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Wednesday
Oct012008

Strong passwords, weak security

D7B3BE289B1020A8A1D25FFC74

That's the password to log on to our WEP encrypted wireless access in one of our district's meeting rooms. With one or two changed characters, of course.

I've always had a suspicion that the requirement for a "strong" password really creates more security problems than it solves under most circumstances. Strong passwords require a minimum number of characters (12-14), need to be a combination of numbers and upper/lower case letters, and often need to forced-changed on regular basis.

Which all leads normal people to write them down and hide them in a convenient place - top desk drawer, under the desk calendar, on a sticky note adhering to the monitor...

The rationale for strong passwords is they are harder to discover if one runs a fancy password-guessing program to crack a computer security system. These programs rapidly try all common words and names in an attempt to gain access.

So the question I have to ask is: Which is more likely: a middle school student having access to a cracking program or knowing that passwords can be found under the teacher (or parent) desk blotter?

There are compromises that involve mnemonic clues to remembering strong(er) passwords:

  • add a date to a child's or pet's name (sammy411)
  • substitute numbers or symbols for letters (r0o$evelt)
  • create an acronym (1itln - one is the loneliest number)
  • write the password down but with a change in a single character that one can actually remember

None of these are recommended by an computer security expert, I am sure. Be thankful I don't work for the CIA.

Social hacking remains the number one computer security threat, at least according to the things I read. If you call someone and say you are from so-and-so security firm and are conducting an audit and need to verify his/her password, a high percentage of people happily divulge that information.

At last count, I have 54 different programs and websites that require a password for either school or work. I have them all stored in a password-protected database on my computer. Were a person able to obtain access, horror or horrors, s/he would be able to see my frequent flier miles, credit card and bank balances (both embarrassing), and edit my school web page. There are some benefits, sigh, to living a dull life.

So how do you create passwords that are difficult to guess but easy to remember? What are the practical rules for passwords schools should establish - and teach to kids?

Monday
Sep292008

Have To or Get To

Seth Godin's post Get to vs. have to resonated with me. In it he asks:

How much of your day is spent doing things you have to do (as opposed to the things you get to do)?

and suggests the higher the percentage of things you "get to do" as opposed to "have to do," the greater the likelihood of happiness and success.

Were Jessica Hagy at indexed to look at this, she might draw:

Yes, it's a book checkout card, not an index card. Tough noogies.

One workshop I give touches on the difference between intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation, revisiting Ed Psych 101. A question I pose to illustrate the difference is "If you won the lottery tomorrow and never HAD to work again, what things do you do at work that you would continue to do?" I am sometimes disappointed that teachers and librarians are rather slow to come up with tasks that they like to do so much that they'd keep doing them.

Eventually a short list appears:

  • I'd still read children/YA literature.
  • I'd still read aloud to kids.
  • I'd still teach kids how to use ____________ software (KidPix, Inspiration, PowerPoint).
  • I'd still try out new software or technologies.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his old book Flow writes about people who are able to take even mundane tasks (washing dishes, loading trucks, working on assembly lines, etc.) and turn them into intrinsic challenges by setting personal goals or challenges. I expect many of us have figured out how to do this one way or another.

So far I run about 80% "get to" parts vs. 20% "have to" parts of my job. I genuinely like coming to work everyday. Well, almost everyday. It's a combination of luck and attitude probably. If ever the "have to" portion of my job gets bigger than the "get to" part, I hope I have the good sense and courage to move on.

What's on your list of "get to's?" What would you keep doing even if you won the lottery? How do we encourage those poor people who seem to live an entire work-life of "have to's" to find a more fitting position?

Saturday
Sep272008

Handouts for sessions that don't need'm

Printed on card stock, four per page. Whadda ya think? Satisfy those who both like and hate handouts?

Conference season is on us me. Inquiring minds need to know.