Study Finds Complex Passwords Not So Complex After All

passwordA study by a Texas-based information security company has determined that all the chatter about creating complex passwords may actually make them easier to crack.

The study involved analysis of 34 million stolen passwords from three separate data breaches: LinkedIn, eHarmony, and Rockyou. Out of that 34 million, they found that 50 percent of them followed the same structure.

The advice for making complex passwords is not bad. It is still best to use a combination of characters including upper and lower case letters, numbers, and special characters. However, the issue the researchers had was that when applications and websites require users to create a password using those rules, they don’t specify the placement of the various characters. And perhaps they should not. Creating complex passwords is frustrating enough for some people. However, it doesn’t mean it’s advised to ignore a well-structured one.

The study found that the structure most people used when following the strong password guidelines is that they used exactly one upper case letter and it was at the beginning of the password. As a result, passwords are easier to crack.

The guidelines are still the same, however and there is no reason to panic. Just keep in mind when you are creating and changing passwords that it’s worth shifting the placement of those special characters and consider using more than one of each to make it even more complex. And remember to always use at least eight characters and consider using pass phrases. It may make it easier to remember that way too.

© Copyright 2015 Stickley on Security

Declutter and Save

declutter_life_2What is the current state of your closets? Are they stuffed to the brim with clothes, shoes, suitcases, cleaning supplies, your high school chemistry textbook, etc., or can you do cartwheels in there? Is every horizontal surface covered in piles and piles of stuff or bare except for a few knickknacks?

If your house is filled with clutter, you probably know you won’t make the cover of Better Homes and Gardens, but you may not be aware that it could be costing you money too. Many people buy or rent bigger (and usually more expensive) places so they can have more closets or other storage space. Or they may opt for the smaller space and pay rent on a storage unit. A clutter-filled house can also lead to increased entertainment costs – you don’t want your friends to see the mess (or are sick of seeing it yourself), so you go out. Duplication is another way clutter can cost you. Have you ever spent money on something you already had because you had no idea where it was and did not want to spend hours looking for it?

If the thought of actually having to go through all your stuff makes you sweat, don’t worry. Here are some tips that can help make the decluttering process as painless as possible:

  • Do a little at a time: You are less likely to get discouraged and give up if you set a series of small goals spread out over time (e.g., clean the closet in the master bedroom tomorrow, clean the garage next weekend) instead of trying to clean up the whole house at once.
  • Take a picture of sentimental items: Do you have some items that you never use but nevertheless have a hard time getting rid of because of their sentimental value (such as the doll you bought for your daughter who is now 25)? Taking a picture can make it easier to part with them since you know you will have a reminder even if they are no longer collecting dust in your closet.
  • Donate or sell: While some of your items may be worn out and only welcomed by the trash bin, there may be many things you can sell to a consignment or thrift store or donate to charity. Think of your cleaning as putting money in your pocket or helping others, instead of just a chore.
  • Use the “one in, one out” rule: After you go through all that effort to get rid of what you don’t need, you probably don’t want the house to revert back to its former messy state a few months from now. A good way to prevent this is to get rid of something whenever you purchase something new. You buy a new t-shirt at the mall – when you get home, go into the drawers and get rid of an old one.

By taking the time to declutter, you’ll be cleaning all the way to the bank.

 

© 2014 BALANCE

Making Summer More Energy Efficient

making-your-home-more-energy-efficient-this-summerIt’s expected to be a hotter summer this year, but don’t confine your money-saving efforts to the thermostat.

The warm months can be the best time to focus on cutting year-round energy costs. Free of snow, ice and wind, it’s easier to spot problems, do repairs and budget for energy-efficient appliances and fix-up projects that can save considerable money in the future.

Your first step should be better tracking and analysis of the energy you buy. The most common sources of energy spending are home utilities and fuel costs for vehicles. However, if you own a vacation home, operate a business within your residential space or have different vehicles for land or water, see if you can separate those numbers so you can more clearly identify usage patterns month to month and find ways to cut back.

Think about an energy audit.

Whether you do it yourself or pay for the services of a certified professional summer is the best time to do a basement-to-rooftop energy audit. Some utility companies have home energy audits online so you can see where your energy is going. Prospective homeowners might make an energy audit part of their home inspection process. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, in 2014, the average American spent 60 percent of their energy dollars heating rooms and water. Another 16 percent goes to lighting, cooling and food refrigeration. The remainder – nearly a quarter of total home energy uses – covers all miscellaneous energy use in the house.

Then focus on the thermostat.

In the summer, confine heavy air conditioning use to the hottest nights, and the rest of the time, try to set the thermostat a little higher than you do now. For example, the U.S. Energy Department says that setting your air conditioning to 78 degrees instead of 72 can save between 6-18 percent on your summer cooling bill. Before you spend money on a programmable thermostat or convert your real-time utility billing to a budget plan, note that some research questions their value. First, see how much you can save by shutting off vents and doors and drawing curtains in unused rooms and spaces. If you don’t have pets, you may consider setting your thermostat significantly higher than 78 before you leave for work.

