Archive of articles classified as "Internet"

Choosing a Strong Password

21/08/2011

Tim DavisSo there is a lot of myths around password complexity and using multiple upper and lower characters  – AbCdE – or combining lots of symbols and numbers such as #2$&abCe#& – to improve strength and encryption. The problem is that you’re constantly stuck remembering what the combination was, or what symbol came first, or whether the password had an upper or lower C. It’s puzzling, confusing and even security firms try to meddle in this process by recommending ‘easier’ methods for people to remember passwords.

Take this video by Sophos embedded below. While what Mr. Graham Cluley is doing is admirable in trying to assist internet citizens in increasing their password strength by muddling up words, symbols and letters – the outcome is increasingly confusing.

I mean Graham starts out with – Fred and Wilma sat down for a dinner of eggs and ham – and ends up with – f+wsd4adoe&h. Frankly, the earlier is a hell of lot easier to remember than the latter in my mind. So inspired by the comic by XKCD – I wanted to highlight a fundamentally simpler way to create a strong password based on the concept of entropy.

You’re thinking – “WTF is entropy?”

Well, WikiPedia describes it as a measure of the uncertainty associated with a random variable and in the world of the Internet – this infers that it’s all related to bits – or a basic unit of information that’s typically described as a 0 or 1.

In the most ‘basic and non-complex’ form – when hackers are trying to crack your password – the less the amount of entropy in the password – the easier it is to guess your password. This is done by simply iterating through the combination of the words, numbers of symbols and trying all the numbers or combinations possible. For example, check out the picture below – which illustrates time:

You can see the total number of hack attempts that are available to any hacker [based on simple brute force combination hacking] here per year on a relatively slow computer. Now let’s throw a password into the mix:

So you can see that with a relatively basic password with a combination of letters and numbers – it’s not that difficult to process the total number of combinations available based on the passwords entropy and figure it out. However, now let’s simply use a standard combination of four relatively common words, in the random order that they first popped into my head, and see what happens:

The difference is frankly astounding and the principle is so simple – using longer phrases, which are easier to remember, allows you to substantially increase the time it takes to brute hack a password. Of course, adding in upper and lower case letters, numbers or symbols only seeks to further increase the protection of this password – however, the point is that you don’t always need to do this. Simply select a combination of words, relatively unique and unknown in their order is more than adequate, which have an entropy of more than 50 bits and it will take well over 1000 years to get close to hacking it at 1000 passwords/sec. In fact, choosing obscure words makes other hacking methods like dictionary attacks even harder – which still fundamentally struggle with high entropy passwords because of sheer volume of combinations.

Faster computers may be able to attack faster, but the times involved will still be many years – so don’t always listen to the populus and select your passwords based on entropy remembering that –

Time is a hackers worst friend. As time increases as a function spent on you – the faster the function moves onto someone else.

To calculate entropy for your password – use this handy calculator.

1 Comment

The Australian NBN Debate

1/07/2011

Tim Davis So I work in the Internet field running FlucMedia and you might think this immediately invalidates my opinion or predisposes it to the bias that “of course we need the National Broadband Network (NBN) you idiot!”. Well, that’s not true – I like to approach each issue from an impartial basis and determine whether it’s for the benefit of Australian’s as a whole. The reality is – it is my opinion and I do believe we need the NBN. And this is the very argument I had with another person across on the Australian technology blog Delimiter. The post that started it all was a comment by Malcom Turnbull – the Federal Telecommunications Opposition Minister – where Mr. Turnbull stated

To go from 50 megabits per second to 100 megabits per second in a residential context would be imperceptible; the user experience would be no different.

This really set me right off. I’ll post my somewhat long comments below for you to read in response to another user primarily called “Alain” – but pop on over to Delimiter to see the mammoth 300+ comment post for yourself if you’re interested.

@Alain
I’ll respond to your comments again but unfortunately I don’t have the time again to reply on this thread – thanks for the discussion nonetheless.

Regarding Anonymous Commenting on Blogs

“That old furphy gets a airing again, of course you are very selective on who that ‘put down’ attempt applies to, if it applies to everyone in blogs like this Whirlpool, ZDnet etc you have eliminated 99% of all posts in one hit as having any legitimate comment.”

Legitimate commenting online IMHO should link to a real online presence – hence the reason Facebook has implemented its online commenting system as one of many. You comment differently when you attach your real profile in comparison to an “anonymous” one because you do not care what you post – knowing that no one will ever attach this back to your name. The anonymity that one hides behind tends to provide a contextual behavior that you would not have if people knew who you were. I am not selective who this “put down” applies to in any sense – I think it is clear that your legitimacy is only increased when you provide critical commentary without hiding behind some “unknown name” because you care about your identity and therefore structure your arguments accordingly. It’s not so much providing your “real” identify as it is providing a consistent one – feel free to read this.

