The Evolution of Passwords and Password Management
Passwords – they’re one of the most common safeguards in most our lives. We generally don’t give them much thought, unless it’s to stress out because we’ve forgotten a crucial password. Even more terrifying is realizing that one of passwords has been compromised and now a hacker intent on information theft has access to that account.
Milestones in Password and Password Management
Passwords have been used for centuries, perhaps for millennia. Their origin can be found in the name. A password was once simply a word that, on being spoken by one person, granted passage to another area.
Castles and the Medieval World
While passwords have likely been used far, far longer than the middle ages, this is an excellent example. Someone wanting to gain access to a castle, fort or other fortified location would have to know the secret word to prove that they were either who they claimed, or that they had legitimate business in the area. The guards would grant passage when the word was spoken.
Obviously, this wasn’t particularly secure, and password management was very often ineffective. After all, if you only had to overhear someone speaking the password to learn it, there was little difficulty in gaining access yourself (or using that password to get someone else into the area). There were other iterations on this during the time, ranging from tokens (physical objects of a specific type or nature) to symbols.
This sort of password system was used up until the birth of electronics, when encoded passwords became the norm.
Electronic Systems and Password Management
Since the birth of electronic systems like mainframes and then personal computers, passwords have been employed to help ensure that only authorized individuals could access the machine. These were letters and/or numbers arranged in a pattern set by the user, just like most of us use today. The first computer password system was actually created back in 1961 at MIT, where a single system was used by multiple people at one time, and each had his or her own password to identify them in the system.
Things haven’t changed all that much with passwords, despite the obvious flaws with this sort of authentication solution. Fortunately Password Management has emerged to make our systems more secure.
Perhaps the most simplistic form of password management was the use of physical note pads. These were used by individuals, as well as by organizations to keep track of passwords for different systems, and which password went with which user. There were some significant drawbacks to this sort of management. Obviously, a physical note pad can be damaged – a single spilled cup of coffee could destroy all that information. Note pads could also be stolen, lost easily and more.
We’ve all used sticky notes before. They’re handy for leaving ourselves reminders where we’ll see them, or for leaving notes to other people. They’re quite convenient, and that led to them being used as password management tools. Chances are good that you may have at one point written your username and password on a sticky note and then adhered it to the side of your monitor or your desk so that you could remember it later.
This is just as problematic as physical note pads. Sticky notes are visible to anyone who walks past your computer, meaning that anyone in the area could easily see your user information and password, then use that information to gain access to your system. Sticky notes could also be lost, damaged or stolen, in much the same way that note pads could.
For users with multiple passwords, Excel sheets seem to be a good way to get that information out of public view and prevent it from being lost, stolen or damaged. After all, if your passwords are recorded in electronic form, they’re not visible to passersby, and they can only be stolen if someone were to sit down at your computer and copy the file. However, there is no encryption here. Excel files are open to anyone who double-clicks them. They’re also accessible to anyone who can get to your desktop, including remotely.
Password managers are designed to provide you with access to all of your passwords in an encrypted format that is not accessible to hackers or malicious software. They can provide significant convenience, while offering outstanding protection and ensuring that your information stays private.
As you can see, while the humble password might have changed only slightly over time, password management has evolved considerably. Password managers represent one of the safest solutions to safeguarding your authentication information.
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