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Ken Thompson's Unix Password (leahneukirchen.org)
2097 points by stargrave 7 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 630 comments

Interestingly enough, this password does not show up on haveibeenpwnd!

Probably a dearth of chess passwords in their database. Try haveibeenpawnd.

Wow, you deserve the comment of the day.

For that comment, bitwize should be knighted.

Or queened!

Or at least promoted.

Thank you for not suggesting he get rooked.

Geez, you should pawn that comment off ;)


That cracked me up

I don't understand. Please help.

The poster was making a pun, replacing pwnd with pawnd, with pawn as the chess piece.

what’s even cooler, he removed the chess punctuation!

It has pawn in it.

I used to dabble in Chess when I was younger so I feel extra dumb now. Thanks!

haveibeenpawnd -> pawn, as in chess pawn.

Chess. Pawn.

should be there in a couple of hours though

That's what you get for a game where king white hat tries to capture king black hat by keeping him in check.

That's actually pretty surprising.


This bothers me because I prefer to use slightly embarrassing passphrases. I do that because it creates a secondary incentive not to disclose them.

In college my roommate and I made our wifi password something like a fart joke. Perfectly fine to tell to our close friends, but kinda embarrassing.

One day, at the end of the semester, our female neighbor knocked on our door and asked if she could use our wifi since she was moving out the next day and had already canceled her Internet.

I would have been happy to share with her, but I couldn't bring myself to tell her the password. Instead I just said my roommate was "really weird about sharing our wifi" and apologized.

I don't think that incident ever actually made me change the password though.

It's probably actually easier to learn vulgar passwords. Well vulgar anything really, it's a memorization trick we were taught in school to find a way to relate boring things to sex. Probably anything that has strong emotional valence works.

Yup, Moonwalking with Einstein explains this phenomenon well. I know I'll never forget 'Sex On Hard Concrete Always Hurts The Orgasmic Areas', which my Maths teacher passed on ~30 years ago.

we always preferred the "Some Old Hippy Caught At Home Tripping On Acid"

I won't repeat the one we were told to remember Resistor color codes.

I would avoid doing that, invariably they end up in dumps with your name and email next to them.

One of the more interesting things about reused "unique" passwords is they can serve as a fingerprint to link accounts you may not otherwise be able to attribute to the same account/individual.

You missed the "slightly" part of the embarrassing. You can find other more embarrassing things I wrote when you search for my email-address. Re-use of slightly embarrassing passwords is not worse than re-use of any other unique password.

Also https://www.xkcd.com/137/

Does that mean that it is embarrassing and can be tied to you or that it is just embarrassing to say? If the first, then wouldn't you risk being pwned and having that used against you?

Oh no not that embarrassing. I don't record private secrets into my passwords. They're more like "I never told Cindy I loved her." with Cindy being a now-dead cat. My embarrassment threshold is low :-)

I worked with someone who had to share a password to solve a major outage. (Yes, I know...)

It was a rude comment about a colleague.

Want better password hygiene in the workplace? Encourage rude passwords!

Password rule N+1: "A password must contain at least one word from our list of banned URLs."

At a former job I could not go to one of global corp Tata sites, because tata.

Good luck finding out where Penistone or Scunthorpe are...

I’m guessing the latter. Not saying my password is 8o0b7fOr2060+9

ZghOT0eRm4U9s is actually the newer one, the older one is from 2.9BSD, through to 4.3BSD



Seeing this news, I guessed this one on my second guess (after trying p/q2-q4!) - no brute forcing required!


Oops - I have it the wrong way around. 2.9BSD came out after 3BSD.

Did anyone bother to ask Ken’s permission first before publishing his password on the public internet? Based on his reaction he clearly didn’t mind, but still!

The /etc/passwd file from which this password was unearthed has a date of Jan 5 1980 (from a 3BSD tar file). Presumably ken has updated his password since then.

One would hope, but it still seems like common courtesy to give him a heads up.

ken replied to the thread about this on TUHS 4-5 days prior to the actual crack. But you are right. No one actually said "hey ken, better change your password if you haven't because I am going to crack the password you used in 1980".

In my opinion this was a pretty crappy thing to do. Password could contain personal and potentially embarrassing information, even if that wasn't the case here.

Revealing people's internet pawn habits shouldn't be done lightly ... /dadjoke

Now I know his chess move.

This was a crappy thing to do even though the reason it is crappy wasn't the case here?

Pike was piqued, too.

Here's his message. Says he knew it already by sitting near Ken.


This brings back memories of a common exploit w/tftp, such that you could download an unshodowed /etc/passwd file from a remote machine, decrypt it, log into that remote system, collect new hosts from /etc/hosts, then rinse and repeat. Hash rate were pretty slow back then, but the fact that people used passwds straight out of dictionaries helped, so I'm told...

Better yet, open the /etc/passwd and see the root user's password wasn't set...

Back in college I ran ToneLoc overnight and would try ftp on the successful hits. One server didn't have root set, so I telnet'ed, <Enter> when prompted for the password, and I was in.

I ran 'who', saw a user logged in. Decided to wall them a message of "You should really set your root password." and logged out.

A couple of days later, I got an email on the trash email account I would use for ftp logins - dude was super nice but freaked out and wanted to know how I found his server. I didn't reply.

Do you know the train biscuits story?


Imagine the anecdote coming from the person you wall'd.

i deduced my dad's password when I was a middle-schooler. The uni micro had a teletype and although it did not echo password characters, if you mistyped your password, it would print the mistyped password, and knowing a bit about my dad, I could figure out what the correct password was. I logged in and sent himself an email reminding him to use a better password.

Our high school's library computer (in the 90s) logged failed log-ins in a file readable by anyone. Just the username, not the attempted passwords, but the return key on that computer was not reliable and a very common error was that the return key didn't register leading to "usernamepassword" being in the log.

I watched a variation on this in a lecture hall, when the head of school attempted to log into the system and types UsernamePassword into the username field with a big projector running.

That's just a bad system design, not your dad's fault really:

"You're password 'huntet2' is invalid"

unless the password is just random characters, anyone can guess how it was mistyped.

Hell, even if it was just random characters, one could just assume that it's one character-off from the real password, and try shifting each character around.

To be precise, in the case of a patterned password (i.e., dictionary word or something a human can recognize), it leaks all but about 2-3 bits, assuming the human can work out the most likely mistake as in your example, and we assume it's a simple error like a nearby key or simple character flip.

If it's a random password, it may still leave 2-3 bits per character as it becomes much harder to know where the error is (e.g., if "j9^vl4JO" is wrong, what is the correct password?), but if you have your hands on two independent errors, which is reasonably likely, that pretty much collapses to 1-2 bits tops even in the random case (e.g., if you also have "k9^vl4JP" that pretty much nails it down to either the first and last being "j P" or "k O").

It is a truly terrible idea!

>e.g., if "j9^vl4JO" is wrong, what is the correct password?

Shouldn't that remain utterly trivial to brute though? If we're assuming all the standard face keys+shifted, I think that's 94 characters. If it's fully unknown then search space is 94^8 or about 6E15, not good but if it's an adaptive hash sizable. But if it's only a one character error, wouldn't you just brute through each of the 8 one by one with only 94 each? That'd reduce it to just 752 possibilities at worst which is so low someone determined could even do it by hand, even ignoring any obvious psychology like the likelihood that the special character isn't the mistake and probably the only special character too.

Certainly not quibbling that it's an awful idea. I don't even like "password hints" so many systems still seem to have, they should be random!

Yes. I'm just demonstrating with an example that a less structured password is less damaged. It is still something I'd consider "burned" in real life, though.

You don't think the special character could be a mistake?

Seems plausible the correct password might be j(6vl4JO...

>You don't think the special character could be a mistake?

Not that it makes any real difference here with such a small search space, but in this scenario (known typo, information revealed) it's less likely. Remember, we're considering a human typing something out on a keyboard, so the probabilities aren't fully random. If we're trying to use probabilities to cut down the search space further, a caret character requires shifting well away from the home row (shift-6 US standard qwerty) so it's more likely to represent active intent. Perhaps it could be % or & (shift-5/shift-7), but if you know someone is trying to type a password out and has made a typo then a left/right neighbor with shifting preserved is an easy place to start guessing.

Obviously, this whole thing is such an awful idea and breaks everything so badly that it's all kind of theoretical anyway, hopefully no software has had behavior like this for a long time. And any actual brute force program today has far more sophisticated pattern attacks based on the enormous corpus of password leaks and knowledge there now is, which is why it's foolish to try to try to be clever with passwords rather then just generating something fully randomized.

My dad's fault was to bring the printout home and leave it in a public location.

Even better if you can find it mistyped two different ways.

>if you mistyped your password, it would print the mistyped password,

That's incredibly useful. Stand next to someone, casually chatting, while they enter their password. Just before they hit [ENTER], stab a key -- say, a 'z'. Boom, it prints their password with an extra 'z' at the end.

Sure, they'd be aware of it and likely change their password. But still. A more common use case would be to hang around and wait for them to inevitably typo the password. If you see that enough, you'll get a really good idea about what it's supposed to be, or at least give you enough of the password to make figuring out the missing part trivial.

I've never done anything malicious with the knowledge, but I've totally learned people's passwords just by watching their fingers type. I make an effort to have passwords that would be difficult for a human to nail down while watching them typed quickly in real time. The ubiquity of cameras has me reconsidering input and/or authentication mechanisms, though.

One good thing about using dvorak I guess

At one point I considered learning Dvorak and then having a password that was using the Dvorak key layout but on a Qwerty keyboard.

But I only made it maybe a month into my Dvorak-learning efforts. Just not enough benefit for the added hassle.

Especially with blank caps; securing keys through obscuring keys.

I remember guessing the admin password of the router back in high school so I could port forward a Minecraft server

It makes me happy to read this. I cracked the admin pass at my school for a really trivial reason, I think I wanted to adjust the audio panning. By default it was set 80% left to compensate for the school's cheap headsets.

Possibly, I also wanted to disable the spyware / remote access they had on all the computers. There no experience quite like having your control of the mouse cursor taken away by an invisible, omnipotent sysadmin. Hilariously, they wouldn't even run a logout command remotely, but actually go to the start menu to do it, I think to make a point.

the most amusing thing is the exclamation mark on such a banal opening move.

At least in modern usage, giving the exclam to signal "I prefer this opening move" isn't uncommon, so it's not a stretch to think that it was done in the seventies too. Also it rounds the whole thing out nicely to eight characters.

It's been decades. That means "Check!" right?

Exclam! Generally a good move, perhaps even unexpectedly so. Double exclam, !!, being a brilliant move, especially one with flair like a sacrifice. Triple exclam is reserved for the games of Emory Tate. ;)

Emory Tate must have been extraordinary..?

