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Wayne’s IT Security Blog: The importance of using strong passwords

Wayne Harris, Compliance Officer at ITCS shares his monthly IT security blog – this month, he talks about the importance of using strong passwords

OK, so we’ve secured the firewalls, Installed AntiVirus, filtered out the spam, locked down your desktop PC, encrypted your drives and enforced password complexity – what could possibly go wrong?

Well, if you are using the same passwords for multiple accounts, sharing passwords with others, writing them down, using weak passwords, dictionary terms etc, then you should consider yourself as the weak point in the system!

Commonly used passwords that a hacker will try

Do you recognise any of these commonly used passwords?


These common passwords make it easy to hack into your account – so if one of them is familiar, change it now!

Other insecure passwords

Are you using names of loved ones, favourite sports teams, new film release? Even if you are subtlely changing these by the use of additional numbers, replacing characters with numbers, recycling passwords with sequential numbers etc. you should consider your passwords weak – and change them.

Don’t forget Social Media

Often people don’t think they are at risk – until it happens.  Even on social media, which is seen as ‘just for fun’, being hacked can be horrific. Social media is often where people have the least secure passwords, yet that password protects details about the most important people in your life.

You may wonder why people would bother to hack a social media account, but usually all the information people include in their passwords (family names, friends names, pet names etc.) is available for all to see – often even without a hack!  Plus, social media attacks can be incredibly personal and have a big impact on your life.

Many people use the same password on social media that they use for their work accounts, email accounts etc. Be smart and use secure passwords everywhere, at work and at home, and use a different password for each account.

Who would want my information, anyway?

If your password was compromised consider what information would get in to the wrong hands, especially if you use the same password on multiple accounts.

At home, this might be access to your emails and contacts which start spamming, or access to your financial information/bank accounts etc. At work, this breach might take down your network if you are targeted by hackers, causing expensive downtime and irreparable damage to your company reputation.

Secure passwords

No password is 100% secure, however you can increase your password security by following standard protocols.

Make passwords longer

While most password systems allow you to have 8 characters, we would recommend using a minimum of 9 or 10 characters – and your passwords should be changed regularly (we recommend doing this monthly).

No Names Rule

Passwords should NEVER contain names or usernames, and should also follow the standard ‘complexity rules’.

Password Complexity Rules

Strong passwords normally incorporate 3 out of the 5 characteristics:

  • Uppercase characters of European languages (A through Z, with diacritic marks, Greek and Cyrillic characters)
  • Lowercase characters of European languages (a through z, sharp-s, with diacritic marks, Greek and Cyrillic characters)
  • Base 10 digits (0 through 9)
  • Nonalphanumeric characters: ~!@#$%^&*_-+=`|\(){}[]:;”‘<>,.?/
  • Any Unicode character that is categorized as an alphabetic character but is not uppercase or lowercase. This includes Unicode characters from Asian languages.

It goes without saying that writing down passwords, or sharing them with others is an insecure practice.  Guard your passwords like you guard the PIN to your credit card!

CyberCrime is on the increase, and you have a part to play in the defence of your network. Secure your passwords now, and make sure you keep vigilant as to the risks that we all face.

If you have any questions or concerns around computer security, please don’t hesitate to contact the ITCS support desk on 08456 444 200, we are always happy to help.

WebWayne’s IT Security Blog: The importance of using strong passwords

Need support for an Excel spreadsheet error?  Take heart – it could be worse!

Spreadsheets are still used throughout businesses in the UK – but they’ve also been blamed for some of the biggest slip ups.

The problem is that spreadsheets are only as accurate as the information typed into them, and the slightest slip in a formula can cost a company literally millions of pounds.

The trusty old spreadsheet, dating back to the eighties, is still the go-to IT application for keeping vital records in many businesses – but should it be?

Brian Stokes, Managing Director, of ITCS (who were recently named the top IT support company in Wales) smiles at the number of applications he’s seen spreadsheets being used for over the years.

“At ITCS, we’ve seen Excel being relied upon for all manner of critical data, including HR information, company accounts, customer data and even legal document tracking.”

“I appreciate the power in Excel’s calculations, but it offers no audit trail and it’s 100% reliant on the skill of the user to not delete critical data or make a mistake in the formula.  Like most IT support companies, we regularly get support calls along the lines of ‘Help – I deleted my data!” 

“Technology has come on in leaps and bounds and for most tasks there is now a tool specifically designed for the job – and almost all of them do it better.”  

However, if you are one of our customers who’ve rang us for support on Excel – it could be worse.  Here’s some of the world’s most famous, spectacularly simple spreadsheet blunders:

Not-so-Healthy-Wales

Health charity The King’s Fund were left red faced when their Chief Economist John Appleby reported 11 per cent cuts in Wales in the well-respected British Medical Journal.  The cuts were slated in the media, but a simple spreadsheet error had exaggerated the real figure of -8.3%

 

London Olympics

The London 2012 Olympics organisers oversold the synchronised swimming sessions by double!

One staff member incorrectly typed a ‘2’ instead of a ‘1’ – and 10,000 unhappy spectators were left without a poolside seat because ‘20,000’ seats were sold instead of ‘10,000’.  You could say it was somewhat unsynchronized….


Pension Fund

Outsourcing specialists Mouchel were hit massively by a spreadsheet error in a pension fund deficit.  The error, blamed on external actuaries, hit the companies profits by £4.3 million (ouch). Share prices dropped and their chairman resigned.

 

To truly mess up, ask a statistician

Reinhart and Rogoff’s paper, “Growth in a Time of Debt” was one of the world’s most quoted research statistics.

So quoted, in fact, that students at the University of Massachusetts tried to replicate the results.

The students discovered an error whereby Reinhart & Rogoff’s spreadsheet formula was averaging the wrong columns…meaning economists worldwide were publishing flawed statistics… including…

 

Chancellor George Osborne

In case you are feeling bad for placing an Excel support call, feel better.

The former Chancellor used formulas based on Rogoff and Reinhart’s work to calculate his budget cuts. This meant that a debt-to-GDP ratio of 90% saw growth of -0.1%, instead of 2.2%!

We don’t yet offer IT support to the UK Government, but if he’d given us a call, rest assured we’d have helped him correct the error and kept it secret.

Sadly the error was shared with the world.  The Guardian described the results as ‘embarrassing’.

 

What should we use instead?

The best software for you will depend on the task at hand.

For example, we’ve seen estate agents using spreadsheets to manage instructions and listings.

Our software for estate agents and lettings agents, AgentPro, covers every aspect of the business, from handling complicated financials to marketing brochures.  It manages clients from valuation to completion and ensures best practice throughout, and interfaces with the UK’s leading property portals, enabling estate agents to offer service online and on the High Street – without any of the risks caused by spreadsheets.

 

Can ITCS provide my software?

Often we know of a good solution and if we don’t, we can create bespoke software for you.  However, many industries already have great software designed specifically for their niche and we understand that.

If ITCS are providing your IT support, we will still be happy to offer you advice on your chosen software – anyone can call themselves a software developer and string software together, so it’s important to choose a reputable provider.  We’re IT experts, here to help and we’re already familiar with your business.

If you’re looking at a new solution, before you sign on the dotted line, feel free to give us a call and we’ll be happy to check out the software provider for you.

Until then, we’ll continue to offer you support on your spreadsheets – and reassure you that no matter how bad the error feels, someone, somewhere messed up far more spectacularly!

WebNeed support for an Excel spreadsheet error?  Take heart – it could be worse!