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Actrix Online Informer – March 2016

The Actrix Online Informer is published each month to help keep Actrix customers up-to-date with what's happening on the Internet, and to help ensure they have every opportunity to benefit from it.

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Actrix – best little ISP in New Zealand

Welcome to the March Actrix Online Informer

Welcome to the Actrix Online Informer for March 2016. This month we take a look at passwords. They're a constant but necessary hassle and, considering how awfully easy some are to guess, it's a wonder we don't get hacked more often.

Carrying on our security-based heme, we also include an article, borrowed from Kim Komando, about keeping your smartphone or tablet safe from snoopers.

YouTube feature

This month's YouTube feature is all about sheep. Now, New Zealanders see a lot of sheep, and most of us would agree there's nothing really special about a sheep... or a bunch of sheep. But you might not think that after watching this collection of aerial footage of flocks of sheep being herded. There certainly is something mesmerising and beautiful in the way these animals all move as a flock! Your hat's gotta go off to the dogs as well!

The worst passwords of 2015

Our passwords are bad, and we should feel bad about it. Every year, SplashData releases a list of the most popular passwords discovered in data breaches released online over the past 12 months. And this year, "123456" and "password" topped this list.

Just like last year. And the year before that.

Other popular choices this year were sports, like "football" and "baseball." And "starwars," – a newcomer to the list, ranked as the 25th most popular breached password, probably thanks to excitement over the release of the newest movie in the franchise.

Passwords are the banes of our increasingly online lives. Nearly everything we sign up for needs a password, and creating a secure one can be a pain. Even when we come up with a good one, we always need more because reusing passwords can leave us exposed if a service we use gets breached.

To try to stay secure we are left relying on password management tools that sometimes get breached themselves, or juggling an almost ridiculous rotation of hard-to-remember passwords, or using a random string of characters we expect to reset the next time we log in.

Unless, that is, we just give up and use ridiculously easy-to-guess passwords.

This password paradox is why tech companies like Google, Apple and Yahoo are trying to find ways to replace passwords. Apple, for instance, includes fingerprint scanners in its new iPhones. And Google and Yahoo have been experimenting with ways that let people use their mobile phone to prove their identity without a password.

Unfortunately, these alternatives can come with their own drawbacks. You leave your fingerprints on pretty much everything you touch, and some researchers have even found way to fake fingerprints from high definition photos. And using just your mobile phone may leave you at risk if you lose it.

For now, at least, consumers are probably best off trying trying to remember strong, unique passwords for important services and turning on two-factor authentication, a system where they have to go through another step to confirm their identity when they log in – usually entering a code that's texted to their phone.

There's a good list of what services offer this protection. The extra step may feel frustrating, but it's a lot less work than having to recover from a breached account.

The worst passwords of 2015

Rank Password Change from 2014
1 123456 No Change
2 password No Change
3 12345 Up 17
4 12345678 Down 1
5 qwerty Down 1
6 123456789 No Change
7 1234 Up 9
8 baseball New
9 dragon New
10 football New
11 1234567 Down 4
12 monkey Up 5
13 letmein Up 1
14 abc123 Down 9
15 111111 Down 8
16 mustang New
17 access New
18 shadow Unchanged
19 master New
20 michael New
21 superman New
22 696969 New
23 123123 Down 12
24 batman New
25 trustno1 Down 1

Here are three simple tips to be safer from hackers online:

  • Use passwords of eight characters or more with mixed types of characters.
  • Avoid using the same username/password combination for multiple websites.
  • Don't use a favourite sport as your password – "baseball" and "football" are in top 10, and "hockey," "soccer" and "golfer" are in the top 100. Don't use a favourite team either, as "yankees," "eagles," "steelers," "rangers," and "lakers" are all in the top 100.
  • Don't use your birthday or especially just your birth year - 1989, 1990, 1991, and 1992 are all in the top 100.
  • While baby name books are popular for naming children, don't use them as sources for picking passwords. Common names such as "michael," "jennifer," "thomas," "jordan," "hunter," "michelle," "charlie," "andrew," and "daniel" are all in the top 50.

How to keep your smartphone and tablet secure

Think for a second about how much of your life is on your smartphone or tablet. It probably has emails, texts, call logs, contacts, browsing history, social media apps, finance apps, saved passwords, credit card numbers, personal photos and more.

Now think about how easy it would be for a snooping friend or family member to pick up your gadget and poke around in it. Or a thief could easily swipe it from your jacket pocket, your table at a restaurant or your home.

