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Welcome to this week's edition of the Computer Kindergarten Newsletter.
Today is Sunday, January 13, 2013

In this Issue:
Special Feature: How Often Should I Change My Passwords?
Tips & Tricks: Mac 101 – The Grand Tour
Special Series: Twenty Things I Learned about Browsers and the Web: What is the Internet?
This Week's Topic: Speed Up a Slow Computer - Clean the Desktop
Special Feature: All About Restore Points
Special Feature: iPad Basics: Buying an iPad
Websites of Interest: On This Day; MedlinePlus; History of the Samurai; Top Baby Names of 2012; Neuroscience for Kids


Special Feature: How Often Should I Change My Passwords?

By Melanie Pinola of lifehacker.com

Lots of organizations require mandatory password changes because it's long been considered a security "best practice." However, there are pros and cons to that rule, so before you decide if you need to regularly change your other passwords, let's take a look at the times when changing your password often makes sense—and when it doesn't.

Why Companies Enforce Password Duration Policies

When you change your password every few months, it limits how long a stolen password is useful to a stealthy attacker—how long he/she has access to your account. If someone steals your password and you don't know about it, the attacker could eavesdrop for an unlimited time and glean all sorts of information about you or do other damage.

Therefore, for decades, many security guidelines have recommended frequent password changes, usually between 30 and 180 days. Windows Server has a default of 42 days.

However, in most cases, these might now be outdated policies or recommendations. At the very least, it's highly debatable that changing passwords frequently actually does increase security.

Why Changing Your Passwords Often May Be a Waste of Time

A Microsoft study a couple of years ago found that mandatory password changes cost billions in lost productivity—for very little security payoff. Other computer security resources (Purdue University, Health Informatics, and Life as a CIO blog, for example) point out that the "best practice" of frequently changing passwords does little to improve security but much to increase everyone's frustration. Users typically end up choosing variations on the same simple passwords (e.g., password3) or resorting to sticky notes taped to their laptops. In other words, in some cases password changing requirements could actually increase risk.

Security expert Bruce Schneier points out that in most cases today attackers won't be passive. If they get your bank account login, they won't wait two months hanging around, but will transfer the money out of your account right away. In the case of private networks, a hacker might be more stealthy and stick around eavesdropping, but he's less likely to continue to use your stolen password and will instead install backdoor access. Regular password changes won't do much for either of those cases. (Of course, in both instances, it's critical to change your password as soon as the security breach is found and the intruder blocked.)

In today's crazy hacker-friendly system, frequent password changes are less relevant than ever. The NIST says that password expiration policies are "irrelevant for mitigating cracking," because not only are hackers totally on to our clever password tricks, they've got more advanced hardware and software:

Generally, password expiration periods are not of much help in mitigating cracking because they have such a small effect on the amount of effort an attacker would need to expend, as compared to the effect of other password policy elements. Suppose that an organization reduced its password expiration period from 60 days to 30 days. An attacker would simply need to use twice the hardware resources to compensate for this change.

Hackers have machines that can break 348 billion NTLM password hashes per second. (NTLM is a password encryption algorithm used in Windows. At 348 billion NTLM hashes per second, any 8-character password could be broken in 5.5 hours.)

So, really, changing all your passwords every 30 or 90 days isn't very worthwhile and isn't likely to increase your security. That's a good thing, because many of us would rather clean the toilet than change our passwords.

Accounts Which You Might Want to Change Your Passwords Regularly

As is usually the case, there are exceptions. For certain types of accounts, hackers may be more likely to "listen in" and silently stick around for months until they glean important information from you. Schneier points out that if your kid sister or the tabloid press (if you're a celebrity of some sort) has your Facebook password, for example, they'll likely listen until you change your password, which could be months or years if you never find out about it.

In general, this is Schneier's advice:

You don't need to regularly change the password to your computer or online financial accounts (including the accounts at retail sites); definitely not for low-security accounts. You should change your corporate login password occasionally, and you need to take a good hard look at your friends, relatives, and paparazzi before deciding how often to change your Facebook password. But if you break up with someone you've shared a computer with, change them all.

