Cleaning out the Cobwebs – Groundhog edition

Periodically, I’ve collect enough varied topics for the Helpdesk that I need to clear them out.  Since the groundhog has just seen his shadow in Punxsutawney, PA (the only true weather prognosticating groundhog), here’s my latest attempt to clean out the cobwebs:

Hackers steal over a billion passwords

There was a Lifehacker story from last August (yes, this is why I call these cobwebs) about hackers stealing over 1 billion passwords from 420,000 sites.  The New York Times also reported on this.

This particular hack leverages the fact that folks use the same passwords for multiple sites and apps. The obvious, but hard to execute solution is to always use unique passwords.  A 90% solution is to use a password manager.  It’s a 90% solution because there are some cases where it doesn’t work as well, however for these cases you can use them to store an encrypted note with these passwords.

In October, I wrote a post entitled: Password Mangers — Worth it?

Apps to deauthenticate before decommissioning a device

Also, Lifehacker authored a really useful article on apps to deauthenticate prior to preparing the device for resale or recycling. I’ve written in the past about the steps to take prior to decommissioning a device or computer, from erasing old hard drives to preparing phones and tablets for resale or recycling.

What I haven’t written about nor really understood was how many app also need to be deauthenticated from the device or computer.  Given the increased security being designed into apps and devices, you could find yourself without the rights to use the app without repurchasing the license or worse no license to your data (e.g., music, videos, etc).

How to clean your computers and devices

Continuing the Lifehacker string, they wrote an article on How to Properly Clean your Gadgets without Ruining them. This is a useful article that you might want to squirrel away for future reference.

One addition to their methods is that I keep a bottle of Monster iClean at the house, which comes with a microfibre cloth. When you need more than just a wipe down on screens, this product (or others similar to it) work very well.

How to break into your computer

For the most unsettling article that I’ve found, Lifehacker has a series of tutorials on how to break into your computer and how to shutdown the methods noted in the tutorials. Suffice it to say that having a password on the computer doesn’t prevent a knowledgeable and determined individual from being able to crack it.

The good news is that to do this, they would need access to the physical computer.  The two best methods to lock your system down is to have long, difficult to brute force crack passwords and your main drive encrypted. The latter is crucial do prevent someone from mounting your drive from either another computer or a USB/CD booted OS to access the files. See my post Your technical New Years Resolutions for how to encrypt your whole drive on the Mac and Windows systems.

A couple notes on the Lifehacker tutorials:

  • They were created before Truecrypt was discontinued.  When the tutorials mention Truecrypt to encrypt your whole drive, use the method provided by Microsoft or Apple.
  • They provide a method for brute force cracking passwords on a Windows machine.  Though they don’t mention a similar method on Macs, don’t assume it can’t be done.

How to build a computer

When I was a kid, we loved to work on cars. A couple of my friends were into ham radio and built and maintained their ham components.

Computers have replaced this hands-on activity for many folks, young and old.  A couple years ago I wrote about the Raspberry computer in Do you have a kid who likes to tinker with stuff? However, if you’d like to build a mainstream computer from scratch (or modify an existing one), check out Lifehacker’s How to Build a Computer, the Complete Guide.

Five things that Facebook asks for that is none of their business

Last month, Kim Komando wrote an article on these 5 things.  It’s a short, but interesting read. The gist of the article is to take care about what you post to not inadvertently give away stuff that will help the bad guys.

That’s about it for this edition of Clearing out the Cobwebs. Stay safe and warm this winter.

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