Secure Passwords

The IT Helper Guide to Better Passwords

An average computer user in 2016, reportedly requires around 25 unique passwords to access online sites they are registered with.

That surprises me, because I seem to have amassed over 150!

Passwords are a necessary evil, that for the time being at least, we have to put up with. So what is the best way of managing them all?

An appealing way to manage passwords is to use the same password for all sites and make it easy to remember. Something like “My Password”, or your pet’s name, or your partner’s middle name.

You do know that this is NOT OK don’t you?

This is a bad approach for a couple of key reasons:

  1. The password is very easy to crack. If a criminal can’t just guess it in a couple of minutes, then their computer will easily be able to it in that much time!
  2. If a website is hacked, and the password details are discovered, then a criminal will find it easy to access to any site that you use.
Remember your secure password.
Is your password easy to remember?

So what makes a “safe” password?

A safe (or strong) password is one that combines a combination of letters (Upper and lower case), numbers, and special characters and is a minimum of 12 characters in length. (For high security sites you really should use at least 14 characters.) A good password might look something like:


A password like this is very unlikely to be guessed as it looks pretty random and complex. It would also take a computer a long time to crack as it doesn’t rely on dictionary words, or simple variations on them, and is 12 characters long.

But, how do you remember such a password? Do you save it in a “Passwords” file on your computer? Do you write it in a little book? Or do you use a memory aid? Take a closer look at the above password. Here is how I chose it…

  1. I looked at my domain name: “ithelper”
  2. I swapped every second letter to an upper case
  3. I swapped the first and last letters
  4. I countered the total number of letters and entered the digit in front of my rearranged letters – 8 in all.
  5. Finally, I inserted special characters after every vowel – starting with the special character corresponding to the ‘8’ key and working along the row (putting two characters after any upper case vowel.)

It is a reasonably safe password to use (except that I have just shared it, and the method that I have used to create it!) Creating passwords using a consistent complex algorithm can be a good way of ensuring that you can always remember (rediscover) your password if you ever lose it or forget it, but who wants to be performing mental gymnastics like that every time you need to use your password!

If you write a password down, you expose yourself to the risk of someone finding it, or yourself losing it.

So what is a safe and easy way to manage passwords?

Safe & Easy Password Handling

To manage passwords safely..

  1. Every password should be unique
  2. Every password should be complex (At least 12 characters long, and using letters of both cases, symbols, and digits.) Note: Some sites don’t allow this many characters in their password, or may not allow all symbols.
  3. No password should be written down or saved in a computer file that someone else might access, or you might lose

To manage passwords easily..

There is really only one safe and easy way to manage your passwords, and that is to use password management software. A good password manager uses high grade encryption to keep your passwords safe. The passwords in a password manager can only be unlocked by a single encryption key that is not stored on the computer, or in a notebook, but is committed to your memory. You need just one password to access all of the unique passwords that you have created.

What are the main capabilities of a password manager?

A GOOD password manager will do the following for you:
1. It will create random, unique, and strong passwords for every site you visit that needs a password.
2. It saves your user name and password in an encrypted (encoded) form, that is useless to anyone who discovers it, without knowing your personal password key.
3. It can present those passwords for you either automatically, or on request, when you revisit a site that needs you to log in.

If you only have one type of device that you need to use a password manager on, then I would recommend the use of LastPass Free. Download it here: LastPass Free

A REALLY GOOD password manager will do all of the above, and on top of that, it will store the encrypted data in the cloud, so that you can access it using a password manager on any device that you own or use. (eg Home PC, Work PC, tablet, ipad, and android phone (So you don’t have to enter data into the software on each device separately.) So if you are after a REALLY GOOD password manager that will work across all of your devices, then I recommend the one that I have been using for the past four years. It just keeps getting better, and will cost you just US$12.00 per year to use it across all of your devices) My Password Manager of choice is LastPass Premium. Download a trial version here: LastPass Premium (There is no need to start paying anything while you are testing the software.)

And if you have a business where you want to provide passwords to various staff in the organisation then you really should look at LastPass Enterprise. Download a trial version here: LastPass Enterprise

I’m sure that you will be pleased to discover the joy of just needing one secure password to access them all! That’s why LastPass claim that it is the Last Password that you will ever need.. (Do remember to make your master password a good secure one that you can easily remember though…. You have been warned!)

But wait… There is more! (Just like in the TV adverts!)

LastPass can also store all of your address and credit card details etc securely. You can then use LastPass to help you automatically fill in your customer details on online shopping sites.

So go ahead, download in the next 30 minutes and you will get a free set of steak knives!

(Just Kidding!)

But there is one more thing….Don’t forget to use LastPass to securely store your other important details like passport numbers, bank account details, software keys etc. It is more than just a really good password manager. It is a secure vault for all of your important details. For all of this convenience, I think it is well worth spending just US$12.00 per year.

Take a little time to download and trial a really good password manager and make your online life a whole lot easier. No more need to feel guilty about insecure passwords!  That download link again: LastPass

Share your thoughts on your LastPass trial below. And if you have any trouble getting acquainted with LastPass, be sure to post your questions for me to answer for you.  After all, IT Helper wants to make your on-line life easier!

  • The cartoon on this page is used by permission. You can find it here. The Flickr User is: Husin.Sani The Creative Commons licence can be found here. I wish to express my thanks to the creator of this cartoon.

