The very first password theft

You might not know it, but the password security system we use today was invented by Fernando Corbato back in 1961. Corbato’s proposal for a computer password system was one of the first pieces of work he did when he joined MIT.

The case

Fernando Corbato invented the computer password system in 1961 to manage student terminal use at the MIT computer center. It never occurred to him that it could be used for evil. But in 2011, an article published to mark the system’s 50th anniversary revealed that Alan Scherr, a doctoral student at the school, had abused the system: to spend more time in the lab, he used a punch-card hack to print out a list of passwords stored as plain text.

He photocopied the list and distributed it to the university to avoid being caught out because he was the only one using them. Although Corbato was unconcerned, he was much more critical of his invention shortly before death.

Did you know?

It is estimated that at least 500 million passwords are stolen every year. And the number of new passwords every day? One million! With this in mind, you should be mindful of your account security.


Over the years, coding has become more sophisticated, which means it’s become easier for fraudsters to break into your accounts. They may use passwords that are easy to remember and guess, or they might take advantage of vulnerabilities in your browser or operating system to steal information. One way to protect yourself is by using multi-factor authentication, which sends a message to your phone when you log in from an unrecognized device.