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Welcome to this week's edition of the Computer Kindergarten Newsletter.
Today is Sunday, April 7, 2013

In this Issue:
Special Feature: Review: Strong Passwords and Other Security Tips
Tips & Tricks: Keyboard Shortcuts
Special Series: Twenty Things I Learned about Browsers and the Web: Browser Cookies
This Week's Topic: Speed Up a Slow Computer – Windows Prefetch
Special Feature: iPad Basics - Syncing
Websites of Interest: Wikivoyage; Online Word Search; ASPCA; Thomas Jefferson

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Special Feature: Review: Strong Passwords and Other Security Tips

By Anick Jesdanun, ap.org

Rarely does a week go by without news of another hacking incident, whether it's Chinese hackers accused of breaking in to The New York Times' computer systems or Burger King finding its Twitter account taken over by pranksters.

Security threats aren't new and have long been part of online life. But the increased attention on them makes now a good time to review ways you can protect yourself. If nothing here feels new, that's good, as it means you've been doing the things you need to do to keep your accounts safe from hackers. Although there's no way to completely eliminate threats, minimizing them will go a long way.

One of the best things you can do is to make sure your password is strong.

If someone's able to guess the password to your email or Facebook account, that person can post or send embarrassing things on your behalf. Someone was able to access Burger King's Twitter account recently and changed its profile picture to a McDonald's logo. If a banking or Amazon account is involved, someone could pay bills or buy iPads under your name — with your money.

What's worse, getting a password to one account is often a stepping stone to a more serious breach. Someone can use your email or Facebook account to send spam and scam messages to your friends, for instance. And because many services let you reset your password by sending an email to your address on file, someone with access to your email account can reset passwords and gain access to all sorts of things. If the compromised password is one you use for work, someone can snoop around for files on your employer's network with trade secrets or customers' credit card numbers.

Here are ways you can keep your password strong to ward off that initial intrusion:

— Make your password long. The recommended minimum is eight characters, but 14 is better and 25 is even better than that. Some services have character limits on passwords, though.

— Use combinations of letters and numbers, upper and lower case and symbols such as the exclamation mark. Some services won't let you do all of that, but try to vary it as much as you can. "PaSsWoRd!43" is far better than "password43."

— Avoid words that are in dictionaries, even if you add numbers and symbols. There are programs that can crack passwords by going through databases of known words. One trick is to add numbers in the middle of a word — as in "pas123swor456d" instead of "password123456." Another is to think of a sentence and use just the first letter of each word — as in "tqbfjotld" for "the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog."

— Substitute characters. For instance, use the number zero instead of the letter O, or replace the S with a dollar sign.

— Avoid easy-to-guess words, even if they aren't in the dictionary. You shouldn't use your name, company name or hometown, for instance. Avoid pets and relatives' names, too. Likewise, avoid things that can be looked up, such as your birthday or ZIP code. But you might use that as part of a complex password. Try reversing your ZIP code or phone number and insert that into a string of letters. As a reminder, you should also avoid "password" as the password, or consecutive keys on the keyboard, such as "1234" or "qwerty."

— Never reuse passwords on other accounts — with two exceptions. Over the years, I've managed to create hundreds of accounts. Many are for one-time use, such as when a newspaper website requires me to register to read the full story. It's OK to use simple passwords and repeat them in those types of situations, as long as the password isn't unlocking features that involve credit cards or posting on a message board. That will let you focus on keeping passwords to the more essential accounts strong.

— The other exception is to log in using a centralized sign-on service such as Facebook Connect. Hulu, for instance, gives you the option of using your Facebook username and password instead of creating a separate one for the video site. This technically isn't reusing your password, but a matter of Hulu borrowing the log-in system Facebook already has in place. The account information isn't stored with Hulu. Facebook merely tells Hulu's computers that it's you. Of course, if you do this, it's even more important to keep your Facebook password secure.

— How do you keep track of these passwords? There are programs you can buy, if you're willing to put your trust in them. I use an Excel spreadsheet, but I encrypt it with its own password — a rather complex one. I am well aware that if the file gets compromised, all my services go with it. In fact, I once had it on a USB drive, which I had in a backpack that got stolen. I had to spend several hours changing passwords on all my accounts, just in case someone managed to break the password to that file. As a precaution, don't name that file "passwords." Name it something generic and boring.