More like Extraordinary!!!

Nope, it means "good move". Check is +

It's similar to English actually. It's commentary, rather than semantics.

! is good move.

? is dubious move.

If you want to carried away double/triple those.

> (those familiar know the hash-rate fluctuates and slows down towards the end)

Could someone explain this to me, why does it slow down towards the end?

For some context of how hashcat works with GPUs:




It isn’t running a single thread at 100% GPU use until the end, it has to partition up the search space and balance how it creates possible passwords on the CPU, on the GPU, and based on the kind of attack patterns you asked for - and when it’s getting to the end of the search space, some of the search space partitions are done and the remaining ones aren’t enough to load the GPU fully, so hash throughout drops.

I don't know for sure, but these Radeon GPUs are power hungry and hot. It could be just that after multiple days the entire computer is heat soaked and goes through more thermal throttling than even the "steady state" GPU tests that most gamers do (a few hours).

It might also be cruft building up over time with small memory leaks or imperfect memory management.

This is what I thought too, the heat simply becomes overwhelming and the unit has to underclock to prevent melting.

I think the "towards the end" part is the misleading one. The software has no idea where the end is or it would just jump there. Since the run took 4 days slowing down due to throttling would happen pretty fast as the card reaches a thermal equilibrium. Certainly wouldn't take days to do it.

It's more likely the explanation above of something (not heat) accumulating over time and slowing down the processing.

I'm curious too, could it be due to the way the search space is explored in parallel?

I suspect it's because the farther down the rule list you go, the more complicated the rules get.

Password cracking often uses rule lists to modify known passwords lists in some way (adding 123 to the end, for example). These get more complicated towards the end so they take more operations.

Queen's pawn game:


[edit] See also "Ken, Unix and Games" by Dennis Ritchie:


I'm feeling like it is not appropriate to publicly post passwords, even when they are old.

This is Vader is Luke's father old.

How did they crack it in 4 days if ”a 7-bit exhaustive search would still take over 2 years on a modern GPU”? Is that overstating it?

They got lucky/narrowed the search space. Just because it will take me 2 years to evaluate all the possibilities, doesn't mean I won't immediately hit aaaaaaaa

Specifically, we can conjecture they narrowed the search space to "lowercase+numbers+a few symbols", excluding uppercase letters.

I guess that cracking this specific password could be said to have been parallelized over multiple individuals over the years, and it wouldn't surprise me if it had burnt multiple years of processor time. In the end, someone had to get lucky when picking their search space/exploration parameters :-)

I once anonymously emailed administrators of a multiuser unix system that perhaps they should handle the numerous users that had home directories and .bashrc files that were both writable by everyone. After a week I had the users themselves email when they logged in. It was fixed that day.

Speaking of passwords, I just discovered that HN will ban your IP address from creating an account if you have a question mark in your password. I assume this is to help against SQL injection? (Not a security person here.) Pretty extreme result, but luckily I can post from another IP. I wonder how many users have hit this and not known why?

While possible, it seems unlikely that this is the case. I'd contact the mods via the Contact link in the footer to resolve the issue.

Interresting. :-)

When I create hashes for systems, I actually, now create a "version" prefix for hashes... this way I can on-run upgrade to a newer hash at login (if/when needed).

Have upgraded a older systems this way... after 30 days, dumped any that hadn't changed and sent emails notifying that they'd have to use the "forgot password" option the next time they wanted to login.

Currently using pbkdf2/hmacsha512*100000 for password hashing. 16-byte salt, 32byte result... varying too far from NIST guidelines would have been a hard sell.

output base64 values: v#.SALT.HASH

Since this password list appears to come from one of the original systems on which UNIX and C were developed, it would be fun to see the names and original passwords of all the luminaries. I merged together the author's work, the original /etc/passwd, and the comments from the mailing list:

  root:OVCPatZ8RFmFY:Ernie Co-vax --> cowperso
  daemon:*:The devil himself --> (login not allowed)
  bill:.2xvLVqGHJm8M:Bill Joy --> (password still unknown)
  ozalp:m5syt3.lB5LAE:Ozalp Babaoglu --> 12ucdort
  sklower:8PYh/dUBQT9Ss:Keith Sklower --> theik!!!
  kridle:4BkcEieEtjWXI:Bob Kridle --> jilland1
  kurt:olqH1vDqH38aw:Kurt Shoens --> sacristy
  schmidt:FH83PFo4z55cU:Eric Schmidt --> wendy!!!
  hpk:9ycwM8mmmcp4Q:Howard Katseff --> graduat;
  tbl:cBWEbG59spEmM:Tom London --> ..pnn521
  jfr:X.ZNnZrciWauE:John Reiser --> 5%ghj
  mark:Pb1AmSpsVPG0Y:Mark Horton --> uio
  dmr:gfVwhuAMF0Trw:Dennis Ritchie --> dmac
  ken:ZghOT0eRm4U9s:Ken Thompson --> p/q2-q4!
  sif:IIVxQSvq1V9R2:Stuart Feldman --> axolotl
  scj:IL2bmGECQJgbk:Steve Johnson --> pdq;dq
  pjw:N33.MCNcTh5Qw:Peter J. Weinberger --> uucpuucp
  bwk:ymVglQZjbWYDE:Brian W. Kernighan --> /.,/.,
  uucp:P0CHBwE/mB51k:UNIX-to-UNIX Copy --> whatnot
  srb:c8UdIntIZCUIA:Steve Bourne --> bourne
  finger::The Finger Program --> (no pw but runs a program, not a login shell)
  who::The Who Program --> (no password but runs a program, not a login shell)
  w::The W Program --> (no password but runs a program, not a login shell)
  mckusick:AAZk9Aj5/Ue0E:Kirk McKusick --> foobar
  peter:Nc3IkFJyW2u7E:Peter Kessler -- ...hello
  henry:lj1vXnxTAPnDc:Robert Henry --> sn74193n
  jkf:9ULn5cWTc0b9E:John Foderaro --> sherril.
  fateman:E9i8fWghn1p/I:Richard Fateman --> apr1744
  fabry:d9B17PTU2RTlM:Bob Fabry --> 561cml..
  network:9EZLtSYjeEABE:(no name listed) --> network (runs a program, not a login shell)
  tty:: --> (no password but runs a program, not a login shell)
It's amusing to see that even very smart people picked passwords just like people do today:

- spouses' names (jilland1, wendy!!!, sherril.)

- birth dates (apr1744 might be April 17, 1944)

- the first word that came to your mind (whatnot, foobar, ...hello)

- though a few were thoughtful (sn74193n is a synchronous binary counter from the 7400-series chip family and likely immune to dictionary attack in that era)

- easy to type patterns on a keyboard (/.,/., or 5%ghj)

- obscure words (axolotl is a Mexican walking fish)

- different languages (12ucdort is 1,2,3,4 in Turkish)

- and some people didn't care (Steve Bourne, inventor of the Bourne shell, picked "bourne")

The superset of all of the original CSRG-shipped cracking-eligible descrypt hashes is actually about 1400 hashes, drawn from a slightly smaller number of overlapping accounts among releases. Many of them appear to have been temp/test/throwaway with generic usernames and short, simple passwords.

Dear stargrave, I am very grateful for sharing this knowledge. It was a delight reading.With this, I realized I am almost achieving a old dream of mine since my teenager years: I understood almost everything. And came in the proper time, just as I am finishing my masters in informatics and computer engineering this year. You have my gratitude.

I don’t understand why the author thought it would take years to find this password, as opposed to something closer to the four days it actually took.

They said an exhaustive 7-bit search would take that long.

Edit: That would be 128^8 =~ 72 quadrillion DES hashes.

Which works out to 2.2 years at the rate that the actual password was cracked (1GH/s).

That's the probabilistic aspect of password cracking :-). In addition, I'm not sure if it's 2 years with 2014 GPUs (when he did the initial cracking), or today's GPUs.

I guess he’s lucky that the password wasn’t anything embarrassing. What if the password had been “I love sex” or something?

> Did he really use uppercase letters or even special chars?

Why would he not? I'm obviously missing something here.

Typing on a teletype is painful at the best of times. One reason why common Unix commands are so short.

Edit: Yes I have used a teletype, connected to an Elliott computer, I believe it was a 903 or at least it looked very much like this: http://www.computinghistory.org.uk/det/32480/Elliott-903

Stupid question but how do you actually type on that thing? I don't see anything resembling a keyboard.

There was a room full of teletypes connected over serial ports. They aren't shown in the photo. I can't find a picture resembling any of the teletypes that we had, but the general idea is shown here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teleprinter#/media/File:Telesc... (The ones we actually had were a bit smaller and flatter)

The early days of mainframes had some groups of individuals who advocated for no passwords or just your username again as a password: https://www.oreilly.com/openbook/freedom/ch07.html

you're confusing mainframes with UNIX microcomputers, and 1983 wasn't early.

Also, I rememebr when FSF hosted UNIX machines at MIT that you could telnet into without a password. It was a total mess.

Cliff Stoll's The Cuckoo's Egg grapples with this a bit. The fine line between open systems that anyone can use, and closed systems that protect your privacy and data.

It's obviously a settled question these days, but back in the 70s and 80s, this was a bit of a hot topic.

I disagree. I don't think this is at all settled, and in fact is a bit topic right now. The debate has just moved on past personal passwords.

For example, chat systems. Do you want an open one where anyone can get on with a minimum of fuss and participate? Or do you want an open one, with controls to manage spam and harassment so that people are able to be open while using it?

(I work at Mozilla, where we are moving off of IRC because, while it encourages participation from any rando who comes by, it is inaccessible to a number of people because they will be attacked if they log in. Many have moved over to Slack, which is very much closed (but open). Not to mention the channels that have been abandoned because they are overrun with spam, which makes them inaccessible or at least useless to everyone. As someone who does not get harassed, I don't really like either of those points on the spectrum even though IRC works great for me if I don't think about the people who are no longer there.)

Why not make an anti-spam/harassment ITC bot, and Take Back The Web from Slack?

It's really hard for me to understand what Mozilla's mission is these days.

You're right, my mistake!

In the future, there won't be any need for passwords.

In the future there will be no identity theft because we all will have one identity. Resistance is futile...

In the early days of unix, people didn't take passwords that seriously and often shared them.

I would have borrowed "/.,/.," a long time ago had I heard about it sooner. That is just way too convenient.

My brother used to use asdfghjkl;' as a password so he could just drag his finger across the keyboard from the a key to the enter key. The original swipe to unlock!

My first password ever was qazwsx and I used it until I learned that it's included in "known" password text files and thus instantly crackable.

However, I wonder how safe it is to take an "easy" password like /.,/.,/., and then add a bunch of exclamation points to the end, so that it's both long and not part of a dictionary.

