LastPass: Good Passwords Made Easy

Security experts recommend long, random passwords, and a different one for each Web site. And don’t write them down anywhere.

Yeah, right.LastPassLogo

But, there is a fairly easy way of doing exactly what they say.

As David Pogue of the New York Times pointed out in a recent column, the only realistic way of keeping handling secure passwords is to use one of the password management programs available now. They are relatively easy to use and inexpensive if not free.

Pogue recommends a program called Dashlane, which admittedly has a number of nice features. And it’s free. But, if I’m going to be putting all my secure passwords into one basket as it were, I want to be very sure about the people who built the basket. I particularly want to know where those people live. But when I go to the Dashlane Web site, there is not even a hint about what country it is based in, let alone the mailing address.

Veteran computer expert Steve Gibson recommends another password manager called LastPass, which is from a company by the same name in Fairfax, VA. Gibson originally reviewed the software extensively on his Security Now podcast in 2010. Last year, he reiterated his support for the program. One of Gibson’s favorite acronyms for computer security is TNO, for “trust no one.” But I trust Steve.

Like Dashlane and many other password managers, LastPass is free on Windows and Mac computers. Following the “freemium” business model, there is also a Premium version that costs all of $12 a year and provides the ability to run LastPass on your mobile devices.

LastPass works by encrypting your vault of passwords using a master password on your computer and then storing this encrypted vault on its server. LastPass does not know your master password and cannot recover your passwords if you forget it. When it is fully set up, all you need to do is click on a secure Web site from any of your browsers on any of your computers, and LastPass ushers you right in. The program will even create secure random passwords for you, as long and as difficult as you would like.

In my tests, the program does have a few rough edges, especially regarding setup. I had to install it three times on my Windows PC to get it work with my two favorite browsers. I had a similar experience on my Mac. On most Web sites, the program worked immediately, but a few required some extra care – such as a few minutes reading the user manual. On my iPhone and iPad, the program uses its own browser – apparently it cannot attach to the Safari Web browser.

These rough edges are mostly temporary. Once you get the program set up, you can breeze into even your most secure Web site. It is well worth the price – either price – and the time needed to set it up. With LastPass you get both security and convenience – a very rare combination. And it this insecure world, it is not only convenient but also essential.

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Passwords Don’t Make Sense …

… Well, at least the good ones shouldn’t.

What that means is, if you have a password that is easy to remember, it is probably no good. If your password is a simple word, or a combination of words, or maybe even has a number or two, you and your data are skating on thin ice.

Hackers are cobbling together super-powerful PCs from parts such as old video-game consoles. What do they use them for? Play games? Predict the weather? No. They are used to guess people’s passwords, at the rate of gazillions a day. And they are getting faster and better every day.

Actually, in a sense they already probably know your password. Thanks to companies with lax security, millions of in-use passwords have been stolen and are freely available on the Internet. Many of our favorite passwords are no doubt in this collection. If your password is your child’s name followed by the year she was born, they probably already have that. If you cleverly switch the “e” with the number “3”, they probably have that as well. We are seeing, as security expert Steve Gibson termed it, “The Death of Clever.”

The best passwords are long strings of completely random characters, upper case, lower case, numerals, and symbols. And, we should have a different password for each of our accounts. But who can handle that? Well, there is a nice way of doing that, which I will mention in my next post. But right now, I’ll describe a handy way of creating pseudo-random passwords that are memorable.

Take one of your handy books or poems. Look at the second line (the first may be too obvious). Take the first letter of each word. Capitalize the letters for nouns, like the Germans do. Include punctuation marks. After the punctuation, include a numeral (say, the length of the word preceding the the punctuation). Stop when you have 12 characters.

So, for example, here is the second line from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116:

Love is not love Which alters when it alteration finds, Or bends with the remover to remove:

The password might be:

LinLWawiAf,5

Now, don’t use this technique exactly as I described it. Customize it in your own way. Just be sure to remember how you did it.

 

 

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Rejoice! Windows 8 Is Fixed

At last! Microsoft’s Windows 8 has become a decent and capable operating system. Most of its initial problems–most notably the missing Start button–have finally been fixed.

But … not by Microsoft.

Another company – Stardock - has come out with two indispensable add-ons for Windows 8 that should soothe the transition pains for most users who have found themselves saddled with the new operating system. What’s more, the programs are each only $5.

The first and more important of these add-ons is called Start8. It restores the Windows 7 Start button and Start menu so nicely you might wonder why Microsoft had not done this to begin with.  Even better, the OS now boots to the familiar Desktop rather than the somewhat jarring Metro–er–Modern screen.

Speaking of that, the second add-on, ModernMix, tames the new Modern apps. Instead of hijacking the entire screen, the Modern apps now behave just like the other programs inside resizable windows.

