Diary of a Network Geek

The trials and tribulations of a Certified Novell Engineer who's been stranded in Houston, Texas.

10/17/2011

Your Password Is Too Weak!

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Geek Work,News and Current Events,The Dark Side — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:19 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

No, seriously, it is.

If it makes you feel any better, most people’s passwords are too weak.
I suppose you think it doesn’t matter how “strong” your Gmail (or Hotmail or whatever free email you use) password is, right?  Well, you’d be wrong.  I recently read an account about how one person’s Gmail account was hacked and used to spam and try to get her friends to send the hacker money, all posed as her.  Of course, that was after deleting more than 4 Gigabytes of stored messages and photos.  You can read that account, as told by her husband, over at the Atlantic, in an article titled “Hacked!”  It’s worth reading, especially if you’re not in the IT business.  And, frankly, even for a fellow professional computer geek, it might be eye-opening to see how hacked email accounts are being used these days.  I have to admit, I was a little surprised that the attacker in question actually used the account personally to try and con money out of the victim’s friends and family.

I was not, however, all that shocked to see how many accounts are compromised on a regular basis.  Think the thousands.  Daily.
Right, so thousands of email accounts on which people depend are hijacked, used and abused on a daily basis.  If it hasn’t happened to you, it’s probably only a matter of time.  So, how do they do it?  Shared, easily guessable passwords.
Yes, it’s that easy.
Stop for a minute and think about how many passwords you use on a regular basis.  How many are the same?  How many accounts do you have for things like bank accounts and credit cards and medical records that use the same password as your email?  And how many of those accounts use that same email address as the username?
Getting the picture?

So, what do you do?
First, stop reusing passwords.
Second, make more secure passwords.  And, don’t think that the old way of replacing “L” with the numeral one or the letter “O” with the numeral zero and that kind of thing will work, either.  The hackers are on to that.  It’s better to use words that are not in the dictionary.  So, yes, made up words.  Or, even better, phrases, which is what I’ve recommended for some time.  Having a hard time coming up with one?  Try using one generated randomly for you at passphra.se, a random passphrase generator which was inspired by an XKCD comic.  The comic explains the reasoning behind the passphrase idea and the generator.  Also, XKCD is pretty funny and if you’re geeky like me at all, it’s well worth checking out.

In today’s world, we’re way too interconnected and digital and reliant on those systems to have relaxed security.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a geek or not.  Please, think about your passwords and how easily they might be compromised.  Then think about what that might mean to your life, digital and otherwise.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go change some passwords…


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"Character consists of what you do on the third and fourth tries."
   --James Michener

1/4/2011

Change Your Passwords!

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Geek Work,News and Current Events,Rotten Apples,The Dark Side — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Rooster which is in the early evening or 6:35 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a New Moon

Yeah, yeah, happy New Year to you you, too, now, go change your passwords.

No, seriously, change your passwords.  Think about how long it’s been since  you either setup that account or changed the password on it.  Now, consider that there have been some significant security breaches in the past year, including the issues at Gawker and their family of popular websites, and think about how many places you’ve used that same password.  It’s your favorite one, right?  The one you use for all your accounts, because it’s so, so easy to remember?  Guess what, it’s also probably easy to crack and is probably in a database on some hacker/cracker website right now matched up with the e-mail address you used, too.  How long will it be, do you suppose, before someone gets into all your accounts?

Right.
So, go change your passwords.
Not sure how to pick a good one?  Well, if you trust the U.S. Government for security, you can go to their Computer Emergency Readiness Team (aka US-CERT) for advice on choosing a secure password.  If you’re like me, though, you categorically do NOT trust a government agency for your personal security, in which case I recommend that you check out premier security expert Bruce Schneier’s advice for picking a secure password.

I’ll offer two bits of advice on the topic.
First, if any system lets you, choose a password that includes numbers and special characters, not just letters.  The example I always use is “@2brutus”  And, yes, that means I will NEVER again use that as a password. *sigh*  I like to substitute numbers for letters which resemble them, like the number one instead of the letter L or the letter I.  In the example, I’ve taken a  whole word out “et” and substituted the “at” symbol, or “@”.
Secondly, try to use something that is not a single word, but a phrase.  Again, in the example, I took my bastardization of “et tu brute”, which I remembered as “et tu brutus” and mashed it up a bit.  I have known people who use short sentences, however.  One guy I worked with occasionally used lines from Lewis Carroll’s [amazon_link id=”0810911507″ target=”_blank” ]Jaberwocky[/amazon_link], which adds the extra security of words that will most likely never be found in any standard dictionary of any language.

So, trust me on this, if you haven’t done it, start the new year right and change your passwords.


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"Laughter is a tranquilizer with no side effects."
   --Arnold Glasgow


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