesting bit of computer trivia.
  • 0 Hide
    huron , February 1, 2012 2:57 PM
    I like these articles, and similar ones that HowToGeek has been running too...fun to get a little geeky trivia each day.
  • 1 Hide
    JonnyDough , February 2, 2012 4:58 AM
    billybobserSummary: Nothing ever changesSo good luck to any law change that says otherwise.


    Nothing ever changes, in that people like their doom and gloom. Hey, guess what? You can make this world a better place. Oh, and don't make more babies. Those already living are going to want trees in 30 years.