Passwords: Three ways to let the baddies win

To paraphrase Douglas Adams, the Internet is new. Really new. I mean, you might think space travel, computers and fridges are new, but compared to the Internet they’re positively ancient.

I know, I know. The technology historians will tell you the Internet had its roots waaaay back in the seventies, but really, for 99.9% of us, “The Web” was just a 1947 crime movie until the mid-nineties. Strictly, the “WWW” appeared in 1991, but come on – how many of you had even heard of it (let alone used it) until well into the era of Cool Britannia, New Labour and England’s agonising penalty shootout defeat at Euro 96? Exactly.

So, by my reckoning the Internet is barely 20 years old. Not much more than a teenager, in fact. Like many teenagers, it’s grown really fast. Some of the things it gets up to aren’t very savoury. And it’s always demanding attention. (Excuse me while I go check my emails, tweets and status updates…) Despite its youth, immaturity and anarchic setup, however, we all know it’s been the most runaway of runaway successes.

“Fascinating,” I hear you say, as you simultaneously stifle a yawn and check your watch / phone / tablet / blood pressure. “But I thought this was about passwords.” And so it is. The point about the Internet being new is that, by and large, it still has a culture of trust. Oh, we hear the stories of scammers, viruses and hackers but tend to assume it won’t happen to us. Regretfully, that’s a naïve assumption.

They really are out to get you

Cyberthief

Back in the “olden days” (or perhaps still, in a few remote locations), we’re told that nobody locked their front doors. Crime happened back then, of course, but generally speaking, it tended not to happen and there was that culture of trust. As time went on and burglary increased, we started locking our doors. If we didn’t, and then expected sympathy after being robbed, we’d be laughed at. Not only that, but as time went by we added more sophisticated locks, shoot bolts, window locks and burglar alarms. Multiple defences to make it harder for the baddies. We moved from a culture of trust to a culture of protection and prevention.

In that regard, the online world is like rural England several decades ago. Many of us are touchingly innocent about the malevolent, sophisticated and heartless elements out there in cyberspace. (Does anyone say “cyberspace” any more? Or has it gone the same way as “the information superhighway”?) Not to put the frighteners on you, but I can say with some confidence that there are digital baddies out to get you. They are modern-day highwaymen out to relieve you of your cash. And, yes, although there are multiple routes they take, it all boils down to cold, hard money.

OK, I believe you. But why are they interested in me?

  • They want your identity so they can steal your money.
  • They want your confidential information so they can steal your identity so they can steal your money.
  • They want to blackmail you so they can steal your money.
  • They want to hijack your computer, your phone, your tablet and anything else connected to the Internet so they can disguise their criminal activities, attack other computers, and probably ruin your files while they’re at it.

My conclusion, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Interweb Age, is that it’s time to move from a culture of trust to a culture of protection and prevention.

Ah, so that’s where passwords come in

Precisely. Although, to be honest, passwords are only a small part of the picture. There are other technical tactics, attitudes and habits we need in order reduce the chances of being taken for a cyber-ride. But passwords are fundamental, much as we may loathe them. They’re like fitting that first lock to your front door. Even a cheap rim lock is better than no lock. And if the next door is unlocked, guess which one the villain will choose?

If you upgrade to a stronger Yale lock or a 5-lever mortice lock, your chances of resisting attack increase. And so with passwords.

OK, so get to that “Three ways…” stuff

Quite so. Here, then, are my top Three Ways To Let The Baddies Win when it comes to your passwords. If you’ve heard them all before, I trust you’re not doing them. And if you’ve never heard them before, please stop doing them. Now.

Way #1: Use Simple Passwords

There are a bazillion articles on the web about how you shouldn’t use simple passwords such as:

  • 123456
  • Fred
  • Christmas
  • ManchesterUnited

Yes, even that last one is lousy and could be cracked in a little over 2 minutes:

 

weak_password

Oh. Dear. Password assessment courtesy of My1Login.com.

 

Cyber Villains United would thank you for using any of the above or similar.

Way #2: Use the Same Password for Multiple Sites

Why does this matter? ‘Cos if Joe Evilhacker gets hold of one of your passwords he’s going to try it on loads of popular sites and, in your case, he’ll strike gold because you use the same one on Amazon, eBay and Facebook.

Do not do this. If you’re doing this, don’t do it any more. With immediate effect.

Way #3: Make Your Passwords Conveniently Available

<preacher_mode>

If you’re going to physically write them down, treat that document like your front door key. Don’t write your passwords on sticky notes on the PC. Don’t leave them lying about on the desk. Don’t put them in a notebook entitled Computer Passwords. Make it difficult for anyone who shouldn’t have access to even recognise what the document is, let alone get hold of it.

