Sunday, August 17, 2008

TOTW #4: Passwords; Rule of Thirds

Computer Tip: Twelve Rules of Good Passwords

I don't do much on-site tech support these days, but over the years that I have, I've noticed a troubling trend with regard to user's passwords. It's pretty bad that an alarmingly high percentage of the time I would be able to guess a user's password within a handful of attempts if I just know a little about them. I sincerely hope that my faithful readers don't fall into that trap, so allow me to share a few tips on selecting good passwords.

Rule #1: DON'T use anybody's name as the basis of a password, especially a significant other. You have no idea how often I see passwords that are just someone's name, especially the name of a spouse or boy/girlfriend. This also extends to the names of celebrities, bands, pets, or movies.

Rule #2: DON'T use an English word as your password, or any other dictionary word in any other language. These are the first passwords guessed by bots on the Internet. And if you have selected "password" or "test" as your password, we need to have a talk about security.

Rule #3: DON'T use any part of a birthday as part of a password. I see passwords that are simply someone's birthday, or a name with the birthday added to the end. If I were a hacker, after trying common English words, I'd try birthdays next.

Rule #4: DON'T use a variant of anything listed above. In other words, don't use leslie01 or kevin2008. That includes adding any variant of a year on to any of the above.

Rule #5: DON'T use your username or email address. Way too easy to guess.

Rule #6: DO select a password that contains numbers, symbols, and some uppercase letters. The more characters you have to select from, the harder your passwords is to guess. If, for example, you only use letters and select a 6 character password, there are 308 million possibilities. Adding numbers, symbols, and varying upper/lower case increases the number of possibilities to 782 billion (a 253388% increase).

Rule #7: DO select passwords, which if they were made visible, look like nonsense. But...

Rule #8: DO come up with some sort of method that allows you to create passwords that you can remember. Make up a sentence about something around you or going on in your life, then take the first letter of each word, adding numbers and symbols. It's easier to remember the sentence than a long string of nonsensical characters.

Rule #9: DON'T use the same password on more than one web site that deals with anything financial in nature. Use different passwords for each bank account, online store, etc. That way, if one of those sites is hacked (or you fall prey to a phishing scheme) and your password is revealed, it won't work anywhere else.

Rule #10: DON'T share your password with anyone or any site but the site where you set it up. Banks, for example, will not ask you for your password over the phone.

Rule #11: DON'T write your password on a Post-It Note and stick it on your monitor. Or the bottom of your keyboard. Or in your desk drawer. Just don't write it down anywhere.

Rule #12: DO make sure your password is 8 characters or longer. Each additional character added makes a password exponentially harder to guess.

Many of these methods are especially important because hackers are constantly trying to hack into web sites and computers connected to the Internet, and the first passwords they try are the ones listed above as part of the DON'T rules. And in most cases they can try dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of passwords every second, so if someone is targeting you it wouldn't take long to break into your account if you break the rules. Here's a link to a list of the 10 most commonly used passwords.

Multimedia Tip: Rule of Thirds

How do you get a picture (video or still) that is appealing to the eye? Well, there isn't any one right answer to that question, but the rule of thirds is a good place to start.

The rule simply states that subjects in your pictures should generally fall along the lines of a tic-tac-toe grid drawn over the picture, with the areas of focus falling at the intersections of the grid lines.

The rule is actually based on the golden mean, but for simplicity sake, just imagine a tic-tac-toe grid, and put your subject on one of the lines, with the most important parts at the grid intersections. For people and animals, the most important part is their eyes, so eyes should usually fall along the upper horizontal line, or about 1/3 down from the top. If someone is looking off to the side instead of directly toward the camera, put them on the vertical line which gives the most room in front of them. Other objects in the scene should fall along other grid lines where possible as well.

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