Friday, December 12, 2008

@#$%! passwords!

So I'm working on my final project for my Project Management course (the professor was kind enough to give me additional time to work). So I've spent the last two weeks reading all the chapters, studying all the material and doing the assignments. I've done quite well on my final (92 of 100 pts). I have about 5 assignments that I have almost complete. They're sitting on my work (Windows) laptop. Today the system security notified me that I needed to change my password. It does this by asking me for my Outlook password (really smooth MS). When this happens I know that I need to change my password. So I go and change my password. I work busily on various projects and I put it aside to do some work from my Linux laptop (my personal machine). So I come back several hours later, the computer asks for my laptop password. I enter the old one, nada. Right, I changed it, so I enter the new password, oops that doesn't work (I usually change several passwords at the same time so my passwords are in sync for several work related systems), nada. Hmm, this is not good. Maybe I spelled it wrong, so I try it again. Nope, oh yeah they changed the way I change my password. It's blahblah and I'll have to change it once I get logged in. So I try it. Nada and I no longer have access to the machine. Now I need to contact my administrator to unlock the computer, ARGH! So now my final project and homework all sit on my work laptop, locked.

I'll be able to finish the project easily (I've already done it once) but the homework is going to be tougher. I have to find a way to fight with MS word to format picture. I've never been able to get MS Word and it's tools to draw what I want. That's the one tool that I need and no OS has really been able to replace pencil and paper. Oh, I don't have my scanner setup. That would have worked nicely. Now before any one thinks I'm mad at Microsoft, I'm not. The password problem is an information management problem. It's not just passwords, it's web site IDs, it's personal information. So how do I administer and manage all this information? For now I'm using a, dead tree notebook but I am looking for something better. If it's online it needs to be secure, easy to access and does not depend on a service that may not be available on the weekends or overnight. I'm also looking for a better way to secure access to computer networks. I'll post more ideas on that in a few days.


At 12/14/2008 5:57 PM, Anonymous Joe Pfeiffer said...

I maintain a directory as an encrypted filesystem, using encfs under fuse (this is Linux, of course). A gnumeric spreadsheet in this encrypted directory contains all my passwords.

I use the same technique for other sensitive information I keep on my personal systems (class information for the courses I'm teaching, for instance)

At 12/15/2008 9:36 AM, Blogger Neil said...

I like the encrypted filesystem idea but I worry: 'how would my wife access the information should she need it?'. Where do I put the backup, online or do I burn the information to a CD as needed? Do I still keep a lab note book type of backup? This is not a simple problem to resolve. The solution need to be simple, can I find a GUI shell script under Windows perhaps, that also works under Linux?. I think I need to work on the 'burn as needed' (burn notice? ;-) ) software. Maybe in Perl (I like Perl).

At 12/15/2008 3:12 PM, Anonymous Joe Pfeiffer said...

The only way for your wife to access the file would be to know the key on the encrypted filesystem.

Backups work very nicely: when you've got an encrypted filesystem, you've got both the actual encrypted data and (if mounted) the plaintext. If you backup the encrypted data, you've got an encrypted backup, which is arguably what you want.

I pretty much only run windows in a virtual machine in virtualbox. So when my computer gets backed up, the windows disk image is backed up with it.

My backup script itself is, incidentally, dead simple. Basically, I just have a cron job do an rsync every night on all my machines; the backup is kept on hard disk. I need to get around to posting it someplace... after I get my grades submitted...


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