Computing enthusiast cracks ancient Unix code


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Computing enthusiast cracks ancient Unix code

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Old passwords never die – they just become easier to decode. That’s the message from a tight-knit community of tech history enthusiasts who have been diligently cracking the passwords used by some of the original Unix engineers four decades ago. Learn more:

On 3 October, an enthusiast on the Unix Heritage Society mailing listaskeda question about cracking passwords stored in old Unix systems. The source code for various revisions of Unix from the seventies onward is available online for anyone to download, and these revisions store the passwords for various staff members in theetc/passwdfile.

Unix hashed these passwords by running them through an algorithm called descrypt (also known as crypt(3)), which used the original DES encryption algorithm and limited the password length to eight characters. This was good enough to stop people recovering the password from the original hashes at the time, but 40 years on, computers are a little bit faster.

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