As I write this, reports are circulating with hints that Microsoft will restore the Start button to Windows 8 relatively soon. But will the new version include the Start Menu as well? And what about the Modern apps? Can a company as large as Microsoft do such a massive 180-degree turn? We’ll see.

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What the Plus!

A Great Combination:

Guy Kawasaki, from his website

Guy Kawasaki, from his website

A) Guy Kawasaki, at right: a bottomless source of practical, no-nonsense business advice for the computer industry for well on three decades.

B) Andrew Warner: the best interviewer of entrepreneurs, and one of the best podcast interviewers period.

C) Google Plus! (do I need to describe this?)

If you haven’t seen or heard Kawasaki – or you haven’t seen or heard any of Warner’s interviews – their latest collaboration is a must. Warner has a delicate way of asking surprisingy intrusive questions, and Kawasaki shares a wealth of information about the tech world, but the main theme is his love of Google+. He makes some good points. After listening, you might feel compelled to download Kawasaki’s cleverly titled ebook What the Plus! Google+ for the Rest of Us (all of $2.99) and polish up your Google+ page. At least, I sure do.

Go to: http://mixergy.com/guy-kawasaki-what-the-plus-interview/

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Windows 8: Where Do We Start…

What Was Microsoft Thinking?

Whenever a new version of Windows appears, I usually get a number of people asking me whether they should upgrade to it.

Not this time. Either everyone is getting very well informed about operating systems, or they have already switched to the Mac. Or maybe with the proliferation of smart phones, they just don’t care anymore.

After looking at the new Windows 8, I am wondering if Microsoft cares anymore. This new operating system is actually two operating systems strangely joined together like Siamese twins. There is a touch-oriented tile-based operating system that was once referred to as “Metro,” and there is what looks like an updated version of the classic Windows 7 desktop. I use the word “classic” loosely, as this new desktop lacks such classic features as a Start button. The Metro portion might work well on a tablet PC such as the new Microsoft Surface, but users would still have to wade through the classic portion, which is better suited to mouse users. And classic desktop users would have to wander through the Metro portion almost on a daily basis.

I could go on, but the shortcomings of Windows 8 have been well documented elsewhere. (See David Pogue in the NY Times.) My advice right now to stick with Windows 7.

A few years ago, buyers of new PCs would often downgrade from Windows Vista to the older Windows XP. We might be seeing a new era of downgrading.

Or maybe people will just buy an Apple.

– Rich Malloy

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3 Ways to Fix Mail-Merge Number Formatting in Word 2010

When 93.90 turns into 93.900000000000006, there are no less than three ways to put things right.

The Mail-Merge feature of Microsoft Word is one of my favorite parts of the program. It is extremely powerful for creating labels and customized letters, emails, or reports. Once you learn how to use it, you can save countless hours of work. Unfortunately, the task of learning to master all of its idiosyncrasies can give you countless headaches.

One of the perennial annoyances of Mail-Merge is its inability to format numbers from an Excel spreadsheet correctly. For example, a sales result in Excel appears as 93.90 but in Word it suddenly becomes 93.900000000000006!

Fortunately, there is a way to fix this. In fact, there are three ways. We can A) modify the spreadsheet by using the TEXT() function, B) modify the Mail-Merge document by adding “numeric switches”, or C) simply modify the way the two files connect to each other by using a DDE link. Although this last approach is little known, for many users it is certainly the best.

For a detailed description of all three of these techniques, click the following free document:

How to Fix Number Formatting in Mail Merge.

– Rich Malloy

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LinkedIn: “Leaked and Cracked”

Change Your LinkedIn Password Immediately

As you may have heard by now, hackers broke into the computers used by LinkedIn and obtained coded versions of over 6 million passwords (see the article in the New York Times). The coded versions of the passwords have been posted on one or more hacker Web sites. The passwords themselves are not posted, but hackers can use programs to “crack” or determine the actual password from its coded form.

Security experts advise LinkedIn users to change their password for the site immediately. Also, if you use that same password for other sites, you should change your password there as well.

Was Your Password Leaked?

In case you are wondering whether your password was among the 6 million, a few Web sites have been set up to check on this. For example, the password-management software company LastPass has set up a site where people can type in their LinkedIn password to see if it was leaked (click here). Note: Be sure to change you password before doing this, and then check the old password.

When I typed in my old LinkedIn password, I found that it had been “leaked and cracked.”

That’s what I like about LinkedIn: It often makes me feel like I are part of a special group.

– RM

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Apple’s Airport Express Enters “Hall of Fame”

The amazing but diminutive Apple Airport Express becomes the first product in our new Hall of Fame. This small but stylish wireless networking device can perform no less than 5 different functions. It is also very easy to install and looks real nice as well. These units work so well together, we sometimes set up a network of two or three units in the same house.

