Posts Tagged ‘internet’

Is your password secure?

June 8, 2011 2 comments

Sad to say, chances are, it isn’t.

Do you use an English word as your password?  Maybe with a number appended to it?  Not good.  Dictionary attacks are commonplace.

Let’s see, do you use a bit of information in your password that’s easily obtainable?  Like your birth date or spouse’s name?  Again, you’re asking for it.

Now the kicker: do you use the same password on multiple sites?  Oh oh.  My personal pet peeve.  Think of your password like a lock.  Would you put the identical lock on your house, cars, safe, etc?  What if you lost your key?  You’d have to change all the locks.  What’s worse, with the Internet you don’t always know when the key is lost.  Actually here’s one time we do know: Sony’s been hacked (again) and 40,000 username/password combinations have been posted for all to see.  So if you’re in that list, and you used the same password on other sites – well, I don’t need to tell you.

To test password uniqueness, Hunt compared the Sony data to a database of
Gawker usernames and passwords, which were hacked and released late last 
year. He found that of those accounts that used the same email address on
both sites, 67% used the same password on both systems.

Here are some basic rules to follow when coming up with a password:

  1. Use a different password for every site.
  2. Make it long.  How long?  Well it’s easier to say what’s not long enough, and that’s 6 characters.  Go 8 or 10 characters or even longer.  You could use an entire phrase.  Research shows size trumps content.
  3. Use a mix of character types.  So upper and lower case letters.  Some numbers.  And at least one special character (non-alphanumeric).
  4. The best passwords are random ones, and people don’t generate the best entropy.  Actually even machines have a hard time generating a truly random number.  But given the differences, you’re best off using a utility to generate a random password for you.  Yeah, yeah, you’ll need some way to keep track of all those passwords.  Welcome to the information age.


Poor user interface – learn from their mistakes!

June 1, 2011 Leave a comment

Just went through a website registration process where I’m left uncertain if the registration succeeded or not.  A look under the covers leads me to believe it did complete successfully.  I will explain further but note that I’m not here to expose the source but to provide education for developers so we get more intuitive user interfaces with proper visual clues on what went through and what didn’t!!  The term affordance has evolved to mean “easy discoverability of possible actions”.  And false affordance “leads to mistakes and misunderstandings”.  I think they apply in this case.

I filled out a form, clicked submit, then a pop-up appeared.  Correction: a pop-up tried to appear.  I must enable that in my browser.  The pop-up appeared, I entered the CAPTCHA, and then a message box appears indicating that ‘my email was sent’.  The pop-up closed and I’m left on the original form with a red message indicating asterisk denotes a mandatory field!  Huh?  What do I do?

Here are the UI mistakes:

  • UI mistake number 1: When the pop-up didn’t appear I was left wondering if I’ve already lost the game.
  • UI mistake number 2: What “email”?  I’m not writing an email.  So now I’m further confused.
  • UI mistake number 3: I’m left on the data entry form with all my data filled in and a red star next to mandatory fields, all of which I’ve filled out!  What do I do now?

My suggestions for fixing:

  • Don’t do pop-ups as there are lots of pop-up blockers out there.
  • Remove references to “email” – say something like “your request has been submitted”.
  • Move users off the form if they’ve submitted it successfully.
  • Send users an email so they have a receipt of their submission.

As a final note, I peaked under the hood at the HTML source behind the pop-up – the JavaScript alert (message box) appeared BEFORE a method was called that submitted the form fields to the server.  BIG MISTAKE!  The submission should happen and THEN the user be given confirmation.

OK, one more: the complete CAPTCHA system can be defeated by analyzing the HTML of that pop-up 🙂  But we’ll leave security for another post.