Mother’s Maiden Name?

This was one of the most common security questions. Thankfully we don’t encounter these as often as we used to.

But for at least two decades, during online account setup, sites frequently asked us to enter our mother’s maiden name as a way of identifying ourselves.

Take a guess!

When do you think asking for this tidbit of personal info (as a security technique) was first publicly described?

  • 1978
  • 1932
  • 1882
  • 1957

And the answer is . . . 1882!

Yup, it’s true. Asking someone to disclose their “mother’s maiden name” as a security technique was first publicly described in 1882.

That’s the year Sacramento, CA banker — Frank Miller — published his book titled “Telegraphic Code: To Insure Privacy and Secrecy In The Transmission Of Telegrams.”

This was the same book which described the first concept and implementation of the One-Time Pad.

Frank and his fellow banker buddies conducted high finance over the Internet of their day, the Telegraph, which was considered by many to be completely insecure; about as private as sending a postcard.

How did you transfer loads of your employer’s money securely over an insecure means of communication?

You used a telegraphic code book and combined it with other layers of security. Big $$$$s were involved, and no one wanted — then or now — to be the one who screwed up a transaction.

So “mother’s maiden name” became one of the layers of security used in money transfers.

As they said on Battlestar Galactica: “All this has happened before, and all this will happen again.”

Interesting how things seem to repeat over and over.

— Anthony Collette

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