If you keep passwords on your computer, at least make sure there’s a password on that document. (And, yes, you must also protect the password to that document…) A “password manager” is better than a simple document for various reasons – but whatever approach you take assume that the worst could happen. (And, of course, if the information is in a computer file of some sort, it must be backed up somewhere – otherwise, it might be you that’s locked out of your accounts, not just the criminals.)

</preacher_mode>

A note of clarification

At the (severe) risk of insulting your intelligence, I should emphasise that the above are what not to do. Was that blindingly obvious anyway? It was? Sorry.

Enjoy the Internet, that stroppy teenager, and may your digital defences never be breached.

 

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Normally I hate blog posts about blogging, but…

…I’ll make an exception today because I’m writing one 🙂

My WordPress blog goes through long periods of neglect (like my squash playing or cleaning the bath) but then the mood strikes and here I am again. How come?

  • Firstly because my To-Do app on the iPad prompted me that it’s time to back up my blog. Actually there’s not a lot of point me backing up this blog since the last post was in March and I backed it up in April. Although, since I’m now writing a new post…
  • Secondly because when I do blog I sometimes try a different theme and I knew that I really didn’t like my last choice. But of course, you can’t see my last choice because I’ve now changed it. And if you read this at some point in the future (what else might you do? read it in the past…?) you might not be seeing the theme I chose today ‘cos I might have changed it again…
  • Thirdly because I was thinking about writing a tech-based post due to the increasing frequency with which I’m being notified that my devices / software aren’t up to scratch to run the latest stuff. More on this below.

Hence, I sit and type.

On my 2009 Compaq desktop running Windows VistaVista???!! Yep. On which I run Internet Explorer 9, the latest Vista can understand. And which, Twitter, now tells me, is inadequate and therefore I am reduced to viewing Twitter Mobile. On my desktop.

twitter_ie9

Humph.

My other ageing device is a second generation iPod Touch, circa January 2009. I recently tried to add a Gmail account to the mail app and Gmail refused, saying the device wasn’t secure enough. Can’t complain about that, what with me being an IT guy and all. Then yesterday YouTube on the iPod started warning me it no longer fully supported my device.

Dang it. Inevitable really.

And so I muse on changing the PC, upgrading the PC to Windows 8.1 (and thence to Windows 10), and whether to keep the iPod for music only and invest in – gasp – a smartphone that can handle my email and YouTube thingies. (My current phone is distinctly unsmart – it makes calls and sends texts, end of story. Until my iPod started showing these signs of obsolescence I thought I’d hang on to my old phone until it broke. But maybe not.)

If you have absolutely nothing better to do, watch this space for further developments. And if you really have absolutely nothing better to do than that, I suggest you seek help.

Back up your WordPress posts with Export!

The other day my iPad blogging app got confused between a brand new post I’d written and an existing WordPress post on this site. Result: When I “published” my new post, it actually overwrote the existing post. Boo. It was a fascinating one, too (as are they all, of course). Having dried my tears, I came to terms with the fact that it was irretrievably gone. All my blood, sweat and tears, vanished in an instant.

Sniff.

Anyhoo, after telling myself to get over it, I realised I had fallen victim to a risk management failure (as well as a technical one). In my other life as an IT manager, it’s my bread and butter to ensure that data we don’t want to lose is protected – sometimes, in more than one place. In this case, however, since I don’t routinely keep local copies of my posts, I failed miserably to apply my own good principles. I am suitably ashamed.

WordPressExportA quick glance around my WordPress dashboard led me to the Export tool. This downloads my precious posts to an XML file suitable for re-import to any WP site. (But, at a pinch, the raw text could also be extracted.) So hereafter, I’ll download the file at least monthly so that in the event of further human or technical glitches I can recover.

Have a good day – and don’t forget to back up your data 🙂

iPad Battery Dying: May have found the culprit(s)

Image

I’ve always been impressed by my iPad’s battery life (~10 hours of use) but a few weeks back had repeated recurrences of it going flat overnight. So flat, in fact, that it refused to wake up until I connected the charger.

My first thought was that some rogue application (or “app” as we young trendies call them) was doing something in the background I wasn’t aware of. A search revealed a list of “top 10 battery killers” (which I would gladly have provided a link to but can no longer find!). #1 was Google Earth. This made some sense to me as I’ve rarely used it but certainly had done the weekend I started having problems.

