Password Security, To-do Lists, and Summer Reading

10 Jun

Password Security

How secure are your passwords? A site called How Secure Is My Password? will give you an estimate of how much time it would take a desktop PC to crack your password using basic math.

The number one password-creation tip, perhaps, is DON”T use a word that can be found in the dictionary. Passwords that are words from the dictionary are the easiest for computer criminals to break. Same goes for names – either yours, family members or close friends; those are easy to figure out. DO use characters (^ $ % # * !) and numbers (though preferably not your birth date or phone numbers or SSN) and make your password longer than 8 characters.

An obvious tip (though one that is very hard to observe) is not to use the same password for all of your accounts. Yes, it’s easier to remember only one password, but if someone figures out the one password, then they’ve got access to all of your accounts – and potentially to your sensitive private information or money, depending on what accounts you have.

There are many sites, apps, and browser add-ons that will generate strong passwords for you. I like Strong Password Generator, for its attempt to help you memorize the incredibly hard-to-remember password it generates. You can also tell it how many characters you want your password to be and if you want symbols or not.

It is very tempting, with a hard-to-remember password, to write it down somewhere or otherwise save it somewhere. This defeats the purpose of creating secure passwords, especially if you just save your passwords in an unprotected document or in your email (similarly, clicking on “remember password” on webpages usually fatally comprises the security of your password no matter how strong). One option is to create a password-protected Excel file (please protect that spreadsheet with a strong password!). After entering all of your log in data, save your spreadsheet. Then, from the Office button in Excel, click on the arrow by the “Prepare” option, and then choose the “Encrypt Document” option. It will ask you to enter a password. Whenever you try to open this spreadsheet, it will ask for the password.

You can also install a free, open source password manager, like KeePass. KeePass stores all of your passwords in an encrypted database that you access with a password (a strong one!).

If you use web applications a lot (and who doesn’t these days?) and want Firefox to remember your passwords, you can set an encrypted (i.e., harder to crack) Master Password in Firefox (again, make this a strong one!). In Firefox, go to the Tools menu, select Options (bottom of the list) and go into the Security tab and check “Use Master Password.” After you set a (strong) master password, every time you go to a site that remembers your password, you will first be asked to enter your Master Password. Once you’ve entered the Master Password, it’s set for the session. If you go this route, you should also install the Master Password Timeout add-on so that the the password has to be re-entered after a period of inactivity.

To Do Lists

I am an inveterate to-do list maker. While I still use paper to-do lists quite a lot, there are quite a lot of options out there for non-paper ones, as well.

One of the easiest to-do list tools to use at work is the Task list that’s built into our Microsoft Outlook email program. If you use the task list, you can get reminders for tasks, just like you do for calendar events. You can prioritize tasks, keep notes related to tasks, and update progress on the tasks. You can set recurring tasks for things you do regularly, like updating certain lists, renewing yearly subscriptions, or even remembering to water your plants (yes, the plants in my office would be dead if it weren’t for the twice-a-week task that pops up, reminding me to check on them). The possibilities are nearly endless. For me, the reminders are key. I am very good at making paper to-do lists and then sticking them in a pocket or the bottom of a bag and never looking at them again. Sometimes, that’s fine; I often just need to write everything down to get it all sorted out in my head and to start an organization process. But, when I actually need my to-do list to remind me to do things, the reminders, due dates, and prioritization features are very important.

So, some options:

Google Tasks: If you have a Google account, you have a task feature similar to Outlook’s task feature.
Teux Deux
: Simple, appealing layout; web-based; mobile app integration
Remember the Milk
: Web based; email or text reminders of tasks; mobile app integration; integrates with Gmail
GQueues: For use with Google calendar and Google apps; a much more robust (and complex) task manager

There is an art to using a to-do list well. Check out these 6 tips, very useful for making better use of to-do lists. My advice is to pick one application (even if that’s a paper list) that works well for you and stick with it. Keeping up with a bunch of different to-do lists and to-do list programs is counterproductive. For some more tips on effective to-do list use, the writers at the ProfHacker blog suggest the Getting Things Done (GTD) process.

Summer Reading

I love the idea of summer reading. I have no more time to read in the summer than I do any other time of the year, but every year I think I’m going to do a lot of reading over the summer. To that end, I consume numerous summer reading lists (yes, it does occur to me that if I spent less time looking at summer reading lists, I could probably do more summer reading). The Lifehacker blog recently featured several sites for creating an “awesome” summer reading list, if you’re short on ideas. Personally, I like LibraryThing and it’s recommendations. While I haven’t used it a lot to date, it looks like YourNextRead creates cool book maps. NPR has a summer books series and the NY Times Book Review editors listed their summer readings lists in a recent special edition. And, our own ConXn blog featured a summer reading post. If only I could find as much time as I can find things to read.

Happy summer to all!


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