The First Password Ever Stolen

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 password to be stolen. 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 implies, CTSS was intended to allow multiple users to share access. The easiest way to do that was to let each user authenticate their identity by using a unique password. One of the CTSS researchers was a PhD candidate named Allan Scherr. He felt the measly four hours per week he was allotted on the system wasn’t enough for him to complete his work. So, he set out to find a way to get more time and wound up stealing someone else’s password. Until he confessed at the 25th anniversary of CTSS, nobody suspected Scherr’s hack.