Simple Way to better secure your stuff

Many of you are going to take a vacation over this coming Summer. Before you do, do you have a written record of all of your valuable things?

Having a record of everything can save you in the event of a fire, theft, or other damage.

I’ll show you a trick that will add an additional layer of security to your valuable items.

a guitar

Here is a guitar I found on Google images

Step one–identify the item–in this case we’ll use this random guitar image I found online:

Locate the serial number of the item. Sometimes the serial number can be found in a conspicuous space on the back of the item. Other times it is crafted into the model number of the device. On still other items, you can only get the serial number by peeking side of it.

If finding the serial number involves a screwdriver, a soldering iron, and dozens of screws, perhaps you would be better served pulling the serial number of the device off of the box it came in, your receipt, or sometimes you may need access a combination of buttons or commands that will push the items display to reveal the serial number.

However you come about it, the serial number for the device will give you the best evidence that the item is yours. The serial number is what you register with the manufacturer to secure your warranty. It is what you turn into your insurance company so they can provide coverage.

Now record that into a Google spreadsheet or an externally stored Microsoft Excel spreadsheet along with photos of the item.

Once you have that all recorded and saved on an external site, like OneDrive or Google Docs. You will want to store this some place outside of your home in the case of data loss, theft, a fire, or some other unforeseen circumstance.

Now you will want to take one additional step in order to prove property is yours and to find an easy way to get stolen or lost merchandise back.

I have used Zint for years. Link goes to Zint on SourceForce.net.

Now you’ll want to put as much personal information as you can out there. For example — your name, an address (use your work address), and a contact phone number with a description of the item into the software with the serial number. Remember to include, make, model number, year of model, serial number, and if possible, color of the item.

When you have done this it will create a QR code that you can now print out on a small sticker that you should affix to your device in a very inconspicuous place. For a device like a TV or stereo, place the sticker next to other stickers on the back of the device where the UL and power information are situated.

The finished product should look something like this —

Sample QR code

Congratulations, you have now taken a major step in protecting your hard earned devices or personal treasures.

Microsoft updates, KB numbers, and the support articles that go with them

Cujo the sheppard mix

Cujo the sheppard mix

By now most of you know about Windows 10 and if you are on Windows 7, 8, or 8.1 you likely have a white flag icon in your system tray in the lower righthand corner of your screen.

This flag comes from a Microsoft update, KB3035583. and it does a couple of things, one of which is to push you to move over to Windows 10. If you actually try to read what MS’s own update tool says that this update does, it is cryptic. There is no mention of Windows 10 nor an operating system upgrade that could be pushed to you without your knowledge.

So…when was the last time that you actually read the support knowledge base articles that go with the Microsoft updates that are being pushed to your system?

Most of the time the wording is innocuous. Other times…it can be vague and your own imagination will have to go to work.

Infoworld magazine seems to have uncovered info about the “important” upgrade that is basically “nagware”

http://www.infoworld.com/article/2906002/operating-systems/mystery-patch-kb-3035583-for-windows-7-and-8-revealed-it-s-a-windows-10-prompter-downloader.html

The wording of the update says, “This update enables additional capabilities for Windows Update notifications when new updates are available to the user. It applies to a computer that is running Windows 8.1 or Windows 7 Service Pack 1 (SP1).”

But Microsoft seems to take advantage of their customers not reading what these knowledge base support articles are actually doing.

If you read the following article, also from Infoworld, you can see how MS has been pushing failed updates with old KB numbers months after their initial installation attempts have failed.

http://www.infoworld.com/article/3004441/microsoft-windows/microsoft-surreptitiously-reissues-botched-patch-kb-3097877-for-windows-7.html

So this wraps up the second short worded version of this conversation. More will follow—stay tuned!

Pa$$w0rds–good or bad without breaking your brain

Every year some computer security firm releases its list of the worst passwords that people are using. While I do not know the methodology used to compile these lists, I do know that I see these passwords used over and over again in both public and private sector arenas.

password image by Linux Screenshots on Flickr.

password image by Linux Screenshots on Flickr.

