ABC of ICT

2nd June 2006 at 01:00
Pete Roythorne on how to keep your computer data safe

Keeping your computer and your personal details safe is becoming an increasingly important issue as we become more dependent and attached to computers. One of the biggest areas people fall down on is the humble password.

Passwords are used to restrict access either in terms of what functions of software you can use, or what information you can see on a computer network - they are what keeps your pupils from looking at sensitive information on your school network. They are also used to protect personal data, and are something that will become more important as we move to personalised learning and e-portfolios (individualised online storage areas for personal details and records).

There are some simple rules to using and setting passwords, that can make an enormous difference.

Firstly, all passwords must be at least six characters long as this should be enough to discourage opportunist hackers (people that break into other people's protected systems). The maximum length for most systems is eight characters.

When choosing your password you should avoid anything obvious, this includes: words in any dictionary; your name; your partners name (any name, particularly famous ones, are easily cracked); "Password"; abbreviations; the Bible; film titles; mythslegends; places; Shakespeare. This list is by no means exhaustive, but you get the idea. Also people used to be advised to take a word and substitute some characters - ie a 0 (zero) for an o, or a 1 for an l. This is no longer the case.

A good password is a mixture of numbers and letters with upper and lower case characters. Try taking an uncommon phrase, and using different letters from each word. For example "You can't always get what you want" could become "ycagwyw". Add a capital letter and a punctuation mark or a number or two, and you end up with "yCag5wyw" or "yCa%gwyw".

Basically, your password should be something personal that appears totally random to anyone else. But the most important thing is that it's something you can remember!

Other password rules include: never write down your password or leave it somewhere near your computer; never share your password with anyone; never allow your computer to remember passwords for you - this means that anyone using your computer has access to all your passwords; be wary of using you password in public - be aware of who's around you, or if someone is looking over your shoulder.

Finally, change your passwords on a regular basis.

If you follow these simple rules then your information will be as safe as it possibly can be.

map: mary evans picture libraryalamy; Top: cris haighalamy

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