History of password….
Reminiscence

History of password….

Durgadas P.V.

Long long ago, the two stayed separately. One was a positive outcome in the examinations. It was also used for referring to movements. The second one was used for conveying anything in any language. But in the post computer era they have come to stay together like 'never to get separated' as passwords….. PW as otherwise called.

My association with it starts early in the morning even before I brush my teeth. To open the mailbox, to use the laptop,PC, cell phone or tablet as the case may be, PW is a precondition To operate the bank account, to book a ticket, to make a remittance, to make bill payment …..for each and everything, I need the PW. And in the present world of social circles, to operate a FB account or to post a Twitter message I need it. Making a password is another task. Once the login ID is accepted, the PW has to be coined with care…..

The site itself helps you make the password. The process is similar to selecting a suitable dress at the readymade shop…..Trying out at least five or six pieces in the trial room and coming out to get my wife's approval. The site makes me choose characters from upper and lower case with special characters etc to make it 'strong'. The PW thus made are many in numbers and I tend to forget them or mix them up by using one for the other. Then I make a confession of 'forgot the password' and repeat the rigmarole again. Now it has become necessary to create a file of passwords with yet another PW to safeguard it……!

Having entered the login ID and PW, the doors won't open. It asks for a 'simple' operation of copying the captcha. It looks very simple. But I succeed in copying the captcha correctly only after two-three repeats. Even if I copy it correctly, it frowns at you with a remark ' incorrect captcha'. I have found the government sites like irctc, motor vehicle department etc to be specializing in this refusal operation. The system they follow seems to have imbibed the same attitude their officials had before computerisation, that is sitting on the matter for no reason and expecting us to grease their palms. In short, I have found the captcha to be a very tall hurdle to cross. Many times when I cross it with great difficulty, the site exits me telling that my time is up…..Oops....I have to start it once again…

Another avtar of the same breed is OTP. The original full form of OTP was 'one time pairing'. It is specific code to pair a particular operation or transaction. It is like a matching piece in a jigsaw puzzle. These days it is called a 'one time password' also.

I wondered whether such a system was prevalent in the pre computer era. I could only recollect a couple examples. The first was from Bollywood.

In the typical movies, the bad character used to be the leader of smugglers. At midnight, the scene opens with the boats beaming torch lights. The men at the shore respond with coded beaming of lights in return. The boat arrives at the shore. The men with the gun in one hand and a briefcase on the other talk in coded words. Then the exchange of cash and 'maal' takes place. The words exchanged were nothing but OTP s.

Yet another example of the usage of PW was witnessed by me while traveling from Tatanagar ( Jamshedpur) to Patna way back in the eighties. It was a day time journey. The train ticket examiners , TTEs as they were called, usually wore thick black jackets with at least four to six pockets on the front flaps on either side. Within an hour of my travel, one TTE appeared in front of me. I gave him the ticket which I had purchased before getting into the train. He looked at me from top to bottom as if I was from a different planet. I did not know the reason for his peculiar behaviour until he moved towards the nearby seats. He collected cash in currency notes and even coins and almost filled his pockets. The TTE was also seen confiding quietly with each passenger after receiving the cash. After about two hours, another TTE came for checking. I showed my ticket which he examined with a long face. By then a few new passengers had entered the coach. He collected amounts from them too. The others were seen telling something to him in close confidence for which he nodded in acceptance. I was really baffled at the whole process. I got the details about the modus operandi once I discussed the incident with a local colleague. It was as follows.

The team of three or four TTE s meet in confidence and decide on a keyword before starting their routine. After the cash is collected, the word is disclosed discreetly. Once having paid the money, the passengers need only remember the word throughout the journey to escape from any checking thereafter. Needless to say, a new word for every new journey.

When I look back, it was the precursor of password. It was really an OTP….only the expansion was slightly different…..' one train password'.....If Indians can be proud of Nalanda University in Bihar, we can be equally proud of coining the OTP too….

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