Roadmap96: MAP10 - Internet Security
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MAP10: INTERNET SECURITY
"Cyberspace, in its present condition, has a
lot in common with the 19th Century West. It is vast, unmapped,
culturally and legally ambiguous, verbally terse (unless you happen
to be a court stenographer), hard to get around in, and up for grabs.
Large institutions already claim to own the place, but most of the
actual natives are solitary and independent, sometimes to the point
of sociopathy. It is, of course, a perfect breeding ground for both
outlaws and new ideas about liberty."
-- John Perry Barlow, Crime and Puzzlement (June 8, 1990)
I would love to tell you that the Internet is a safe place and that there is no reason for you to protect your password. Unfortunately, there are MANY people out there who would LOVE to break into your account and "use your account as a base for operations"(1).
How prevalent is this? According to Mike Godwin, Chief Legal Counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, it's "fairly common." (1)
The main defense against people who want to break into your account -- a.k.a. "hackers" or "crackers" -- is your password. Keep your password secure and you should never have anything to worry about. Give your password to others, or write your password down and put it near your computer, and . . . well, you get the picture.
There are some KEY points you need to remember to protect yourself and your account:
- DO change your password on a regular basis (1). There is no better way to thwart a would-be cracker than to change your password as often as possible. Your local Internet Service Provider will be able to tell you your system's recommendation on how often you should change your password, but a good rule of thumb is to change it at least every three months.
- DO use a password that is at least eight characters long and that has a mix of letters and numbers.
- DON'T choose a password that relates to you personally (2) or that can easily be tied to you. Some good examples of BAD passwords are: your name, your relatives' names, nicknames, birth dates, license plate numbers, Social Security numbers (US), work ID numbers, and telephone numbers.
- DON'T pick a password that is found in the dictionary (1). When you set your password, it is encrypted and stored into a file. It is really easy for a cracker to find your password by encrypting every word in the dictionary, and then looking for a match between the words in his encrypted dictionary and your encrypted password. If he finds a match, he has your password and can start using your account at will.
- DON'T use passwords that are foreign words; the hacker can get a foreign dictionary, and . . .
- NEVER give your password to *ANYONE* (1). The whole purpose for having a password in the first place is to ensure that *NO ONE* other than you can use your account.
- NEVER write your password down and especially never write your password anywhere near your computer.
- NEVER let anyone look over your shoulder while you enter your password. "Shoulder Surfing" is the most common way that accounts are hacked.
- NEVER e-mail your password to anyone.
- NEVER use your userid as your password; this is the easiest password to crack.
- NEVER use the same password on other systems or accounts.
- ALWAYS be especially careful when you TELNET or RLOGIN (remote login) into another computer over the Net. When you TELNET or RLOGIN, your system sends your password in plain text over the Net. Some crackers have planted programs on Internet gateways for the purpose of finding and stealing these passwords. If you have to TELNET frequently, change your password just as frequently. If you only TELNET occasionally, say, for business trips, set up a new password (or even a new account) just for the trip. When you return, change that password (or close out that account).
The best passwords -- the ones that are the easiest for you to remember, and the ones that are the hardest for crackers to crack -- are passwords that are like those fake words you used to create when you would cram for a test. For example, to remember that "the Law of Demand is the inverse relationship between price and quantity demanded," I created the word TLODITIRBP&QD. NO ONE could hack that as a password. Best of all, it's EASY to remember (well, it's easy for an Economist to remember).
Here are a couple of other good passwords:
Sentence Possible password -------- ----------------- In 1976 I moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma I76IMTTO The conference lost 12,000 dollars TCL12KD U of A Crimson Tide Football is #1 UACTFI#1
Sentences are EASY to remember, and they make passwords that are nearly impossible to break (and please do NOT use these sample passwords as your own).
Do NOT use well-known abbreviations (for example: wysiwyg), and do NOT use keyboard patterns (for example: qwerty) as your password. BTW, "wysiwyg" stands for "what you see is what you get" and was coined in the mid-eighties when a series of word processors were developed. These word processors allowed the user to see on her display exactly what she would see when it was printed out. We take this kind of computer program for granted now.
Also, never use character names from science fiction or fantasy novels as your password. Computer-oriented people tend to be sci-fi buffs and there is a file that is passed around the Internet that is a list of all the common passwords used by system operators (sysops). This list includes all of your favorite Star Trek, Star Wars, and J.R.R. Tolkien characters.
If you notice weird things happening with your account:
- Change your password IMMEDIATELY!
- Tell your local Internet Service Provider about it.
It is very common for someone whose account has been hacked to dismiss the signs that the account has been hacked as technical problems with the system. However, when one account is hacked it very often puts the whole system at risk.
How can you tell if your account has been hacked? Some really nice Internet Service Providers put a message on your screen each time that you login telling you the date and time that you last logged in. If the date and time of your last login doesn't match the date and time that you remember last being logged in, change your password and contact your ISP immediately!
Finally, there is one last thing that I want to say before I close: I feel that "hacking" and "cracking" so violate the spirit of the Internet that I will do everything in my power to help put the overgrown babies who engage in such activities where they belong -- behind bars. Until that time comes, however, I am going to change my password frequently.
Contact your local Internet Service Provider, find out how you can change your password, and CHANGE YOUR PASSWORD!!
(1) from a telephone interview with Mike Godwin, Chief Legal Counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
(2) comments from the Computer Law Association, as quoted in Bottom Line Personal 6/1/94 p.8 (in Edupage 5.22.92).
- from Edupage 06.09.94 (from a story in the Tampa Tribune 6/8/94 Baylife 5).
Originally written by Patrick Douglas Crispen