Password SafetyWritten by Richard Lowe
If you've been on internet for any length of time, you've collected about a zillion accounts and their associated passwords. Personally, I have over 500 different active accounts all over web and probably a thousand more inactive or unused accounts.
Most people don't have anywhere near that number, but I'll bet you have at least a couple of dozen. Let's see, you've probably got an account at your bank's website, a few credit cards, egroups, perhaps a few webrings, your ISP, email, hotmail, perhaps AOL, and a few others that you don't use as often.
If you are like most people, you cannot even come close to remembering it all. In fact, a lot of people simply create same account name and password everywhere ... and that's extremely dangerous.
Let's say a hacker figures out your AOL account and password. If every other account that you own has same username and password ... well, you get idea. Now all he has to do is figure out where you have accounts ... but he could just try it at a number of say, banking sites or credit card sites, and perhaps he will get lucky. You may make it even easier for him by mentioning your sites in your AOL emails or on your web site.
So how do you protect yourself? First, make sure your passwords are all different. Don't use same password on all of your accounts ... and try and use a few different usernames if you can.
Next, be sure and choose some password that are not so easy to guess. Avoid names (husband, wife, kids, cats and so on), social security and phone numbers, addresses and anything else that someone could figure out if they knew anything about you.
Also avoid some common words. Did you know that most common password is simply "password". "God" is also common, especially amoung system managers. Avoid common words such as these.
All right! Now you've got all of your 30 or so accounts set up with different account names and different difficult-to-guess passwords. How are you going to remember them all?
So What's A Cookie For, Anyway?Written by Richard Lowe
With all of rhetoric about cookies, many people don't understand that these little text files were invented for a reason. In fact, cookies were created to solve internet's equivalent of Alzheimer's disease. You see, web sites do not remember who they are talking to!
The web was designed to be simple and straightforward. You (a browser such as Internet Explorer or Netscape) ask for something from a web server. The web server obediently hands it to you, then goes off to do something else. This is due to original purpose of web - a vast electronic library!
The web was never designed to support electronic commerce. It was designed to support reading text. Images, videos, sounds and commerce was all shoehorned into structure later.
Okay, so web servers are forgetful. What exactly does this mean? The browser asks web server for an object (a web page, image, graphic or whatever) and server obligingly returns it. The connection to browser is then closed and forgotten.
Thus, next time browsers makes a request of web server, poor server has no easy way to know that it is same as before. As far as server is concerned, every single request to do something is a unique request from a different computer.
This makes any kind of transaction control very difficult. Think about it for a minute and you'll understand. You enter your personal information into a screen, which sends you to a second screen to enter your name and address. If web server does not know that you are you, then how in heck does it relate credit card information to your name and address?
The answer is cookies. To put it very simply, a cookie is simply a way for web server to know that you are indeed you. In previous example, a cookie would allow server to know that name and address are related to credit card number.
How does this work? Well, server creates a small text file on your system called a cookie. This text file can only be referenced by that server, and it contains a simple unique number which identifies you.
Whenever server does something it tries to read this cookie to see if it knows who you are. Thus, when screen allowing you to enter your name and address is displayed, browser tries to read a cookie, effectively asking "do I know who you are?". It does same thing on credit card entry screen. Okay, this all seems harmless enough, doesn't it? So how is this very harmless and exceptionally useful system abused?