I would add you might consider regularly changing passwords for communication-type sites that don't have two-factor authentication: Email, especially, and things like IM or conferencing services. These are more snoop-friendly services where hackers might listen in for months before you find out. (On the other hand, you really should be using an email service with two-factor authentication, since it's a goldmine for hackers if they can get into it. It's probably the most important account for you to secure, along with your password manager and computer account.) Some services, including Gmail, Facebook, and Dropbox, show you active sessions, so as a general security precaution, you can check those to make sure no one else is logging into your accounts.

Above All Else: Beef Up Your Security in General

It's much more important that you choose a unique password for all accounts—one as long as possible—and strengthen all your other security options (two-factor authentication, making your password recovery questions unguessable, and backing everything up), because, in the end, strong passwords aren't enough—no matter how often you change them.

If you have any weak or duplicate passwords anywhere, definitely change them as soon as possible. Also consider each regular security breach a reminder to audit and update not just your passwords, but your security setup in general—if needed. After all of that, enjoy the peace of mind that you're doing the best you can—and save yourself the hassle of changing all your passwords on a schedule.


Tips & Tricks: Mac 101 – The Grand Tour

From apple.com
OS X Lion is the most technologically advanced operating system Apple has ever released. While there's a lot of powerful stuff going on under the hood, Lion makes it easy for you to work, play, and get entertainment on your Mac.

These lessons will introduce you to the different pieces that make up the Mac interface, show you how to get around in it. You'll also learn how to use the Finder and Finder windows, the desktop, the menu bar, the Dock, the Trash, files and folders, and more.

The Finder

The Desktop

The Dock

Customize the Dock


Mission Control

Applications, Files, and Folders

Set Your Preferences

The Essentials


Special Series: Twenty Things I Learned about Browsers and the Web: What is the Internet?

Many of us these days depend on the World Wide Web to bring the world’s information to our fingertips, and put us in touch with people and events across the globe instantaneously.

These powerful online experiences are possible thanks to an open web that can be accessed by anyone through a web browser, on any Internet-connected device in the world.

But how do our browsers and the web actually work? How has the World Wide Web evolved into what we know and love today? And what do we need to know to navigate the web safely and efficiently?

“20 Things I Learned About Browsers and the Web” is a short guide for anyone who’s curious about the basics of browsers and the web. Here’s what you’ll find here:

First we’ll look at the Internet, the very backbone that allows the web to exist. We’ll also take a look at how the web is used today, through cloud computing and web apps.

Then, we’ll introduce the building blocks of web pages like HTML and JavaScript, and review how their invention and evolution have changed the websites you visit every day. We’ll also take a look at the modern browser and how it helps users browse the web more safely and securely.

Finally, we’ll look ahead to the exciting innovations in browsers and web technologies that we believe will give us all even faster and more immersive online experiences in the future.

Life as citizens of the web can be liberating and empowering, but also deserves some self-education. Just as we’d want to know various basic facts as citizens of our physical neighborhoods -- water safety, key services, local businesses -- it’s increasingly important to understand a similar set of information about our online lives. That’s the spirit in which we wrote this guide. Many of the examples used to illustrate the features and functionality of the browser often refer back to Chrome, the open-source browser that we know well. We hope you find this guide as enjoyable to read as we did to create.
Happy browsing!
The Google Chrome Team


What is the Internet?

What is the Internet, exactly? To some of us, the Internet is where we stay in touch with friends, get the news, shop, and play games. To some others, the Internet can mean their local broadband providers, or the underground wires and fiber-optic cables that carry data back and forth across cities and oceans. Who is right?

A helpful place to start is near the Very Beginning: 1974. That was the year that a few smart computer researchers invented something called the Internet Protocol Suite, or TCP/IP for short. TCP/IP created a set of rules that allowed computers to “talk” to each other and send information back and forth.