After that I made a point of closing Google Earth if I used it. Unfortunately my Dead Battery Syndrome persisted.

Back to the Internet, where there’s no shortage of battery-saving tips, most of which I thought I’d already taken care of. As it turned out, there were two settings that had changed and which I believe may have been the cause:

  • Auto-Lock was set to Never instead of every x minutes. That means that if something happened to illuminate the screen, it might never go off again. I’d changed the setting when somebody else borrowed the iPad and I didn’t want to tell them what the lock code was. Once they’d finished I should have set it back.
  • Email was set to Push. My messages aren’t that vital that I have to have them immediately, so I’d always set email to collect on a schedule. I suspect it got set back to Push when I removed & re-added an account.

I reverted those two settings and followed another piece of advice to give the battery a long charge – they suggested up to 48 hours but I stopped at close to 24 hours.

Since that I’ve not had a Dead Battery for almost a week.

Guess what? Prayer makes a difference.

After wrestling with a technical problem for several months I finally found a solution today! So grateful to God for that. Kind of fits in with my recent thoughts about offering all my work to God.

This particular project has been a thorn in my side for a while now. There were other aspects of it that were making me feel angry and anxious by turns. Recalling my own advice, and some I’d read in earlier editions of this daily devotional, I decided to “take authority” (Jesus’s, not mine) over the project and I commanded it to get in line with God’s will – which, generally speaking, does not include angst, friction or constant frustration.

To be honest I felt a bit stupid praying like that. But – my technical problem is fixed and I feel much more hopeful and peaceful about the rest. Who’d have thought it? God cares, and prayer makes a difference 🙂

Grasshopper Reader: Quit just reading the titles!

Grasshopper

Beware the Grasshopper Reader!

I blame the Internet. In the days when the only time you heard the word “online” was when Scotty informed Captain Kirk that the warp drive wouldn't be back online for another twenty minutes (only to be told that he had no more than ten, to which he calmly replied that he'd see what he could do but that he canna change the laws of physics, but you knew, just knew, he'd have those crystals humming again in a little over nine minutes…erm, sorry, carried away…), my reading was mostly front to back. Books – start at page 1 (or maybe page “i” if it had those odd pre-pages before the actual pages) and read to the end. Magazines – such as Railway Modeller, Record Mirror or (its much cooler, hardcore successor) Sounds – generally front to back. Even newspapers – be it the Wigan Observer or the mostly tedious Methodist Recorder – generally got the “serial access” treatment, i.e. one page / story after another, even if I did skip over the reports from the WI and the latest scores from the village cricket team.

Scotty

Today if the bookshelf and magazine rack holds no allure we're spoilt with literally endless reading options on the Web. (Well, maybe not literally endless. Not even Google could index an infinite Web.) I currently have two favourite sources, neither of which, I'm ashamed to say, is the BBC News site, although I do drop in there occasionally. No. For me it's Twitter and, of course, WordPress.

 

There's good stuff on other people's blogs. I have a “Reader” which presents me with updates from blogs I've followed and the editors' suggestions of others worth a look. Twitter similarly offers links to stuff worth reading, or viewing, or mulling on, or just laughing at.

One is obliged, of course, to be selective. I am not wracked with guilt at the fact that I don't read everything dangled in front of my digital nose. What I have realised, however, is a very postmodern tendency for me to skim, and skim…and skim…and hardly ever click through and read what will, in all likelihood, be a relatively short piece anyway. Rather, I hear myself thinking, “That might be interesting but I'll scroll a bit more in case there's something more interesting further down.” Then I do the same thing at the next title and synopsis. And again. And again.

You'll have heard, no doubt, of the grasshopper mind – one that can't stay focused for any length of time. I, it seems, am in danger of becoming a Grasshopper Reader – always skimming, scrolling, checking out what's on offer – but missing out on most of it for fear of missing the really great article that might be just a click (or swipe of the finger) away on the next screen.

So, I confess. And I repent.

I need to change my mind and change my habit. Better to read, enjoy and interact with some of the universe of online reading than none of it. Ditch the postmodern fear of choosing in case something better comes along. Click. And read. As I hope you'll do when next you see links to my posts. After all, if we were all Gasshopper Readers nobody would ever read anything.

 

Blog migration in progress…please wait…

Having decided that Posterous wasn’t treating me well (and who knows what its future is anyway), I set up shop here on WordPress and have now brought over all my old stock from Posterous. Please bear with me as I edit, categorise and generally spruce up these older pearls of wisdom, humour and inspiration.

