Passwords & 2 Factor Authentication (2FA)

Passwords

Passwords are hard, and they are getting harder with sites that require lots of upper and lower case characters, multiple special characters and a length of at least 8-10.  I am here to tell you there are better ways to make complicated passwords that are still easy to remember.  Most sites will tell you that creating a password that is very random is best, but it doesn’t have to be truly random, in fact, its best if its not!  It only has to be random for others trying to guess.  So what is the magic formula for creating strong yet easy passwords to remember?  Here it is

Pick a sentence that’s specific to you, such as “my dog is a really big pig”.  Nice, that seems odd, but easy to remember however most places don’t allow spaces and this would be easy for a dictionary brute force attack.  So let’s make a few adjustments “MyD0g!s@reallybigp1g”.  See what I did there?  A few capital letters, changed a few letters to special characters that I can remember and BAM!  That’s a very secure password, but should be easier to remember because, hey my dog is a really big pig.

Another good way to create complicated passwords, is to print out a square sheet of random characters, including special, lower and upper case that has at least a 100 or more characters (like a 10×10 grid, but the more the better.  Try to make it use a lot of different weird characters if possible.  Here is a link to a site that can randomly generate it for you.  How it works is, you remember one of the special characters in the top row and one on the far left column, find the character where the 2 meet and start typing every character from that one, up to however long your password needs to be.  There is your password!  Super random, and you even have the password printed out for you and everyone to see, but only you know where your password is in the big mess of characters!

2 Factor Authentication

Security for computers is important, but the general thinking to keep them and your accounts secure, is to create complicated passwords of length, random numbers and symbols.  This does not mesh well with our inability to remember really complicated passwords with symbols and numbers.  This is where 2FA (2 factor authentication) can help.  It adds an extra layer of security, because not only do you need to have a password (that can be a bit easier to remember) to login, but you also need a 2nd, generally physical piece as well.

There are a few options for 2FA.  Google has had a few for awhile now, such as using your phone as the additional authentication method.  They can either send you a code to your phone through SMS that you enter after putting in your username and password or they even have a new method, where you just hit “Allow” on your phone when you login to your google account (and obviously just deny it when it’s not you).  This works really great for blocking people trying to remotely hack into your account, because it’s a practical impossibility to get the 2nd authentication unless they also steal your phone.

Some other decent methods would be the YubiKey, where you have a physical USB “key” that authenticates with a 3rd party server online to verify your identity.  It also has other options as well, as you can use it to login to windows 10 for example.  Just plug the YubiKey into the USB port, and windows will auto log you in (after the initial setup).  Much easier than trying to remember Passwords.

YubiKey 4 & YubiKey 4 Nano

 

Travel costs changing to regular rate

After carful consideration, I have decided to change my travel rate to my usual rate per hour.  The cost of keeping the car on the road, and raising gas costs are a bit much for me, and the fact I'm only making 1/2 my wage while driving on top of having to keep the car going has been a challenge.  I have NO plans to add additional costs on top of my usual rate for travel as many do (rate + $ per km).  

This will take effect on June 1st, 2014.  

Thank you for your understandings!  

Chromebook

I thought I would mention a little bit about the Chromebook.  Although a bit limited, it has some very practical uses!  I have had one for about a year now and although the one I have is a slower model, it work really well for what it does.  

So when would you want a Chromebook?  If you are just using the internet and web apps such as Google's docs, online radio, webmail, etc then you should really consider the Chromebook.  It is self updating, secured by design and boots / shuts down REALLY quickly, even on my slow model, its booted and ready to go in about 30 seconds from cold boot.  

So it all sounds great, right?  Fast, secure, auto-updates and no worries!  

So when would you NOT want to get a Chromebook?  If you manage a lot of local files, such as your music collection and movies.  Apparently there is a way to upload all your music to Google's drive and stream it, but I have not done so myself.  You may not like a Chromebook if you have unreliable internet access, as most things require a internet connection.  That being said, you can do offline documents through Google docs and email.  Also remember you can NOT buy software at your local store and install it on a Chromebook.  Everything on the Chromebook is done online through the Chrome web browser (which is essentially what a Chromebook is, a computer that boots right to the Chrome browser).  

You may run into issues with external hardware, such as printers, camera's, scanners, etc.  So keep in mind, this is intended as a complimentary device, not as a do everything device like your standard computer. 

