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Pump Up Your Password

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Jack O’Spades

The first, and too often the last, line of security for a computer network is a user name and password. However, many people and organizations (who shall remain nameless!) neglect using strong passwords. In this, the first Populist Geek Information Technology Security column, I will show you how to make your home or organization’s network more secure.

 

 So what exactly is a weak password? A weak password comes in many different forms, in many cases overlapping each other. Weak passwords are usually short, easy to guess with little or no background information, and consist of a limited variety of characters. Things like the name of a child or a family pet, a term of ideological significance to a person/organization (for example, peace, justice, unity, etc.), or a birthdate, should be avoided.

 

 

When designing a password it’s useful to know the type of tools a cracker (read: malicious hacker) uses to break passwords. There are two types of code breaking software commonly used by crackers, dictionary attacks and brute force attacks. In a dictionary attack, a program attempts to break into a computer by passing word by word from a dictionary until it finds one that matches the system’s password. This is why passwords that are simply words or number sequences are particularly vulnerable passwords.

 

 

A more powerful, but far slower tool used by crackers is the brute force attack. Whereas the dictionary passes words until it finds a match, the brute force attack systematically creates a sequence of characters until it finds one that matches the system password. This is very much like dialing 111-1111, 111-1112, 111-1113, etc, on a telephone until you find the person you want to call. Brute force attacks are particularly devastating against small passwords, or passwords that use a limited character set.

 

 

Strong passwords are longer and made up of a variety of characters. A good example of a strong password is: “J@c57!$2cR@cK9uN4”. Note the use of both uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols.

 

 

Granted, such passwords are difficult to remember, but there is a good solution to this, a password database. There is a program known as KeePass (go to http://keepass.info/download.html and click on the link under “latest stable release”), which helps create and store strong passwords. A particularly helpful feature of this program is its ability to create randomly generated passwords and show the relative strength of a password.

 

 

The program stores the passwords in a .kdb file. This database is accessed by a password and/or an encoded .key file. I would recommend using both a strong password and a .key file encoded onto a USB flash drive or CD. Be sure to have one backup key tucked safely away so that you can access the file if you lose your original key! All you need to do is right-click on the .key file, select the “copy” option, open up the place you want to put the back up, and right-click on an empty part of the window and select the “paste” option.

I hope this has been helpful to you guys. Until next time, stay safe, and remember to use protection when surfing “questionable” websites!

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Mr. O’Spades is a programmer and student of Computer Science at Valencia Community College. He plans on transferring to the University of Central Florida to further his study of the dork arts.

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Written by jackofspades83

March 4, 2008 at 10:12 pm

Free Geek & Linux: Open Source Revolution!

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Jack O’Spades

 

Nothing in computer engineering could be more sacred to a populist geek than Linux and open source. For the 90% of you who have no idea what the fuck I’m talking about, allow me to explain. Linux is an operating system, its what allows your PC’s software and hardware to work together to download porn from the Internet and put it on your monitor. You are probably far more familiar with an OS by the name of Microsoft Windows, or if you are too cool for a PC, the Mac OS X. Without an operating system the computer would not be able to, well…anything really.

 

 

So what’s so special about Linux? Unlike the operating systems you’re familiar with, Linux is 100% F-R-E-E. But isn’t windows free? No, it may come with your computer, but you’re still paying a good $100 to get something Linux could do better, for absolutely nothing. The Linux operating system is also at the forefront of what is known as the open source movement, and this is why it’s truly the pride and joy of populist geeks the world over.

 

 

The term open source simply means that the instructions and knowledge used to make something are not hoarded, but rather, made available to the entire public. Thus allowing the public to use it, modify it, and make the modifications available to the public, to be used and revised ad infinitum. Wikipedia, despite it’s flaws, is a good example of an open source encyclopedia. It’s a project that is revised and edited by the community, made available to be used and improved.

 

 

Open source software such as Linux, fights monopolies such as Microsoft, brings a greater degree of potential innovation, provides free software to the masses, and all the while, still puts food on geeks’ tables. At this point I’m sure you’re wondering how can free software can make money for anyone. Well, unlike traditional proprietary software, revenue for open source software does not come from selling licenses for copies of the software. Instead the money is usually made by one of three ways, one of the most prominent being selling tech support for the software. Someone has to keep the servers operating, and applications from crashing, so why shouldn’t we be paid for our labor?

 

 

Also, money can be made by providing a free version of the product and charging for a more powerful version, or by selling a service related to the software. Its also not uncommon for businesses to pay programmers to develop and maintain software needed for certain applications. By paying programmers to produce and maintain open source software, several businesses can share the production costs for an application that they all require. So you can certainly see how open source software can appeal to someone who is both a populist and a career geek.

 

 

In fact, some of these populist geeks have decided to take this even farther, and make the open source movement even more beneficial to the masses. I am referring to the Free Geeks, a group that provides free computers to people who otherwise couldn’t afford them. To do this they collect computer parts that, had they not intervened, would have been trashed by organizations and individuals. Then they put the PCs together, install Linux on them, and hand them off to those in need of them. Essentially they recycle computers like Second Harvest and Food Not Bombs recycles food.

 

 

Free Geek was founded in Portland, Oregon in February 2000, and in just four years recycled more than 360 tons of computer waste, and provided more than 3,000 computer systems. Like Food Not Bombs, the group is run democratically, and works actively with organizations struggling for positive social change. Just recently a local chapter has opened up in Orlando, and is looking for volunteers and computer parts. Their website can be found at www.freegeekcentralflorida.org. There are many ways you can help, even if you aren’t skilled with computers. See the volunteer section of the website to learn more about how you can help lead the open source revolution!

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Mr. O’Spades is a programmer and student of Computer Science at Valencia Community College. He plans on transferring to the University of Central Florida to further his study of the dork arts.

Want to make the move to the open source camp? Here are some programs that are free versions of proprietary software, and where you can get them:

 

*Open Office = Microsoft Office

Office Suite(Word Processing, Spreadsheets, Power Point, Web Development)

For Windows, Mac, and Linux

http://download.openoffice.org/

 

*GIMP = Adobe Photoshop

Photo and Image Editing

For Windows

http://www.gimp.org/windows/

For Mac

http://www.gimp.org/macintosh/

For Linux

http://www.gimp.org/downloads/

 

*Kompozer = Microsoft Frontpage

Web Page Development

For Windows, Mac, and Linux

http://kompozer.net/download.php

 

*Mozilla Firefox = Internet Explorer

Web Browser

For Windows, Mac, Linux

http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/firefox/all.html

 

*Mozilla Thunderbird = Microsoft Outlook

For Windows, Mac, Linux

http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/thunderbird/all.html

 

*Windows Media Player = VLC Media Player

Audio/Video Player

For Windows, Mac, Linux

http://www.videolan.org/vlc/

 

*Belnder = Maya

3D Graphics

For Windows, Mac, Linux

http://www.blender.org/download/get-blender/

 

*GNU Cash = Microsoft Money

Financial Manager

For Windows, Mac, and Linux

http://sourceforge.net/project/showfiles.php?group_id=192

 

For more information on Linux check out:

http://www.linux.org/lessons/

 

If you want to know more feel free to contact me at:

jackofspades83@aim.com

Written by jackofspades83

March 4, 2008 at 1:50 pm