13

The vast majority of times authorisation codes are used, they are usually spoken to a computer. I have never noticed any hesitation to do this while in the company of others. There also seem to be many cases where someone who knows the correct authorisation codes can gain access to various systems.

Do the use of a verbal access codes expose them to others who might be listening? If not, how does one bypass whatever protection mechanisms are in place to stop fraudulent codes?

  • This isn't actually an answer to the question, but I'd say it's due to badly-chosen passwords. The computers are certainly capable of using much more secure ones that are much harder to memorize once heard... And the computer readout implies that any word can be used, not just English/Greek letters. – Izkata Dec 22 '12 at 20:01
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    I can't find the clip, but in TNG, Lwaxana Troi almost succeeds in tricking a Ferengi officer into using his authorisation code in her presence-- until another officer intervenes, horrified at the imminent breach of security. Obviously such codes aren't very secure, but they've been familiar to the audience since they were used with such great dramatic effect in TOS. Anything more secure is hard enough to understand in real life-- getting it across to the audience would take a lot of effort. – Beta Dec 23 '12 at 4:29
14

The codes are matched to voiceprints stored in the computers. Just like a username/password combination, they must match.

From Memory Alpha:

In 2372 Neelix was able to gain access to Tom Paris's computer with an engineering authorization code (Engineering-Authorization-Omega-4-7) without the proper voiceprint of Paris. (VOY: "Investigations")

Apparently, Starfleet is still just as unable to find a security technology that actually works as we are in this day. ;-) You'd think they'd be using multi-factor authentication at least.

In Starfleet, the style of code varies from decade to decade. In 2365, the code was a long sequence of numbers, letters from the Human Greek and English alphabet pronounced phonetically and colors. By the following year, the code standardized to a form used from that point on. Typically, this would involve the user's name, Greek letters, and numbers. Codes are changed on a regular basis, to prevent sabotage and security breaches.

So not only is it possible for a cook to figure out how to bypass the security, they are using an easy-to-guess pattern for coming up with passwords. Apparently the need to protect the self-destruct must not be that great, given the lax security protocols.

The Memory Alpha article does at least say they change their passwords frequently. Hopefully they know about the dangers of password re-use.

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    "Apparently the need to protect the self-destruct must not be that great, given the lax security protocols." - To be fair, if you trigger the self destruct, it will a) warn everyone on the ship, b) take at least ~30 seconds to go off (much longer in the TNG era), and c) probably kill you just as much as everyone else. – Kevin Sep 14 '16 at 6:47
5

A possible mechanism that makes publically spoken authorization codes reasonably safe is to have them valid for a single use only - it doesn't matter that everyone present knows the password afterwards when it gets used up through that action.

It's still not very practical though, for both frequent (constantly new codes) and infrequent use (remembering cryptic codes for a long time without using them).

Honestly, it's probably just lazy writing: Having a person in authority recite a cryptic code containing exotic letters before they can do something (rather than just giving the order) is an easy way to add drama and drive home the point that they're doing something important.

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