TCP/IP is somewhat like human communication: when we speak to each other, the rules of grammar provide structure to language and ensures that we can understand each other and exchange ideas. Similarly, TCP/IP provides the rules of communication that ensure interconnected devices understand each other so that they can send information back and forth. As that group of interconnected devices grew from one room to many rooms — and then to many buildings, and then to many cities and countries — the Internet was born.

The early creators of the Internet discovered that data and information could be sent more efficiently when broken into smaller chunks, sent separately, and reassembled. Those chunks are called packets. So when you send an email across the Internet, your full email message is broken down into packets, sent to your recipient, and reassembled. The same thing happens when you watch a video on a website like YouTube: the video files are segmented into data packets that can be sent from multiple YouTube servers around the world and reassembled to form the video that you watch through your browser.

What about speed? If traffic on the Internet were akin to a stream of water, the Internet’s bandwidth is equivalent to the amount of water that flows through the stream per second. So when you hear engineers talking about bandwidth, what they’re really referring to is the amount of data that can be sent over your Internet connection per second. This is an indication of how fast your connection is. Faster connections are now possible with better physical infrastructure (such as fiber optic cables that can send information close to the speed of light), as well as better ways to encode the information onto the physical medium itself, even on older medium like copper wires.

The Internet is a fascinating and highly technical system, and yet for most of us today, it’s a user-friendly world where we don’t even think about the wires and equations involved. The Internet is also the backbone that allows the World Wide Web that we know and love to exist: with an Internet connection, we can access an open, ever-growing universe of interlinked web pages and applications. In fact, there are probably as many pages on the web today as there are neurons in your brain, as there are stars in the Milky Way!

In our next edition: How the web is used today through cloud computing and web apps.


Today's Topic: Speed Up a Slow Computer - Clean the Desktop

As your Windows computer ages, its speed can decrease. You will notice an increase in response time when you give commands to open programs, files or folders, use the Internet and other tasks. There are several things you can do to speed up your computer.

Over the next several editions of this newsletter, we will present articles discussing some of the steps you can take to speed up your slow computer.

Speed up a Slow Computer: Clean the Desktop

Important: before making any changes to your system, always create a Restore Point. Read our article, All About Restore Points, in the Special Feature section, below, in this newsletter.
Every time you start your computer, memory is used by all the files on the Desktop. If these files are shortcuts (they have a little curving up and to the left), they do not take a lot of memory. If the files are not shortcuts, or there are dozens of shortcuts on your desktop, they will be using quite a bit of operating memory.

If the memory is being used by these files, the computer will have to swap memory from the hard drive to carry out commands that you are giving. This is called memory paging, and what you will see is a slowdown in the computer’s operation.

Put the files in the My Documents, or Documents folder. If you have many files that you would prefer to keep better organized, create separate folders for them.

A clean Desktop will improve the response time for the computer to carry out your commands.

In our next edition, learn how to speed up your computer by uninstalling unused programs.


Special Feature: All About Restore Points

Before making any changes to your computer’s system, always create a Restore Point.

The System Restore feature is used to return your computer to an earlier state if you have a system failure or other major problem with your computer. The point of System Restore is to restore your system to a workable state without you having to reinstall the operating system and lose your files in the process.

If you create a restore point before making your changes, and something goes wrong with those changes, you can easily return to the point when the computer was working.

To create a restore point in Windows XP:

Click Start
All Programs
System Tools
System Restore
Click Create a restore point
Click Next.
In the Restore point description box, type a name to identify this restore point. System Restore adds the date and time that this Restore Point is created.
Click Create

To create a restore point in Windows Vista and 7:

Click the Start Orb
Right click Computer
Click Properties
This will open the System area of Control Panel. Click Advanced system settings on the left hand side. An alert box may open, click Continue.
Click the System Protection tab to get to the System Restore section. The system will search for available disks; this may take a few moments.
Click the Create button to create a new restore point.
A window will open asking you to type a description for the Restore Point. Type in a name that is easy to remember; the date and time will be added automatically.
Click the Create button. The restore point will be created.

