Ask the Geek: Listener Questions (Part 1)

Tech Talker answers listeners' tech questions about smartphones, passwords, and hacker attacks.

Eric Escobar,
October 31, 2012
Episode #051

I thought I’d use today’s podcast as an opportunity to answer some listener questions that I’ve received recently on the Tech Talker podcast. So let’s get started:

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Locking your phone

Listener Cathy wrote in asking about reasons why she should or should not put a password on her phone. This is pretty much a matter of personal preference. I’m on my phone all throughout the day so I don’t want to have to enter an 8-character password everytime I want to use it! That would be annoying.

So let’s look at reasons why you would want to put a super-secure password on your phone. If you had ultra-sensitive information such as client social security numbers, pictures prooving the existence of Bigfoot, or maybe evidence the moon landing was a fake (just kidding, Everyday Einstein), then you would really want a strong password. This is because convenience outweighs the damage that could be done in case your phone was lost or stolen.

If you’re like me and don’t keep a whole lot of sensitive information on your phone, you still might be surprised what information is actuallyon there. For instance, if someone got a hold of my cell phone they would have access to all of my Facebook, Amazon, eBay, Evernote, and email accounts. For this reason I recommend setting up Google Sync or Find My iPhone for Android and IOS. Now I’ve mentioned these apps in a previous podcasts, but in case you forgot or haven’t listened to them yet, these apps will allow you to remotely wipe your device in case you lose it or it gets stolen.

The only real argument I’ve heard to keeping your phone unlocked is for emergency responders trying to contact someone in case something happens to you. I’ve found though that if you are really paranoid about this happening you can just set your phone’s lock screen to a picture of your emergency contact. That way an emergency responder won’t need your password in order to get a hold of someone for you.


Man In The Middle Attack

The next listener question comes from my episode on unencrypted WiFi networks.

Basically, the listener wants to know how exactly a hacker could gain access to your computer or get your passwords on an unsecured WiFi network. Now while this could be a podcast in and of itself, here’s the quick answer: Normally when you surf the web on your laptop, the data travels from your computer to an external router, then to the internet. However, on an unsecured WiFi network, a hacker can insert himself between you and the router.

So picture it like this: In elementary school when you passed notes, (this was before 2nd graders had iPhones), you could hand a note to your friend directly and wouldn’t have to worry about anyone else reading it. But if you asked someone to hand the note to your friend, that person could also read the note.

This is essentially what is happening on an unsecured network. A person is watching all of the traffic you produce. This means that anything not encrypted can be seen just as if you had sent it directly to that person! Even if your website has SSL (Secure Socket Layer) which is a type of encryption, there are still programs that can help to strip away some of that security, exposing some of your information.

I’m not trying to scare anyone here, but I would really only recommend checking online banking websites from home or from a network you know you can trust, or a network that has a password. These automatically restrict just anyone from getting on it that are up to no good!

Storing Passwords

The last question I’ll answer today is about how to store passwords. This is a really tricky subject simply because you’re never supposed to write down passwords, use the same password for everything, and they tend to be kind of complicated…so how the heck do you organize these things so that you can still log into your accounts without having to spend years looking up passwords while you’re on the go?

I’m sure you’ve heard of websites that claim to store all of your passwords. Now, I don’t know about you, but I really don’t trust putting all of my passwords on one website that will manage them. I don’t care how secure they say they are, it just doesn’t sit well with me to have my passwords stored somewhere other than my local hard drive. Again, that’s just me. I know plenty of professionals who use programs like LastPass, which has a cloud aspect to it, and that people love. But it’s just not for me!

So here is my solution: I keep all of my passwords in a free program called Kee Pass. This program runs by itself and doesn’t require you to install it. It creates an encrypted list of your passwords that are encrypted with just one password. And that’s the only password you’ll have to remember to access the list of your passwords. What I like about this system is that my passwords are stored outside my local drive, but are also encrypted so that even if someone were to find the list, it would be impossible to decipher what it was without my password.

And since you don’t need to install Kee Pass, you can just keep it with you on a thumb drive or put the file in your Dropbox, Skydrive, or Google drive. Even if someone gets access to the file, it will mean nothing without the password. It’s worked really well for me, because I can access it from my smartphone when I’m on the go as well as from my desktop. Even though the passwords are all in one spot, as long as you have one really good, long password the rest of your passwords should be safe and sound!

I really want to thank every Tech Talker listener and reader who submitted a question, and I really encourage you to ask any other questions on the Tech Talker Facebook page!

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Well, that’s it for today. Be sure to check out all my posts at techtalker.quickanddirtytips.com. And if you have further questions about this podcast or want to make a suggestion for a future episode, post your comments on the Tech Talker Facebook page.

Until next time, I’m the Tech Talker, keeping technology simple!

Girl with Phone, Computer Hacker and Password images from Shutterstock