Stephen Howes, chief executive and co-founder of GrIDsure, has a not-so-modest ambition: to reinvent passwords to make them more secure and less onerous. He has the technology; what's needed is real-world adoption.
"People are forgetting the end user," he said. "Being forced into using complex passwords doesn't fit with the natural way of thinking."
Howes began as a software engineer, graduating from what's now Oxford Brookes University in the early 1980s when programming was all mainframes and Cobol.
"You didn't go immediately to a keyboard and start typing. You had to plan things out properly and do things on coding sheets and really think about the problem you were trying to solve," he said.
"Someone typed your code in for you, and a couple of days later you'd go in and run it for the first time and see how many errors there were."
After a brief stint in the pharmaceutical industry, Howes took a "leap of faith" and went to work for a company that the local recruitment agency told him was doing things with "this thing called the internet" that might never amount to anything.
The company was Pipex, and Howes became employee number 20. He stayed there while it was bought by UUnet and then WorldCom, whose stock options he still has on paper.
Again, problem solving was a key element. "It was quite recognised within UUnet that if there were nutty problems to be solved, give them to the guys in Europe," Howes said.
Americans would want to give up and move on after a couple of days. "In Europe we would keep cracking at it until we found a solution," he explained.
It was, Howes said, an exciting time working with internet visionaries, and he stayed "until WorldCom came and screwed it up".
In 2002 he started up an IT consultancy. "I was doing a piece of work for a guy named Jonathan Craymer [GrIDsure's co-founder], who was working on a mechanism for being able to remember PINs," he said.
"Somebody asked him how they could generate one-time PINs or passwords without having to carry any hardware. So he sat in my kitchen one day and scribbled on lots of pieces of paper and a few hours later came up with the GrIDsure concept."
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