How Safe is My Password?

from the August 2002 Newsletter
by Rob Zorn

How Can I Change my Actrix Password?

Last month we featured an article on password safety. We looked at how easy passwords are to crack (if someone is determined enough) and we learned about how everyone is a target for password cracking no matter how insignificant they think you are, or how little they use the net. You can access that article here. This month I thought it would be a good idea to write a short article on how you can go about changing your Actrix password, and that also covers whatever else you might need to think about when making such a change.

The Member's Section of Actrix Web Site: This is the best way for you to change your password. It's easy, and it only involves you, so it's the way that has the most security attached to it. You can make the change when there is no one else around and no one else needs to know anything about what you're doing. With passwords, security is what it's all about, so this is certainly the method I'd recommend.

To change your password using the Actrix Member's Section:

  1. Point your browser to www.actrix.co.nz and put your user name and current password into the Member's Account Log in fields. (Obviously you're going to need to know your current password to use this method.)
  2. Once you're into the Member's Section, click the Change Password link over on the left hand side.
  3. Enter your current and new passwords into the required fields (remember to mix capitals, lower-case, letters and numbers).
  4. Click the Change Password button.

It's pretty much that easy.

What If I Have Forgotten My Current Password?

If you aren't sure what your current password is, then you aren't going to be able to use the Member's Only section of the Actrix web site. What's worse is that in order for you to use the Internet, your password must be saved in your dialup settings which means that anyone with access to your computer can log onto the net as you.

If this is the case, you need to call the Actrix help desk (0800-228749) and ask them to re-set your password. They have a procedure they will use to make sure you are who you say you are, and that you have the authority to change the password for the account. If you call for this reason, please have a nice new cryptic password ready for yourself or be prepared to ask the help desk technician to generate one for you randomly.

What's a Good Way of Coming Up with a Cryptic Yet Memorable Password?

I touched on this last time. One good way is to use the Mnemonic method; ie, to think of a phrase that means something to you, and only to you and then to use it's first letters to form a password. For example, if you were a Mork and Mindy fan (and this was so long ago that your kids wouldn't have a clue) you could take the phrase "Mork from Ork was played by Robin Williams," and make the password Mf0wpbRW. This method leaves you with a pretty random looking password, but it is still reasonably easy to remember. In this example, I changed the letter "o" to a zero, and capitalised the proper nouns (names). Remember that your password should be between 6-8 characters. It should contain a mixture of letters and numbers, and a mix of upper case and lower case letters.

If I Change My Password, What Else Should I Be Aware Of?

You need to keep in mind that changing your password affects two things: Your dialup access to the Internet and access to your e-mail mailbox. Changing your password automatically affects both of these, so you will need to update your settings in both areas.

Updating your password settings in Dialup Networking is reasonably easy, though it seems that every time Microsoft releases a new version of Windows, the Dialup Networking settings are hidden in a different place. For Windows 98 you would double-click My Computer to get to the Dialup Networking folder. Under Windows ME you can find it by clicking the Start button, then Settings. Under Windows XP you can most easily find Dialup Networking by clicking Start, then Settings, then Network Connections.

Actrix has a reasonably detailed Help menu available for customers directly from our web site. Customers a little unsure of how to handle changing their password settings are encouraged to have a go themselves (see picture). As stated, the help desk are always there to help you out of a pickle. If you're really not confident, give them a call and they'll talk you through the change over the phone. Their number is 0800-228749.

To update your password settings in Outlook Express:

  1. Click Tools and then Accounts
  2. Make sure the Mail Tab is clicked in the Internet Accounts box (there are four tabs: All, Mail, News and Directory Service).
  3. Click once on your account to select it, and then click Properties on the right-hand side.
  4. Click the second tab (Servers) and change your password.
  5. Click Apply, and then Okay and then Close.

If you're not confident doing this or if something goes terribly wrong, give the help desk a call. The settings in e-mail programs are their bread and butter. They could talk you through them in their sleep. If you use an e-mail program other than Outlook Express, don't worry, the help desk will most likely be familiar with it.

How Soon Do Password Changes take Effect?

If you are changing your password, you need to be aware that the Dialup Networking change is immediate, but the change to your mailbox password could take two or three hours to come into effect. This is because (in very simple terms) too much is constantly changing on the server that looks after mail settings, so it can't update itself on the fly. Instead, it stores all changes requested of it, and then it rolls over every three hours and implements all the changes in the queue.

What this means is that if you change your password and disconnect from the Internet, you will need to make sure that you have changed your Dialup Networking passwords settings or you will not be able to re-connect to the Internet. However, you may need to keep you old e-mail password settings for a few hours, changing them as soon as you notice that the old ones cease to work. The easiest way of dealing with this problem of time difference is to go about changing your password as the last thing you do before shutting down for the night. By next morning, all your password changes should have taken effect and you can begin using them.

Did you know that the Internet is growing so fast that If you tried to read every document on it, then for each day's effort you would be a year further behind in your goal?