Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Keeping Track of Passwords

How to Juggle Dozens of Unique Usernames and Passwords

If you spend any amount of time online these days, it can be a challenge to keep track of all your passwords. A Web-savvy user who logs onto their corporate computer every morning, does some Web research, saves a few items to an online bookmarking service, signs into instant messenger and then looks on the company intranet could easily be juggling a half-dozen unique user names and passwords. So how do you keep it all straight without resorting to easily cracked (if easily memorable) passwords?

There are a few solutions, from the high tech to the very low. On the low end of the scale, you can just write your user names and passwords down in a notebook – fine if you’re only worried about online theft, but dangerous if that notebook were ever to be lost, destroyed, or stolen.

Similarly, you can keep a simple text file on your desktop listing Web site names, user names, and passwords – but it means you’ll have to shuttle back and forth between your browser and the text file whenever you need to enter a password.

The Firefox browser has a built-in password manager that users can activate in order to automatically fill in saved usernames and passwords on their associated Web sites.  If you use this feature, all your passwords are stored in Firefox but are only accessible after you enter in a “master password.” This can be very useful – if you have a master password that’s both easy to remember and difficult to crack. About a year ago, some media outlets started reporting a vulnerability in Firefox’s password manager that exposed all of a user’s passwords to certain public sites. While that has since been fixed, it’s a reminder that convenience can come at a cost.

And on the highest-tech end of the spectrum, numerous commercially available software password managers can encrypt and keep track of your user names and passwords securely. Ultimately, the right solution for you will be the one that you're most likely to use every day -- not necessarily the fanciest, expensive, or complex one.


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

QuickTips on Instant Messaging

Your "Instant" Messages May Be Forever

Consumers and businesses alike are using instant messaging as a channel for brief, informal communications. As a result, the popularity of services such as AOL Instant Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, Windows Live Messenger, or Google's Gchat has exploded. IM is the perfect tool for when you need a quick response to a question but don’t want to (or can't) pick up the phone or shout down the hall. And it keeps your email inbox from getting cluttered with brief back-and-forth conversations. As people's workstyles become more interactive and collaborative, the appeal of IM can only be expected to grow.

Despite the name, instant messages can stick around for a long, long time. Your conversations may live on, long after you've shut down your IM client – depending on what service you're using and what controls you or your employer may have in place.

For example, Google saves every chat session conducted in Gmail automatically and makes those chats fully searchable. Trillian, a standalone client that supports AIM, Yahoo, and Microsoft Live, also automatically logs all conversations. On the other hand, the basic messaging clients for AIM, Yahoo and Microsoft do not automatically store conversations but can be configured to do so.

More IM services are coming out with enhanced versions for corporate use. AIM Pro, a free version for individuals and businesses, offers better security, voice and video conferencing, and integration with Microsoft Outlook. And Microsoft's Live Communications server allows corporate IT departments to log and search employee conversations, including those on IM services like Yahoo and AOL.

So what's the take-home? When you're at work, be aware that your employer's policy toward email may extend to instant messages and don't write anything you wouldn't want your boss to read. And look on the bright side: just as email provides you with a digital paper trail for work-based communications, saved instant messages can serve much the same function. As instant messenger enhancements continue to develop, this tool will only grow more valuable.


Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Cheap Ways to Foil Power Failures

Battery Backups Prevent Messy Shut-Downs and Preserve Data

Everybody knows you should plug your computers and other equipment into surge protectors to keep them safe against power spikes. What you might not know is that surge protectors can't help when it comes to power failures and fluctuations. In the event of a sudden outage, you might lose unsaved data or encounter serious software failures as a result of your equipment not shutting down properly.

Fortunately, there is a solution: battery backups. A battery backup combines the benefit of a surge protector along with the ability to keep your computer up in the event of a power failure -- long enough for the software that comes with the battery to gracefully shut down the computer and its applications. A battery backup generally costs $100 or less, and can be well worth the money when you compare it to the cost of reloading crashed computers.