Norwegian library needs help of cyber-locksmiths

Kirsti Langstoyl has a data recovery problem that might require a seance to solve. But she’ll take a good IT professional with a knack for data recovery.

Langstoyl, librarian at the Ivar Aasen Centre for New Norwegian Culture in Oresta, Norway, is trying to unlock a database that has been closed for about nine years since the death of the man who compiled it.

The two-year-old centre is only now trying to sort through the database of more than 14,000 books and magazines written in New Norwegian. Langstoyl has dBase disks that can tell her what is in the database, but she doesn’t know the password to gain access. Wolf Djupedal, who created the database, died without ever writing down the password.

Without the password, the only other way Langstoyl figures she can solve the problem is to recatalog the collection and rebuild the database herself.

“The thing is, we have had about 80 e-mails and phone calls from all over Norway, mostly from people who work in small businesses, some private persons, that are interested in computing and want to try to solve our problem,” Langstoyl said in a telephone interview today. “It is more difficult than we thought.”

The loss of a password through the death of the user isn’t that uncommon, said Steve Weiss, president of Password Crackers Inc. in North Potomac, Md., a company of cyberlocksmiths who crack password-protected files and systems. Usually, Weiss gets calls from companies that need his help because of a disgruntled employee who left the company and refused to reveal passwords for protected data.

“That is most of what we get,” Weiss said. “Death is rarely the cause, although, we did have a network administrator hit by bus.”

Another cause is illness, said Steve Lewis, editor of the Disaster Recovery Yellow Pages, published by Systems Audit Group Inc. in Newton, Mass.

Lewis said he once helped on a job for a small bank north of Boston whose vice president of marketing was struck down by appendicitis. While the vice president was in the hospital, important phone calls were piling up in his voice mailbox. The bank finally had to get the phone company to open the voice mailbox or lose business.

“They couldn’t exactly run over to the hospital and say ‘Joe what is your password?’ ” Lewis said.

Weiss said that cracking the library’s database shouldn’t be that hard. He said the basic encryption for dBase files is wide open and unless there are complications, he estimated that he could gain access to the Norwegian database in a few minutes and would charge about $40.

However, he added that dBase is a programming language and it’s possible that Djupedal could have written another encryption into it. If that is the case, Weiss said, then the problem would be more complex, but he added he was still sure he could crack it.

Langstoyl said she would like to have the problem solved soon. She said the center is trying to add its collection to a nationwide library system for scholars and others to use.

The collection is of great interest to Norwegian scholars because it is in the New Norwegian language, Langstoyl said. Norway has two written versions of its language, she said. One is dano-Norwegian, which has its roots in the nation’s long association with Denmark. The other is New Norwegian, which is viewed as a common denominator for the country’s dialects. In 1850, Ivar Aasen, for whom the centre is named, wrote a dictionary and a grammar for New Norwegian.