Give us a call or click here to find out how the Airport Express can help you create or improve your own WiFi network.

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Excel 2010 Shortcuts

Microsoft Excel 2010 Shortcut Key Combinations

Microsoft Excel 2010 Hotkeys

Did you know that you can skip to the different worksheets in an Excel workbook by pressing the Ctrl+PgDn keys?

As with most Windows programs from Microsoft, there are a number of shortcut key combinations available in Excel. We compiled a list of the most useful “hotkeys.” Unlike most other lists, we have organized the list, not by the names of the keys, but by the function they perform. Thus, it will be easier to find the exact key combination you need.

Click here for a 1-page printable list: Microsoft Excel Keyboard Shortcuts

If, however, you prefer your hot keys in the standard sort order (Ctrl+A, Ctrl+B, etc.), you can go to Microsoft’s official list or the much more comprehensive list compiled at shortcutworld.com, which breaks down the key combinations into functional groups.

By the way, if many of these commands seem strange to you, give us a call so that we can get you up to speed on this very important program.

And now, it’s time to Alt+FC.

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Backup Your Backup

Be warned: Having one backup system is certainly better than none.

BUT – you are still vulnerable to data loss!

Consider this: A local town government near here just had a problem. The Parks and Recreation Department suddenly lost all of its computerized records. Their backup system had been set up, but somehow did not help. The result was that the municipality had to spend $25,000 recreating the data from archived paper records. The culprit was said to be “human error.” (See Greenwich Time.)

Be sure your backed up data is backed up again

The moral: Don’t backup up your data.

Yes, I said it. Instead, backup your data – and then backup your backup.

We all backup our data, and for good reason. A hard drive could be lost, stolen, or damaged by floods, fires, or other calamities. A hard drive could also fail on its own, from simple wear and tear or with the aid of a malicious virus. And the biggest hazard is, once again, simple human error.

[Speaking of human error, if by some chance you have not backed up your data, stop reading this, and go backup your data. Right now!]

Unfortunately, backup systems are not perfect. The same problems that would cause you to lose important files are basically the same ones that could cause your backup system to fail as well. A backup drive could be lost, stolen or damaged. It can fail on its own. And simple human error is always with us. With many backup programs, it is much too easy to back up the wrong files on the wrong drive using the wrong schedule. Even if we use an online backup company, there is still a unsettlingly high chance of failure. Companies can go out of business or can lose data. And if all else is right, there remains the chance that we might choose the wrong files to back up, or not turn on the system in the first place.

I have seen too many cases where backup systems did not work. Years ago, the very first time I ever requested a backup copy of a file from my IT department at the time, I was told that the backup system somehow did not have the file. Imagine! Just recently I checked a client’s backup system and found that the last time it had backed up a file was over a year ago. A few months ago, another client was told by an online backup service that all of his backup data had been deleted because a credit card had maxed out. Even a RAID system is not immune. In another client’s RAID setup, one drive failed, and then its sister drive – almost like clockwork -failed within a few hours of the first one.

No matter how careful we are, the hazards to our data – and to our backup data – will always be with us. The only solution that I can see is that not only do we have to backup our data, we also have to back up the backup – in two different ways.

Fortunately, this is neither expensive nor time consuming. For most people, I would suggest a complete backup on a local external drive, and a second backup of the most important data on an online backup service. The external drive would cover us in the event of system failure or human error, and the online service would insure against catastrophic data loss from theft, fire, and floods – or human errors involved in setting up the first backup.

A second backup system can be quite inexpensive – if not free. If you already have an online backup system, all you need is an external hard drive. A large USB drive can be had for less than $100. And good backup software can finally be had for free. Apple’s Time Machine software works wonderfully and has been bundled with Mac OS since the days of Leopard. And with Windows 7, even Microsoft has finally begun bundling a decent backup program – Backup and Restore. Another good choice for Windows is Genie Timeline from Genie9. (A free version is available at download.cnet.com.)

If you already have an external drive, the cost of a redundant second backup system drops to nothing. Mozy will backup 2 GB of data for free. And SugarSync will handle up to 5 GB for the same price.

Am I being a bit paranoid here? A little too cautious? Perhaps. But consider how these backup programs are used. We run these programs only once and then we forget about them, maybe for years. Eventually, when we get a new PC and run the program again, it has evolved into a completely new interface. How can we develop any expertise with programs such as these, whose main goal is to be forgotten? We can’t. There is a very good chance that even the most conscientious among us will configure these programs the wrong way. Or, we might set them up correctly and then a year later change our system configuration. Will we forget to update the backup software to match the new setup?

When you think of all the things that could go wrong with your system – and with your backup system as well – I am sure you will agree that the negligible extra cost of a second backup is more than compensated by the assurance that your data is much safer than it was before.

- Rich Malloy

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