Lights out.

We’ve all been admonished to turn off the lights when we leave a room, but there are other things we can do to capture random, or energy waste. Sensors, dimmers and timers can reduce lighting use, and installing power strips can keep computers, microwaves, cable boxes, DVRs and high-end TV sets from sucking energy even when they’re not turned on. Unplugging between uses works too. Also, swapping conventional incandescent bulbs for compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) can provide lighting that lasts longer and saves money on replacements.

Check for tax credits and rebates.

Make a call to your tax professional, check the Internal Revenue Service’s website and EnergyStar.gov for news on residential energy credits for specific replacement appliances and energy-saving improvements to your home. Keep in mind that Congress traditionally acts late each year to renew old credits or to approve new ones.

Consider energy-smart landscaping.

Keep in mind that well-placed trees and shrubs can shield a home from the sun and the elements year-round and potentially save 25 percent on energy costs annually.

Cars, gas, and public transportation.

If you drive, consolidate errands, fill up your tank at cheaper times and consider smartphone apps to find low gas prices for commuting and vacation use. And if you don’t regularly use public transportation, start testing it during the summer. The additional walking most people do when they take public transportation has health benefits as well.

Bottom line: This summer, don’t just try to keep cool. Save money by changing your year-round energy behavior.

 

By Nathaniel Sillin

Scam Of The Week: Internet Capacity Warning

scamHere is the latest scam, possibly fueled by the recent news that we have run out of IPv4 addresses in the U.S.: Employees receive an email which claims to be from the “IT Services Support Department”. Obviously this is not legit, and a phishing scam tricking users so they enter their email account login credentials.

It tells the recipient their Internet capacity has reached 70% and that is why they need to contact support to avoid further problems. There is a “contact us” link in the email message so that the user can resolve the issue. Clicking the link redirects the user to a bogus “Help Desk” webpage asking them to submit their email account username and password, and when done, a Thank-You page appears.

The user may think the issue has been resolved, but the data has been harvested by cyber criminals and they will try to hijack the user’s email account for other criminal purposes.

 

Advantages of Online Banking

online-banking

 

There’s nothing wrong with being old school. If you’ve got a paper and pencil system that makes your personal finances hum like a well-oiled machine, then by all means feel free to stick to it. At the same time, it can’t hurt to try a more advanced system. If you find you aren’t comfortable with electronic banking, you can always go back to the manual method.

If you’ve been resisting switching over to online banking, here are some possible incentives to at least giving it a shot:

  • You are better protected against ID theft since you typically are in touch with account activity more immediately.
  • It’s easier to track your balances since you have many different ways to access account information.
  • It’s better for the environment because of the lack of paper.
  • You are less likely to suffer overdraft or over-limit fees since you can access your account information easily and at any time.
  • You are less likely to suffer from insufficient funds or other problems due a mistake in your math or record-keeping.
  • Online banking can make expense-tracking and budgeting much easier since you have an automatic record of charges whenever you want it.
  • You may be able to set up alerts to let you know when certain triggering events have happened with your accounts.
  • Many forms of online banking easily interface with computer programs that can help you get the most out of your money.
  • Many financial institutions allow you to deposit checks or perform other tasks online that otherwise would have necessitated an extra trip. This can save you quite a bit of money in gas if you live a good distance from your financial institution.
  • Online banking is typically free. This can save you money over paying fees to do paper banking.
  • There’s no waiting in long lines.
  • Online banking can be done at any time of the day or night.
  • Automated online bill-paying features mean never forgetting a bill that’s due. Plus, you don’t have to buy stamps or manage the mess of a bunch of paper bills floating around.
  • Transferring money between your accounts literally takes seconds.
  • Sending money to others is very simple. Once you set up a connection between your account and that of another person, you can transfer funds with just a few clicks.
  • Online banking makes it easy to access your money no matter where you are. If you are traveling, as long as you can find a computer, you can do with your money what you need to.
  • Direct deposit of your pay or other checks saves you a lot of time and hassle.
  • You no longer have to guess at when your money is available. If you normally find yourself waiting for checks to clear, you can instead set up an alert to tell you when the funds are available. This will save you a great deal of time calling the bank to see if you have access to the money yet.

Online banking is secure and generally extremely easy and cheap to use. At the very least, it’s worth a shot if you haven’t tried it out yet. Click here to learn more about or to enroll in NASA Federal’s eBranch Online Banking.

Tooth Fairy Calculator App

toothfairyWhat’s the going rate for a tooth in America? Use the Tooth Fairy Calculator to determine what the Tooth Fairy is leaving under pillows of other children.

By entering information including gender, education, state, age, family size, marital status and household income you can see how much the Tooth Fairy left in other households. The app also shows how inflation affects the amount, and compares what children are receiving now versus what they received decades ago.

The data is based on a 2014 nationwide survey. Features include photo sharing capability and fun photo filters in the Tooth Booth and personalized emails to send to your child from the Tooth Fairy. To access the app, click here.

This app does not collect personal information.

 

© 2013 Visa