Hackers unlocking Norway's history

Web experts help a Norwegian cultural center recover a password to a historical database cataloging 11,000 original manuscripts after the organization makes an online plea for aid.

Robert Lemos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Robert Lemos
covers viruses, worms and other security threats.
Robert Lemos
2 min read
A Norwegian educational center for cultural preservation lost the password to a historical database cataloging 11,000 original books and manuscripts, but was able to recover it with help from the Web.

E-mail messages from more than 100 good Samaritans flooded the Ivar Aasen Center for Language and Culture starting Thursday afternoon after the organization called for aid in hacking into one of its own databases to which the password was lost, said a message posted to the center's Web site on Friday. Among the messages was the correct password to the locked database, which the center had posted online.

"Our computing expert is now on the case," Kirsti Langstoyl, librarian for the center, wrote in the posting. "On Monday we (will) know if we have the original database working, and we will present the name of the person with the final solution."

It's unknown whether the helpful hackers that provided the correct answer decrypted the database, guessed the correct password, or used a flaw in the database's security to obtain access to the data. In its online message, the center said it would post more details on Monday.

The center had publicly requested aid from security experts on the Web last week after its employees were unable to open a digital catalog obtained from the family of Reidar Djupedal after his death in 1989. Djupedal was a professor and an expert on Ivar Aasen, an itinerant Norwegian researcher who, in 1850, established a new language for Norway that bridged all the country's dialects.

The new Norwegian, or Nynorsk, is spoken regularly by about 20 percent of the country and is the main language in Western Norway, where nearly 25 percent of newspapers use it. The widely used Dano-Norwegian language, or Bokmål, a written language based on Danish, makes up the other 80 percent, according to the center.

Nine years ago, an archivist registered 11,000 of Djupedal's 14,000 titles in a DBase IV database, but the man died before the collection and the database reached the center, leaving the password-protected catalog inaccessible.

"We have no known information from him which can help us solve the problem," the center lamented on the Web site.

The center called for help from anyone who could break the encryption on the database or find the password.

The first e-mail received by the center on Thursday not only had the correct password, but also included the unencrypted files of the database. Submissions included "ladepujd"--the late professor's last name spelled backwards--"maiendaiog" and "vmaarett."

It's unknown whether the latter two words are Norwegian.