Sunday, February 28, 2010

Don't Get Hacked!

My husband is an information security manager, so over the years I have received many lectures about strong passwords. At least three of my friends' twitter accounts have been compromised in the past week, so now is a good time to share with you about how to create a strong password (with a little help from my husband). Here are nine points that, if followed, will ensure you have a strong password.

1. If possible, your password should be a combination of letters, numbers and special characters.
2. Do NOT use a dictionary word or common name.
3. Do NOT use social security numbers, anniversary or birth dates, addresses, etc.
4. Don’t use anything that can be associated with you from other public data.
5. And make sure that your password does not contain part of your username.

Here’s a great example of a phrase turned into a strong password with the use of special characters and numbers:

32$izmyn (32 dollars is mine)

But be careful. Here is an example of a very weak password that the common person would think is strong:


I’ve just spelled “password” with special characters and a number. And I’ve also just typed a password that’s in every hacker’s dictionary.

Acronyms are useful as passwords, especially if you throw in special characters. Take a favorite line from a book or movie and use the first letter of each word, then throw in a few numbers and special characters. For example, let’s take that most famous of all movie lines, from Gone With the Wind: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Here’s an acronym of this phrase:


Okay, so now we have a string of letters that doesn’t appear in hacker dictionaries (until hackers see this blog post and add it, so DON’T use it). Let’s make it stronger by substituting numbers and/or special characters:


Now you have a useful password.

Now, some websites don't allow special characters in their passwords, which always annoys my husband. But in that case, just make sure you use numbers and don't spell out any dictionary words.

6. And don't be mistaken: a firewall is a great thing, but it won't protect you from viruses that you or another family member unknowingly download. Make sure you have antivirus software and updated definitions or subscription. Your computer may have come with it pre-installed when you bought it, but unless you are paying a yearly subscription fee, your computer is not protecting you from the latest viruses—and there are new ones written every day. One friend changed her password when her twitter account was compromised, yet it was hacked again within hours. How did this happen if she changed to a strong password? She had unwittingly downloaded a keystroke logger—a virus or trojan that records your passwords.

7. Be wary of clicking on website links in emails. If a friend sends you an unexpected link via email, twitter, facebook, or even a chat window, check with them first.

8. If possible, put your kids on a separate computer. Kids are notorious for downloading all sorts of extraneous software, which often contains malware. Malware includes viruses, adware, spyware, trojans, key loggers—all the stuff you don't want on the computer you use to manage your finances.

9. One more thing—and this is probably the most important thing of all for protecting your identity—make sure that you keep financial passwords different and separate from ALL OTHER passwords. That way, if your facebook or twitter account is compromised, the hacker can't turn around and use the compromised password to hack into your banking or credit card account.

Friday, February 26, 2010

That Baby Laugh

My son is three and a half, and he still laughs like he did when he was one. You know, that awesome gurgly giggle complete with eyes that disappear into closed half-moon eyelids? It's one of the most joyful sounds and sights on earth, and I still get to enjoy that every day. I have no idea when he'll outgrow it, but I hope not for a long while yet.

Questions from a Five Year Old

Have you ever seen the BBC production Planet Earth? It's stellar in just about every way. And there seems to be no political agenda, which makes it even better. I say "seems" because I don't know that for sure. We're only on disc two of four. But what we've seen so far is excellent, far and away some of the best, most breathtaking images we've ever seen. We occasionally let our children (ages three and five) watch an episode at night. They're always fascinated and have questions. Last night, they witnessed a wildebeest get captured and dragged into the water by an alligator. Our three year old son said "that's sad" and nothing more. It stuck with our oldest a little longer. She got up shortly after bedtime to inform us that she was thinking about alligators coming into their room.
We explained to her that alligators don't live around here, and that even if they did, they can't open the door because they can't stand up or reach the doorknob. And even if they could, the door was locked. She laughed. "Do they eat people?" she asked. Doug and I glanced at each other. Then, skating around the issue, Doug told her about the Crocodile Hunter, who wrestled crocodiles and stuff, complete with his best attempt at Steve Irwin's Australian accent. That got more laughs.
"Can I see him?" she asked.
"Yes. I'll find a video for you on youtube tomorrow after breakfast," I promised.
Cut to this morning. After a bit of hunting, I found some videos, screened them, and showed them to my daughter. Here's the dialogue after she saw several videos of Steve Irwin and a big team of men catching 16-foot crocs.
Daughter: Is he real?
Me: Yes, he was. He studied animals. He worked at a zoo in Australia. (notice my careful use of the past tense here)
Daughter: So he's alive?
Me (stalling):, he died a few years ago, but it didn't have anything to do with crocodiles (don't want to unearth that fear again).
Daughter: Oh.
A few minutes later:
Daughter: Mommy, did Steve Irwin believe in Jesus?
Me: I don't know.
Daugther: Because if he believed in Jesus, he went to heaven when he died.
Me: That's true.
I wish I was as fearless in my approach to spiritual issues as my daughter is. She might be afraid of alligators at bedtime, but she's not afraid to face the spiritual status of everyone she knows head-on.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Forgiveness vs. Reconciliation

Forgiveness and Reconciliation. One would think they go hand-in-hand, right? I mean, for you to truly experience reconciliation, forgiveness must be included. But the two are not mutually inclusive. The Lord has recently graced me with this insight, by means of my awesome pastor and an experience I still haven't grown enough to thank Him for just yet.
Forgiveness is letting go of the hurt inflicted on you by another person. You surrender your resentment and bitterness, releasing it and getting out of God's way. Essentially, you forfeit your right to sit in judgment of what they did to you. After all, that is God's position, not ours (Deut. 32:35). In fact, forgiveness is also a commandment. (Matt. 6:14-15; Mark 11:25-26; Luke 6:36-38; Rom. 12:17-21)
But reconciliation is the restoration of harmony and friendship. And that may never happen, even if you're walking in perfect forgiveness toward the offender. And that's okay. Why? Because reconciliation requires acknowledgment on the offender's part and acceptance of responsibility, as well as a commitment to change. Hence the reason why I say that forgiveness does not mean you have to go back for more abuse.
Nearly every time in Scripture where the words reconciliation or reconciled are used, it is in reference to someone being reconciled to God. One notable difference is in Matthew 5:23-24:
Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
That was Jesus speaking, and according to this passage, it is the offender's responsibility to reconcile.
Healthy boundaries are essential in any relationship. And if the offending party does not respect your boundaries and is not willing to seek you out with respect to those boundaries, reconciliation cannot occur. You have every right to establish healthy boundaries. In fact, it is foolishness not to.
You can walk in forgiveness and not experience reconciliation. It is disappointing, of course, and setting boundaries can be very difficult, but sometimes that is the path we must walk.