To use a restore point in Windows XP

Click Start, point to All Programs, point to Accessories, point to System Tools, and then click System Restore. System Restore starts.
On the Welcome to System Restore page, click Restore my computer to an earlier time (if it is not already selected), and then click Next.
On the Select a Restore Point page, click the most recent system restore point in the On this list, click a restore point list, and then click Next. Note A System Restore message may appear that lists configuration changes that System Restore will make. Click OK.
On the Confirm Restore Point Selection page, click Next. System Restore restores the previous Windows XP configuration, and then restarts the computer.
Click OK.

To use a restore point in Windows Vista and 7

Click the Start Orb
Right click Computer
Click Properties
This will open the System area of Control Panel. Click Advanced system settings on the left hand side. An alert box may open, click Continue.
Click the System Protection tab to get to the System Restore section.
Click the System Restore button.
You will now be at the System Restore window. From here, you can specify the restore point that you would like to use.
Vista will already have selected the Recommended restore option. If you would like to use this restore point, click the Next button to start the restore process. if there is another restore point that you would like to use, click Choose a different restore point and then click the Next button. A window listing all the available restore points will be displayed. Click restore point that you would like to use; click the Next button.
Vista will display a Window showing your selected restore point and ask you to confirm. Click the Finish button to begin the restore process.
A second window will open asking you to confirm that you would like to continue the restore. Click the Yes button. Vista will start the System Restore process.


Special Feature: iPad Basics: Buying an iPad

From gcflearnfree.org

Apple's iPad is a touch-screen tablet that's changing the way many of us look at computers and mobile devices. It has a large, high-definition display; access to thousands of apps; and tons of different uses for everyday life—from the fun to the practical. With so many great features, it's no surprise that you might want one of your own.

Before you purchase an iPad, however, you should familiarize yourself with the different options you have to choose from. This includes the affordable Wi-Fi model vs. the more expensive cellular-enabled model. You should also decide where you're going to purchase your iPad—either online, from Apple, or from another retailer.

Understanding Your Options

It's important to understand the different options that are available for the iPad, and why they create a difference in price. There are several different models to choose from, ranging from $329 to $829. Which one you choose will depend on your budget and individual needs.

Which Model is Right for You?

If you're not sure which model you want, take some time to think about the features that are most important to you, and how they fit into your budget. Things to consider before you buy include internet access (do you need to stay connected all the time, perhaps for work?), and data storage (do you need a lot, or just a little?).

Internet Access

Depending on your internet preferences, Apple gives you two different options to choose from: the standard Wi-Fi model, and the more flexible Wi-Fi + Cellular model. Both have their pros and cons.

The Wi-Fi model is cheaper, but you'll only be able to access the internet when you can connect to a wireless network. This model might be right for you if you don't mind relying on nearby Wi-Fi; for example, at home, at work, or the local coffee shop.

The Wi-Fi + Cellular model gives you access almost anywhere, but it may not be worth the extra cost depending on your situation and lifestyle. This model also requires an additional monthly contract (through AT&T, Sprint, or Verizon Wireless) for the cellular signal to work.

Data Storage

There are several different ways to approach storing data on your iPad. Here are some things to think about before you make a decision.

At 16GB (16 gigabytes of memory), the smallest model has enough data storage for most users. However, if you anticipate storing lots of music, movies, or TV shows on your device, you may want to purchase the 32GB or 64GB model instead.

If you truly need lots of storage, look into Apple's iCloud service before you purchase one of the larger, more expensive models. iCloud allows you to store your media "in the cloud" (in other words, online), so you don't have to worry about storing it on your device.

For more help making a decision, you can always ask an associate at your local Apple Store for advice. Alternatively, you can call 1-800-MY-APPLE for more information about the product you're interested in.

In our next edition:
When You're Ready to Buy


Websites of Interest:

On This Day
History, sports, birthdays and much more.

Videos on topics such as human anatomy, surgical procedures and health news.

History of the Samurai
For more than 800 years, the samurai helped to lay the foundations of Japan's culture.

Top Baby Names of 2012

Neuroscience for Kids
Discover the exciting world of the brain, spinal cord, neurons and the senses.