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The Tech Report

Tech Talk With Greg Bailey

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This article is going to focus on a very specific element of Internet security: password strength. For almost any online service that uses an account, there are going to be at least two pieces of information attached to it, your user name and your password.

Your e-mail may also be associated with the account, and some services will have additional safeguards when it comes to protecting your account, such as a security question. But, for the most part, keeping your password secret is vital to ensure your account’s security. Given this, it is very important to make sure that you have a strong password.

But what do I mean by a “strong” password? A password’s strength is based on how hard it would be for someone to figure out or guess. Most people would say that their password is hard or even impossible to guess, but for a shocking number of computer users this isn’t the case.

Let’s look at some passwords, and why they are strong or weak. First, let’s look at passwords like, “Password”, “12345”, and “happy”. This is very important...

DO NOT make your password “password”. Just don’t do it. For the second example, “12345,” a password of all numbers is also not a good idea... but a password of all consecutive numbers starting from 1 is a horrible idea. “Happy” is a weak password, though not as weak as the other two. Simple dictionary words like this are easily crackable. Your password should not be a word found in any dictionary, or a pure number. On top of that, your password shouldn’t be something that names a place or thing.

Using the name of a loved one or a good friend can be an even worse problem. The reason that a password like this doesn’t work is that your family members and friends are likely known by your other acquaintances. This means someone you know could possibly guess that person’s name and therefore has your password. It’s even possible that a complete stranger could look at a social page you own, like your Facebook page, and glean your password from your posts. Your password should never be something that you might say or type in conversation with someone else.

A good password would be something like, “atc39mn2s”.

This password might seem like a random string of gibberish... and it is! Passwords like this are what you should be aiming for; they are incredibly hard to crack compared to simpler passwords.

“Brute force” methods of guessing large amounts of common passwords will be ineffective, and there’s no way someone could figure out a random string of numbers and letters from a Facebook page. While this type of password is more difficult to remember than others, it is by far the best!

I’ll leave you with a few quick tips for keeping your password secure:

1. Try not to use the same password for everything you do. If you use the same password for multiple accounts, if even one account is compromised, so are the rest.

2. When it comes to password strength, more characters is always better. There is no need to be extreme and make your password the length of a sentence, but a fourteen character password is much more secure than a six character password.

3. There is never a bad time to change your password.

Changing your password to something different on a regular basis can make your account that much safer. Just make sure you know how the account lets users change their password. Be weary of an e-mail that suggests a password change, especially if they send a website to go to along with the mail.

This article is the third in a series devoted to Internet security, and learning how to keep you and your information safe. Any questions, requests for clarifications, or comments can be sent to greg@bpcmediaworks.com

Greg Bailey is a Computer Science major at UCR Bourns College of Engineering

Tech Talk With Greg Bailey

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You were not the millionth visitor to the site. There is no Nigerian prince with millions of dollars just out of reach. You have not been selected for a free Apple iPod. And there is no such thing as a free lunch... especially on the Internet.

The reason advertisements like these exist is that people want something from you. Some want to try and get you to sign up for a paid service. Some only want contact and personal information for advertising purposes.

Other, more malicious users, want to access and drain your bank accounts. It can be a little frightening, but this sort of thing reasonably easy to avoid if you know what to look for.

The most important thing to remember is that if something on the Internet sounds too good to be true, then it almost certainly is. I’ve said it already, but it merits repeating: On the Internet, there is no such thing as a free lunch. If someone is trying to give you something valuable for free, keep in mind that there is a good chance that there will be conditions attached to whatever they are trying to “give” away.

I don’t mean to say that if it is free, it is probably malicious.

Several things, including the Internet browser I use, my e-mail service, and even the document editor being used to type this article were all completely free. Amateur authors regularly release audio and sometimes even written versions of their books online, completely free. Some of the most popular games and software are, at the moment, completely free. There are an endless amount of wonderfully creative people on the Internet who and give away what they do for free.

A good rule of thumb is that if they are giving away something physical for free, there’s a very good chance that they are trying to scam you in some way, or at the very least they want your contact information. Here’s an example: about half a year ago there was a popular scam running on various social networking sites. In the scam, the poster would talk about how his company had several extra pieces of some random electronic (call it a laptop) that the company didn’t need. Then, he said that he’d be willing to give it to anyone who asked for one, free, no strings attached. He just needs some personal information (name, address, e-mail), and for you to pass the message along to your friends.

It’s a pretty safe bet that anyone who tried to get something free from this sort of trick got nothing more than spam e-mails for their trouble This sort of scam is called “phishing.” It works very simply, the scammer just asks you for your personal information.

