Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Web Secret #238: Passwords

Many of my colleagues are concerned with software security issues, such as encrypted e-mail and the like. But the key to cybersecurity begins on the front line, with a powerful password.

Last month, the New York Times published an excellent article on how to build a secure password.

Here are the most important tips from that article:

FORGET THE DICTIONARY - If your password can be found in a dictionary, you might as well not have one.

NEVER USE THE SAME PASSWORD TWICE - People tend to use the same password across multiple sites, a fact hackers regularly exploit.

COME UP WITH A PASSPHRASE - The longer your password, the longer it will take to crack. A password should ideally be 14 characters or more in length if you want to make it uncrackable by an attacker in less than 24 hours. Because longer passwords tend to be harder to remember, consider a passphrase, such as a favorite movie quote, song lyric, or poem, and string together only the first one or two letters of each word in the sentence.

STORE YOUR PASSWORDS SECURELY - Do not store your passwords in your in-box or on your desktop. Store your password file on an encrypted USB drive. I personally like the Ironkey brand.

IGNORE SECURITY QUESTIONS - There is a limited set of answers to questions like “What is your favorite color?” and most answers to questions like “What middle school did you attend?” can be found on the Internet. Hackers use that information to reset your password and take control of your account. A better approach would be to enter a password hint that has nothing to do with the question itself. For example, if the security question asks for the name of the hospital in which you were born, your answer might be: “Your favorite song lyric.”

USE DIFFERENT BROWSERS - Pick one browser for online forums, news sites, blogs — anything you don’t consider important. When you’re online banking or checking e-mail, fire up a secondary Web browser, then shut it down. A recent study found that Chrome was the least susceptible to attacks.

The best offense is a good defense.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Web Secret #237: Varian Fry

The Internet can be an instrument for good, and it can be an instrument for evil. During this year's holiday season, the Internet gave me Varian Fry. Or more precisely, I learned about Varian Fry through the Internet, and in turn, that knowledge became a gift.

I was reading "The Orientalist," and came across Varian Fry in a footnote:

"After he graduated from Harvard in the early 1930s, an assignment as a freelance journalist had taken Fry to Berlin, where he'd witnessed the persecution of the Jews and...[heard] rumors within the Nazi Hierarchy [of] the mass murder of the Jews."

I had to find out more and so turned to the Internet. At first Fry tried to publicize what he found out, but his efforts were thwarted by the US government, which for political reasons did not want to focus on the Holocaust.

What he did next is truly wondrous. This young man from a privileged background, who could so easily have looked the other way, took thousands of dollars of his own money and went to Nazi occupied France. There he personally saved an estimated 2,000 Jews, personally escorting the likes of painter Marc Chagall and writer Hannah Arendt over the Pyrenees, risking his own life at every turn. He set up contacts with the French Resistance and the Corsican mob, hired forgers, and bribed border guards.

He was aided in his mission by the son of the man who discovered Machu Picchu, (I am not making this up,) Hiram Bingham IV, an American Vice Consul in Marseille who fought against State Department anti-Semitism and was personally responsible for issuing thousands of visas, both legal and illegal to Jews needing to escape persecution.

The online Holocaust Encyclopedia reported that:

"Shortly before Fry's death, the French government awarded him the Croix de Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur. It was the only official recognition he received in his lifetime...In 1991, the United States Holocaust Memorial Council awarded the Eisenhower Liberation Medal to Varian Fry. In 1994 he was also honored by Yad Vashem as a "Righteous Among the Nations" for his rescue activities."

Is that not a gift?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Web Secret #236: Recalibrating Therapy for a Digital World

A couple of months ago, the New York Times devoted its entire Science News section to look at some of the many ways technology is changing the world of medicine. This is the third and final in a series of blog posts devoted to a further analysis of some of the articles in that section.

As psychiatrist Richard Friedman, MD wrote in his thoughtful article the virtues of the digital age are not always aligned with those of psychotherapy. These days, as never before, therapists are struggling to recalibrate their approach to patients living in a wired world.

For some, the new technology is clearly a boon. Let’s say you have the common anxiety disorder social phobia. Your therapist who sensibly recommends cognitive-behavioral therapy. You find that this treatment involves a fair amount of homework: You typically have to keep a written log of your thoughts and feelings to examine them. As it turns out, there is a smartphone app that will prompt you to record these social interactions and your emotional response to them.

Struggling with major depression? An app might ask you to rate depressive symptoms like sleep, energy, appetite, sex drive and concentration in real time. When it comes to collecting and organizing data, software is hard to beat.

But also worrisome. Technology enables patients reach out via text, e-mail, Facebook, Twitter. For some of them, the easy connectivity that technology makes possible is a decidedly bad idea. For example, a patient with borderline personality disorder would love instant access to a therapist whenever an uncomfortable feeling arises.

Perhaps even more problematic, digital technology can make therapists more real and knowable to their patients. "This cuts both ways. Recently, a patient I had treated for depression was struggling with the approaching death of his beloved dog. Just divorced, he was dreading another loss. One night while surfing the Internet, he came across a piece I wrote years ago about the death of my own dog. 'So you understand what it’s like,' he said during one of our sessions."

Friedman wonders if it’s even possible for therapists to remain anonymous in the age of the Internet, where we can all be found in the electronic cloud. A Google search might not reveal a therapist’s deep, dark secrets, but even basic information begins to alter the relationship.

He concludes that digital technology has the potential to either enhance or confound therapy.

When it comes to technology and psychotherapy - nothing is simple.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Web Secret #235: Tech for Seniors

A couple of months ago, the New York Times devoted its entire Science News section to look at some of the many ways technology is changing the world of medicine. This is the second in a series of blogposts devoted to a further analysis of some of the articles in that section.

Recently, I have been suffering from arthritis pain that has been pretty much unresponsive to narcotics, anti-inflammatory meds, acapuncture, etc. So when a friend suggested I try tumeric, a spice associated with Indian cuisine, I was skeptical, to say the least.

What the hell, I decided to research tumeric. Using my Internet searching capabilities, I easily found reputable research on its medical uses. I ordered my capsules online from Amazon, and two days later I ingested my first dose. 96 hours from my first tumeric Google search, I experienced a 50% decrease in pain. It was that remarkable.

As I get older, I will be more frequently looking to the Internet for information about health care. Sadly, "Americans over 65, whose health stands to benefit the most from modern digital technology, are the least able and least likely to use it. As of April [2012], according to the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project, 53 percent of Americans 65 and older were using the Internet or e-mail, but after age 75, use dropped off significantly, to 34 percent. By contrast, nearly 90 percent of younger adults are digitally connected."

According to Jane Brody's article, "E-Health Opportunities for Seniors," getting more seniors digitally connected, either personally or through caregivers, is expected to greatly enhance opportunities to protect the health and well-being of older people and, at the same time, reduce both individual and national health care costs.

The good news is that it's not too late. "A Pew Center study last year concluded that "80 is the new 60" - more and more older adults now use computers and the Internet, and two-thirds of seniors using the Internet have looked for health information online."

Personally, I recommend getting a mac and taking advantage of Apple's fantastic "one to one" training programs. Based on my (granted somewhat limited) experience teaching seniors how to use the Internet, I believe they learn best in a one on one format.

Learn not to be afraid of the machine.