In conclusion, this is a awesome product to use exclusively on the web and there are more and more web apps coming out every day.  If you are tiered of your home computer crashing all the time or getting viruses and spyware and adware, then give a Chromebook a try.  Not only is it fast, secure and reliable, but its also fairly cheap.  

Google Apps / Drive

So I have decided to give Google Apps/Drive a decent try. I must admit, its actually pretty cool. If you don't know what that is, its basically Google’s version of Microsoft office and file storage / email / calendar / Tasks, all online and accessed through a web browser.

Not only is it easy to use, but having everything in the cloud has its advantages. Since there is soo much personal information when using it (documents and files) accessible online, I recommend using the dual authentication by means of the mobile phone authenticator to increase security (need your password and a randomly generated number to get access to your account). I'll list some of the features I found particularly useful.

1. No need to install applications – You can get it on ANY computer by simply logging into your account in a web browser. That being said, Google’s own Chrome browser is best suited to take advantage of all the features like offline access.

2. Platform independent – You can use it on your phone (especially with android), Linux, Mac, Windows, etc. If you can browse the web, you can access your docs.

3. Integrated with everything you need for daily use – Having email, calendar, tasks list(s) and documents in one place is really nice.

4. Sharing and collaboration – When working on documents, its really easy to send as an attachment in either Open Document format (LibreOffice / OpenOffice) or Microsoft format. If the person also has a Google account, you can add them directly and give them a link with either view access or view/edit access. If you don't like what they change, you can also see the different versions of the document to revert any changes.

5. Backup / offline access – There is an option for you to download your whole drive (all your files) in a zip file AND convert documents to Open Document or a Microsoft format. Very useful to have a backup, in case something horrible happens, like some one gets on your account and deletes everything or changes your passwords. Also nice if you decide you don't want to continue using google.  In Chrome, you also have the option to sync your documents for offline access, so you do not need an internet connection.

6. Google drive on the desktop – You can download Google drive on your computer to sync files. It's just like DropBox or Microsoft SkyDrive. Anything you put in the Google drive folder, gets synced with all your other devices.

 

Now there are some disadvantages such as needing an internet connection for optimal usefulness, but having offline access and the Google drive installed on the desktop can minimize this. There is also the security concern. Having soo  much personal information online can put people off, but having a good password and dual authentication can help keep your data safe and private.

If you want to give it a try, its free with 15GB of storage! Plenty for documents and email for life. If you have a business, it becomes really nice, as you can integrate your own domain name and get personal emails / user management (get an email like yourname@companyname.com). It starts at about $5 per user for the business side, and gives you 30GB of storage to start.

Being able to cut down IT costs by not having a complicated on site network of computers is a big plus, because if your computer dies, you simply put pretty much any other computer to take its place, and simply login to drive.google.com in the web browser and your working again in minutes! No need for expensive office suites like Microsoft Office or complicated back ends like Microsoft Server.

Take it one step further and try out a chromebook, then you don't have to worry about the anti-virus or computer upkeep either! They auto-update and maintain them selves.

This may be putting me out of a job a bit, but the future is coming, simplicity and cost efficiency is what I look for when finding solutions for my clients. This won't work for every one, but give it a try and you may find it very appealing!

Used Computers

Looking for a used computer?  I get old computers that still work fine from clients!  Right now they are starting to pile up, so if you are interested in one, send me an email through the contact page and you can pick one up for as little as $25!  They are at least a pentium 4 around the 2GHz range with 256MB of RAM.  This is for the tower only! No monitor (although I should be able to get a keyboard / mouse for you if needed).  

These computers are great for internet browsing, checking your email and word editing.  They are also prime for learning about the insides of a computer through taking it apart and putting it back together.  Also good for testing out new operating systems like Linux or even seeing what happens when you put a version of windows XP with no service packs online ^_^  

All computers will be re-loaded with a fresh copy of the operating sytem + updates, drivers, office suite and media player, usually Windows XP or xubuntu if you want a snapier computer.  

If you are a non-profit, school / educational institue or low income family, you can get them for free!  

I can also drop it off and help hook it up if needed for an additional $25 to areas such as Nelson, Trail, Rossland, Salmo, Castlegar, etc.  If you do want me to help you hook it up, make sure you have all the nessisary parts!  You need a monitor already, and let me know before hand if you also require a keyboard / mouse.  