— Ideally you'll have a system for creating and remembering passwords without needing the spreadsheet. For example, you might have a string that's constant, such as "?t7q1b9f8j2o0t0l1d!" (the acronym for "the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog" with my area code and ZIP code reversed and a few special characters put in). To vary it, you could add the first two letters of the website you are using to the front and the next four to the end. Or put the consonants in front and the vowels at the end, with every other letter capitalized and the letter O replaced with the number zero. So for Amazon, it would be "mZn?t7q1b9f8j2o0t0l1d!Aa0." Just try to guess that!

Of course, I'm not smart enough to have a system like that for myself.

Whatever system you adopt, it's good to change your password — and system — from time to time. And if there's reason to believe your password might have been compromised, change it immediately.

One other thing to be aware of: Many sites let you reset your password by answering a security question, such as the name of your pet or the name of your high school. Of course, these violate good password practices by requiring you to use something that can be easily looked up. Others ask for your favorite movie or hobby. That might not be easily looked up, but your tastes change over time. Furthermore, because these questions get repeated from site to site, the answers you use violate the rule against repeating passwords.

I try to make these answers complex just like passwords, by adding numbers and special characters and making up responses. Unfortunately, some sites won't let you do that, and you'll be stopped if you try to enter a numeral when asked for a city name, for instance. These services will often send an email when a password gets reset this way, so be sure the address on file is current. Change your password and security questions immediately if you're notified of a reset you didn't initiate. You might want to contact the service as well.

While you're at it, make your username complex, too, if you're allowed to choose one. Banking sites typically do.

Beyond passwords, here are a few other things to help you stay safe:

— Software flaws. Many break-ins result from flaws in the software program you use, whether it's the Windows or Mac operating system, a Web browser or a video player. It's a good idea to let those programs automatically check for software updates, as those updates may contain fixes to known flaws. You can also check this government website to learn of the latest threats and fixes: http://us-cert.gov .

— Malicious software. Even if the software you're using is flawless, hackers may create a security opening by tricking you into installing a malicious program. That can happen if you click on a bad email attachment or link in your email. In rare cases, visiting a problematic website can cause the software to download. Should malicious software get on your computer, a hacker might be able to use the opening to look around for sensitive data, or record your keystrokes to capture your complex passwords. To minimize the threat, use caution when visiting unknown sites or opening mysterious email.

— Security software. Many companies sell anti-virus and other software to protect your computer from malicious software. There's a free one available at http://www.avg.com . Windows and Mac computers also come with firewalls to block some threats. Be sure it's turned on.

Think of these measures as layers of defense. If one gets breached, there's another to back you up. But eventually, the intruders will get through. Slow them down by making each layer as strong as possible.

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Tips & Tricks: Keyboard Shortcuts

For when you’d rather not use the mouse. To use, hold down the first key listed, press and release the second key listed, release the first key.

Ctrl + C Copies Highlighted Text
Ctrl + G Gets a Member Profile
Ctrl + K Opens the Keyword Box
Ctrl + I Opens Instant Message
Ctrl + L Locates a Member Online
Ctrl + M Opens New E-Mail
Ctrl + N Opens a Notepad
Ctrl + P Opens the Print Dialogue Box
Ctrl + R Opens Your Mailbox
Ctrl + V Pastes Copied Text
Ctrl + X Cuts Highlighted Text
Ctrl + Y Adds to My Calendar

Ctrl + a Select all text
Ctrl + b bold selected text
Ctrl + c copy selected text
Ctrl + d open font dialog box
Ctrl + e center line
Ctrl + f open find dialog box
Ctrl + g open go to dialog box
Ctrl + h open replace dialog box

Note: case doesn’t matter! These commands work with the letters in either upper or lowercase.

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Special Series: Twenty Things I Learned about Browsers and the Web: Browser Cookies

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
http://www.20thingsilearned.com
http://www.google.com/chrome

Browser Cookies

Cookie seems like an unlikely name for a piece of technology, but cookies play a key role in providing functionality that Internet users may want from websites: a memory of visits, in the past or in progress.

A cookie is a small piece of text sent to your browser by a website you visit. It contains information about your visit that you may want the site to remember, like your preferred language and other settings. The browser stores this data and pulls it out the next time you visit the site to make the next trip easier and more personalized. If you visit a movie website and indicate that you’re most interested in comedies, for instance, the cookies sent by the website can remember this so you may see comedies displayed at the start of your next visit.

Online shopping carts also use cookies. As you browse for DVDs on that movie shopping site, for instance, you may notice that you can add them to your shopping cart without logging in. Your shopping cart doesn’t “forget” the DVDs, even as you hop around from page to page on the shopping site, because they’re preserved through browser cookies. Cookies can be used in online advertising as well, to remember your interests and show you related ads as you surf the web.