In the meantime, please feel free to browse, handle and even purchase. (Sorry, been watching too much Mr Selfridge recently.)

Thrilling Workaround for Failed iPad Yahoo Calendar Sync

Ipad-ical1

BACK in the dim and distant past I found a solution to my “iPod won’t sync with Outlook calendar” woes. It was more of a workaround than a fix, and involved switching to an online calendar instead – one provided by Yahoo.

Time moved on (as it has the habit of doing, and, I confidently predict, will do until we reach the eternal state – but that’s at least 1,007 years away and, as they say, another story…). I became the proud owner of a second iGizmo – the iPad, no less – and found – shock, horror! – a snafu with – guess what? Calendar syncing.

(Just an aside here to acknowledge the convoluted construction of that last paragraph. I thought about a rewrite but actually I quite like it and so, unapologetically, it shall remain. It’s worth the effort of a second read if all those commas and dashes seem to render it unintelligible. Honest.)

Bottom line – my best friend the Yahoo calendar wouldn’t talk to my new iThing! At least, not the one connected to the email address I wanted to use. ‘Cos the odd and perverse truth of the matter is that I have more than one mailbox with the same account, each of which can have a calendar, and while others would do their syncing thang with the iWotsit, the one I wanted just refused to play ball. In fact, when I enabled it my Calendar app became a shadow of its intended self, with various jolly important functions (like adding appointments) just, well, not there. 

There’s always a little comfort in knowing you’re not alone, and should you care to search on “iPad Yahoo calendar sync” you’ll find at least 743 puzzled and fed up punters suffering  the same fate. You’ll also find a dozen suggested solutions, none of which worked (sniff). But what you won’t find (although correct me if I’m wrong) is anyone with this same “single-account-multi-mailbox-one-calendar-fails-while-others-are-OK” syndrome.

However…

I am thrilled beyond measure – no, wait, I cannot claim that in all integrity – I am somewhat thrilled to announce that I have found…a workaround. Hooray. (Sorry that “workaround” is a very boring, business-like word but it seems to express the nature of the solution concisely. Is there a cooler phrase to use these days? Please let me know.) Anyhooo…stick with me…here’s what I did.

  1. I went to the calendar I wanted to appear on my iDoodah.
  2. I clicked a link called “Share” and said “I’d like to share this calendar with <enter email address of one of my other mailboxes under the same account> please”.
  3. I got a nice friendly email at that address with a link to click telling me that my other email address had kindly offered to share its calendar with me. 
  4. I clicked said link and – lo! The calendar I wanted now also appeared on the calendar of my secondary email address. Hooray, again.
  5. Lastly, and most significantly, I told my iFriend to use the calendar from my secondary email address. Since that calendar now included the appointments from the main email address, and, furthermore, since that calendar had always played nicely, I tapped and clicked and..lo once more! I get to see, edit, sync and whatever else my heart desires with the said calendar for the said account on the said new device as well as the aforementioned old device.

Cool.

Realistically, I’m guessing that many of you who’ve been kind enough to read this don’t really have a Scooby Doo what I’m talking about. Suffice to say it made me happy, and maybe my techno-babble has stirred a little smile and given you a little bit of happy as well. If so, then it’s all been worthwhile. And if, by chance, you need some technical assistance presented with a serious face, do drop me a line. I can do serious when required. But not for long.

The Joy of Internetical Joined-Upness

I sincerely hope that the linguistic purists and dictionary aficionados among you will excuse my quirky title. It’s a writer’s privilege, darling, to play fast and loose with vocabulary when the mood strikes, while spending most of the time gleefully spotting editorial howlers in everyone else’s creations. And if it isn’t it jolly well should be.

I was about to type that I’m fully aware that there’s no such word as “Internetical” but decided to Google it first. Lo and behold, there’s at least one definition to be found at www.urbandictionary.com, and unfortunately it’s quite different to mine. Whereas I have chosen (or so I thought) to jauntily combine the concepts of “Internet” and “technical” to create a clever yet entertaining word that draws the reader’s attention, they apparently deem it to signify mathematical equations birthed purely from conversations on the web, or some such nonsense. (I am, of course, compelled to throw in that not-so-veiled insult at the end to infer that my definition and intent for the word is at least as valid as theirs, if not more so. For if that were not to be the case then my use of it wouldn’t be rather clever author’s license, but rather a demonstration of author’s ignorance – rather like a boss of mine who, in 1984, insisted that the word “assimilate” was the correct one when what he really meant was “simulate”. He was wrong then and he’s wrong now.)