Why are people using passwords like 123password? It is likely because the average person, not techno-geek, has a hard time remembering what some ‘best-practices’ list decided was a good password. You know the one; there must be on capital letter, one lower case letter, one number, one special character, and the DNA signature of your neighbor’s cat (I just made the last part up).

Now this is a big deal because passwords are a big deal. They keep people from snooping on your computer, your email service, the websites you frequent, or even keep people out of your bank or credit card accounts.

Passwords are like diapers and politicians. They should be changed and often. Why? Because if you leave a password in place for too long you give an outsider a longer opportunity to crack it open and then gain access to your data/information.

So while password, letmein, 123456, qwerty, or something similar are examples of bad passwords, using a password like 3!dxt*RT2nr$xgg5t06 is a good password but not because it is complex. It is a good password because it is long however the human brain can only remember so much of this string, you have to go back and remember that you are trying to outsmart a computer and not a human being.

A human will guess words that can be found in a dictionary or will tell a computer to look for words that exist in a dictionary. In short…words that make sense to another human being. A computer does not care about dictionary words or special characters.

I will now enter the word “entropy” into this discussion. Entropy, while sometimes relating to thermodynamic relationships in chemical processes, also means a lack of predictability or reliability that can lead to a disintegration of order leading to disorder and thus a large positive run towards randomness. This is a good thing to have in a password or pin.

For instance…your four digit PIN that you use on your debit card has a number of possible combinations of 10^4 (numbers 1-4 give us 10 and since there are 4 of them, that gives us the number of possible combinations) possibilities.

And that 16 character string of special characters, upper and lowercase letters, numbers and your cat’s DNA marker? Well that only nets you an entropy, randomness score, of 119 bits. However, if you were to take the last names of your two favorite teachers, the model of your first car, and your first home phone number..that entropy ramps up to over 200 and that would take the most power computers, hundreds, if not thousands, of years to crack that password…and by then you should have changed it more than two times to something else.

Some examples of good strong passwords in this model are: hulusucksbecauseofcommercials , bernsteincoplandRodeoin38time, spotroverslurpeepepsi

The main purpose of this blog entry is to illustrate to you that a secure password can be one that is long, and strong but more importantly, something that you can easily remember. Just do not use the names of your kids, your pets, or other personal information that you might not want disclosed to the general public.

Using Adobe Photoshop online

Sunflower in my backyard editted in Adobe Photoshop.com

With some mild fear I decided to try out Adobe’s online image editting solution, Photoshop.com. Now this is a nicely crafted site. It has many of the features that sites like Piknik and Picasa offer with something that are decidedly Adobe.

The first thing you should know is that the basic account is free. It’ll cost you an email account but that email account that I used to sign up with has yet to see one single piece of spam from Adobe or Photoshop.com. The basic account will let you hold up to 2GB worth of images. That sounds like a lot and it is for most point and shoot camera users.
If you are using a high end Canon Mark V with the default 77MB file sizes, then you know what your limits are and you probably are not looking for free online storage solutions for your photos.
Now let’s talk about free solutions for a minute. It is important that you do not store precious and rare photographs only on your home PC. Heaven forbid that a catastrophe strike, you will lose those memories. It is okay to do backups of your home pc files, pictures, and video on to DVD’s or some other onsite storage solution however, you should also make use of Flickr, Picasa, Photoshop.com, Photobucket, SmugMug or the plethora of online storage offerings.
So now that we have established that it is wise to move your photos off of your home PC and on to a storage site where backups are done routinely, let me add that you should have a copy at home too.
Now Photoshop.com gives you many tools for editting, cropping, and in many other ways manipulating your images. It does not give you all of the tools that you would get with Photoshop CS4, CS3, or any other Adobe Photoshop boxed software offering. It does however give you just enough tools to take a plain image and spice it up a little or maybe get rid of those demon eyes your puppy gets from the flash bulb.
It also lets you integrate your images with Picasa, Flickr, Photobucket, Facebook and possibly more coming soon. You can choose to share photos on Photoshop.com with friends or ban outsiders from viewing your work.
Adobe also makes available paid versions of this site which offer you more storage. You should check the site for pricing as it may change from the time I write this and the time you read this.
I really cannot applaud this product properly. You will have to try it for yourself.