I'm sure password crackers are advanced enough to first try taking common passwords and then adding human modifications to make them more secure.

But something like MyDogRules###########! seems like it could be very secure, actually.

I remember reading a blog post about how something like "aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa…" with sufficient 'a's was actually perfectly secure since it wasn't included in any of the common cracklists or hash leaks. I think the number of 'a's was somewhere in the 30s. Obviously bruteforcing it would take absurdly long, too.*

The problem is, after I've committed a long passphrase into muscle memory, it probably takes me less time to type a 40-character phrase than count 40 individual keypresses of a button hoping I don't miscount.

* Assuming nobody is stupid enough to make a depth-first password cracking program. "I'm down to a billion 'a's now. I should be ready to try a 'b' any minute now!"

This article from 2013 shows some impressive password-generating techniques that cracked secure-looking passwords like momof3g8kids. It doesn't specifically give an example like MyDogRules###########!, but it seems reasonable they could get it by similar methods of concatenating multiple password fragments.

[0]https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2013/05/how-c... (OK, the passwords were hashed only with MD5)

So I guess what they're saying is if they just use older password technology and they get hacked, you're screwed.

best practices have changed from using a complex password with lots of upper/lower and symbols to use something longer but easier to remember. More strength from misspellings and a few symbols

My Fav0riT Pas%werd

is actually pretty solid compared to


because the latter is more crackable

I really like the logic behind this one: https://www.xkcd.com/936/

It also doesn't require any special characters and its quite easy to remember.

The only knock on this strategy is that the more people adopt it the less effective it becomes (crackers will just start trying combinations of common words). The up-side is there are more 4-word combinations in English using only the 10,000 most common words than in any 8-character password, so even if crackers targeted the strategy specifically it's more costly to crack.

Misspelling and using a few character replacements makes a dictionary attack much more difficult. You don't have to make it too hard on yourself, just a few changes to make a really secure password.

Is your username an ode to this somehow? :)

Mr. Asdf sir

Nope, but by an old internet meme: https://knowyourmeme.com/memes/asdfmovie

I forgot all about asdfmovie! That's an oldie for sure.

You often had to share your password in the real world. I've worked on systems where you were only allowed to login at one terminal at a time. If you are back and forth from your desk to the lab it is nice to know another password when you forget to logout in one location.

I guess, to enter the Unix password you need physical access to a machine. If they have access to a machine and can crack a lowercase password, a harder password will not necessarily save you. So at least you can make it easier for you to type.

In fact, the system where the password originates from (3BSD) was released in 1979 and had commands like net(1) for "execute a command on a remote machine" - given a password was provided. Since quite the early days Unix has been designated as a multi-user time-sharing OS for large expensive computers.

I’m slightly confused by the part where the author states a 7-bit search would take 2 years on a modern GPU, and the answer was found in 4 days on a Vega64. Isn’t that a modern GPU? Have I misunderstood here, or was the author’s math incorrect?

It would take two years to generate every hash, but this one happened to be generated earlier than that. It would also be technically possible to guess a Bitcoin address private key on the first guess, but there are 2^160 total possibilities

That password was pretty long - could be a complete windowing system written in J.

The password is only the last 8 characters, everything before the colon is the password's hash.

I'm certainly not going to let reality get in the way of a joke about the compact expressiveness of J.

Reminds me of when I cracked the domain admin account at work so that I could install software that I needed to do my job. IT was slow and unresponsive so I figured that I would help them.

Surely this was a perhaps modified dictionary attack that solved it in the end?

I don't understand the comments that describe (presumably random) 10+ char passwords as "crackable".

Dave MacArt, computer science teacher, high school Username Mac Passwd Cam

Easy brute force in 1989 I got in big trouble for it because I messed up the server.

He would have had to expend quite some calories to type that out every time on an ancient keyboard with chunky keys and massive travel.

Uphill! Both ways!

How many fewer calories do I burn when typing on a low-travel keyboard rather than an old mainframe keyboard?

I can just say that attempting to even begin learning to play bass guitar had me exercising the fingers for two–three hours before they stopped feeling like wooden sticks on the strings. Almost every day. I.e. mashing the keyboard is no workout at all.

This means, however, that a typewriter would likely noticeably exhaust a modern keyboard jockey, though not in eight characters (hopefully). But dunno about teletypes.

Probably not very many. According to XKCD What If? [1] a modern keyboard takes around 2 millijoules to press a key. Typing a full novel would take a few kilojoules. Even if an old mainframe keyboard took 10x more power to press the keys you would save less than a AA battery worth of energy over writing a full novel.

[1] https://what-if.xkcd.com/102/

Using some conversions from an internet site, one AA battery is 1.3e4 Joules and a human requires 8.4e6 Joules per day, so about 133 seconds of energy saved per 6 months of novel, or two lost seconds of calorie burning exercise every three days.

(Lots of sketchy napkin math here)

Digital archaeology has always been an interest of mine. Must be fascinating to investigate such antique artifacts.

I'm disappointed that it followed a pattern like that, since that's supposed to make it easier to brute-force guess.

Yes, any sort of logic is weaker than random characters. But this was a long long time ago, hence the weak passwords. Computers couldn't crack things that fast. Today, recommendations are still based on what we expect computers will be able to crack in the foreseeable future.

I remember a teacher used the password "music". We had every user's password in plaintext. This was useful when installing a new Windows domain controller and setting all the passwords (about 30 employees in the school) instead or copying hashes or letting them set their own passwords. In hindsight, I find it batshit crazy that some stupid intern (me) walked around the school with a sheet of paper with literally everyone's password on it, logging into people's systems where necessary or potentially forgetting the sheet somewhere. I'm not saying this never happens anywhere in the world anymore, but I do think security mindset changed in the last decades.

On the other hand, being admin on a system is not that different. Sure, you don't have users' passwords, but you can still do arbitrary stuff in their name. Very large organizations will have some sort of system that logs this stuff and that you can't tamper with, but in a lot of places you could easily cover your tracks.

I would argue that having passwords made up by users and having access to a user's work account is a little different. In the former case, I see what kind of password they use and can guess that they reuse the password (or a variant) elsewhere. I can also take knowledge if I get fired, but my admin permissions are revoked.

Edward Snowden would agree.

circa 1995:

Teacher had password written on the BACK of the clipboard they carried around everywhere.

Said teacher's password was 'qwerty'.

(Yes, it worked)

It seems likely that someone will write an archaic chess notation pattern engine into the crackers now that this has been discovered and shared widely.

I agree, but didn't seem to help in this case though :-)

I wonder how long it was between this password crypt approach and the first practical cracker for them

I use a diceware[0] passphrase for my Keepass database. I was inspired heavily by XKCD comic 936[1]. My only issue with password managers is that they are a single point of failure and are juicy targets for hackers, so I usually vet them and audit them thoroughly before I use them. I am one of those rare people that actually looks at the source code of password managers to look for flaws in the implementation (I sometimes spot flaws and duly report them to the maintainers).

One caveat to diceware I never liked is how it wears out the keyboard over time as you have to type the same passphrase each time to open the vault (You would be surprised how many times I need to do this each day). I sometimes have to lock my database to avoid evil maid attacks when in a hotel for example. Of course I go through about three keyboards a year because of this, but I don't mind the cost if it gives me a crispy fresh keyboard each time. And did I mention I don't own merely one encrypted database, but many depending on different contexts and different devices?

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diceware

[1] https://www.xkcd.com/936/

So you're saying that if I get access to your current keyboard or any of your former ones, I can get all of the keys used in typing your master password just by looking at the wear pattern? Hey, thanks for the tip!

Your switches/keycaps must be kind of crappy if there's that much wear on them from typing the same thing often

I guess you could switch keycaps at a much lower cost, depending on your keyboard model. If those are blank, randomly shuffling them around might be enough as well (if you can do without the new keyboard, and don't think that an attacker would look at the keyswitches wear.

This is also something I see quite often on mobile phones with a pin/pattern unlock: you can often infer the pin from the wear pattern, or the grease marks on the screen if the phone was used recently.

My keycap wear pattern more or less mirrors the letter frequency in the languages I write.

I’m sort of curious what dmr’s was now (his hash is gfVwhuAMF0Trw) from the same dump...

disappointed he didn't use algebraic notation. Could have been: e4e5f4ef

Thompson is a person of class, hence opening with the queen's pawn. The Kings Gambit accepted is too brutish.

Algebraic notation wasn't in common use in the US until the 80s. 3BSD was released in 1979.

Wouldn't that be easier to crack, since it doesn't have any special characters?

But then he would have a more easily crackable password

If you can find a good link about why algebraic notation is better, it would make an excellent HN post of its own today.

And it would be easier to crack this way.

Queen's pawn, so d4d5e4de

real men play the King's gambit ;)

Seems hard to remember. Could it be a collision?

It's a chess opening, in an older notation. But for someone into chess in the 70s, it wouldn't be hard to remember.

It's a chess move

oh! I thought the whole thing was the password, apparently the first part is the hash

And an extremely common one.

Serious question: Was this illegal to crack?

Troy, please add this breach to https://haveibeenpwned.com/Passwords

Seems like an annoying password to type.

I still have 0 idea what's interesting about this. How is this a chess move?

the password is the last part: p/q2-q4!

it's a notational way in the chess program (written by Ken Thompson) to describe a chess move, "pawn from Queen's 2 to Queen's 4."

A very common opening move that "puts a pawn in the center, controlling the important e5-square, and opens the line for the Bc1."[1]

The notation is old. Modern notation would just write it as "d4" because there's only one piece (a pawn) who can move to that square as the first move and only one spot from which it can move (d2).

[1] https://www.chess.com/openings/A40-Queens-Pawn-Opening

> the chess program (written by Ken Thompson)

AHHHH thank you this makes much more sense now



See the "chess notation examples" table. The password doesn't match any chess notation, but it's close enough that it's obviously (to me) intended to be a chess move. In particular, it moves the pawn in front of the queen (in the initial position) forwards two spaces.

i'm interesting with this, have an copy for it

Wow, I didn't expect the thread to go this far

Hmm. That's interesting.

"Now I need to change my password on all websites that I use >:/"

So he moved on from chess to Go?

I laughed here. Thank you kind human!

Back when I worked in IT many years ago, one of the things I did each week was run JohnTheRipper on our password file. If it cracked your password, it sent you an email saying your password was weak and you had to change it.

If you were in the next week's batch, it emailed you and told you "your password is foobar, which we discovered by cracking the password file, and it is weak. You must change it". Yes, I emailed them their password in plain text using our internal email system. Jury's still out on whether that was a good idea. :)

The next week we just disabled your account and you had to come to IT to fix it.

