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Computer password inventor calls them a 'nightmare'

He knows they're "a nightmare," but he's not sorry.

Fernando Corbato helped deploy the first computer password in the early 1960s. Now, he's seen the flaws in the password system and how the public is frustrated at having to remember a string of letters and numbers. But he says passwords were a logical development.

"Unfortunately it’s become kind of a nightmare with the World Wide Web. I don’t think anybody can possibly remember all the passwords that are issued or set up. That leaves people with two choices. Either you maintain a crib sheet, a mild no-no, or you use some sort of program as a password manager."

Now 87, Corbato says computer researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology had to have their own accounts, and a way to differentiate and protect them.

"You wanted to avoid people needlessly nosing around in everybody's files."

Corbato says the development of the Internet created the password crisis.

"Passwords are not a super high level of security, but are enough to protect against casual snooping.

"Actually, Allan Scherr, an MIT researcher back then who went on to work for International Business Machine, claimed to have stolen other users passwords to log more time on the computer, since there was a four-hour limit.

"He had a little bit of a rebellious streak. What he did was sometimes called hacking – it was meant to show how clever you were rather than how malicious you were."

Give Corbato some credit, though. All these years, and nobody's come up with a better way yet!

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