Swedish programmer cracks password

A Swedish game programmer wins the race to discover the password to a Norwegian history museum's database, the museum's director says.

Robert Lemos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Robert Lemos
covers viruses, worms and other security threats.
Robert Lemos
3 min read
A Swedish game programmer won the race to discover the password to a Norwegian history museum's database, the museum's director said Monday. The password had been lost when the database's steward died without revealing it.

Ottar Grepstad, director of the Ivar Aasen Center for Language and Culture, said in an interview that Joachim Eriksson, a programmer for Swedish game company Snowcode, sent the correct password just five hours after the museum's call for help. The center had posted the database file on its Web site, asking for help in opening it.

"He used one hour to solve everything," Grepstad said. "It is a story with a happy end."

Eriksson's e-mail--the first received by the center--not only had the correct password, it also included the unencrypted files of the database. Later submissions also had the correct password.

The database serves as a digital catalog to a collection of more than 11,000 books and manuscripts, and the password--"ladepujd"--turned out to be the backward spelling of the last name of the researcher who assembled the collection.

The center had publicly requested aid from security experts on the Web last week after its employees were unable to open the 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 Bokm?l, a written language based on Danish, makes up the other 80 percent, according to the center.

Nine years ago, an archivist transferred bibliographic information on 11,000 of Djupedal's 14,000 titles to a database created with DBase III and IV, but the archivist died before the collection and the catalog reached the center, taking the password with him and leaving the catalog inaccessible. Djupedal himself had died earlier.

"We have no known information from (the archivist) which can help us solve the problem," the center lamented on the Web site, calling for help from anyone who could break the encryption on the database or find the password.

E-mail messages from more than 100 people began flooding the center on Thursday afternoon after the organization's call for aid was picked up by the media. The online request attracted a lot of attention and, reportedly, even had some parapsychologists calling to offer aid.

Previously, the center had tried to get other Norwegian librarians to help, and when that failed, hired professional computer technicians. "We tried some expert help," said Grepstad, "but it turned out not to be so expert."

That's when the center hit upon the idea of using the Web. After posting the encrypted database on its site, the center had more than 400,000 hits.

It's unknown how Eriksson retrieved the password--by decrypting the database, using a flaw in the database's security to obtain access to the data, or simply by guessing. Eriksson could not be immediately reached for comment Monday.