Then there are data-stealing malicious apps and other automated threats hackers like to cook up. And don't forget about advertisers, cellular providers and the government tracking your movements online and in the real world.

In short, there are plenty of risks to the sensitive information on your gadget. That's why you need to take immediate steps to lock down your phone or tablet. Let's look at what settings you need to change and apps you need to install on your Android, Apple or Windows Phone gadget to keep hackers and snoopers at bay.

Set a pin or password

Did you know that one-third of smartphone users don't set up the lock screen on their phones? Many stick with the default "Swipe to unlock" screen, which won't stop a bad guy or even a casual snooper.

You need to use the lock screen that requires a password to continue, and come up with a good number code. This code should be something that isn't easy to guess. Something like 1-2-3-4 or 0-0-0-0 isn't going to cut it.

Apple gadgets make you set up a passcode for the lock screen the first time you use them. However, if you created it a while ago, it might be time to beef it up. Go to Settings>>Passcode to edit your passcode and then click here to make a more secure passcode for iOS.

For Android, go to Settings>>Lock screen to set up a pattern, PIN or password. You can try out all three and see which one offers the best balance of security and convenience for you. Some Android gadgets also include facial recognition and voice unlocking, but those aren't as secure. If you do set up a pattern, make sure it isn't one that's easy to guess.

Only install trusted apps

Bad apps are loaded with malware that can infect your gadget with viruses and steal your information. Newer ones even hijack your contact list to spam your friends and infect their gadgets.

You can lower the risk by only installing apps from the major app stores: Google Play, Amazon Appstore, Apple iTunes and Microsoft's Windows Store. Third-party app stores often host malicious apps, usually disguised as popular real apps.

Actually, this isn't such a big problem for Apple and Microsoft users because they're locked into their own app stores. However, Android gadgets allow you to visit app stores besides Google Play, although this feature is turned off by default in Amazon gadgets. Click here to learn the signs of an infected Android gadget.

To make sure you don't accidentally install "untrusted" Android apps, go to Settings>>Security and uncheck the "Unknown Sources" option. You should also check the "Verify Apps" option if you have it.

Enable remote location and wiping

One nice thing about smartphones and tablets is that they're portable so you can easily take them anywhere. The downside is that you can easily lose them or a thief can walk off with them in a heartbeat.

The good news is that smartphone theft is down thanks to the growing adopt of "kill switches" that make it harder to wipe and resell them. In 2013 3.1 million Americans have had their smartphones stolen while it was only 2.1 million in 2014, and probably less in 2015. Still, any number in the millions is a lot and that doesn't include the 3.1 million phones in 2014 (and likely similar in 2015) that were simply lost.

If your gadget is lost or stolen, tracking apps can tell you exactly where your phone is. These apps also let you wipe sensitive information remotely. If your phone does end up in the wrong hands, you can at least make sure somebody else doesn't get your information.

iOS users have Find My iPhone. To enable it, go to Settings>>iCloud. Look for Find My iPhone and turn it on.

Android users have Android Device Manager. To enable tracking, launch the app, link it to a Google account and follow the directions.

For Windows phones, there's the Find My Phone feature. To set it up, go to Settings>>Find My Phone. Make sure the slider is set to on.

Be careful on public Wi-Fi networks

Free public Wi-Fi is a smart way to surf on your smartphone without eating into your data plan. But there's a dangerous side to public hotspots.

Hackers love to infiltrate these networks to snoop for valuable information, like secure account logins and credit card numbers.

Stay safe by doing important things like banking or shopping over your home Wi-Fi instead.

Make sure you wipe your old devices before selling

Upgrading to a new phone or tablet and ditching your old one? Make sure to wipe your old phone before you sell or recycle it. You definitely don't want the information on your phone getting into the wrong hands.

I don't just mean deleting apps, files, photos and videos. Hackers and other criminals can easily recover deleted information. I mean wiping the phone's internal memory so that no trace of personal information is left behind.

Don't worry; wiping your gadget only takes a few minutes. Click here to find out how.

Interesting sites 

Please note: Actrix supplies links to these sites for your interest and possible use. We cannot endorse or take any responsibility for their contents.

Got a site you think would be neat to share with other readers? Click here to e-mail and let me know!

SuperCook – Using the check list or search function tell this webpage all the ingredients you have in your cupboard and then it will suggest recipes you can make using the ingredients you have. A great website to visit when you have food in your pantry but no idea what to cook.

