7 security tips for your computer and the web

Keeping yourself and your business safe and secure is essential, right? So why is it so many people use obvious, sometimes dangerously simply passwords? Here’s a few ideas on how to keep yourself and your business website safe.

But first, a story. Well, before the story, let’s have some background:

“According to a new analysis, one out of five web users still decides to leave the digital equivalent of a key under the doormat: they choose a simple, easily guessed password like ‘abc123’, ‘iloveyou’ or even ‘password’ to protect their data.”

When I first read about some of the terrible passwords people are still using, I really wasn’t surprised.

Shh .. can you keep a secret?

In one notable, recent example, I was asked by a former client to “fix” a web application I was developing so there was only the one username and password for everyone. At the time of being asked, I’d only set one account up, but someone had decided to share this account and soon after, people were signing in with the same account details.

The problem is, due to the security options I’d put in place, each person that signed in signed out the one previous. This was because the system couldn’t deal with two people signing in with the same account details. The client was dismayed.

“Why can’t we all sign in with the same details?”

They asked.

“Because the system doesn’t allow more than one person to have the same username and password.”

I replied.

“Can’t they just type their name in after they’ve signed in?”

They enquired.

“That’s the whole point of having a username; so the system knows who each user is.”

I replied calmly, trying not to sound patronizing or condescending. But the question, I suppose, is: why did they refuse to have a unique account for each member of staff?

Being a very large business that bestrides continents, they have thousands of staff all over the world, so issuing usernames and passwords for each member of staff would be a considerable undertaking, one their own IT people refused to manage, even though it was firmly within their remit. And, ultimately, no one could be bothered with having a new account to remember, on top of the ones they already have.

In the end, I came up with another solution, one that didn’t rely on usernames and passwords, one that was arguably as secure, but came with unique problems all of its own.

7 ways to keep your computer safe and stay secure on the web

Consider what you stand to lose if someone snags the password for your computer. For most people nowadays, they stand to lose just about everything.

So what can you do to stay safe and secure on the web? Here’s a collection of ideas for saving and storing all of those usernames and passwords to all of those websites and web applications you sign up to, as well as staying secure while using a computer:

  1. Avoid obvious passwords — OK, this is obvious by now, but do not use regular names (your own, for example), words (“duck”, “apple”, “tea”, “foot”, “dog” etc), notable dates (your own birthday, or national events) or sequential letters and / or numbers (“qwerty”, “123456” or “abc123”) for passwords.
  2. Password protect your computer — Most computers (such as Microsoft Windows, Apple Mac OS X, Linux etc) have user accounts. Don’t use the default account, because that’s often the master administrator account. Instead, leave that alone and create a new one, just for you. Then, set it up so you have to sign in every time your computer restarts.
  3. Be careful in public — If you’re sharing a computer, or using one in an internet cafe, do not allow the web browser to save your details. If someone else uses that computer and visits the same website, they could, potentially, sign in as you.
  4. Do you own a Mac? Then go into your Applications folder, then the Utilities folder and find the Keychain Access application. By default, many applications store your details there. You can use Keychain Access to add Secure Notes and new Password Items, to store your details securely and safely. Also, you can use Keychain Access to retrieve account details, should you forget them.
  5. Managing passwords on Microsoft Windows isn’t quite as straight forward; there isn’t an equivalent to Keychain Access. But there are tools built in that do help keep you safe — here’s how you manage stored usernames and passwords on Windows XP and Windows Vista.
  6. Don’t share your accounts with other people — Sometimes, you’re rushed for time and someone needs to get into application X right away! Sign in for them, let them do their thing and then make sure they sign out afterwards.
  7. Passwords on paper won’t do — Scribbling passwords down on scraps of paper, stuffed into draws isn’t optimal. You’re either going to lose them, or worse, someone will find them.
  8. Complex is good — When choosing a password, remembering it isn’t the most important thing, not with the plethora of options for securely saving them to your computer. So choose one that’s more than ten digits, a mix of numbers and letters, both upper and lower case. Some software will even let you use punctuation marks and accents, like [email protected]£$%^&*()¡€#¢∞§ which is even better, because then you have password that contains more combinations than there are grains of sand on every beach on earth.

Got a security tip to share? Let us know how you stay safe…


Adobe versus web usability and common sense

Adobe’s website is a good example of bad web usability. I discovered this for myself only last week. If you thought buying software from Adobe would be easy, you might want to think again.

Since buying their main rival Macromedia, Adobe have a huge collection of software for creative businesses like Octane. I represent their target audience, and as a web designer and developer, people like me have very high standards indeed. So we expect very high standards from Adobe.

The most profound genius is that borne of precise observation. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle must have been only too aware of this as the attraction for his most famous yet personally disliked character Sherlock Holmes grew.

Sadly for Adobe, their website offers an exceptionally bad experience for people like me. Clearly demonstrating that the simple act of observing how people do things and then anticipating their next actions is neither art, science or practice for Adobe. Instead, they’ve made the purchasing experience as difficult as possible.

