RACY CASES-60 Passing the password


V Pattabhi Ram and R Chandrasekar

“Good morning Mr. Varma.” It was the ever smiling Shyam now beaming at his burly Senior Manager in-charge of loans.  Varma had put in more than 20 years at the bank, had risen from the ranks and the work pressure was reflected n his balding pane and his powerful glasses!

“Morning, Shyam.  So how was the weekend?” asked Varma making an effort to bend down and switch on the computer.  His growing belly was coming in the way.  Varma had once believed that this was the sign of prosperity.  He had later learnt from his doctor that it was a sign of lack of physical exercise.

“Good Sir.  We had a few guests from my wife’s side. We went to Mahabalipuram for the weekend.  But the travel through the East Coast Road in public transport was horrible.  We were sapped for energy by the time we reached the place”.  Shyam was in his late 20s and was given to leading a life full of zest.

“You should have taken a car”.

“Yes Sir.  But you see I don’t have one.  Hiring a cab will make a huge hole in my purse.”  He then paused.  He wasn’t sure whether he should use this opportunity to make a pitch.  He decided to go ahead with it because another chance may not come up.

“I was just wondering whether I could avail myself of a car loan from the Bank” said Shyam trying to build a case as it was Varma who had to authorize the loan. Varma sat starring at the screen where the new Core Banking Solution software module popped up.  He was not very comfortable working with it.

“Shyam, what about your loan targets? The quarter is coming to a close and you might as well focus on it.  Also this is no time to seek and obtain personal loans.” Varma was still trying to navigate around the new screens.  His blood pressure was rising.  It was not clear whether he was angry with himself at his lack of familiarity with the software usage or whether his wrath was with Shyam.

Shyam fell quiet as this was how Varma invariably reacted whenever he tried to make a point. Shyam had to find a way out.  He was also feeling the pressure of a newly-wed trying to settle down in life with a few comforts. But he realized that this was no time to push his luck with Varma.

“Do you know how this damn system works? I cannot make head or tail of it” grumbled Varma. Ha.  Shyam saw this as a great opportunity to impress Varma.  He wasn’t a tech whiz but he had rapidly adapted to technology like a fish would to water. He went over to Varma’s side so that he was now facing the computer. “Oh! The system has timed out! You need to login again Sir.”

Varma searched for the keys on the keyboard, retyped his user-id, spelling out his password in a low tone. He hadn’t formally learnt typewriting and was ill at ease with the QWERTY keyboard. He hadn’t worked on the computers for a sufficiently long period to appreciate where each key lay.  Once logged in Shyam showed Varma around the software navigating it with consummate ease.

“You are young and have picked up the working quickly” commended Varma. “We seniors have long been used to working with manual ledgers and computerization happened long past our prime.  Thank you Shyam”.  Varma gave the young banker a rare smile.

The following week, to everybody’s surprise, Shyam drove in to the office in a brand new Hyundai Santro. Where did Shyam obtain funds for the car, wondered Varma?  But he didn’t ask him.  A fortnight later the concurrent auditor’s report showed that on the core banking software a loan for Rs 4 lakhs had been authorized to Shyam by Varma.

Bank’s management was upset.  The loan to an employee wasn’t a priority for the cash strapped bank.  It called Varma for an explanation.  The senior manager claimed that someone had misused his password.  He even made it discreetly known that the thief could be Shyam himself but that he had no proof to back his charge.

When Wafers heard this story she was flabbergasted.  Surely, a senior manager with 20 plus years of experience could not have been so naïve as to read his password within the earshot of others. She asked the resident expert China.  “China while Varma’s is a case of rank irresponsibility, what should a user do to safeguard his password against theft or misuse?”

China said, “Every user should first understand that login credentials are as good as a signature and could bind an employee to a particular transaction. While a forged signature can be detected and traced to the perpetrator of crime, a misused login is a white collar crime and cannot be either easily detected or if detected traced to the perpetrator.”

Wafers chipped in.  “I think passwords should be strong.  They should be difficult to guess.  You should not use personal details like your name or your wife’s name as these are easy to guess.”  China added, “An alpha numeric password that is constantly altered could do the trick.”

Actually the Technology department should ban the use of external media drives and restrict internet access only to essential systems” said Wafers.  And added, “China, is it possible for someone to steal my password sitting at another part of the room?”  China smiled.  “Why sit in another part of the room.  They can sit in another part of the world.  Geeks have developed software called Trojan horse that can get into your system and read your keystrokes so as to capture your password and bank PIN numbers.”

Wafers was shocked.  “What do I do in that case?”  China again smiled.  The ancient proverb, “Discretion is the better part of valor.  Keep changing your password and keep a constant eye on the bank account.”

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About Pattabhi Ram

A chartered accountant by profession, a writer by passion and a teacher by accidental choice.
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