What is a password manager (and what is it not)?

Password managers are a convenient way of, well, managing your passwords. This is fairly straightforward, but there are software that manage passwords – but are not in my mind password managers. For example, operating systems and browsers have password “rememberers” that store passwords for you, but they are not necessarily stored in an encrypted state. So while they offer slight convenience, there is no benefit to security because the information is kept in plain text – sometimes even if there is the option for a “master password”. For this reason it is not recommended to use these, but to opt for an actual password manager. Examples of these password “rememberers” are:

  • Internet browsers that ask you if you want to save your password (e.g. [Internet Explorer][wikipedia-internet-explorer], [Mozilla Firefox][firefox-homepage], [Google Chrome][chrome-homepage], [Safari][safari-homepage])
  • Apple’s [Keychain][what-is-keychain-access]
  • Linux Password and Keys

These are but a few examples, and is recommended not to use these because as mentioned earlier, the details are stored in plain text. What this means is that if someone gets access to your computer, they will be able to extract them and read them as if you typed them into Notepad.

So then if all these are not password managers, what are they? Password managers are actually dedicated programs, browser add-ons or websites that are designed to securely store passwords and login information. The benefits of using proper password managers are primarily convenience and security through:

  • Storing login details (and other information such as form auto-fill data) securely by encrypting everything with a master password
  • Allowing you to create much stronger passwords and different passwords for each website / service

For recommendations on which password manager you should be using, see our post here.


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[wikipedia-internet-explorer][https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_Explorer] [firefox-homepage][https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/] [chrome-homepage][https://www.google.com/chrome/] [safari-homepage][https://www.apple.com/safari/] [what-is-keychain-access][https://support.apple.com/guide/keychain-access/what-is-keychain-access-kyca1083/mac] [cyklon-webshop]: https://cyklon.solutions [cyklon-ai-blog]: https://ai.cyklon.solutions

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What is redundancy and how can it save your (virtual) life?

Data redundancy, simply put is having the same data replicated in two places. There’s more to it than that but for a rudimentary understanding it is one way to think about it. Data redundancy is not the same as a backup. A backup is a “snapshot” of your data at a particular time, whereas redundant data is literally the same data - hence why it is referred to as redundant. If you have your own backup solution such as a Network-Attached Storage (NAS) device, then it is a good idea to have at least two disks installed and mirrored. This way if something happens to one disk, if it fails for whatever reason, you have the other disk with the same data on it. If your NAS supports hot swapping, you can simply purchase another hard drive (of the same size and speed) and replace the failed drive. The NAS will copy the data to the new drive and your redundant array will be back up once it is done without skipping a beat. There are numerous ways in which you can implement data redundancy, which will be covered in future posts.


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The chink in the armour of information security isn’t where you expect

When people envisage computer systems being hacked they may imagine a shadowy figure furiously typing away on a keyboard in a dark basement. Or they might think about some complicated wall of code or fancy high-tech gadgets to break into these systems. The reality is, unfortunately, much more benign than Hollywood would lead us to believe. In fact, it isn’t penetration testers or hackers that put information or computer systems at risk – it’s actually the users and administrators. Probably one of the most common weaknesses would have to be passwords. Users – even administrators tend to create weak passwords because they are relatively easy to remember, the problem is, they are even easier for computers to calculate. The best defense against this is of course to use a password manager, see our post here for recommendations on the best (and most privacy-respecting) password managers. Next, administrative configuration is a common weakness in systems that is often overlooked. What this means is when administrators set up systems, whether it be websites, servers or any number of systems such as network environments, too often they will leave certain settings as the default. At worst, they leave the login details as default, so if this is an internet-facing device, anyone who stumbles upon it will be able to login and most likely do whatever they please, including changing the login details – nice.


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The importance of regular backups

Our personal data is arguably priceless compared to that of, say company data, which can relatively speaking, be easily replaced. Those embarrassing photos that you now look back on and laugh about are irreplaceable, that exact moment can never be replicated – so data loss should be avoided, and when it can’t be avoided, it should be mitigated to the fullest extent. To achieve this, it is necessary to have backups of your personal data. There are many options when it comes to backing up your data, so where should you start? Well that depends on a few factors. Firstly, cost is an obvious starting point. There are ‘free’ services that will offer gigabytes (GB) worth of online storage for no financial cost. I stress the word financial, which leads into the next consideration for your backup solution – privacy.

Privacy is often overlooked by people because most people generally don’t look past the ‘free’ aspect of the services and don’t consider what is happening to their data (or simply don’t care). There are many examples of large companies misusing customer information in the form of selling their data to marketers and other agencies, the prominent contemporary of which being the Cambridge Analytica scandal that Facebook was caught up in. However, it is almost unavoidable at this point to completely ditch all of these services – due to their massive financial backing they have the means to provide much more than their open source counterparts. I am a huge supporter of open source software and take advantage of many open source programs and services, though I am still guilty of using these ‘free’ services – even if it is minimally. If you have an Android phone you are inevitably using Google’s services by default and the alternative of using a custom Android operating system such as LineageOS is more effort than many are willing to deal with.

There are, however, other considerations for backing up your data. One of the mantras of data backups is for them to be ‘regular, and off-site’. Regular, to minimise data loss if anything happens to your device, or if you accidentally delete data. Off-site so that again if anything happens to your device, the data is safe. The off-site aspect is generally more for if there’s a fire – this ensures that the backup doesn’t get destroyed along with the primary data. We will cover backup solutions and services in future posts. Stay tuned!


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Why you should never pay the ransom

Back in 2017, the WannaCry worm took the world by storm causing financial damage and all but halting services such as those use by the NHS in the UK. This malware reportedly infected tens of thousands of computers in approximately 150 countries. The basic premise of the worm was to, a) encrypt the user’s important files (rendering them essentially inaccessible – they may as well have been deleted), and b) spread itself to as many other computers as possible.

After being infected, the user would be presented with a pop-up similar to this image:

WannaCry Screenshot
By Unknown criminal - https://cdn.securelist.com/files/2017/05/wannacry_05.pngDownloaded from :https://securelist.com/blog/incidents/78351/wannacry-ransomware-used-in-widespread-attacks-all-over-the-world/, Public Domain, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54032765

This type of malware is called ransomware, and as can be seen in the image, a timer is also displayed, threatening that the files will be “lost” if the timer reaches zero. Do. Not. Ever. Pay. Why not, you ask? Because the most likely scenario is that you pay the ransom and you never see your files again. Which is what likely happened to the majority of people. The type of people who are willing to extort people of money, logically are also not likely to be honourable. But I’ll lose all my data? Okay, well if you pay the ransom, then you will lose all your data and your wallet will be substantially lighter. What are my options? Read on my friend…

Because this particular attack is going on two years old now then you have either likely lost all your data, lost all your data and given the crooks money, or you have only lost some of your data and not given them any money. How? By having backups! If you don’t have any backups, especially in this day and age you are doing yourself a disservice.


As always reader participation is not just welcomed, but encouraged! If you have any suggestions, corrections or anything in between, feel free to leave a comment. Want a good laugh? Check out our blog created entirely by artificial intelligence (AI)

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