“Oh great build FTTH nationally, spend $43 billion of taxpayer funds and they will ‘invent something’ to justify its existence – brilliant!”

You assume this a stupid thing ? In 2000, when the Internet was not even validated as a widely accepted concept in Australia – we used existing infrastructure to enable and facilitate connection. 10 years later – we are still using the same infrastructure albeit with a better facilitation mechanism. In the next 10 years, 20 years and even 30 years – the usage and consumption of the Internet will be compulsory and an inherent part of culture [if it is not already]. Perhaps you don’t believe that services in the future will continue to rely on Internet at a greater rate ? History has already shown the path that innovation has taken across the last 10 years. Do you assume that in the next 10 or 20 years – the reliance and consumption of services will not be at a faster rate than what they are currently at ?

Let’s assume we do nothing – cost only increases as a function of time. IF we decide that we need faster infrastructure for broadband services in Australia in 2020 or 2030 – then the cost will far exceed $43 billion [even though this is not the total cost]. Let’s assume we build the project in “incremental” stages across the next 5 governments – then again, the total cost will far exceed the current projected budget. So the argument you present is more likely one of – “never build” – because across the next 30 years – building either a) privately or b) through incremental stages – will ultimately yield a slower, more expensive and poorly spread broadband service which has a higher net cost to consumers. Read this paper as one of many. Australia ranks 14th – Switzerland, Japan, Greece, Korea and many other countries are already implementing FTTH nationally – of course, all these countries are “wasting their time” as well I assume ?

“Where does that argument ‘fail’, what is it about BB infrastructure in 2011 that fails to display Youtube properly?”

Because YouTube is an amorphous website that is constantly increasing it’s data demands. Youtube “works properly” now because it is unable to innovate at a faster rate because services are simply not available to justify the increase in innovation. If Australia had faster access to internet, then YouTube would innovate at a faster rate accordingly which would provide an even greater an immersive experience to the entire community.

Again, yes youtube works. But no technological innovators want their service to “just work” – they want to innovate and provide a new and immersive experience to their users. In 10 years time, youtube will challegene Television stations just as Hulu.com and NetFlix are already doing in the US. You connect to the Internet directly and consume services across these services – this will become common place and already is becoming common place in the States.

Certainly, if you want to have 1 TV – with shitty non-HD quality video’s displayed at poor resolution – existing services will work fine. DO you really think Mum and Dad who have just bought a new sony 3D television will want to continue along this line ? No. Now let’s assume there are 4 TV’s in the same house – all wanting to consume services at the same rate of consumption ? Again, existing services render this impossible without painful buffering and generally do not justify a family use case.

“Err what, that doesn’t make any sense, is that intentional?”

I’m unclear where you’re confused here. Read my first paragraph – the incremental increase of broadband infrastructure in Australia will be entirely more costly distributed over the next 20 years as opposed to upgrading the entire network as one project. Governments are responsible for pushing society forward as a whole – not providing incremental services to incremental aspects of society which promotes fracture and class separation. This is exactly what the Government is trying to avoid by upgrading the infrastructure in Australia entirely and I strongly applaud this effort.

“Australia is already ranked what?”

17th on broadband speeds and will quickly loose any status in the top 50 if we choose to avoid upgrading our infrastructure as a whole. Korea, Japan, Finland, Sweden, France are already far above Australia and are all increasing rapidly. Review this if you need evidence.

“What innovation? – or do you consider the NBN rollout is like a lottery, based on a assumption that innovation in the future can ONLY be be met by a fibre to the home taxpayer fed rollout.”

Perhaps you need a definition of innovation – I’m happy to provide one. From the Princenton dictionary – “being or producing something like nothing done or experienced or created before;”. Clear ? Evidently, existing services will not be able to handle products of innovation in the next 10, 20 or 30 years. In the last 10 years, we have grown into a culture of technological reliance and innovation. Every seemingly must be “realtime’ even now – and this will only change in the future.

Do you believe that future services in the ‘average’ home of 2 parents and 2 child with immerse entertainment, multiple computers, streaming music, multiple streaming video connections, multiple gesture based appliances, multiple home appliances and home automation are all going to run across a 2.4mb shared connection ? It’s a strange belief in my eyes if you do. Given what history has already shown us in the last 10 years – I strongly believe that all the above services will require a vastly superior experience in comparison to what we have today and innovation in all these areas will require faster and wider broadband pipes.

