The Moment Information Security Changed Forever

For many years as a child, McLeod Governance sat in front of the black and white television watching “On the Buses”.

Although it seemed to last a lot longer in our household, “On the Buses” was a not always politically correct British situational comedy that ran for four years about … no surprise … a bus driver.

The bus driver – Stan I think his name was – was played by the actor Reg Varney.

We hereby declare Reg Varney as one of the most important people in the history of information system security.

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Stay with us on this one.

At the height of his popularity, Varney was instantly recognisable and despite his character on “On the Buses” being anti establishment, someone who the British population trusted.

As so, on 27 June, 1967 in the London borough of Enfield, Varney walked up to an automatic teller machine and became the first ever customer.

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John Shepherd-Barron who died in 2010, aged 84, was the inventor of the cash machine.

Inspiration had struck Mr Shepherd-Barrow while he was in the bath.

In an interview with the BBC he noted “It struck me there must be a way I could get my own money, anywhere in the world or the UK. I hit upon the idea of a chocolate bar dispenser, but replacing chocolate with cash.”

Barclays was convinced immediately.

Plastic cards had not been invented, so Mr Shepherd-Barron’s machine used cheques that were impregnated with carbon 14, a mildly radioactive substance.

The machine detected it, then matched the cheque against a PIN number.

The machine paid out a maximum of £10 a time.

To start with, not everything went smoothly. The first machines were vandalised, and one that was installed in Zurich in Switzerland began to malfunction mysteriously.

It was later discovered that the wires from two intersecting tramlines nearby were sparking and interfering with the mechanism.

One by-product of inventing the first cash machine was the concept of the PIN number.

Mr Shepherd-Barron came up with the idea when he realised that he could remember his six-figure army number. But he decided to check that with his wife, Caroline.

“Over the kitchen table, she said she could only remember four figures, so because of her, four figures became the world standard,” he said.

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And so it comes to Reg Varney who – by chance – was living in Enfield at the time.

Had he not been the trustworthy personality that he apparently was at the time, it is very conceivable that automatic teller machines would have been launched without fanfare and concepts such as PIN numbers wouldn’t have gained as much widespread (or quick) acceptance as it subsequently did.

A bit farfetched?

Well think of it this way instead.

Varney in walking up to that cash machine in June 1967 became the first known customer to directly access the bank account maintenance information systems of a large commercial bank – legally.

That we today take it for granted such access should never override what was a major leap forward in the concept of information security.

And it was one Reg Varney that entered the first PIN.

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