Some of the UK’s top IT bosses have dismissed Microsoft chairman Bill Gates’ latest prediction that the password is dead.

Speaking at the Microsoft IT Forum conference in Copenhagen, Gates said passwords are a weak spot in security and identity authentication and that Microsoft and other leading edge businesses are already moving onto smart cards and biometrics.

Almost two-thirds (seven) of the CIO Jury disagreed with Gates’ crystal-ball gazing, with the other five in support of his claim that the password is dead.

More than one pointed out that Gates has hardly been known for accurate predictions about future trends in the IT industry.

Ted Woodhouse, head of IT at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “Gates’ future gazing has never filled me with confidence – after all, this is the man who said that 640KB would always be more than enough for any desktop computer.”

Graham Yellowley, director of technology at Mitsubishi Securities International, said that whatever the strengths and weaknesses of the password it is still the only real identity standard. “An official identity standard has yet to be adopted, whether it be biometrics using fingerprints or iris scanning or via smartcards. Until a government adopts a national identity standard passwords will remain,” he said.

Gavin Whatrup, IT director at advertising agency Delaney Lund Knox Warren & Partners, said: “A single, portable, losable card is not, on its own, the answer. The password or passphrase is less user-friendly but it is portable, secure – with the correct strength and refresh policies – and not easily lost or compromised with the correct training.”

Passwords are dying but not yet dead, according to Ian Cohen, IT director at the Financial Times. “It is an industry challenge to make solutions that are standards based and accessible to all. We must never lose sight of the fact that the overwhelming issues are not about security technology but about perception and trust,” he said.

Margaret Smith, director of business information systems at Legal & General, said Gates is only partly right. “I believe that in the longer term passwords will be dead but am not convinced that smart cards will be the answer. In short he is right, but he is also wrong,” she said.

But Phil Young, head of IT at Amtrak, said passwords are becoming unmanageable and too difficult to use. “Passwords are hard to manage and due to the number of passwords people need to remember together with pin numbers it is becoming harder for the user. I personally feel that small smart devices such as finger scanners will become more prevalent in the not so distant future,” he said.

Today’s CIO Jury was…

Colin Cobain, IT director, Tesco
Ian Cohen, IT director, Financial Times
Derek Gannon, operations director, Guardian Newspapers
Matthew Gouldstone, technology services manager, Prudential
John Keeling, director of computer services, John Lewis Partnership
Dr John Odell, group IT director, BBA Group
Margaret Smith, director of business information systems, Legal & General
Gavin Whatrup, IT director, Delaney Lund Knox Warren & Partners
Ted Woodhouse, head of IT, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust
Graham Yellowley, director of technology, Mitsubishi Securities International
Phil Young, head of IT, Amtrak
David Yu, CTO, Betfair

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