One guy actually got fired for his password. He was already being super creepy and making the girl who sat across from him uncomfortable, but she never told anyone. Then we cracked his password, which was a very naughty phrase about the girl who sat across from him. I reported it to HR, who asked the girl, who then said he was creepy, and so they acted swiftly on the reports and got him out of there.

I'm conflicted about this. I know I'd be pretty upset if an employer starting talking to me about a plaintext password that's supposed to be hashed. The problem is that they brute forced it and then sent it directly off to HR? Yes, as a sysadmin it's perfectly acceptable to be searching for weak passwords, but reading the plaintext yourself for fun then scurrying to HR is kinda a slimy thing to do. As an admin you have an obligation to your users to not be nosy, and if you find out something you shouldn't, keep it under your hat. Just because you have the ability to peek into the CFO's mailbox and see what everyone's salary is, doesn't mean you print out the spreadsheet and take it to your boss demanding a raise.

It's kinda like if you got in trouble for playing Farmville or whatever while sitting on the toilet at work, which they found out about by installing cameras in the stalls. Yes, I shouldn't have been doing that, but how you found out is also a huge issue and I'd feel pretty violated.

You should probably re-read the sudo warning:

    We trust you have received the usual lecture from the local System Administrator. It usually boils down to these three things:
    #1) Respect the privacy of others.
    #2) Think before you type.
    #3) With great power comes great responsibility.

I wasn't reading the cracked passwords for fun, I was verifying the output. And it was well known that we cracked the passwords, and he had already gotten the first warning that it was cracked, so he knew we knew it.

That's why I didn't feel bad taking it to HR. I already had a sense that he was doing bad stuff, and the password just solidified it for me.

I think this is analogous to the philosophy behind "duty to report" type laws. If you discover -- even through a completely unrelated activity -- harm being done to someone, it is your ethical responsibility to report it to someone who can help. Obviously some amount of discretion is necessary, as some things are sensitive enough that reporting in the wrong way, or to the wrong person, could cause the situation to be worse, but as a general rule, if you see something bad going on, you should try to make the situation better if you're able.

I think OP acted entirely appropriately.

To address a couple specific points:

> As an admin you have an obligation to your users to not be nosy

In the free-wheeling academic sense where your users are more of a community, sure, I think that's the accepted social contract. In the workplace, not at all. While I'm not a fan of employers spying on what their employees do on the employer's network and hardware, I fully appreciate that it is their right to do so, and in some situations, for some purposes, I might even agree with its necessity.

> reading the plaintext yourself for fun then scurrying to HR is kinda a slimy thing to do

I don't think "fun" had anything to do with it, and reporting a likely case of sexual harassment, regardless of how the information was obtained, is never "slimy". Quite the opposite.

> Just because you have the ability to peek into the CFO's mailbox and see what everyone's salary is, doesn't mean you print out the spreadsheet and take it to your boss demanding a raise.

That is indeed slimy, unethical, and likely a violation of company policy, but that is not even remotely the same as what the OP did.

> if you got in trouble for playing Farmville or whatever while sitting on the toilet at work, which they found out about by installing cameras in the stalls

Also not even remotely the same. Any reasonable person would agree that cameras in bathroom stalls would be a gross violation of privacy (and probably illegal).

Former sysadmin here. I think there's a careful balance that needs to be struck, both by admins and users.

As a user, you should realize that when you're on company equipment, privacy is more of a courtesy than a right. It's their equipment you're using. It's reasonable to expect them to use it in a way that furthers the company's interests. So act accordingly.

As an admin, you don't ever go digging through stuff for no reason, for curiosity, voyeurism, or for personal reasons. But again, watching out for the company's interests is part of your job, so if you run across something or have a concrete need to actively look for something (not just a fishing expedition), then lifting the veil of privacy might be the right choice or even the only right choice.

Basically, in a corporate computing environment, privacy is not guaranteed, but crossing lines should have a proper justification. In your CFO example, the sysadmin is using official powers but acting in their own interest, so that's definitely not an OK justification.

> It's their equipment you're using.

I don't find this a very good argument. Sourcing inspiration from a sibling comment, it's also the employer's bathroom stall. I might be convinced it's okay to snoop when it comes to their network usage, but this is not the argument to do so.

Responding late, but yeah, you raise a valid point.

The difference to me is in the purpose of the two facilities. A toilet is there for the employees' physical needs and more or less no other purpose. A computer is there primarily to do business work on. The company has a clear need to be involved in how that computer is used in several ways, such as maintaining its security, monitoring its performance, making sure it isn't misused, etc. They can afford you some privacy, but only on a best-effort basis because it's not reasonable to be entirely hands off.

How is that slimy? You have no expectation of privacy at work. The company owns everything. They not only own it but they monitor everything that’s done on their devices.

If you don’t want something read by your employer don’t do it with company property or on their WiFi. It’s a rule I live by and I never connect any personal device to my company’s guest WiFi.

and to think of all the times i used passwords that were a some variation of “thisCompanySucks@$$!” or “B1llis@d!ck”...

Yeah that is some NSA shit.

Not really. It was well known that passwords were being cracked, and the guy in question was even warned already that his password had been cracked the week before.

Wait, how is it a common / weak password if it has some oddly sexual phrase regarding a specific person? Sounds like its literally just brute-forcing, in which case you're just going to hit random user's passwords.

A string of dictionary words and a very common name. And yeah, JohnTheRipper was a brute forcing dictionary attack that was very common. If anyone had access to the password file they could run the same cracker. The idea was to crack the passwords before an advisary could using the same tools.

Next time you can push for explicit password quality requirements and something like 2FA instead of violating people's privacy and weakening their security at the same time. (Can you imagine anyone reused personal passwords?) This eagerness to apply fun tools in the workplace is in large part what built the heinous surveillance apparatus that's probably going to kill a lot of people as soon as a sufficiently strong-willed fascist takes control again. Richard Stallman has called this "Stalin's dream", but ironically he was also recently Cancelled for ridiculous allegations of sexual misconduct and wrong-think, so perhaps this allusion is not sufficiently powerful for this audience anymore. A shame if so.

Much "NSA shit" is also well known.

The questionable behavior in this case is getting a guy fired for selecting a politically-incorrect secret passphrase. This is merely one step removed from reading his brain and figuring out he fantasizes about spanking coworkers while having sex with them. (I've done this, and yet we are good friends!)

We don't know all the details, maybe that guy actually harassed people, but scrutinizing someone's private thoughts without prior suspicion for offensive-but-noncriminal behavior that can be pivoted into larger accusations is how police states work.

In the best case, this encourages people to filter their private thoughts and actions by the standards of what is acceptable to advertise publicly, which is incredibly unhealthy and oppressive.

> The questionable behavior in this case is getting a guy fired for selecting a politically-incorrect secret passphrase.

I think you're being disingenuous. The guy got fired for sexual harassment. The password merely tipped people off as to what was going on. Don't use a weasel word like "politically incorrect" to re-frame the discussion in a way that's both incorrect and more favorable to an emotional reaction in your favor.

It's stated that he was fired for "being creepy", which is a highly underspecified complaint that can be used against someone you find disagreeable for any reason, only some of which warrant termination-of-livelihood. I was being charitable assuming that the real accusation involved actually harassing someone.

I said "being creepy" because I was being vague. He was doing much worse than that.

Like what? I have an ex-girlfriend whom I dumped when she (among other things) called my family and lied about me getting into a horrible accident because we were arguing about her [several hard street drugs] addiction. I cared about her enough to stick around until after the drug problems started. She tells people I'm a "creep" when she explains why we didn't work out, because we had been together for a while and I seemed like a decent guy. I literally moved to a different state because she'd show up at my home and work frenzied, and I knew a restraining order would land her in jail (and cause her to lose her surprisingly good job, which I was sure was the last remaining foothold of stability in her life; at this point I was literally worried about indirectly killing her by protecting myself). She still doesn't know where I live, some of my throwaway accounts have the phrase "FUCK [her name]" in their password, and (old, because I can't share contact anymore) mutual friends have told me she tells everyone that I developed hardcore schizophrenia and generally behaved like Satan. The shorthand for this is "creep".

I'm sorry that happened, that sounds like a terrible situation.

Do you see how I took you at your word and extended sympathy, rather than questioning whether you're misrepresenting the situation? Is there something you know about the facts of jedberg's situation that lead you not to do the same?

He has not presented any facts that are under contention, only normative estimations that rely on facts that are deliberately unspecified.

The politically and economically safe option in the workplace is always to discard people who fall under scrutiny that exposes an employer to liability. This raises the reasonable standard of complaint for these types of issues beyond "his password, which I cracked despite design and goal to remain private to one human soul ever, was weirdly suggestive, and none of the people ostensibly involved have voiced any concerns but I must Report This to The Authorities and Start the Hammer Falling."

Suspicion and doubt are very powerful weapons, and sometimes they're used against good people in the name of heroism, saying nothing of bad motives. They also have the feature of being incredibly hard to dispel entirely once raised, regardless of the quality or scale of the evidence. If someone looked at my F-word password with the wrong prior or coaching, I'd have to break out volumes of psychotic voicemails, videos, pictures, testimony by family and close former friends, etc, to prove I shouldn't be Cancelled.

Can you think of a crackable-length passphrase that would make a normal, level-headed person suspicious enough to make efforts that almost guarantee someone is going to get fired in the worst way possible?

> The politically and economically safe option in the workplace is always to discard people who fall under scrutiny that exposes an employer to liability.

What leads you to believe this? You are aware, I assume, of the existence of "wrongful termination" lawsuits, many of which have cost companies millions of dollars?

> Can you think of a crackable-length passphrase that would make a normal, level-headed person suspicious

"rape Karen fun"

> fired in the worst way possible

What about this sounds to you like the worst way possible to get fired? Here are some ways to get fired that sound way worse to me:

"several frightening, anonymous calls that came into his work phone. One caller told him that [...] he wouldn’t live to see the weekend. Another said that the “fancy blue tie” he was wearing that day might wind up turning red. [...] an effort by the [company's] attorney to discredit him by falsely claiming he’d had a romantic relationship with [coworker he was standing up for]. Shortly afterward, [his employer] fired him."

"only two weeks after her hire, while she was in the passenger’s seat of [male employee]'s car returning from a business meeting, he exited the 101 freeway, stopped his car on a side street, and pulled his erect penis from his trousers. With the doors and windows locked from the driver’s side, he reached over “and pushed her head on his erect penis in an attempt to force her to orally copulate with him,” according to her complaint. He then ejaculated.

[her] horrifying depiction of sexual assault went on for pages. There was the ride back to the office after a client visit two days later, when [male employee] again tried to force her to touch his penis and “almost careened into a commercial eighteen-wheel vehicle.” Another time in the car, this time in standstill traffic, he took his erect penis out of his trousers and shoved her left hand back and forth on it, again ejaculating. In the complaint, she says she tried to free her hand but “was unable to overcome his strength.” In another incident, he called her into his office, locked the door behind her, and tried to force her to have sex. That time, the complaint says, she “managed to escape his grasp.”