Back-up options: What price for peace of mind?

Greymouth: Answer this question honestly!

[socialpoll id=”2377345″]

Hmm.. How did you fare?  Back-up not up to scratch? I’m guessing that most of us are ashamed to admit that we really aren’t prepared for a data disaster.

This week I address some of your options to improve on your existing back-up system.  I welcome feedback too on anything I say. You may have some suggestions to make too.

Set and forget! (For full peace of mind)

If you or your business depend on your data, or if you simply cannot afford to lose your files then you must have completely reliable back-up in place. So long as you have a broad-band plan in place, then my current recommendation would be to go with Backblaze Online Back-up.  This currently costs US$5.00/month or US$50.00 per year (About NZ$70.00/year) Backblaze can give you complete peace of mind that all of your files are backed-up in the cloud immediately and securely. You can even back-up any attached external drive. (Which in my case holds 3TB of data) These days, we really need to think of on-line back-up as an essential (and now affordable) insurance policy for many of us.  Interested in trying it out free? You can sign up for a 15 day free trial here.  You can see how it stacks up against other cloud back-up services here.

Local back-up (If you really cannot afford $70/year, or your internet plan has very limited data etc)

Local back-up is a second-best option in my view. The main reason for this, is that we aren’t data specialists and don’t devote ourselves to daily checking that everything is working!  It is also true that the disaster that results in us losing the data in the first place may also take the local back-up. (Eg A house fire, flood, or theft) For local back-up I would recommend either using the built-in Windows back-up or even better, a free back-up software AOMEI Backupper. You can visit the AOMEI site and download backup software. (Just remember that this is a secon-best option to online back-up in my view.)

AOMEI Backupper allows you to back-up your whole operating system and data files to a second internal hard disks, external hard disks, solid-state drives (SSD), USB flash drives, Thumb Drives, Network-attached storage (NAS), Hardware RAID, Dynamic Disk and Virtual machine systems, etc. It has an amazing range of back-up options for you to choose from, and can even be used to transfer all of your computer’s contents to a different PC.

Local back-up still has its costs. If you want the back-up to be live, then you will need to have another drive running all the time that your computer is running. That will cost money for the drive, and money for the electricity to keep it running. (You can of course just schedule a weekly back-up if you really can afford to lose up to a week’s worth of files…. but then you have to remember to make sure that it doesn’t get forgotten, or unplugged etc.)

Hybrid Back-up (Local and “Free” on-line)

Until recently, I have adopted this ‘patchy’ approach.  I back-up all of my photos to a Flickr Account (I have 18,035 photos stored there today) Flickr is completely free to use, and is a great way to share your photos with your friends, or publicly. (You can even edit your photos there) My music is all backed up to Google Play Music (Free if you have an Android device.)

Now, having gotten all of those files out of the way, you might choose to make a disk image back-up of you computer using AOMEI Backupper (Above). (So you can easily restore your computer if you need to) You document files can be added to this image periodically, or you could elect to store all of your documents in the cloud using the free Google Drive or Microsoft One Drive cloud services.

Whatever you decide to do…..!

  • Don’t delay! – Do it now, while it is fresh in your mind.. before it is too late!
  • Stick to a simple system! (If it isn’t simple, it is unlikely to happen.)

I welcome your feedback on this post!

Disclosure Statement: Regarding Backblaze online back-up. I have selected this service because I genuinely think it provides the best value for money of the mainline back-up companies. As a Backblaze affiliate,  I stand to profit $5.00 for any reader who follows the link on this page and signs up for a paid account within 30 days. (Assuming that at least 20 readers actually do so!)

 hard disk drive crashes require you to have a back-up plan.

Don't Tell IT Helper, Greymouth

IT Helper has begun. (Shhh its a secret!)

IT Helper is the new ‘kid’ on the block for friendly, mobile computer servicing in Greymouth. I’m just getting started at present and am in the process of sorting out my equipment and stock and website etc, and am quietly picking up the odd customer here and there through word of mouth. This suits me, as I don’t want to be rushed off my feet before all systems are go!

Through this part-time business, I’m aiming to provide a convenient, friendly, mobile service for Greymouth people who need a bit of a hand with their computer, or perhaps more general IT advice or tuition. Services offered include such things as:

  • a tune-up for your pc
  • transferring your software and settings to your new pc or tablet
  • help with setting up google or microsoft acccounts and apps etc
  • diagnosing and solving software or hardware problems
  • basic skills training to help you find your way around your computer, or particular software
  • advice on computer purhasing decisions etc
  • even re-tuning your TV receiver for the latest freeview channels etc

It can be hard to decide what to buy these days. A brand new laptop might not be any more powerful than a three year old one etc! I’m happy to assist you with independent advice on a good device to buy, and good software to download or purchase too.  Spending a little on some independent advice up-front, might potentially save you a lot of heart-ache, and potentially, a lot of money.

In coming weeks, I’ll be establishing a regular blog post and a subscription e-mail newsletter that will provide regular free and helpful computer and IT tips. (Watch out for a “Newsletter” tab appearing on my website. You will be able to subscribe to it there.)

So… If you have just discovered this post, please don’t rush off and tell all your friends…. or I’ll get busy too quickly!  Oh… OK.. You can tell ONE friend if you like!

Russell Nimmo (IT Helper)