“Many users are happy today with HFC, ADSL and ADSL2+ BB speeds, if you gave someone FTTH today who is totally happy with ADSL2+ or HFC what are you achieving here?””

Yes, the key word again “today”. So because one is happy with services they consume “today” – is your argument that this will contine at perpetuity ? New services arrive that require increased bandwidth and consumers upgrade accordingly. All you need is for Netflix to arrive in Australia [it will in the next 12 months] and already every household which wants this service will be upgrading their internet to handle streaming movies and television. So and so forth the data usage patterns are driven. The issue you seem to miss is that multiple service offerings through multiple services and devices in the home across the next 10-20 years will require an absolute increase in bandwidth and speed. There isn’t a question that this is going to occur – it’s a fact.

“Seeing as you have not defined what the innovation is it sounds like you understand that current speeds are adequate but to help prove your case supporting the need for FTTH you have to rely on ‘stuff’ that has not been thought of yet.”

Again, look above or in any dictionary. Innovation is a fairly clearly defined word. Of course, this is the point – there are many services already invented that aren’t in Australia yet for a whole range of reasons. American’s are already screaming for faster internet and it’s the whole premise for Google’s 1gbps expansion projects and the like – people are consuming more services, through more devices at a faster rate in their homes.

In the next 10 years, the reliance on hard-drives will disappear completely and you’ll have a screen, a keyboard and connect to your OS over the internet. Look at Google Chrome OS – it’s already doing this and it’s evident that the future of online services are going in this direction. Do you honestly believe that 2 or 3 or 4 users in the same household booting and using their computers across the internet are going to be able to do this on existing broadband services ? Absolutely not and this is just their computers. Add in the swather of other services offered – music, education, home appliances, security , television, video, gesture based applications and all the rest which will require the internet – and you quickly discover existing infrastructure will render any and all such scenarios impossible.

“Reminds me of Concord the fastest commercially available aircraft in the world, where is Concord today?”

So you’re comparing an airline jet which services a single industry to the internet which services almost every application we currently use ? Nice use case comparison. The reality is – the internet is now more important and utilized by almost every service and device you use in either an indirect or direct capacity. If you don’t use it – businesses do to process basically anything you purchase or consume. I don’t understand how you can possible draw any similarities in this regard.

The concord failed primarily due to the crash in 2000 and a loss of confidence in it from this point forward [in addition to other reasons]. In comparison, Internet sites crash all the time – do you stop using them if they do ? Of course not.

“You are muddying data usage with speed need, 100 gig under FTTN or HFC is the same data usage as 100 gig under FTTH,”

Really am I ? The shortcomings of HFC are well known – including primarily limited downstream [technologies such as Docsis try to help out] and even more limited upstream [ala channel bonding etc] and fundamentally the medium itself – the signal is a less ‘transparent’ one in comparison to fiber which why the requirement of amplifiers is needed and it’s a shared access network throttling bandwidth [just like wireless]. Evidently, the weakest point of HFC is the move from linear TV to non-linear HD video in both uplink and downlink.

“We tend to overestimate the short term impact of a technology and underestimate the long term impact.” – Dr. Fancis Collins – Direct of the Human Genome Project

Yes, upgrading HFC will be a ‘short-term fix’ – no it will not be enough to compare to FTTH in the future and a migration will be required eventually anyway due to it’s shortcomings. Again, your ‘incremental’ increase plan is just a more costly one across the life of any broadband project.

“Except this one requires the existing working infrastructure to be ripped up to ensure people use the NBN, is that what you mean by ‘innovation’ perhaps?”

Again, refer to the definition of innovation. Shared connections are the failure of almost all the technologies you mention in the future of consuming digital services in our country and every other country implementing a FTTH network understands this. Japan, Korea, Switzerland, Greece and so on are all building FTTH because shared technologies do not facilitate, and will not facilitate, the required demand in the future. Again, the reason google is building FIBER 1gbps trials in many US States and hope to expand this across the country. Again, the reason Australia needs FTTH and again the reason so many other countries are adopting the same strategy.

“Oh you are serious, sorry I thought it was a joke, so why cannot we do that today?”

Simple scenario. A team of surgeons – let’s assume 5 – each require HD video in real-time, each require machinery to operate as “hands” and each is remote. You think a broadband connection of 24mbps will handle this ? Absolutely no way would it. This is the problem – the shared network is not enough to facilitate the need. All you need is one “buffering” link or one “poor image” and you have the potential to kill the patient. This not to suggest that FTTH will not have these problems – but the risk of these problems is mitigated to a higher degree.