A month after that frightening incident, [she] was fired by [him], purportedly for “an attitude problem, aversion to directions, resistance and resentfulness.” She told the office supervisor about [his] assaults and suggested that the “attitude problem” [he] had referred to was her resistance to his assaults. The supervisor told her that sort of workplace conduct was considered “normal”"


Three responses in turn,

1. The courts are profoundly unfair. Are you comfortable forcing harassment victims to go through the courts for what are literally criminal allegations?

2. This example seems too contrived and implausible, as is anything else I could think of. The whole story just seems too magical. Maybe I'm just being hard-headed and arguing with a hero.

3. I will concede that is a more unpleasant series of events without care for semantics.

1. I have no idea what you're talking about. You suggested the liability risk for employers is extremely one-sided such that the "safe option ... is always to discard people". I asked if you were aware of the enormous, court-tested liability risk employers face when they discard people. What leads you to believe the liability risk is nevertheless extremely one-sided?

2. Someone sexually harassing his coworker and saying something sexual about her in his password seems magical and unlikely to you? You don't believe the hundreds of corroborated stories about men saying stuff like that openly? Or you think people are less likely to do that in something semi-private like a password than openly?

1. It's difficult to safely discard people on the basis of their belonging to a certain set of protected classes, which does not include those accused of sexual misconduct. As soon as you have someone willing to issue a complaint you can't disprove, you're prepared to safely remove your enemies. There's a reason savvy managers never have private meetings with women.

2. It's magical that some guy exposed a "creep" Doing Very Bad Things by looking at his password he cracked. No witnesses complained, the victim had never complained, just from a distant computer we catch this faint whiff of something wrong in the strangest (invasive, aside) way and turn out to be a hero. Or maybe we just sent a weird password to HR, and they did the default thing and fired the guy for nuisance and liability, and years later we remember the justification that he must have deserved it because he's gone. (Details? Sorry, can't!) It's easier on the conscience, too.

1. If that's what you believe, then you're acknowledging that the officemate's complaint was necessary for the guy to be removed, not just going to management about the password. So you're agreeing that going to management about the password couldn't "almost guarantee someone is going to get fired".

2. "maybe we just sent a weird password to HR, and they did the default thing and fired the guy"

You just acknowledged in the prior paragraph that an actual complaint was necessary.

"years later we remember the justification that he must have deserved it because he's gone. (Details? Sorry, can't!)"

To be clear, you have already said you have no basis whatsoever to believe that he made up the details that justified the firing.

Just like I could suggest, with no basis, that you actually dumped your ex-girlfriend in a mean and nasty way over her struggles with addiction, and while distraught over the breakup she expressed her displeasure with you in conversations with mutual friends. You weren't actually present at any of these conversations, but you're sure she called you schizophrenic, satanic, and a creep, details you made up because it's easier on your conscience. You were the only person who ever perceived her as "frenzied", her job never did and neither would the cops, but it's easier on your conscience to say the only reason you didn't get a restraining order was to keep her out of jail.

All that would be entirely consistent with the facts you've told us, if I wanted to view you in the worst possible light with no basis whatsoever. Just like you're doing to jedberg.

Sorry to hear about an unpleasant situation. However, I think it's safe to assume this is unrelated to the story about the dude's password and HR issues.

My password says "FUCK [a woman whom I no longer have an intimate relationship with]". This doesn't concern you? Does it concern 'jedberg?

Well it's none of my business and after the story you've shared I can't say I am very concerned. But in the story about HR, they looked into it and there was "other stuff", I guess they concluded something else about that situation.

We don't know what that "other stuff" is and if it's right or wrong, but it's also likely not the exact same situation as your very detailed and specific story, is my point.

There's at least another similarity, and that's that neither of us had been accused of misconduct in our workplace. If anything, he was looking sharp relative to my vindictive smear campaign.

"...hardcore schizophrenia..."

As opposed to the softcore kind, natch.

As I've learned the hard way, this kind of ignorance of abnormal psychology can lead you into big problems.

Yes, creepy sexists need our protection and it's exactly the same thing as playing farmville on the bathroom.

You know, it's quite possible for multiple people to be "wrong" in a given situation. It's possible both the employee and the sysop to be wrong.

I agree, - but morality is sticky and complex.

It was obviously wrong to be the creepy sexist.

In the abstract sense, it is wrong to invade privacy.

But then, if in your invasion of privacy you uncover a wrongdoing, the right thing to do is report it.

It would be wrong to read the CFO's email inbox, and probably illegal. But then if you uncover they are committing fraud, you need to report it to police, as well as confess your own crime.

Unfortunately, there's never easy rules for these things.

I get what you're saying here but:

>In the abstract sense, it is wrong to invade privacy.

You have no real expectation of privacy when using company owned equipment. This was almost certainly spelled out to the employee in question in the acceptable use policy he agreed to upon being hired. Companies have to operate this way so they can investigate computers if compelled to by court or law, and so they can recover important information off computers when the user exits the company.

If he was using a BYOD computer I'd have a different opinion on the matter.

The definition of acceptable use (and expectations of privacy) differs a lot between different countries. For example, in the EU, I believe that any personal email received on a work account is actually considered "beyond reach" of your employer.

I don't know, but I imagine that such considerations could easily extend to your password.

Btw, how did the sysop know that what he recovered was the actual password? I mean, it's unlikely, but at least theoretically possible that it was a false positive. The password hashes in those days were pretty weak... Just a thought; I don't think it realistically was a false positive.

That is true, there are stronger privacy protections in the EU in general. I don't consider the actions here morally justifiable, just legally.

As far as it being the actual password, a false positive AND the fact he had been creeping on a coworker at the same time seems extraordinarily unlikely to me.

You make a compelling point. The key is 'acceptable use'.

Acceptable use is cracking passwords in an investigation with just cause.

Acceptable use is a script to automate the checking of weak passwords, and notify users.

Unacceptable use is an admin browsing cracked passwords, without just cause.

I personally think acting on the information obtained afterwards is acceptable, but some would disagree.

Remember even in some courts, evidence obtained by police illegally cannot be submitted for trial.

I maintain these moral problems are hard ones.

You said "... but morality is ..." and just agreed with me, I think?

Ultimately, I think it's a case-by-case on this type of thing.

Btw, I find it very interesting that e.g. most EU courts will consider "tampered-with" evidence, but obviously take into account that it may have been tampered with and so accord it much less weight than "pristine" evidence. Whereas US courts will[0] absolutely throw out anything that's shown to be even mildly "tampered-with". I don't know what the right answer is, but it's an interesting question to ponder.

[0] Maybe this is wrong; I'm not a US-ian, so I may not have perfect insight into the court system :|.

I agreed. I just wanted to take it a stage further and emphasise the definition of 'wrong' is always complex in moral discussions.

Noice :). I apologize for the somewhat aggressive/sarcastic tone at the start of my reply. Reading it back, it sounded so much "more" (in every way) than I intended.

> It was obviously wrong to be the creepy sexist.

It's not obvious as we haven't heard his side of the story.

It is possible, but that's not what happened. sysop was in the right here. Stop defending someone's right to be extremely creepy on company equipment over the well-being of the creep's coworkers.

It's one of those "everyone sucks here" situations.

"Please respond to the strongest plausible interpretation of what someone says, not a weaker one that's easier to criticize. Assume good faith."

"Don't be snarky."


If people could read your thoughts (or private messages) I'm pretty sure they could find at least 5 things to fire you and/or publicly whip you at a pillory in the central square of your city.

So don't be so arrogant about someone being "creepy" when they are not mentioned as doing anything specific in public...

Yes, a person alleged to be a creepy sexist deserves some protection and due process.

> Yes, a person alleged to be a creepy sexist deserves some protection and due process.

I agree with this. Everyone deserves due process.

It sounds in this situation like they got their due process. (HR didn't fire them based on the password report, but rather used diligence and due process to investigate/corroborate and only then terminate them.)

Yep you got it right.

Cool, false equivalence seems to be the norm on HN nowadays

Please don't reply to a bad comment with another bad comment. That only makes this place even worse.


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I don't know what to think about this. A password is supposed to be secret so I don't know what a naughty phrase in secret is a violation of? It is not very different from writing something naughty in a private diary, or even thinking a naughty thing.

The guy wasn't fired for the password, he was fired for the sexual harassment of a coworker.

And nothing you do on a work computer is secret from your employer. It's not a "private diary" if you're using your employer's hardware.

I think that it's the conjunction of the password and the harassment accusation together that make this a fairly straightforward case. If it were just a creepy password, well, that demonstrates a certain level of creepiness but doesn't mean that he made it a problem for anyone else. It's possible to have private fantasies that remain private. On the other hand, if it was just the coworker's accusation, it would be just that, an accusation without evidence.

The password as evidence of private creepiness lends credence to the accusations of harassment, and the accusation of harassment demonstrates the the creepiness was probably not just private. Together they create a case stronger than either alone.

>he was fired for the sexual harassment of a coworker

OP is vague on what this guy actually did. Note that they only went to the girl after cracking the password, and she said he was "creepy" towards her.

"Creepy" in this context might just mean FWU (flirting while ugly).

I was being vague on purpose. He was doing more than FWU.

Creepy means they make another person feel threatened. It's certainly not a term most women would use lightly. For example, my sister's "creepy" neighbor would come out of his apartment anytime she came home by herself and would engage her in conversation while attempting to follow her into her apartment.

That's not "flirting" (even if said guy thought that's what he was doing), it's straight up threatening behavior.

Just to note

> He was already being super creepy and making the girl who sat across from him uncomfortable, but she never told anyone.

The OP actually did mention that there was prior bad stuff that had gone unreported (quite possibly due to a power imbalance). In the end:

1. Nobody is getting fired over a password alone.

2. Traditionally it's been very balanced against women reporting such things.

If he got fired for it, it was probably bad.

And you shouldn't be flirting at work.

I think it's very interesting how, despite knowing nearly nothing about the situation, everyone here is quick to doubt the victim, and make up scenarios (for which there is zero evidence) where the harasser is the victim.

For all its flaws, innocent until proven guilty is still the fairest justice system. Beyond a reasonable doubt is a high standard of proof.

Because we use this standard, it is natural for people to look for reasonable doubts when talking about accusations.

That is how western society works. And for very good reasons.

I think there's more to it than that. If you have some time, give this a read: https://www.propublica.org/article/false-rape-accusations-an...