The idea of someone trying to scam you by just asking for your information in an e-mail may seem silly, but it can be a very effective strategy. Obviously, you wouldn’t give a complete stranger that sort of information. But what if your bank sent you an e-mail asking for that same information because of “account issues?” It is very important to remember that no official organization, whether it be your bank or something as unimportant as an online game, will ever ask you to send account information (especially your password) through an e-mail. They will flat out not do this. If you get an e-mail from something like a bank that requests your online banking password, PIN, or anything at all similar to that, it is almost certainly a scam. The reason phishing is a viable means of getting information from Internet users is that it is very easy to send the same scam message to multiple people. If the message only works one out of every thousand times, that obviously isn’t very many... unless it is sent to ten thousand people. That’s ten people scammed... well worth it, especially if they have been scammed out of online banking information.

There’s no need to become too paranoid about any e-mail you might recieve. Don’t beware of everything you see on the Internet, be aware that you can’t accept that something is trustworthy just because they say they are. Don’t give out your information unless you are completely confident in whom you are giving it to.

This article is the second in a series devoted to Internet security, and leaning how to keep you and your information safe. Any questions, requests for clarifications, or comments can be sent to greg@bpcmediaworks.com

Greg Bailey is a Computer Science major at UCR Bourns College of Engineering

Tech Talk With Greg Bailey

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Most parents today do what they can to protect their children from dangerous or inappropriate sources on the Internet. But are they doing what it takes to protect themselves? Not from chatting with strangers, but from malicious users who want to steal information.

The gut-wrenching feeling of trying to access an account and getting constant “Incorrect password” messages although you are certain that you are typing it correct can be painful. It becomes downright severe when the importance of the account moves from something trivial like a message board account to something more serious like a Facebook or email account, or even an online banking account.

There are several misconceptions surrounding online identity theft, account security, and similar issues. First of all, if someone has gotten access to one of your accounts, it is unlikely that the account was actually “hacked”.

What happens much more often is that information associated with the account was somehow found out by the interloper. This is much easier than it seems.

For example, consider the minor fiasco of Sarah Palin’s email account being “hacked.”

To the uninitiated, the scenario can conjure images of some kind of “super hacker,” using a souped up machine and typing at an obscene rate while text as indecipherable as the Matrix flies by on the screen.

The truth is much more mundane, at least according to the culprit. If he is to be believed, all that he had to do to gain access to Palin’s account was reset her account’s password. This can be done very easily, as long as you can answer the security question associated with the account. In Palin’s case, the answer to her security question, “Where did you meet your husband?” was found simply by using Google search.

The security question is something that most popular email clients (Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, etc) have you fill out when you make your account.

If you cannot remember your password for whatever reason, you can click the “I forgot my password” link on the sign-in screen. From there, you type in the account name, and then if you answer the question correctly, you can change the password to whatever you want.

I tried to do this on an old AOL account I’d made a few years back and haven’t touched since. The security question associated with the account? “Where did you grow up?” I answered with the name of my hometown, and my full name.

And that was it, I was now allowed to change my password to whatever I wanted, without logging in to the account or needing the original password.

I need to stress just how easy this was. The hardest part of changing my e-mail account password through “I forgot my password” was verifying that I was a human by entering letters from an image. The process took two minutes, and anyone who knows me or is willing to do a quick search on my name would have been able to get access to the account. Once I realized this, I started checking my other e-mail accounts. Some of them were secure, but one in particular had the question “What is the name of my school?”, the same question that allowed Palin’s e-mail to be compromised. I changed it quickly.

This should raise the obvious question: How secure is my email account? If you aren’t sure, I would highly recommend checking to see what your security question is. If you don’t know how to find it, you can use the “I forgot my password” option, and answer the prompts until you are asked the answer to your question. Once you see it, if it is a question that anyone could find the answer to if they looked for it, you should change it immediately. If you can’t figure out how to change it check the help information on the website, or simply Google “How do I change the security question on my ____ account?” to find out how.

Don’t make it easy for others to hi-jack your email acount.

This article is the first in a series devoted to Internet security, and learning how to keep you and your information safe.

Any questions, requests for clarifications, or comments can be sent to greg@bpcmediaworks.com

Tech Talk

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Elmer Thomas Jr.
Lucky Gmail users have been able to use these features for some time now, while us Google Apps (www.google.com/a)  users have been quietly waiting. Personally, I'm glad Google took the time to get the features working flawlessly before deploying for business use. After spending some time understanding the new features, I have found some great new productivity enhancements to share.

