TECH TALK WITH JOHN RUDY: Passwords

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We are pleased to inaugurate our new monthly technology feature!  On the first Friday of each month, John Rudy will provide us with good, solid, practical, hands-on (and off) information and advice about our computer use.  Be sure to respond with questions and topics you’d like to have John address in future articles.

Today’s subject is PASSWORDS.

Almost everywhere you go in the computer world, you are asked for passwords, but there have been enough articles recently to convince everyone that, despite this mandate, many files are not secure. So let’s hit the basics.

  • To be secure, a password must be long and complex. Using “123456” or “johnrudy” will be cracked almost instantaneously. That is why you want a minimum of 8 characters and should use upper and lower case, numerals, and special characters. That gives about 75 options for each position.
  • Do not use the same password for all your accounts. If you do, when it is cracked, you are open totally.
  • Not everything has to be protected in the same way. Worry about money. So bank accounts, brokerage firms, and any site that has your credit card should be protected most carefully–and each must be different. (Using “123456” for your high school will probably result in little damage.)
  • Passwords must be written down. That does NOT mean having a file titled PASSWORD.doc on your computer or a written list in your desk top drawer. This is really the subject of a subsequent article, but if you store them in a file, the file must be encrypted with a password; and if you write them down, store them in a non-obvious place, like with your cheesecake recipes. There are a number of good, automated programs that can address this issue. Another solution is to place this file on a thumb-drive.
  • Give your password file to your heir. This is not a joke. Someone you trust needs to be able to step in when memory issues, incapacitation, fatal illness occur.

And finally, when you dispose of your computer, remember that merely deleting a file does NOT, in fact, remove it from your system. Best Buy and other places claim that they fully wipe your drive when you give them an old computer. Here is a good article on the subject from a reputable source.

http://pcsupport.about.com/od/toolsofthetrade/tp/erase-hard-drive.htm

John Rudy
BOLLI Member and Tech Wizard John Rudy

John, a longtime computer expert and guide, provides this helpful hints in this monthly feature in BOLLI Matters.  In the comment box below, provide questions on passwords or any other computer/tech topic that you’d like to know more about in future Tech Talk articles.

john.rudy@alum.mit.edu (781-861-0402)