On the other hand, I’m pleased to report no dictionary definitions for “Joined-Upness”, but it would probably be difficult to come up with one that didn’t mean what I’m assuming you all take it to mean anyway – that is, having the characteristic of being joined up.

Incidentally, there is actually a point to the title, and I promise it’s coming right up. May I thank you for your patience in following the meandering river that is this piece as far as this particular bend.

Welcome, then, to my tale of Problematical Calendar Synchronisation.

Every so often my iPod would refuse to synchronise its calendar data with that held by Microsoft Outlook on the desktop PC. I would spend hours trying suggestion after suggestion to no avail until it would one day miraculously resume without explanation and as if nothing had happened. In the meantime I was having to manually check that computer and hand-held told the same story so that my data was protected and so that my better half could see my calendar entries and add her own so that I could see them.

When it all started to go horribly wrong for the third time in two years I set off down the well-worn path of try this, try that, reset the other, delete, switch off, log out, log in, increase, decrease, reinitialise, and so on ad nauseam. Several days of anything but automatic and seamless updating began to take its toll. I even resorted to praying for a solution.

Friends, my prayer was answered.

My Apple device still refuses to play nicely with the Microsoft software when it comes to sharing dates, but I am nonetheless happy. For I have found a new calendar friend to play nicely with, and it works, as they say, a treat. It’s a calendar that lives not on my home computer but “out there” – on the Internet. Gasps of amazement. (Except from those of you who’ve been doing this for ages and wonder what the fuss is about and are probably shaking your heads in disbelief at my delight.)

My Internet provider (whom I shall not name lest you track me down, hack my account and steal all my calendar appointments) is kind enough to give me not only an email address but also a calendar, and one which, by the magic of Internetical Joined-Upness, can swap appointments with my little toy. What’s more, my favourite lady can see said calendar from her laptop far more easily and so we can share and update our appointments at home or work. Let us give thanks.

Oh, we do have a backup system as well. It costs £2.99 each December, it’s made of paper and it hangs on the kitchen wall. What a great idea.

Calendar

Someone tell me why I should tweet!

Never done this before. Blogging, that is. It’s yet another communication channel I’m launching into later than what must be at least a squillion other people.

(I know. I wrote “squillion” and it’s not an actual number. Is it? Drat, better go check before I build a whole routine on a false premise – or, at least, on the premise that something is false – that is to say, that squillion isn’t a genuine number – when, in fact, it’s not true to say that it’s false…or something.

Well, as it turns out it actually is a number; it’s just that nobody knows what it is. If I’d taken the trouble to Google it before I started this I’d have saved myself a whole load of typing because I’d have found this right at the top of the results:

Urban Dictionary: squillion
A word which can be used to indicate a large amount of some thing. Much larger than a million but smaller than a zillion.
www.urbandictionary.com/define.php

So now you know.)

As I was saying, it seems like, well, let’s just say “lots of people” shall we? – have been doing this for a long time. And here’s me, aged forty-something and a bit, supposedly a lover of writing, supposedly “not bad” at it, supposedly would like to “make something more if it”, etcetera, and I have never, ever blogged. I am, as it were, a blogging virgin.

Well, no more! This is it – my first time. And the question I have is this: How was it for you?

Or, at least, that will be my question once I’ve actually made my point. Because, yes, there is one. Not for nothing is this blog called “Is It Just Me?”. For here, dear online colleagues, I shall present to you questions, mysteries and conundrums which puzzle, intrigue or irritate me. I shall fling them willy-nilly into the blogosphere in hopes of enlightenment, entertainment or, at the very least, affirmation that, no, it isn’t just me.

So, as I launch the web’s gazillionth blog, let me put it to you. Today’s question, that is. And it’s this: Why don’t I “get” Twitter? Put another way, why should I tweet?

Once I finally acquired a mobile phone in 2002 (another late start, I know) it didn’t take long for me to “get” texting. When my kids went to university I finally saw some value in Facebook (having been completely flummoxed by the whole MySpace/Bebo craze when they were at school). But Twitter? Not grasped that one yet, no sir. Never mind that zillions of people have clearly “got it”. (Yes, that is more than a squillion). Never mind that one of them is Stephen Fry, whose linguistic dexterity is something of an inspiration to a would-be blogger. And never mind that at least one police force has been tweeting, or so I believe.

Yes, I’ve been to the site. No, I don’t have an account. Yes, I’ve read some tweets. No, I still don’t see the point. I mean, what does it do that you can’t do with a web site / email / RSS feed / Facebook update / nice letter in the post?

Enlighten me, please.