Posts Tagged 'security'

Be Safe Online

hackers or crackers

First, I’m sick of people blaming “hackers” for online security breaches. Hollywood may think that “hackers” are the people breaking online security, but I know too many computer peeps who call themselves hackers, and say a “hack” is a creative solution, not a criminal activity. They call the badguys “crackers.”

Crackers maliciously “crack” open your security, sometimes for fun, the way vandals find vandalism fun, but more often for profit. This is a large part of identity theft; this is the growth are of the crime world.

safe or not

Too often the websites and institutions that are supposed to be keeping us safe online are just making it look safe.

Debit/Credit Cards
: I am so tired of the new “chip cards” that are being foisted on us. Supposedly they are supposed to bring increased security. I haven’t figured out how, exactly. What it does is make the transaction take longer. I have to leave the card in until it is finished. A merchant told me that increases the incidence of forgotten cards. This new technology costs the merchants more (in effect costing us more, too) but does it actually improve our security? Don’t think so.

the appearance of security?

The Internet has happened so fast, most of us don’t understand it. But we need to start taking responsibility for our own security.

After people find themselves victimized by a breach of an email account or a highjacking of a domain name, they start thinking about security. The first thing we look at is the password. Suddenly we think this isn’t enough.

That’s why banks and sites have started adding “security questions.” Not to make us more safe, but to make us feel more safe.


I’ve heard it said that a username and password is fine if the password is good, and if you keep it secure.

But if your password is “password” or anything:

  1. easily guessable (your birthdate, middle name, dog’s name, etc.) or
  2. simple enough that password cracking software can breach it
  3. a password you use in more than one place
  4. a password stored “in the cloud”

then you are playing with fire.

Any public information is insecure. One thing that would help enormously with online security would be if we were to stop giving out personally identifiable information everywhere we go.


When I walk into WalMart, I don’t have to show the greeter ID, or tell them where I live. If they asked that, customers would turn around and walk out.

So why should I have to tell a website I visit my name and post code? None of their business. But if they ask, it usually means you can’t get into the site without giving the information. Rule of thumb: if they don’t have the right to ask for the information in real life, they don’t have the right online.

If you buy something from the site, obviously you need to give them the real info. But if you are just shopping, or doing price comparisons, it is none of their business who you are or where you live. The only thing to do is lie.

Find a post code located far away, tell them a made up name. If you’re feeling really adventurous, change your age or your gender. There are also places where you can get disposable email addresses if you need to validate. Like

The more people with access to your personal information means there is more chance that your personal security will be breached.

public = anyone can find out

Once you have given it out, used it anywhere, online, EVER, it is not secure. Online anonymity is only as anonymous as you make it. The Electronic Frontier Foundation says in most cases all it takes is three personally identifiable pieces of information to find you.

questioning the questions

Adding a “second layer” doesn’t help when the question is “mother’s maiden name” or “elementary school” as the question. Seems to me those “security questions” are rubbish, only giving the appearance of security. When the answer to “security” questions are publicly identifiable information, you end up using public personally identifiable information which identity thieves can use to crack your account.   #FAIL

You can get around this by answering a different question, so the question and answer no longer make sense. Mother’s Maiden Name: Pepperoni Pizza … but then you have to keep track of the question and answer, too, so instead of keeping one password per site you have to keep track of username, password, question, answer and perhaps another question and answer. So now instead of one reasonably secure password, you need a book or file to keep track of it all. This makes it much easier for the bad guys to grab hold of this. So this “security” nonsense can end up being even less secure.

Funny story: I forgot my bank question thing, but was able to get online access back, over the phone, by telling them my mother’s maiden name. This is my BANK. You know, the ones pushing the chip cards.   #FAIL

real security

Better security can be achieved by keeping out malware. Start with a trusted virus protection program. AVG is good. Check for spyware periodically too.

Don’t open suspect email. If anyone you know has had their identity stolen or sitejacked, don’t open email from their old account. Don’t open attachments. Or apps.

I use the Firefox Browser. Before I click a link on a webpage I am new to, I can hover over it with the curser arrow, and the link’s URL appears in the lower right corner of my screen. This way I can see that the link will take me where the site says it will take me.

One of the ways malware find itself onto people’s computers is through security holes in FLASH which allows crackers entry to *your* computer when you upgrade (don’t do it!) or, my personal favorite: javascript.

I use NoScript because when you allow javascript free reign on your computer, you run the risk allowing executable code on your computer. This means that the java script can have a trojan horse in it, it can start a program to do all kinds of things to your computer. Nowadays they don’t usually turn your computer into a brick, at least right away. Usually they will suck information on your family and friends or record your keystrokes and so find your passwords. Malware, viruses etc.

When I come across a website that is broken without forcing me to load Flash, or worse, that has been javascrippled, I leave. The security risks are simply too high.