Use your computer after a crash!

Here’s a tip that can give you access to webmail and the internet even if your computer will not boot.  Some technical knowledge is nessisary, but even novices can usually make this work.

 

So you may or may not of heard of Linux, but what you probably don’t know is that you can download a version of it and boot right into it from a CD (to a working desktop where you can access files, internet, music etc) without installing it!  This means you can load to a fully working computer, without touching your exsisting computers files.  Assuming your computer was working just fine, you could load a Linux CD into your computer, reboot and select to boot from CD (some computer do this automatically) and you would be using linux!  To get back to your normal computer operations, just shutdown, remove the CD when it asks, and start the computer again, your now back to your computer like normal!  

This has some very real benifits for a computer that has crashed.  For one, chances are, when your computer crashes, its due to a software problem or a dieing or dead hard drive.  By booting from a linux CD, you can still use your computer for basic operations and even advanced ones for those willing to learn.  Besides being able to access the web, you can also access your computers files!  Imagine you need to send a file you were working on to a co-worker, but your computer just wont boot because you got a nasty virus.  Pop in the linux CD, boot from it and simply double click the HDD icon right on the desktop to get access to all your computer files!  You can then login to your email like gmail or hotmail and send the file off or even tweak it first, then send it (Ubuntu comes with a full office suit)!  Awesome eh?

Think of another situation.  Your computer wont load but its old, so you just purchased a new one.  However there are a few files you want to retrieve, but they are not worth $100+ for data recovery.  Put in the CD and boot, access the hard drive and copy the files you want to a USB stick.  

Linux is a very powerful Operating System and over the years has become very easy to use.  That being said it can do a lot more then just this, and if your interested, I would recommend you play around with it and google search anything you would like to know or issues you run into.  There is a HUGE community out there helping each other out with all things Linux.  If you find you really enjoy Linux, you can also just install it!  Be warned though, if you install it and you want to keep the data on your computer (including your files) then choose the “install side by side with windows”.  This is also refered to as “dual booting” as you can choose to load into windows (or Mac, depending on your computer) or Linux.

There are many different variants or “Distros” of linux to pick from, but one has stood out more then the rest called Ubuntu, and its what I recommend.

In order to get your own CD of Ubuntu, you need to download and burn it on to a cd.  There is a download link and instructions on the page bellow (please read the instructions!).  I recommend you download the 32 bit versions to insure compatibility.  

http://www.ubuntu.com/download/desktop

If you have a old computer (pre-2005), you can also try Xubuntu, which is Ubuntu but uses a different desktop interface that requires less resources (aka runs nicer on older computers).  

http://xubuntu.org/getxubuntu/

 

Here is a link to help you boot from CD.

http://www.wikihow.com/Boot-a-Computer-from-a-CD

New Hourly Rate

Starting September 1st, 2012 I will be changing my hourly rate to $70 in order to match competition and reflect my education and skills. However, to help accommodate tight budgets and to provide the best service available to every one, I am also offering the following.

 

Any contract work that falls in the category bellow will be charged at $50 instead of $70.

 

Monthly contract with 8 hours or more per month (paid monthly in advance)

 

Yearly contract with 48 hours or more (paid yearly in advance)

 

This time can be used in any way you like, but I recommend weekly or monthly visits to not only do regular & preventative maintenance but also discus any issues you may be having and or the future direction of your business technology. A few examples would be, planning for a server upgrade, getting a backup in place (or better one), comparing new and better software, and making every day tasks easier and more efficient, such as finding easier ways to share files with clients or collaborate with co-workers.

 

All time unused will be carried over to the next month / year respectively so long as the contracts are continued on a monthly or yearly basis. You may also use time for other things, such as personal computers or other businesses you have a connection with (example, if you own 2 separate businesses, you may use one contract for both).

 

Travel will be charged at half my usual rate. If there is no contract, then its $35 per hour, if you are under contract it will be $25 per hour (every 1 hour of travel is 1/2 an hour of time taken off the contract).

 

The following locations are all considered 1 hour travel for simplicity.  There is no travel time for within castlegar city limits.

 

Rossland, Trail, The Junction, Nelson

 

You may sign up for a contract right away, but my normal hourly rate will not change until September 1st.

 

If you have any questions please call me or send me an email!