As big as Adobe are, I have to wonder how many sales they lose each week because of their appalling sales funnel. Only recently did a story emerge of a “$300 million button”, highlighting the perils of a bad shopping experience. Adobe’s problems are much more than a simple button fix — the entire purchasing experience is broken from the very beginning to the very end.

So you thought buying software from Adobe would be easy, right?

Because I’m from England, I use their .co.uk website, which then re-directs to their .com/uk/ address. Clearly we can see that the Adobe website is aware of where I’m visiting from, yes?

I’m interested in buying Adobe’s Creative Suite. Adobe’s home page seems neat enough, but this is a superficial appearance. The first thing I notice is that there’s no one Creative Suite, there are in fact four variations. So which Creative Suite is right for me?

the Adobe home page

And how do I decide? I clicked the: “Learn more” button, only to discover that there are actually six different Creative Suite collections; Design Premium, Design Standard, Web Premium, Web Standard, Production Premium and Master Collection. Rather surprisingly, this page doesn’t really offer any more information than the last.

I’m reminded of my first visit to the US back in 1996. During an eight week college exchange program to Northridge in Los Angeles, we paid a visit to a book store in Santa Monica. Downstairs was a cafe where people could sit and read through some of the books they’re considering buying, or the ones they’d just bought.

I decided to buy a coffee. And, not knowing any better I asked for a coffee. As the words tripped off my tongue, I saw behind the assistant a huge collection of coffee bean bags all sat in neat little square shelf boxes. I’m talking about hundreds of varieties of coffee. Needless to say, the assistant and I laughed.

Adobe, Microsoft: don’t make me think!

I now remember how I felt that day and someone must feel when trying to buy Microsoft Windows and discovering there isn’t just one version of Windows, but seven.

I’m being forced to make a decision about a product I clearly know very little about, and the paucity of information isn’t helping me make that decision. Sometimes, thinking isn’t automatically a good thing.

It’s at this point that I realize I have no idea what I need. Sure, I know what I want, but because of the different choices available to be, I don’t know what I need. Since simply asking (or rather looking) for a copy of Adobe’s Creative Suite is pointless, I click on the: “Suite selector” link, to try my luck elsewhere.

The first thing I see is a huge selection of check boxes. I feel my heart sink. Exactly what is: “cross-media design”? And what’s the difference between: “prepare digital images for print” and: “edit digital images”? Or the difference between: “import and organize images” and: “manage a pro photography workflow”?

choose an Adobe Creative Suite by activity

As my heart sinks, my head begins to spin. I don’t even attempt to choose from the check boxes and click on the second tab, to select by product. All I want is Photoshop, Illustrator and Flash. Alas, there is no Creative Suite that includes those three software packages. Instead, I’d have to choose Photoshop Extended, which forces me to choose the Premium and Master versions. I can see a correlation between Premium / Master and extremely expensive.

choose an Adobe Creative Suite by products

My heart sinks further. This isn’t any kind of choice, certainly not the kind of choice I expected to see from Adobe.

OK, let’s say for the sake of argument I was going to buy Adobe Creative Suite 4 Design Premium. I still don’t know what else is in this collection and I still don’t have a clue how much it’s likely to cost me. So I click the illustration of box .. and I click again, only to realize you can’t actually click on the graphic because it’s not a button. I have to click the: “See our recommendations” button below. Is this intuitive? No, it’s not.

The resulting page offers hardly any more information than the last. To learn more, I have to click again. It appears the Web Premium package looks about right, but I don’t want Fireworks, Acrobat or Dreamweaver. Sadly, I have no choice.

Adobe recommendations for the Creative Suite collection

Now I have three buttons to choose from: “Buy”, “Try” and: “Learn more”. I choose the former, because I still don’t know what this lot is going to cost. I’m taken to the Adobe Store, where I’m now being asked to choose which region I’m from. Why? Adobe already know I’m visiting from England.

the Adobe Store

Frustration creeps in. I click on the: “United Kingdom” option, which is right at the bottom of the page. I’m now taken to the Adobe Store proper. Where’s the Web Premium package? That’s right, the very package I chose to buy is not on the store page. Instead, the Adobe website just dumps me onto their main Adobe Store page.

I’m sure Steve Krug would be just thrilled to see his “Don’t make me think!” mantra being shot to pieces by a company like Adobe who really should know better.

At this point, I’ve totally lost patience with Adobe and decide it would be much easier to call their freephone 0800 number. Well, the idea was excellent, sadly for Adobe, their automated call handling system isn’t. After selecting an option, I’m transferred into the ether and the line goes dead. Thinking this might just be me, I try again. Dead. I call from my mobile phone. Dead.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had problems with Adobe. Back in April 2007, I discovered that Adobe Contribute is broken. Worse still, Adobe don’t care that Contribute is broken.

What was it I said about professionalism again?