Baby Animal Cams – As the name suggests this is cameras set up to record baby animals. It's purpose is to simply make people smile. Felling a bit down? Jump on the internet and watch a litter of puppies playing streaming live from Florida. Bit cool huh?

What But Why? – Every week or so, a guy named Tim Urban churns out one really long, really awesome article. His articles are always fascinating, in-depth, are really well written and have a massive range of topics.

Mental Floss – Ever wondered something really odd and you were certain you were the only person who had every wondered such a thing. Jump onto Mental Floss and chances are it will be answered. Some odd questions with as equally odd answers.

Shower Thoughts – A hilarious website which tells us what people think in the shower. "I often look at areas by roads or under bridges and think "if I was homeless I would live there". I really hope I don't have to." Have a humorous thought, post it.

PaP — The Passive Aggressive Password Machine – It's simple really, you enter a password... any password and the PaP Machine will be honest about your passwords strength. Perhaps don't visit this site if you are easily offended. "Don't come crying to me when you're hacked."
Ducks are the best – Want to see some ducks? All over your computer screen…. It starts with just one duck and then they populate very quickly. Take a look! Quack! Quack!
Quickest Quotes – Click through "next" and see a huge range of quotes. Inspirational, funny, entertaining. Take from it what you like and click "next". A great place to kill 10 minutes!
Greatist – Often in the first few months of the year people work on their fitness and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is a yearlong goal. Greatist offers heaps of information on keeping healthy. From recipes, to fitness blogs and everything in between.
Joe's Goals – Joe's Goals is a simple but powerful tool to make tracking your goals easy. Use the simple single page interface to setup daily goals and track them with just a click. It will allow you to gain a score each day for when you achieve a goal. You set the goals to exactly what you want to achieve.

Cyberspace news snippets

What's been happening in the online world?

New Zealand

Netflix scores an own goal: Netflix is denying access to customers using VPNs to spoof United States internet addresses. Many non-US customers do this to gain access to Netflix's more up-to-date US content catalogue. Click here for more.

Netflix tightens geo-blocking crackdown over weekend, geo-dodgers fight back: Netflix bolstered its VPN and DNS blockade over the weekend, but all is not lost for anyone trying to sneak into the US library. Click here for more.

Skype call to America ends in hospital visit for sick Dunedin man: A man was taken to Dunedin Hospital after he became unwell during an international Skype call. Click here for more.

Online streaming not killing Christchurch video store: After the community pitched together to save Wellington's Aro Video, Christchurch's Alice in Videoland is doing better than ever, its owner says. Click here for more.

Wellington's Aro Video saved from closure: The end was looming for Aro Video, until the community stepped in to save the day. Click here for more.

Latest Chromecast available in NZ: The latest version of the Chromecast device is now available in New Zealand. The Google product, which was released overseas last year, lets you stream content from your devices to your television. Click here for more.


Four tips to help you better manage your email and social media account: When it comes to managing your email and social media messaging, it's highly likely you have been going about it all wrong. Click here for more.

Security expert warns the dangers of posting your boarding pass online: You need to stop posting the humble-brag boarding pass photos that you place online, and not just because they're really annoying. Click here for more.

A phone with 7-day battery life planned by fuel-cell maker: A British fuel-cell developer that was first to put the technology harnessing the power of hydrogen into London's distinctive black cab said it's working on a system that would allow mobile phone users to charge just once a week. Click here for more.

India says no to Facebook's "free" internet for the poor: Indian regulators have come down hard against Facebook this week, effectively banning the social network from offering a controversial service known as Free Basics. Click here for more.

How to tell Google apart from Alphabet: Did you know that Google doesn't actually work on driverless cars? That's right. In fact, that's technically an Alphabet project. Click here for more.

How to write emails if you want people to respond: Having trouble getting replies to your emails? Apparently, one of the best ways to get a reply is to write as if you're 9 years old. Click here for more.

Is Google better than normal ID?: In the past few weeks, I've heard two stories about people trying to prove who they are after losing their ID. The first incident involved two passports, a few heated words and a call to the police. The second involved using Google to check someone's identity. Click here for more.

Volvo replaces car key with mobile phone: Swedish car maker Volvo has revealed a world first new mobile phone app that is set to do away with the need for a physical key. Click here for more.

Social Media

Facebook gets closer to moving beyond the Like: If you feel limited by Facebook's emotional range, then you're really going to like what's coming next. Click here for more.