“Yes but all of your ‘innovations’ are also missing, but that’s ok apparently.”

I’m unclear that it seems history is an unacceptable use case. Compare the year 2000 to the year 2011 and you can fairly easily create a list of “innovations”. In the next 10 years, we will consume more services, at a higher rate and demand more speed through more bandwidth. In the tens years after that, it will continue at a higher rate.

Finally …

The sooner you accept that the world is moving to one of data services without the “cynicism” of “we won’t innovate” or “why waste money on products not invented yet” – the sooner you will realize that the future of digital services in this country requires a FTTH. Other countries realize it, we shouldn’t be any different. History has already given us a glimpse to what’s achievable in realistically 5 years [2005-2010 being the real growth] – and in the next 10-20 years its only apparent that such innovation will continue.

While I respect that you don’t believe in the NBN and I applaud that you have a evidently strong belief that it is a waste of time – I think many of your views are cynical. I don’t necessarily hold the view that you’re “irrational” – if you didn’t hold such a strongly pertinent view against the NBN – then everyone on this blog would simply “agree” :) And that’s no fun is it ? As I stated I am all for government accountability and cost scrutiny and transparency – but in view Australia needs this broadband plan to adequately take us into the future for the next 10, 20, 30 years and beyond. Innovation is already apparent from the last ten years and Australia needs to arm itself for the benefits that the Internet can bring over the next 10, 20 and 30 years. Otherwise we will be left behind – with a populas demanding increased speeds and bandwidth to consume services other countries take for granted – and digital services which will be upgrade through private organisations, at a slow rate with an incredible increasing cost burden as a function of time on consumers which will lag us far behind the rest of the world [or should I say, further behind than we already are].

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Creating a Kick-Ass Email Signature

21/04/2011

Tim Davis I’ve always been a big believer in Text-Based email signatures – that is, those that don’t contain HTML – so you don’t have to constantly “load images” and everything else that comes with creating a HTML signature. Something like this always has worked for me:

Thanks,Tim

Twitter: @iamtimdavis
Facebook: @timdavis

However, with the increasing reliance on social media the importance of promoting yourself, and your business, through simple measures such as a HTML email signature – I’ve decided to convert for a while to a HTML based signature and see how it goes. Of course, the question becomes one of how to do this so that it still looks professional (at least in my opinion).

I’ve gone about to create a HTML template that you can easily use inside your Gmail or whichever email provider you use – assuming they allow you to enter a HTML-based email signature.  Before we get started – I’ll show you what it looks like for me:

And of course, you can alter it a little (I’ve also done this below) so the icons are along the bottom. I’m using the totally cool icon set from Ristaumedia which is available on DeviantArt here.

Getting Started

To get started creating your kick-ass email signature you’ll need to do a few things – the most complex (which isn’t really complex) is to pull up your Facebook profile photo. This is really simple now that Facebook have allowed you (and notably, everyone else) access to your data. To grab your Facebook image – just do this:

http://graph.facebook.com/username/picture

So for example – my Facebook thumbnail photo is available via

http://graph.facebook.com/timdavis/picture

as my Facebook profile is http://www.facebook.com/timdavis.

Once you’ve completed this step – you’re basically set to go and edit one of the simple HTML templates I’ve created.

Template 1

The first template is simple and includes ONLY Facebook, Twitter and Linked-In details. And looks like this:

Basically, you can download the template and edit it in your text editor on your computer. You just need to update the links within the HTML code to your own links and then open it in your browser – you can then simply use “Ctrl+A” (PC) or “Command+A” (Mac) and copying the selection and then paste the template into your email signature. Download the template here with the included social media icons.

Template 2

The second template includes more social media icons and looks like this:

As with the above template – you can easily just edit this via a text-editor on your computer and then open it inside a browser on your computer. Then it’s just using “Ctrl+A” (PC) or “Command+A” (Mac) and copying the selection and pasting it within your email signature on your email client. Download the template here with the included social media icons.

Integrating it with Gmail

To integrate your new found signature with Gmail, just hit the “Settings” option in the top right hand corner of your Account and then go down to signature. You can then just hit Paste after you’ve copied and it’ll look like this:

After that, just hit “Save Changes” and you’re done. You’ve now got a shiny new email signature with all your social media links.

