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Fernando J. Corbató, inventor of the computer password dies, aged 93

Fernando J. Corbató, the inventor of the computer password, has died aged 93 from complications arising from long-term diabetes.

Corbató is largely credited as the inventor of the computer password. The, to this day omnipresent, security method was first used by the prominent American computer scientist while working on time-sharing methods that would allow multiple people to use a single computer securely at the same time. 

Corbató enrolled at UCLA in 1943 but was forced to leave his studies during his first year due to the Second World War. For the next three years, he worked debugging computer systems for the US Navy.

Following the war, Corbató enrolled on a Physics course at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he gained an undergraduate degree in 1950 and a PhD in 1956. Immediately after graduating he joined the MIT Computation Center where he would eventually become a professor in 1965. 

Corbató remained a professor at MIT until he retired, where he worked on important IT research for which he would eventually be formally recognized.

As well as his work producing time-sharing systems, Corbató is credited with helping to develop the Multics operating system. That software pioneered a number of concepts taken for granted in modern operating systems and led to the development of the still widely used Unix operating system. That influential system is the direct predecessor for Linux, Mac OS X, Android, iOS, and Chrome OS.

In 1990, Corbató was awarded the prestigious Turing award for his work developing general-purpose, large-scale, time-sharing and resource-sharing computer systems. The invention of the password came as a by-product of that notable research in the early 1960s. 

In 2012, Corbató was made a Fellow of the Computer History Museum for his work creating time-sharing systems that would permit users at various terminals, to use a computer system simultaneously.

Despite being the originator of the password, in 2014 Corbató went on the record to admit that passwords had become something of a “nightmare.” At that time he stated that in the current landscape the rudimentary security method had become largely unmanageable. Proof that even at the age of 87 Corbató had his finger firmly on the pulse of computer security.

Corbató is survived by two daughters, Carolyn Corbató Stone, and Nancy Corbató, two step-sons, David Gish and Jason Gish; and five grandchildren. 

Fernando José Corbató, Computer Scientist, born July 1, 1926; died July 12, 2019.

Written by: Ray Walsh

Digital privacy expert with 5 years experience testing and reviewing VPNs. He's been quoted in The Express, The Times, The Washington Post, The Register, CNET & many more. 


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