Facebook's 'teen dating' groups are every parent's nightmare come to life: Even before the page has fully loaded, the popular Facebook group Teen Dating and Flirting looks like a something straight out of some parental nightmare. Click here for more.

The big myth Facebook needs everyone to believe: In the middle of January, in a change noticed nowhere but Spain, Facebook added six words to a single dialogue box - and inadvertently stumbled into a tortuous national debate. Click here for more.

Parents are flocking to Snapchat: First they took over Facebook, now they have set their sights on Snapchat, currently the coolest app for youngsters. Click here for more.

7 worthwhile ways to automate social media: Social media is an essential part of 21st century life. And, that's especially true for business owners who are looking to connect with customers, influencers and even potential investors. Click here for more.

Apple vs. Android vs. Amazon vs. Microsoft

Microsoft will end technical support and security updates for older versions of Internet Explorer: The big day is here — Microsoft will end technical support and security updates for older versions of its Internet Explorer browser as of today. Click here for more.

How to back up your iPad: One way to backup an iPad is to plug it into a computer running Apple's iTunes music software, which makes a complete backup of the tablet and stores it all away in hidden folders. Click here for more.

Warning over buying 'locked' secondhand devices: An Australian consumer organisation is warning people about buying second-hand devices after reports people are buying locked iPads. Click here for more.

Android tips: Nine ways to be more efficient: Fresh off last week's post outlining different ways to you use your iPhone more efficiently, we're back with a post for Android users. Click here for more.

Could Alphabet overtake Apple as the world's largest company?: Believe it or not, Google's parent company Alphabet is on pace to overtake Apple in sheer market value. Click here for more.

Microsoft is experimenting with underwater data centers: When your laptop or your smartphone gets hot, you know it's crunching a lot of data. So you can imagine the amount of heat generated by the racks upon racks of servers that store and process the world's digital lives. Click here for more.

Uninstalling Facebook app saves up to 20% of Android battery life: Facebook's Android app negatively impacts performance and battery life, even when it's only running in the background, users find. Click here for more.

Security and Privacy

Proofpoint's 2016 cybersecurity predictions warn of a broader scope for hackers: If you thought cybercrime was at its proverbial summit, you are in for a shock in 2016. Click here for more.

Internet users don't seem to realize how much privacy they're giving up: When it comes to privacy, Americans are prepared to bargain — depending on what's being offered in return. Click here for more.

Why 2016 Will Be an Even Scarier Year for Internet Security: The holiday decorations had barely been returned to the attic when 2016 already saw its first high-profile cyber attack. Click here for more.

I Ramped Up My Internet Security, and You Should Too: Here's how ProPublica reporter Julia Angwin upped her defenses against hackers and spies. Click here for more.

The Weird, Wide Web

Melbourne Zoo's orangutans keep active with video games: In an effort to keep Melbourne Zoo's seven orangutans from getting bored, staff are experimenting with offering them access to interactive video games. Click here for more.

The rise of GPS doodles: When Stephen Lund first saw his cycling movements mapped out in red on GPS tracking website Strava, he immediately recognised the service's potential beyond performance analytics. Click here for more.

It was five years ago today

Each month we dredge through our archives to pull out stories from the Actrix Newsletter of exactly five years ago. Sometimes these stories will show just how much the net has changed in such a short time, and sometimes they'll be included just because they're interesting.

Thinking about the what-ifs: Blog: As our building started shaking violently, I dove under my desk. Click here for more.

Quake donation scam surfaces: The Ministry of Consumer Affairs says scammers are using the Christchurch earthquake to take advantage of the good will of New Zealanders. Click here for more.

Iwi's broadband plan: A collection of Northland-based Maori have joined forces to build the first iwi-run broadband network. Click here for more.

Rural broadband has to be done 'properly': Quit the grizzling about who might build the $280 million rural broadband network and let's just get on with it, farmers say. Click here for more.

Trade Me stops Rugby World Cup scalpers: The Trade Me auction website has stepped in to stop people from selling Rugby World Cup tickets online for profit. Click here for more.


Bringing it all back home

Thanks again for reading the Actrix Online Informer. Feedback can be sent to me via the e-mail address listed below. Please limit this to comments/suggestions regarding the newsletter. The best place to send requests for support is the Actrix Help Desk ( or to the Accounts Department (

Take care through March!

Rob Zorn 


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