Matariki resolutions for the e-citizen

1 July 2012

KATHY HOLLOWAY helps you find secure and memorable passwords to keep you safe online.

With Matariki, (the Mäori New Year on June 21) just behind us, take a moment to review your previous New Year resolutions (if you hadn’t made any, this is your chance!).

The most common resolutions (according to About.com) concern improving personal physical and mental health. Other topics popping up more regularly in published lists are being more environmentally aware and engaging in learning something new. So grab the chance in this edition’s Webscope to learn how to keep yourself safe online with strong passwords and heightened security awareness.

Password protection is commonplace and most of us have many passwords for our various web activities both at home and at work. You probably have passwords for email (both home and web-based), access to computer systems at work, electronic banking, and possibly a TradeMe or similar account.

I know I get muddled sometimes about which password is needed for specific activities and the ageing brain is not helpful! How do you remember them all? Are you one of those people who use the same password for all of your accounts? There are a few of you out there. Do you write them down? What should you do?

Strong passwords (that you can remember) are essential to protect your information. The key is to use words and phrases that you can easily remember but are hard to guess. There is nothing wrong with writing your passwords down as long as you keep the list secure. In general, passwords written on a piece of paper are more difficult to compromise across the internet than a password manager website or software-based tool.

The following six steps to improving password development and security are taken from a recent Microsoft article: http://www.microsoft.com/protect/yourself/password/create.mspx

Think of a sentence you can remember. This will be the basis of your strong password or pass phrase. Use a memorable sentence such as “My son Aiden is three years old.”

Check if the computer or online system supports the pass phrase directly. If you can use a pass phrase (with spaces between characters) on your computer or online system, do so.

If the computer or online system does not support pass phrases, convert it to a password. Take the first letter of each word of the sentence that you’ve created to create a new, nonsensical word. Using the example above, you’d get: “msaityo”.

Add complexity by mixing uppercase and lowercase letters and numbers. It is valuable to use some letter swapping or misspellings as well. For instance, in the pass phrase above, consider misspelling Aiden’s name, or substituting the word “three” for the number 3. There are many possible substitutions, and the longer the sentence, the more complex your password can be. Your pass phrase might become “My SoN Ayd3N is 3 yeeRs old.” If the computer or online system will not support a pass phrase, use the same technique on the shorter password. This might yield a password like “MsAi3yo”.

Finally, substitute some special characters. You can use symbols that look like letters, combine words (remove spaces) and other ways to make the password more complex. Using these tricks, we create a pass phrase of “MySoN 8N i$ 3 yeeR$ old” or a password (using the first letter of each word) “M$8ni3y0”.

Test your new password with Password Checker. This service checks your password’s strength but does not record it and calculates how long it would take to break it. For example, yhtak (Kathy backwards) would take less than 0.5 seconds to crack. However, yawollohyhtak (Kathy Holloway backwards) would take 17 million years!

Remember also that web browsers on your computer are often set up to assume you prefer convenience to security, and the browsers save not only usernames but passwords. This may not be a security risk for something like your Gmail account, but it is for something like your online banking or for access to secure data at work. If you use the web to access information that needs to be kept secure, be sure to set up your browser so that it does not save secure passwords to your computer.

When working on a computing lab or shared computer, make sure to properly log out of any websites that you log into during your session instead of just closing the browser. If you are working on a shared computer, remember to clear the browser cache if you used the computer to access secure data. Forgotten how to do all that? Check out http://www.microsoft.com/protect/yourself/mobile/publicpc.mspx

Remember, at the end of the day, your security is only as good as your software and your level of understanding – these things are in your control. With awareness comes choice.

CHECK THESE OUT

Workforce Innovation in New Zealand

http://workforceinnovation.hiirc.org.nz

This site has been established as a shared web space for health professionals who are interested in sharing information on key workforce initiatives and innovative practice occurring in the health sector, and for sharing their views on the shape of the future health workforce. This site also shares information on the demonstration sites established as part of the Health Workforce New Zealand (HWNZ) Workforce Innovation Programme. Useful links to recent research and the potential to be a discussion space for nurses and other colleagues around workforce strategy. [Site accessed 7 June and last updated May 2012].

Online Issues in Nursing Journal - Nurse Advocates: Past, Present, and Future

http://www.nursingworld.org/MainMenuCategories/ANAMarketplace/ANAPeriodicals/OJIN/JournalTopics/Nurse-Advocates-Past-Present-and-Future

This American peer-reviewed publication provides a forum for discussion of the issues inherent in current topics of interest to nurses and other health care professionals. The intent of this journal is to present different views on issues that affect nursing research, education, and practice, thus enabling readers to understand the full complexity of a topic. When each new topic is posted, the previous topic becomes available to all viewers. This topic is from January 2012 and has five articles that emphasise advocacy by nurses and for nurses on individual and professional levels. Also worth checking out is the next edition summary with a focus on The New Millennium: Evolving and Emerging Nursing Roles – very pertinent given the previous featured website [Site accessed 7 June and last updated 31 May 2012].

Kathy Holloway is associate dean of the Faculty of Health Education and Social Sciences at Whitireia Community Polytechnic.