Since it's quite long, I'll summarize. An 18-year-old woman, "Marie", whose had been in foster homes since the age of 6 or 7, reported having been raped. Her two previous foster mothers, both of whom she was still friends with and whom she told about the rape, suspected she was fabricating the report and, after discussing the matter with each other, said so to the police. Despite the significant forensic evidence, the police persuaded her to recant and ultimately charged her with filing a false report. A couple of years later, a serial rapist with a penchant for photographing his victims was caught. Among his effects was a photograph of Marie.

What does this story tell us? First, that even someone who has just been raped may have difficulty relating the event in a coherent and consistent way, and may not seem to be feeling the emotions one would expect of someone to whom that had happened. (The implications for the Brett Kavanaugh affair are obvious.) Second, that even female friends of the victim might be led by such inconsistencies to doubt the veracity of the report — a sobering observation. And third, that the slogan "Believe Women", though it cannot be taken as an absolute, is still important to repeat, because it's still far more likely that a true report will be doubted than that a false one will be believed.

> innocent until proven guilty is still the fairest justice system

Justice system administered by a state where the repercussions include imprisonment and death - absolutely. But HR is not a judicial system and should not be viewed as one. I think I take your point to be just a descriptive observation of "our social discussion reflects a habit based on our exposure to judicial systems" and not a normative statement. Even if it's the former, I think it's naive and ignores a very real culture of doubt and victim-blaming exclusive to sexual violence.

Given the US's employer-based health care system, HR can sentence some people to death.

That's a fair point. And we should rectify that by fixing our healthcare system, not by making it harder for assault survivors.

I agree with you, but there is no crime here, just bad work conduct, and as a professional, that makes you not as good at your job, and as an employer, it can justify letting you go.

Call it a bad cultural fit if you prefer. Someone who cannot navigate the social work environment, and makes others feel uneasy and lowers their moral is not as good an employee as someone who'd have no issue doing so, and makes everyone else motivated and confident.

As an employer, I'd probably quickly try and replace such an employee, with someone who's just as good technically, but also has better social work ethics and collaboration skills.

This is totally fair to me. Being good at your job also involves being good with coworkers and promoting a healthy work environment which boosts everyone's productivity. If you have deficiencies there, try working on it. It'll be good for your career.

Now I know what's going to happen... But what if someone totally fabricated a case against you and brought it up to your employer and now your employer falsely believes that you're a big bully and harasser and that you hurt the work environment and they fire you over that?

And I think that's a bit of a fallacy counter-argument honestly. Some kind of reification fallacy. Yes in the abstract hypothetical, this would be unjust, and you can deduce that it was in fact the accuser who was being unprofessional and fabricating an environment of blackmail. But give us any concrete case, and we can now observe the facts of that case and see if employers did an unreasonable assesement or not. For example, we might see in real cases, there is always more than one complaint made, or there are recorded behaviors like emails, chat logs, naughty passwords, etc. Or there's repeated offense, or there was prior knowledge, etc.

And again, no crime here. An employer for their business sake, might prefer to lean on better be careful rather than sorry. That makes total business sense to me.

That is different from prioritizing imagined, hypothetical injustice over real, actual injustice.

Something obviously bad happens, and everyone falls over themselves to correct and defend not the bad thing that just happened, but a thing they just imagined might happen.

It's a very peculiar (and fairly revealing) thought pattern.

> That is how western society works.

No, that's how justice systems in western society (and many others) work. Because guilty/not-guilty is a binary choice, there's no in-between option.

I don't have the same binary restrictions when I form an opinion based on the information available to me. As we all do.

It's how the courts work, but not society in general. An individual can use whatever standard they wish to form an opinion. Would you insist that we all treat O.J. Simpson as innocent?

> Would you insist that we all treat O.J. Simpson as innocent?

The fair way is to withhold judgment (while presuming innocence) when there's a charge against someone but it hasn't been investigated. That's fair whether we're talking about courts or society. Society pronounced its judgment on O.J. after evidence was presented and witnesses testified.

The problem comes when people presume guilt based on a charge alone. Unfortunately, that's often what happens when high-emotion charges are leveled against someone.

We have a high standard for guilt in court because someone's freedom and perhaps life is on the line. You as a private citizen have a right to make decisions on less than a drawn-out court case and a sequestered jury.

So, in the eyes of the criminal courts, yes, OJ is still innocent. But would you have him babysit your kids based only on a reasonable doubt he's a multiple murderer?

> You as a private citizen have a right to make decisions on less than a drawn-out court case and a sequestered jury.

That's true, but it doesn't make my opinions morally justified.

But my point wasn’t about the verdict--the court’s, mine, or the public’s. It was that it is wrong to presume guilt anywhere—in court or in personal opinion—on the basis of a charge alone. (In OJ's case, we're all far past that, so I think bringing it up is a bit moot.)

I literally didn't bring up OJ. I was using the example already in use in the thread when I replied. The question, in a generic sense, is if you have two equally qualified candidates one of whom is acquitted and one of whom nobody's accused of wrongdoing, would you flip a coin or hire the one never accused?

> would you flip a coin or hire the one never accused?

I'd try to do neither. The reality is, no one is equally qualified because no one is identical to anyone else. There are always tradeoffs.

But I'd try to weigh those tradeoffs without being swayed either way by the fact that someone was once accused and later acquitted. Personally, I'm not even sure whether I'd be more or less likely to want to hire a person on the basis of that detail; I really think it's not evidence of anything.

It's like the influence of an independent variable Y in the logical formula "X implies Z", or like a "don't care" cell in a Karnaugh map -- it signifies nothing.

> An individual can use whatever standard they wish to form an opinion.

I suppose we can all agree that any individual should at least first know the facts before forming their opinion.

But where's the innocent until proven guilty for the sysadmin and the woman accused of falsely accusing the guy who was fired?

HR doesn't fire on a whim. I'd default to saying this guy got due process.

That's not how employment works, and (for better or worse) that's not how the court of public opinion works.

"Innocent until proven guilty" and "beyond a reasonable doubt" are critically important for a government-run judicial system, because they ultimately have control over your freedom, life, and death. While a job is certainly important, the loss of one job will not ruin your life unless you are particularly unlucky. So the burden of proof is much less.

Regardless of all that, it's just really saddening to me that the default seems to be that people assume that the victim is lying or overstating the harm done to them. This seems to be something very specific to sexual harassment cases that doesn't crop up as much or as universally with other accusations of wrongdoing. We clearly have a long way to go before we get rid of our knee-jerk biases about this sort of thing (and I'm no exception; I have them too).

> That is how western society works. And for very good reasons.

Is the implication that non-Western societies don't work that way? Or that somehow it's only Western societies that came up and all of them practice this behavior?

Actually, yes. (Hopefully you were asking rather than woke-scolding).

Presumption of innocence traces back to roman law (hence "occidental" from the latin, meaning the going down/setting of the sun, or "western", referring to European countries) . It has propagated at various rates through various cultures. Other cultures (including germanic, which could also be classified as "western") did not have the presumption of innocence centuries ago. China (latin "oriental", rising sun, or eastern) has been moving toward it in the last 50 years.

This doesn't say that no other culture has independently developed the presumption of innocence principle, but that the idea of it in modern judicial systems around the world traces back to the roman culture, and is generally associated with a body of ideas collectively called "western culture".

See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presumption_of_innocence


Always interesting when a statement is unpopular, but no counterarguments are presented.

A bit more clarification from the researchgate link above, talking about the movement toward presumption of innocence (POI) in China (emphasis added to the statements that Western societies came up with this behavior and that at least one non-Western society doesn't work that way):

"As POI is a legal principle originating in the West, its acceptance in the criminal justice context of China is a gradual and longstanding process. The CPL’s first revision, in 1996, adopts the clause ‘no person shall be found guilty without being judged as such by a People’s Court according to law’, but the protection guaranteed to criminal defendants under Article 12 of the CPL (2012) is different from the classic concept, which, according to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), requires POI. Article 12 focuses on who has the power to issue a guilty verdict rather than on the presumption of the accused’s guilt or innocence during the investigation and trial."

Because if people don't push back against it, what we get is yet another incarnation of the witch trials.

Some people evidently want that, because they're "not a witch" themselves.

It's really awful that in some/many cases, accusations of rape or sexual assault or sexual harassment or creepiness end up reducing to one person's word against another, when there's no good objective evidence either way.

You should doubt everyone. You should doubt the accuser. You should doubt the alleged harasser's claim of innocence. Without evidence, you can't adjudicate it, and unless it's a matter of rape or sexual assault, the compulsion to adjudicate it in the absence of evidence is unhealthy[1]. What you can do is try to engineer the environment or counsel the people so the alleged behavior by the accused or negative perception by the accuser is less likely to occur; most obviously, by separating them and ensuring they rarely/never have to interact.

If you can't keep the two people from communicating or interacting, and you have to fire one, and that one should be the accused, that is precisely a witch trial, but without a declaration of being a witch. The accused might not be a witch, but we're going to burn them anyway, because the social fabric depends on it!

And of course, criticizing witch trials can make you a witch, because there's evil in the world and therefore the witch trials must go forward! To do nothing is to enable witches, and who would want to do that except a witch? "Cui bono?"

[1] And in serious cases, you can try to take it to court, but it'll fairly likely end up unsatisfactorily for the accuser unless they're particularly persuasive or the defendant is obviously creepy or there's some other evidence. Even a string of accusers, although it means something, is not necessarily good evidence. Again, see the witch trials.

I consider dealing with workplace accusations more like dealing with a lawsuit, rather than dealing with a criminal case.

Studies bear out that false accusations of sexual misconduct are exceedingly rare. If you go just by the odds, the likelihood is that when someone accuses someone of misconduct, it probably happened.

That doesn't mean you just accept an accusation at face value, but it does hopefully set the stage for you to be sympathetic, and committed to be thorough and to actually listen to what the accuser is saying. You of course do an investigation. You talk to the involved parties. You talk to witnesses, if there are any. Some of these witnesses may not have been present for any of the alleged offenses, but might speak to the involved parties' character. Does the accused act creepy around other people? Is the accuser constantly making up false stories about people?

If it does boil down to taking one person's word against the other, then I don't think the default should be to just separate the people and hope nothing happens again. Just as in a civil law case, part of the determination (both the direction of the judgment itself, as well as the magnitude of any penalties) is based on who is more persuasive about any available evidence, not strictly about whether the evidence alone is more or less damning.

It's not cut and dried. It's not clear. It's fuzzy and muddy. That's unfortunate, but happens to be the reality of dealing with humans.

Yes, and if we don't push back against sexual harassment, what we get is yet another... now

There are no facts in this case available to us, the internet commenters; only 100% framing. In a different framing, the victim is the one who was unfairly fired, perhaps due to fitting in poorly or even malicious claims of misconduct by the harasser. And in this framing you are not only blaming the victim, but also attacking everyone who doesn't.

