Oak Bluffs library offers tips on Internet security
File photo by Steve Myrick
How safe is the password you use for your (pick one) Amazon account, online banking, email? According to the website howsecureismypassword.net the password "password" (the most popular choice of all) could be cracked instantly. No shock there. But, using the site's security calculator, you might be surprised to find that this random password — xj3r4* — would take a desktop PC only about four seconds to crack. Add a 99& at the end and keep code breakers working for six days.
(But beware: If you want to test your own password on a site of this type, alter it a little bit. No place online is entirely safe from cyber thieves any more).
"Passwords have become increasingly subject to security breaches," said Oak Bluffs reference librarian Miki Wolfe. "You hear about sites like American Express being hacked more and more every day. It's become very, very hard to manage."
Ms. Wolfe, who joined the library staff last November, will speak about passwords and other issues relating to Internet security on Saturday, April 13, as part of the library's ongoing educational program, called Tech Soup.
On the second Saturday of every month, a different topic will be discussed. This month's session will cover things like virus protection, backing up computer files and safeguarding against cyber thieves by taking measures to ensure that the user names and passwords you use to access various accounts are as secure as possible.
"It's not safe to use the same password for everything," said Ms. Wolfe. "It's just like anything else. People tend to get lazy and if a hacker gets your password from one place, they're just going to keep trying it in different places."
However, trying to remember multiple passwords can be daunting. Ms. Wolfe has found a couple of strategies to be helpful in maintaining a unique identity for various accounts. "You can create a foundation or a base around which you have a pattern. You pick a random phrase like the lyrics of a song and use the initials of the words and you can add different things to the end of it," she said. "Computer hackers don't just sit there and try different passwords. They have programs that use dictionaries. Don't use a word out of the dictionary. It will run through the dictionary in a couple of seconds."
Another option is using a password manager, software that creates and helps organize passwords and PIN codes. Logging on once to the password manager, the system will create random passwords for various accounts. Ms. Wolfe uses one such program. "Not to say that any password is 100 percent safe, but the passwords are completely randomized. And, I just have to remember one password. You can access the application via any computer or download it and install it onto your browser. It stores your passwords and remembers them for you."
Another issue that can addressed with a software solution is the backing up all of the data on your computer. There are a number of applications available that allow you to back up your files online rather than onto an external hard drive. Ms. Wolfe will explore both those options, but she notes that the latter is generally the safer, since a hard drive can be lost, stolen or destroyed in the same way that your computer can. "I like explaining options and letting people pick," Ms. Wolfe said, explaining her general teaching strategy
Ms. Wolfe cited a cautionary case that illustrates the importance of both password security and backing up files. In 2012, Matt Honan, a senior writer for Wired magazine, got hacked and lost just about his entire digital life. "Hackers just did it for fun," said Ms. Wolf, "They wanted his Twitter handle. They took control of his mac, his iPad. He lost all of the pictures of his baby girl, everything."
"He turned lemons into lemonade," said Ms. Wolfe, "He's written a lot about the need for security. You need to take steps to secure your digital life. Even if you're not on the Internet a lot."
Ms. Wolfe spends a great deal of time online — 10–12 hours, by her estimate. "I'm not paying attention all the time," she said. "I can get lazy about things." However, she doesn't want worrying about Internet security to consume too much of anyone's time. "There is more to life than online," she said, "There are ways to simplify the things that I'll be talking about."
Ms. Wolfe is well armed to tackle a field that's complex and constantly changing, After earning her masters in Library Science from Florida State University, she went on to complete a specialization in the Online Navigation of Social Spaces for Libraries and Non-profits. When she was about halfway to earning a PhD, she decided to take a break from school to focus on raising her daughter, Riley. She is originally from the Rhode Island area, and was enthusiastic about moving back to New England when the Oak Bluffs job became available.
Still, Ms. Wolfe's education is a continuing process. "I have to do a lot of research to keep up on what's going on," she says, "I read. I subscribe to lots of newsletters and news aggregators. I have a lot of google alerts set up. I can scan large volumes of information to see what's a trend or what might be of interest."
Ms. Wolfe is proving to be a great resource on technology information and education for the Vineyard. Along with the monthly group classes, she offers one-on-one instruction for anyone in need of help with their computer, i-pad, e-book reader, Skype or other technology, including cell phones. "I've helped quite a few people out with their phones," she said, "A lot of people have new technology and want to get the maximum functionality out of it. That's what I see my job as."
You can drop in at the library and find Ms. Wolfe upstairs at the reference desk or, better yet, call ahead and schedule an appointment. "If I don't know about something, I'll research it first. When people come with questions I learn too."
As with the individual sessions, Ms. Wolf expects the classes will be a great learning experience for her as well as the participants. She likes to leave the discussion open to whatever people are interested in within a broad topic. "I like leading by group decisions. We're going to direct it towards whatever people want to learn about."
Ms. Wolfe is open to feedback for upcoming topics. Next month, the focus will be on netiquette. "I'm going to call it 'How to not annoy people online,' said Ms. Wolfe.
Her own pet peeve in that area? Using all caps in an email. "I tell people, 'You don't have to yell at me to get your point across.'"
Apparently librarians respond better to softer voices in the digital world too.
For more information, call 508-693-9433 or go to oakbluffslibrary.org.