Bookmark Emails and Searches

This is by far my favorite feature. Granted, you can usually find the email you need with a well crafted search or label. However, being able to bookmark a message is much faster when combined with RememberTheMilk.com.  Now, I can attach that well crafted search or an individual email directly to an item in my to do list, making it much easier to put that to do item in the proper context.

Colored Message Labels

Ever since I have been using a filter (Gmail allows you to create email filters) + label (you can attach a label to emails rather than put them in a folder) solution, I have accumulated a massive amount of labels. Using label color coding I can now assign the key labels I need to check regularly, bright red. That helps save time when scanning through hundreds of labels.

Updated Contact Manager

If Google would create a reliable synchronization tool that works with my Pocket PC, as well as an import tool from other popular networks, I just might dump Plaxo.com and keep it "Google simple". Until then, Plaxo.com is my preferred contact management solution.

Chat From the Browser

With this feature you can chat instantly with other Gmail users directly from your inbox. This adds convenience to instant messaging. I like not having to leave my inbox to hold a chat (or chats).

Google Sites

At first I thought this was just an update to their web builder tool. I was pleasantly surprised to find a cool intranet building tool. This will serve as a better central gateway for our team, instead of the Google Apps start page (I prefer using .com with my personal account because of greater flexibility).

The best feature of Google Sites for me, is the ability to share uploaded files. So now I can finally store all my documents in one place and Google will take care of managing the various versions.

Best of all... these services are all free!

Elmer Thomas Jr. is Co-founder of IER Solutions, Inc., an award winning web and software development company dedicated to bridging the digital divide and ATL Innovations, Inc., an online innovation company. You can find out more about Mr. Thomas at ThinkingSerious.com.

How to Get Small Amounts of Funding for Non-Profits

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Elmer Thomas Jr.
Many people I have talked with about non-profit fundraising seem to focus on the large sponsorship opportunities. While that is the ultimate goal, there are many opportunities to get help at smaller levels that can eventually lead to the large sponsorships. If you have a non-profit and your fundraising is stalled, read on.

Create the Value Proposition

Understand what value is present for both the sponsor and the people the non-profit serves. Here are some items to consider:

  • What will you offer the sponsor?
  • Number of eyeballs
  • Exposure to influential people and media
  • Branding
  • Generate a book of testimonials and make it readily available to the sponsor.
  • Tailor your message to the sponsor in terms of the benefit to the sponsor.
  • Have a list of testimonials from previous sponsors.
  • Mention current sponsors.
  • Clearly explain what the sponsorship will be used for.

Build Your List

Based on the value proposition, you are now ready to build a list of potential sponsors. Here are some suggestions for building that list:

  • Previous sponsors.
  • Call previous sponsors and ask for referrals.
  • Visit online communities that relate to your value proposition and see who is sponsoring them.
  • Ask non-profits that are working toward your same goals about who is sponsoring them.
  • Use press releases < http://tinyurl.com/4rxzey  > to call for sponsors and direct them to your website (or phone number) where they can enter their information.

Create a Script

I don't recommend that you read from a script when calling on potential sponsors; however, it will be helpful to write out what you want to say. Write several different scripts with the same underlying message.


Once you have written out your scripts, memorize them and practice in front of the mirror. Be sure to smile, standing up can help also (use this method when making the actual calls also). Then call on some friends and ask them for a critique as you "cold call" them.

Review ideas about taking the cold out of cold calls < http://tinyurl.com/4nqpwz />.

Execute & Record

Before you begin calling, use a CRM system < http://tinyurl.com/8mvkn > to help you manage. In this case, I recommend ZohoCRM < http://www.zohocrm.com  > because it is free for three users and has all the power you need. If that sounds daunting, then start with a simple spreadsheet < http://docs.google.com  >.

Here are some key data points that you need to record for each call:

  • Contact information
  • Name and contact information of the decision maker
  • Script used
  • Result of call
  • Follow up date

At the end of each day, review your notes, and think of ways that you can improve.

Follow Up

Persistence and determination can go a long way in making things happen. Make sure to set a contact follow up date in your system < http://tinyurl.com/3xkbnc  > after each call. Remember that timing is key. Many times the person you are talking to may be under serious stress or simply just in a bad mood.

Elmer Thomas Jr. is Co-founder of IER Solutions, Inc., an award winning web and software development company dedicated to bridging the digital divide and ATL Innovations, Inc., an online innovation company. You can find out more about Mr. Thomas at ThinkingSerious.com.

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