See how this works? "Believe the victim" is circular reasoning, all it does is calcify your priors. Truth-seeking demands that one must keep an open mind and consider competing interpretations of an event.

There are several facts alleged in this case that were provided by the user jedberg.

1: "One guy actually got fired for his password." This is a statement of fact, which we can initially accept as true.

2. He was already being super creepy and making the girl who sat across from him uncomfortable This is a statement of opinion with the appearance of a fact. The phrase "super creepy" is quite vague, to the point of being meaningless without further specification. Also, how jedberg can know that she was feeling uncomfortable should be in question.

3. "but she never told anyone." This unsubstantiates claim #2. If she never told anyone, then there was no way to determine the truth of the claim that he was "making the girl across from him uncomfortable." Note that even this statement may be false, as she could have told many people already without informing jedberg, and if so, would help to substantiate the previous claim.

4. Then we cracked his password, which was a very naughty phrase about the girl who sat across from him. Note that "we cracked his password" is a statement of fact, mixed with opinion that the phrase was "very naughty". Whether the password was "naughty" or not, I don't think anyone is disputing that the password was cracked.

5. I reported it to HR This is a factual claim.

6. who asked the girl This is a factual claim, and most probably true, with the exception that it could be hearsay if jedberg wasn't in the room at the time when it happened, which has not been specified.

7. who then said he was creepy This is a statement of fact. Assuming that jedberg heard this directly from her, we can call this statement true. The important bit, however, is the word "then". She only said that he was creepy _after_ approached by HR. If HR's question was "Don't you think that guy across from you is creepy?", then that would be considered leading and deceptive. If HR's question was "what do you think about the guy across from you", then that question would be leading. If HR's question was "what do you think about your fellow employees", then that question would be neutral and acceptable. Since the manner in which the question was asked was not specified, there is no way to know how this question affected her response. It is not reasonable to assume the question was leading or not leading without further confirmations, and this unfortunately makes the claim moot.

8. so they acted swiftly on the reports and got him out of there. This statement appears to be a reiteration of claim #1, I don't see anything additional here that affects the previous claim.

Later, jedberg said this:

9. he got fired for sexual harassment. This is a statement of fact; however, this appear to directly contradict the first statement that jedberg made, which was that he "got fired for his password." So, if we can accept that he got fired for sexual harassment, then he didn't get fired for his password, and the original claim is untrue.

In summary, 1) a guy got fired for sexual harassment. 2) The accused also had a password that may have mentioned something "naughty". 3) That password was noticed by an IT group and may or may not have had some impact on the termination. 4) The interviewing of the alleged victim may or may not have influenced her testimony.

Those are the specific facts that we're dealing with in this case. Dismissing this with the idea that "there are no facts in this case" is incorrect. The fairness or unfairness of the case is framed around these facts, with opinions given on both sides throughout this thread.

There's solid evidence he was fired.

Because the evidence is extremely weak and the reason cited for him being axed was he was a "creep"? Pretty subjective in my eyes without other information provided.

There's a mile wide difference between being a weirdo mouth-breathing creep, and actually sexually harassing someone.

Reply (can't edit now): I know my above post seems like an asshole. That isn't my aim. I'm simply posing a necessary question before we instinctually start up the crucifixion process. Ruining peoples lives with scant evidence scares me regardless of the who/where/what/when.

If he was fired for sexual harassment, that is one thing. But a naughty password on its own? That was maybe not the case here but that is what I have doubts about.

He was fired for sexual harassment.

What if it was violent, bigoted, or suicidal? Passwords are secret but they aren't necessarily private. If you wouldn't want to verbally verify it with your administrator you probably shouldn't use it.

I have seen many password policies that says that you never should disclose your password. I have never seen a password policy say that it must not be naughty. As for violent or suicidal, I am less sure. I guess I would reason like a doctor, who has a patient's privacy to consider, but when certain lines are crossed he can contact the police if he think there is risk of crime.

Then I think our only difference in opinion is whether making sexually aggressive statements about your coworkers is crossing a line or just "naughty."

The difference is maybe that I don't see a password as a statement. There is no intent to let anyone know it. The only purpose it serves is to be difficult to guess / crack and easy to remember.

It depends on whether the statement is public or private.

Otherwise we're getting dangerously close to thoughtcrimes.


What does it have to do with tech? Everyone has passwords, and they are used all the time.

He was doing a lot more than just the password. I was being vague on purpose. The password just exposed him.

A private diary that is the official property of your employer, and that they have the legal access to read at any time.

The system being managed here is a professional one. Keep your professional passwords professional.

It's no different than using your work email for naughty discussions.

<month><animal><current_year> every 90 days is the god pattern

A better pattern is something long that will exceed the bounds of a rainbow table.

    I love JavaScript but I really wish it didn't have the ASI feature*
The example is 67 characters long written in a statement that is easy to remember with two non-alpha characters aside from the spaces. Imagine the size of rainbow table it would take to crack that.

I'm not sure how easy that is to remember... Was it 'really love but wish' or 'love but really wish'? etc.

I suspect you would word your password in a way that is most familiar for you. The idea is to achieve both cognitive comfort while destroying brute force efforts. A better example:

    Antidisestablishmentarianism is the longest English word I can think of##
73 characters.

I think you'd have more fun trying to imagine phrases no one would ever say.

"But thankfully I took Kim Kardashian's advice, and everything worked out for the best."

I enter my password so many times each day (every time I step away from my computer and then come back to it, for example), so having such a long password would be quite the annoyance. Plus it's easy to make a typo and not realize it in a long sentence when you can't see what you're typing.

If I crack one of your passwords (or search your email on haveibeenpwned), and assuming you haven't changed your animal, then cracking any other password you have is trivial and takes at most 12 permutations.

I know at least one company that prohibits several ways to write any month or year like value in its password field. I think the animal might make it through as long as it doesn't have any shortened month name or repeating letters as sub string. I have found several creative ways to write new passwords for that login and am still annoyed when it randomly matches with "information from my profile".

Let me guess... animal is always "dragon"?


Ugh. Please don't bring this redpill malarkey to hackernews

I was sorta with you at first, but that second paragraph is straight-up nonsense.

I've seen it happen, though it sounds like someone is over exaggerating women's reaction to their ugly mug.

But yeah, I knew a woman that said anyone who smiled at her was creepy if she didn't like them they exist.

No one cares about a purist stance on creepiness. Being creepy is enough to justify removal from any social or professional situation. If you lack the social skills to avoid being perceived as creepy, that's a you problem. It doesn't really matter what your rationalization is. People aren't going to want you around.

In this hypothetical example are you walking over and saying good morning to each of your male coworkers as well?

The point is, treat your coworkers the same, regardless of gender.

I haven't been in the workforce very long, so I really don't know and am asking genuinely. Is it ever okay to flirt with a coworker?

Yes, but the problem is that in most of the scenarios that get discussed it's not flirting but one person making advances and not noticing (or caring) that the person is actively feeling uncomfortable.

The rule of thumb is sort of in line with telling a risque joke. Is that ever OK in a workplace? Sure, but if there's any doubt whatsoever how it will be received by the audience then you probably shouldn't be doing it.

It's basically thoughtcrime.

> It is not very different from writing something naughty in a private diary, or even thinking a naughty thing.

I don't know if I'm too normal or what, but my gut feeling is that yes it's really creepy. And all these things have different creepiness to them. Thinking a naughty thing is the least creepy. A private naughty diary is starting to be creepy. If it's just a passage in a normal diary, it's not too bad, if there's a whole book just about this one girl it would get super creepy. Making your work password a naughty phrase about the girl working in front of you, definitely super creepy.

Some of those I'd start to consider beginning signs of harassment honestly. The password one, it's like slowly trying to bring to the girls attention your thoughts. What's happening, are you hoping they see you typing it out one day? Everytime you type it do you stare at her and imagine whatever you typed? So ya, if there was all kinds of other similarly creepy small behaviors they'd add up to a pretty bad environment for that girl to be working in.

Just my opinion. Maybe I'm overreacting, but I wouldn't do that, and so I find it very surprising and creepy that someone else does. Are they harmless, innocent, didn't know better, just have a cute crush, nice guys, maybe, but doing something unexpected to me, that I'd never think of doing, is pretty much the defining characteristic of creepy, and it naturally puts me on my guard. It's just strange behavior, and that's scary.

Note: I'd like to hear some replies that are like... oh no, it's not creepy, way more people have naughty passwords or big naughty diaries of their coworkers than you think. I know I do. It's a totally normal behavior, you're the actual outlier here if you never did any of that. Otherwise I will continue to believe this is strange and creepy behavior which warrants suspicion, and possibly a good indicator that someone makes others feel uneasy and unsafe when around them.

I think there is a big difference between expressing your thoughts from having them. I am quite certain that more or less everyone harbors thoughts that would not be socially acceptable to state to someone in the workplace, but they are completely normal (as in common) thoughts. It is not creepy to have them. It is expressing them to someone that would cross the boundary.

I think we agree then, these things have varying degrees of creepiness, with thoughts being the least creepy. And comparing having a thought to having it be your password, as OP did, is a false equivalence fallacy, from my perspective. One is order of magnitude weirder than the other.

I think if it was really literally just the password, it would be pretty weak grounds to fire someone. But OP says he was being deliberately vague so as not to be specific about the situation, and there was a lot more going on. The guy got fired for his actions, not his password. The password was just a tipping point.

I'm not really talking about the firing, I had another comment elsewhere about that part. And I could excuse only the password, because one creepy behavior can be excused, a recurring number of them not so much. I still need to excuse the password though, because I think that's just creepy. If it was just normal behavior, it wouldn't need excusing, it just wouldn't even be an argument.

I'm more saying that having your work password be a naughty fantasy involving your coworker is just plain creepy. I've never heard of this. I mean, even having a naughty fantasy involving your partner as your work password is creepy. How can anyone think this is totally normal and appropriate behavior? I know my wife would find it real weird if that was my password.

If you do that, and are starting to feel like other people find you creepy or are suggesting you might be, and you're confused why they think that.. I just don't know what to say. If you were under the impression having such a password is common, I'm afraid you were mistaken.

But, like I said, I'm giving people an opening here.. maybe I'm the one that's mistaken, and naughty sexual fantasies with coworkers as work passwords is a very common and normal choice of password. Presented with such evidence, I'd reconsider.

I'm all for the effective strength enforcement and ejecting the creepy guy, but some people do have strong passwords that, a bad idea though it may be, embed something deeply personal to them. Just something to keep in mind before automating the sharing of cracked passwords for otherwise legitimate purposes. I consider my passwords my private information, even if they are no longer secure from a technical standpoint and shouldn't be in use. I hope people respect that if they come across them.

I wonder if that process was passed by legal first. Not only does it make private (in most user's minds) information public, it also makes it legally discoverable!