Just so you know: if you use your mother’s maiden name as your password, it doesn’t take a cracker to crack it. The seven year old two doors down the block could likely manage it for a laugh.

Internet bad guys just use a different set of tools. Think of your email password as the lock to your front door. Who would you share the combination with?

If you give the combo to the builders, after they’ve done the job, it is time to change it. The beauty of passwords is that they are much easier to change than physical locks are.

When in doubt, change it.

Keep it secret. Keep it safe.

Why I don’t like PDF Files

I realize that many people use PDF files all the time. They have been around for years, and I believe the intent was to make them deliberately rigid, so that it would be difficult or impossible to tamper with the content. Well, over the years there are all kinds of ways and means developed for getting around them. But they are still around with an undeserved reputation for security. And PDFs continue to be clunky to use.

Yet many people continue to use PDFs.

Maybe its because they have learned how. As I get older, learning new things does not come as easy as it once did. So I can understand not wanting to have to learn new software if you’re using something that works for you.

Maybe it’s because that’s just how it’s done. The company bought the software, so that’s what we use.

Regardless, I have grown to thoroughly dislike dislike PDFs over the years for a variety of reasons.

My chief complaint is that PDF files are difficult to both read and work with. Maybe if you’re used to them it may not seem difficult to you, but compared to everything else we do in email or on the internet, PDF files are excessively restrictive.

1. You can’t send a PDF file as a PDF as part of your email message, it has to be sent as an attachment.

Email attachments can be very insecure… one of the most common ways computer viruses have been distributed has been to send the virus as an attachment. As soon as the recipient opens the attachment the virus is launched. Whenever there are viruses going around the first public safety warning is always:

don’t open email attachments!“.

Pfizer should be ashamed!Even if the email appears to be from someone you trust, the sender name can be “spoofed”. I can’t tell you how much spam– for Viagara, no less– that I receive from what appears to be myself.   (Pfizer should be ashamed!)

2. PDF is proprietary software. This means that it is deliberately not easily accessible. Even if you find a PDF file on a website, you can’t read it there. You need a special software (a PDF reader) to be able to open the PDF.

The "pop-up" tells me I have to download the PDF.  I can't just read it like the rest of the website.

The "pop-up" tells me I have to download the PDF. I can't just read it like the rest of the website.

Whether you get a PDF as an email attachment or want to access information from a website, if you don’t have the software to look at it you have to download software in order to read it. Why should I have to download software in order to read a document, particularly when I did not have to download special software to look at the website that tells me the information I want is locked up in a PDF? Maybe I’m being unreasonable, but the only software I put on my computer is software I want on my computer.

3. Public information should be easily accessible to the public.

I get particularly annoyed when public service websites like the one for the school board or the township have important information locked up in PDFs. There is no reason for this, all it does is make the information inaccessible. My father is a really bright guy who uses email all the time. Even so, he can’t originate an email. he only knows how to reply. Yet he’s still probably far more computer savvy than most of his contemporaries. And all the people like him (still the majority of citizens) are denied access to public information locked up in PDF files.

For me, if it isn’t crucial information, I usually don’t look at it if its in PDF form, because I assume that who ever locked it up there really doesn’t want me to see it. If they really wanted to share the information they would have made it easily accessible.

If I do decide I must look at the PDF, I look at it in Ghostview, an open source PDF reader that I have chosen to have on my computer. So I can read a PDF file if I absolutely have to.

PDF files are hard to read on a computer.

PDF files are hard to read on a computer.

Because the PDF format is so rigid, (designed in the old days when screens were not wide) it is hard to read on my computer. It doesn’t easily conform to my screen. Oh sure, I can make it larger, but that makes it even more difficult to navigate through the document.

Instead of just scrolling down the document, as you do on a web page, you have to use the little arrow to “turn the page”. If you find information of value, you can’t just copy it. There are tools available for taking apart PDFs, but they require far more effort than simply highlighting and copying something that is either important or interesting.

The controls are in the upper left hand corner.

The controls are in the upper left hand corner.

4. Environmentally Unfriendly

The only comfortable way to read a PDF is on paper, after you print it out. So if the information is something that you only need to read once, it silly to have to waste our precious resources by printing it out. Certainly, the paper can be reused, then recycled. Except those options are still much more wasteful than reading it on a screen without printing it out at all.

The most ridiculous example of this was when I was doing some research on the environment. This municipality offers its citizens a Community cleanup guide which actually looks pretty good. The problem of course is that its miserable to read online, and its 100 pages long.

It strikes me ridiculous that their idea of cleaning up the environment includes forcing the citizens to print out 100 pages of paper they’ll likely read once, before it comes back to the municipality as garbage or recycling.

One of the reasons that digital files have become so important in our lives is the fact that it makes transmission of information far easier than it has ever been. Digital files are easy to copy so we can share information. PDFs seem to exist to try and make this more difficult.

Trees are good

Trees are good

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