Some people prefer not to allow cookies, which is why most modern browsers give you the ability to manage cookies to suit your tastes. You can set up rules to manage cookies on a site-by-site basis, giving you greater control over your privacy. What this means is that you can choose which sites you trust and allow cookies only for those sites, blocking cookies from everyone else. Since there are many types of cookies — including “session-only cookies” that last only for a particular browsing session, or permanent cookies that last for multiple sessions — modern browsers typically give you fine-tuned controls so that you can specify your preferences for different types of cookies, such as accepting permanent cookies as session-only.

In the Google Chrome browser, you’ll notice a little something extra in the Options menus: a direct link to the Adobe Flash Player storage settings manager. This link makes it easy to control local data stored by Adobe Flash Player (otherwise commonly known as "Flash cookies"), which can contain information on Flash-based websites and applications that you visit. Just as you can manage your browser cookies, you should be able to easily control your Flash cookies settings as well.

In our next edition: Browsers and Privacy

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Today's Topic: Speed Up a Slow Computer – Windows Prefetch

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.

In our ongoing series, Speed Up a Slow Computer, we will present articles discussing some of the steps you can take to speed up your slow computer.

Important: Before making any changes to your system, always create a Restore Point. If anything goes wrong with the changes you make, this will allow you to revert back to a point when the computer was operating correctly. Please visit our Newsletter Archives to read our article, All About Restore Points:
http://computerkindergarten.com/021311.html

Windows Prefetch

Windows has a feature that loads commonly used programs when you start the computer.

Here’s what happens: Yesterday you used Microsoft Word, went into your online banking and played a couple of computer games. Today you want to check your email. Parts of the programs you used yesterday will be in prefetch and the computer will open them when you start it up. The benefit is faster application launch times; if you wanted to use Word, it would open quickly. The downside is all the prefetch files that you do not really need are open and using up part of memory.

The prefetch folder can be cleared out. The files in there can be deleted. To do so, open Windows Explorer, click on the Windows folder and then click on prefetch. Very Important: make sure the path on top shows c: Windows Prefetch. (In Windows Vista and 7, you may be asked to give permission; click to do so)

Click on one file on the right, hold down the CTRL key on the keyboard and then press the a key. All the files will be selected.

Press the delete key on the keyboard. You will be asked if you want to move all the items to the Recycle Bin. Click to do so.

You should see a good increase in your computer’s speed. The next reboot will be slow but once it is started, response time will be better. However, prefetch will fill up again, so this is one of the tasks that should be added to your regular maintenance schedule along with virus and spyware scans.

In our next edition, Speed Up a Slow Computer – Turn Off Remote Assistance

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Special Feature: iPad Basics - Syncing

From gcflearnfree.org

Did you know you can sync your iPad with other devices, like your computer, laptop, iPhone, or iPod Touch?

If you've never heard of syncing before, that's okay. It's designed specifically so you don't have to think about it once you set it up (or do anything special to maintain it). It just happens in the background.

Syncing is what links your iPad to your other devices—and your other devices to each other—so you can access the same content anytime, anywhere. For instance, you could take a photo on your iPad, then view it instantly on your laptop. You could create a to-do list on your work computer, then keep up with it on your iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch.

Are you starting to see how useful syncing can be? It's a big part of using the iPad, so it's important that you understand what it means (even if you're not sure how it works yet!). Some content syncs automatically once you set up the apps on your device. Other types of content will need to be enabled in iCloud.

What is iCloud?

iCloud is a free service from Apple that does many different things. It allows you to store your content "in the cloud" instead of on your device (which can save you a ton of storage space). But some of its most popular features have to do with syncing.

Imagine being able to start something on your iPad, then pick it back up immediately on a different device. That's the benefit of syncing with iCloud. It aims to connect all your files, information, and other types of content, so you never lose access to the things you love. And it's not just for the iPad; it's for your other devices too.

 

In our next edition:
Sharing

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Websites of Interest:

Wikivoyage
Free, worldwide travel guides.
http://en.wikivoyage.org

Online Word Search
Online Word Search is a website where you can play games.
http://onlinewordsearch.org/

ASPCA
April is Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Month
http://www.aspca.org/about-us/aspca-april/

Thomas Jefferson
Saturday, April 13, is Thomas Jefferson’s birthday. Learn more about him at the Whitehouse website
http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/thomasjefferson