Yes, it was passed by legal and everyone else. The first warning was automated and the password wasn't revealed. It was only on the second pass once you had ample warning.

But to be fair, I wouldn't do that today. I would just shut off the account on the second pass.

You shouldn't be using deeply personal stuff like this for work passwords then.

It's very legitimate for a company to want to protect themselves from a massively damaging and costly security/privacy incident by policing against the use of weak passwords.

Just to be clear, I agree, and I think what the person I'm replying to did is totally kosher. But I just think the fact that my password is private should not just be within technical limitations. If you find my password is "hurtmedaddy" I have a reasonable expectation to privacy about that beyond what SHA can and can't protect me from, and I would hope it's not showing up in some weekly report to be shared with IT. A hacker might find it anyway, but certainly my boss certainly shouldn't have to.

edit: And back to technical concerns - someone knowing my password leaves a hard-to-audit window in which I am even less secure. Force-resetting the password in automation instead of revealing it would be better. Sharing it more widely before the problem is fixed increases the risk.

I personally would not have any expectation that my work passwords are private. I would expect, say, Google to keep my password private, and have internal controls around not letting people see my password, or leak it to the outside. But I'd have no expectation that my boss or IT department didn't have the ability to find out what my password was if they wanted. For strength of security, I really hope they're hashing passwords, but it's well within their rights to try to crack that hash, or log my password as I send it to a webserver the company controls if they want/need to for any reason.

As an imperfect analogy, let's say I write something in a plaintext document, a big rant about how I'm pissed off at one of the executives, and in that rant I make a (not serious, but certainly worrisome) threat against the exec. I foolishly decide to store this document in my company-provided storage on their servers. (Or let's say I stick it in Google Docs in the company's GSuite account.)

Should I have a reasonable expectation of privacy there? I'd say no. I get that some might have the feeling that passwords are different because their entire function is to be private. From a security perspective, yes, I agree. But form a "what you do on company property/resources is visible to the company if they want it to be" perspective, I don't.

That's not unreasonable, but as you said the point is to be private - it's definitely not what people expect. If they were going to try crack my passwords and look at them when they're cracked, I'd want a memo, to say the least.

I am of two minds about, if it helps security, it sounds somewhat reasonable,but I used questionable passwords in the past partly because they were easy to memorize along the lines of missslippyfist and some numbers/chars. I was forced to stop once company I used to work for started filtering for curses.

And running to HR over perceived creepyness sounds like a dick move.

Given the frequency of online password db breaches, this seems like a really bad idea...

Agreed. I would hope that the first email was automated and nobody actually looked at the results of cracking the passwords. In the second week, you arguably had less expectation of privacy.

Correct, the first warning was automated and the password was not revealed.

This is the best password policy there is. The only time I was lucky enough to live under it was for a couple years in college.

Who cares how many uppercase letters I used or the last time I changed it? What matters is how crackable it is. v#ja&zp is better than P@ssword1

Greg did that at Blekko as well. That is why you always crack the sysadmins password first, and use that. So when they crack it they know that you known that they know.

A proper policy would’ve been to not have any human look at a user’s password and just email them a warning about their weak password. A password should be considered a PPI (personal, private information) and off limits to others, no matter how creepy (exception being a legal warrant). These days you might gotten in trouble!

Agreed. That's why if I were doing it today, I would just shut off the account after the second warning.

Although I don't think it's PII if it's all internal company data, especially if it is known that IT will crack your password.

It shouldn't be personal identifiable information. But PII asks what that information is, not what it should be. Given that people reuse passwords or put things like DOB in their passwords, a conservative classification should treat passwords as PII.

If a company is cracking passwords, it should stop that to protect IT from liability. Example: someone reuses a password, and an IT employee sees that during a cracking operation, and that person's account by chance is hacked, now that person can accuse IT of misusing the password.

Maybe those disclaimers will protect them, but it's always smarter to avoid liability entirely than rely on fine print that a court can disregard.

A password is supposed to be very hard to guess by others but not so hard for you to remember so it can be said to be PII! And no, it is not assumed that IT will crack your password. Because how do you know how far IT would go to crack your password and how do you know they are not looking at your data as well? Employee/company officers' email may contain data that could be highly sensitive and something IT should not be looking at.

it is not assumed that IT will crack your password

At this company, it was public knowledge that IT will crack your password.

At the vast, vast majority of companies, it's public knowledge that they are looking at your data and email as well. If you are under the impression that your employer doesn't, you should double-check because you are almost certainly wrong.

What would be a weak creepy password? I feel those properties run opposite. Weak enough to be bruteforced and creepy enough to get fired. Good job on that fella’s part I would say!

A string of dictionary words and a very common name.

I'm excited for your coming adventures, in which our intrepid hero breaks into people's diaries and then tells their friends about the naughty things they wrote.


Tangential but sometimes it is interesting to use a passphrase that you are ashamed of, that way you are never tempted to reveal it.

You essentially got someone fired for thought crime. While in this instance, that thought crime coincidentally had a real life corroboration, it was a just a lucky happenstance. You were not in the ethical right here!

It could have been that you reported to HR a romantic fling between two consenting adults, while they had no intention of their private lives spilling over into the public eye.

Disapprove of your actions, and further disapprove of your schadenfreude at someone's firing


Two considerations here: 1. Is the password private info that the employer shouldn't access? 2. If it is private but someone sees it anyway, should they act on it?

For (1): This is similar to any other private info stored on company equipment. The employer shouldn't actively access it in most cases, but it is generally expected that the employer will access if it has a good reason (in this case, detecting a weak password is a good reason).

For (2): This is similar to accidentally overhearing someone's private conversation. Normally the polite thing is to stop listening, but if you have reason to believe it indicates harmful behaviour (like in this case), the right thing to do is to report it.

Ok, what about this scenario?

Jack sets his password to "ImgoingtokillyouKaren". Tyler is talking with Jack in his cube and sees Jack type in the password and goes to HR. Is that an asshole move, in your opinion? Is the violation the reveal of the password or something else?

In my opinion, he has an obligation and responsibility to say something if he thinks someone is in danger or being harassed.

What if his buddy John's password is "HiJack!"? Is it logical to treat that the same way as if he yelled it in an airport?

Eh, he was typing that phrase at a work keyboard everyday.

Would you be OK with your use of work bathrooms being made public? You can have an expectation of privacy while using other people's stuff.

Are you comparing a work computer to a restroom used by dozens, if not hundreds of people everyday?

Do the sales guys and C-level execs get an expectation of privacy to snort coke in the bathroom?

"Reasonable explanation of privacy" doesn't necessarily apply to "at will" employment.

Every company, large or small has some form of acceptable usage policy for their systems. Anything you type in can and will be used against you if necessary.

This isn't hard. Don't want your personal info on a work computer? Then don't put it there. Work computers, networks and other resources are not yours. They belong to your employer.

This is a bad analogy.

Actually, it's a rather perfect analogy.

People have some expectations of privacy and it's not normally considered acceptable to violate this.

Sometimes this stuff is untried in court or falls into a definite legal grey area and usually the policy is to err on the side of caution and simply assume that if something is commonly expected to be private, then it's private and should be kept so.

If we were investigating a user for XYZ and came across a file named "Personal Diary 2019.txt" or whatever, I can assure you that HR would not want us to open that file. Possibly if HR found out they'd declare the investigation tainted and want to stop it right there.

It's an absolutely terrible analogy.

First off, putting cameras in restrooms is illegal in most places.

Regardless of that, it boils down to a legitimate company need. Ensuring that users aren't using passwords definitely passes that test. Ensuring that employees aren't sexually harassing other employees also definitely passes that test. Yes, it's unusual that a password tipped people off to bad behavior, but if you see possible evidence of bad behavior, even if it comes from a strange source, you are ethically obligated to look into it. And for a company, not doing so could create legal liability.

Now, bathrooms? Well, for starters, you said "use of work bathrooms being made public". There was nothing "public" about this password case. The password was shared, privately, with HR and the guy's manager. The closest possible bathroom analogy I can think of might be someone reporting to HR that they see someone going into the bathroom multiple times a day, coming out with white powder residue under their nose, and subsequently acting very strangely, like they're on drugs. Which... seems like an entirely appropriate thing to notice and report.

To expand on the company need angle, logging in to your work account on your work computer hardware is absolutely a part of your job. Work has a vested interest in securing their computer systems while allowing authorized employees only to use them to conduct their work.

On the other hand, going to the bathroom is completely ancillary to your job. It's not a work-related duty; it's just something that humans have to do because we're made out of meat.

I'm trying to understand what you're saying, but it just seems completely divorced from reality.

Do you believe it has not been tested in the courts that cameras in bathrooms are illegal? Do you believe that if you polled office workers about whether bathrooms are private and whether they expect cameras to be in there, you would get any result other than widespread belief that bathrooms are private and there cannot be cameras in there?

Do you believe it has not been tested in the courts that anything you write on a work computer is the property of the employer? Do you believe that if you polled office workers about whether they think what they do with their work computer is audited or private to them, you would get any result other than widespread understanding that employers own everything you do on your work computer?

If HR found a file called "Personal Diary 2019.txt" on the computer that is owned by the company they work for, there is no expectation of privacy. This is not the user's personal computer that they hacked into or gained unauthorized access to. Courts have ruled on multiple occasions that you do not have an expectation of privacy on your employer's hardware.

If I was writing down offensive stuff about a coworker in the bathroom, that seems fair.

Being offensive is the privacy line?

I prefer the don't trust anything on your work machines or work equipment to be private, especially if it's synced with a server or directly from a server.

If it was his individual laptop or something it might be slightly different but the etc directory was remotely accessible and his password clearly matters to the company's security. Like a rented apartment a heads up beforehand might be a good courtesy not a requirement though.

Most of what I do in the restroom is offensive. All the rest is more like an atrocity. I'd still prefer not to be filmed.

Honestly, assume that everything on a work computer is being tracked - if the IT dude had managed to crack this fellow's personal email password then that's a different matter altogether.

He had already been warned the week before that his password had been cracked, and it was well known that we were cracking passwords.

>* One guy actually got fired for his password. He was already being super creepy and making the girl who sat across from him uncomfortable, but she never told anyone. Then we cracked his password, which was a very naughty phrase about the girl who sat across from him. I reported it to HR, who asked the girl, who then said he was creepy, and so they acted swiftly on the reports and got him out of there.*

So, he never did anything specific to call for, but just "was creepy" (which can often mean he was not very pretty and/or awkward socially / in expressing his feelings, as opposed to someone who would assault or anything close). And he had a password (in private) that was lewd or whatever, which he did not intend to share with anybody.

Yeah, let's fire the guy...

"Think of her comfort!" is the lonely childless Bay Area man's version of "Think of the children!"

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