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Apple patent stashes passwords in chargers

Forgot your login? Your power adapter will spill the beans

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Apple has filed a patent on a power adapter that helps users to get back forgotten passwords.

The system works by storing login information in a memory chip in the power supply and a key on the computer or server to unlock the secret.

The documentation describes one scenario in which a computer user's login password is encrypted using a unique ID number as the key. The encrypted password is stored as a secret in the connected power adapter's memory chip and the ID number is stored in the computer. If the user forgets his or her password then they can plug in the adapter so the computer can read off the encrypted secret, decrypt it using the ID number and present this to the login system on the computer - hey presto, you've got your password back.

The approach is positioned as an alternative to traditional password recovery techniques, which encourage users to pick weak passwords because remembering or reseting them can be a pain in the arse. With Apple's system, passwords can be as complex as allowed because recovering them is a case of plugging in a power adapter.

However, as Apple concedes, the approach is limited to cases where a device is not normally carried around with a charger. And just about every Cupertino product needs to be ferried about with a charger.

Apple's patent explains how the adapter password recovery approach might be combined with technology at its server to make using a device more difficult for a thief, even if he steals both a device and its power adapter. The patent - US patent 2012/0005747 [PDF] - goes on to outline a broader approach for password recovery and peripherals, involving the storage of password recovery data on printers or Wi-Fi routers, for example.

More commentary on the patent can be found in a story on the technology by The New Scientist here. ®

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