Forum cracks the vintage passwords of Ken Thompson and other Unix pioneers

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As one of the original versions of Unix, BSD is an ancient operating system. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it used what are, by today’s standards, strange, even ridiculous security. For one, the hashing function protecting passwords, though state of the art 40 years ago, is now trivial to crack. Stranger still, the password hashes of some BSD creators were included in publicly available source code. And then, there are the passwords people chose.

Last week, technologist Leah Neukirchen reported finding a source tree for BSD version 3, circa 1980, and successfully cracking passwords of many of computing’s early pioneers. In most of the cases the success was the result of the users choosing easy-to-guess passwords.

BSD co-inventor Dennis Ritchie, for instance, used “dmac” (his middle name was MacAlistair); Stephen R. Bourne, creator of the Bourne shell command line interpreter, chose “bourne”; Eric Schmidt, an early developer of Unix software and now the executive chairman of Google parent company Alphabet, relied on “wendy!!!” (the name of his wife); and Stuart Feldman, author of Unix automation tool make and the first Fortran compiler, used “axolotl” (the name of a Mexican salamander).

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