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Facebook Privacy Checker

18/05/2010

Tim DavisFor those of you extremely concerned about your Facebook privacy settings in the wake of Facebooks f8 conference and the release of their Open Graph API – which allows developers to store your available data for as long as they want (instead of storing it for 24-hours as directed previously) and the launch of Facebooks “Instant Cross-Site Personalization” feature which customizes your experience on partner websites by accessing your data –  then you need to use this new open source tool called Reclaim Privacy. It is a small browser bookmarklet run by a snippet of Javascript which, when you are logged into Facebook, will scan your privacy settings and inform you of the relevant privacy settings for your profile. To get it working, basically:

  1. Drag this link to your web browser bookmarks bar: Scan for Privacy
  2. Log in to facebook.com and then click that bookmark
  3. You will see a series of privacy scans that inspect your privacy settings and warn you about settings that might be unexpectedly public.
  4. Update your settings and then delete the bookmarklet.

When you do this, you will see something like this menu pop-up above your profile which will give you a rating of your relevant privacy settings:

ReclaimPrivacy

You can then click on each of the relevant links highlighted in blue to get taken to the relevant privacy page to update your privacy settings. Alternatively, you can simply click on the relevant options to Prevent Data Sharing and the bookmarklet will automatically update your settings. I am recommending this bookmarklet because the site clearly states that they

  • never see your Facebook data
  • never share your personal information

And most importantly – the code is open source so you can actually see where the data is being sent (which is absolutely nowhere when I checked the source code). This gave me a reassurance in using it and I would strongly recommend you follow the steps above and then simply delete the bookmarklet from your browser bar.

Of course, if you aren’t concerned about anything – then you don’t need to bother. But to just highlight how ignorant people are – check out OpenBook. This site is devoted to exposing users status updates who have not updated their privacy settings on Facebook using the new Open Graph APIs. If you enter a search term, things can get pretty rough in terms of exposing users who don’t actually realise that their Status Updates and Profile is entirely public and available to everyone.

Either way, ReclaimPrivacy is a great little tool to quickly check all your Facebook Privacy Settings and update them appropriately.

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iPad Release Pricing – Australia not Screwed

9/05/2010

Tim DavisYes, it’s true – Apple have finally released the pricing details for Australia in relation to the coveted iPad and I almost fell over when I read them. The most amazing part – Australia hasn’t been insanely ripped off in relation to the pricing which is a great thing considering most of Apple’s product are overtly expensive. The pricing is basically identical to that of USA when incorporating the conversion rate and GST. As Apple’s Official Press Release states, the iPad pricing for Australia is:

Wifi Only

  • $629 – 16GB [$499 USD at Exchange Rate of $0.88 – $560 + 10% GST [$56]= $616 which isn’t too bad at all]
  • $759 – 32GB
  • $879 – 64GB

3G Pricing

  • $799 – 16GB
  • $928 – 32GB
  • $1049 – 64GB

Given that Apple usually increases Australian prices by around 30% in comparison to our USA counterparts – despite any associated exchange rate differences – I was expecting the iPad to be priced around $700 – $750 AUD range. Evidently, I think that would have priced too many people out of the market for the iPad and many Australian’s would question whether this is within the permissible range of their budget or whether it’s simply more economically efficient to go and purchase a new computer. Granted, the iPad is a ‘cool’ multi-functional device but the more expensive models are the ones that really have the best functionality in terms of 3G connectivity.

Would I buy one ? No. That’s primarily because I already have an iPhone and this is more than useful enough in terms of reading web-pages. Adding this to the existing PC and iMac – I just don’t see when or where I would use something like an iPad. The use case that it presents for me at the moment does not scale up the utility curve that much. That’s not to say that it wouldn’t be a great device to use for reading or watching movies while chilling out on the couch. My old chunky laptop is fine and dandy for checking the web [that’s cool enough for me though] and the sleekness of the iPad evidently is more comfortable to hold & move around – but I’m just not willing to fork out $630 AUD when the new iPhone is being released soon and the feature set included in this will more than compensate.

I guess if I was asked the question – new iPad or new iPhone? [and budgetary constraints only allow me to choose one] – well, the later wins by a mile over the former – simply because the utility of the later is so much greater than the former. In my mind, it has been a little unfortunate for Apple since had the iPad been released earlier and not when it’s about to overlap a pending product release [the new iPhone expected in June] – then it might have been a better proposition to many people. For me, a new iPhone is a much greater value proposition than a new iPad and better yet – companies like Virgin Mobile basically subsidize the phone over a 12 or 24 month period.

So while I welcome the iPad, I await for the next iPhone.

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