Up Your Media Apple Web and Tech Blog

Parksville / Qualicum Beach's only Apple Certified Macintosh Technician (ACMT) and Apple Support Professional, Dan LaRocque, posts semi-regular tips and blogs about his day-to-day experiences with Macintosh computer technology, social media, web marketing & design and other technology related developments.

Passwords and Security for Macs and for Mail

It’s a common perception that Macintosh computers are immune to viruses and malware, but technically, that’s not quite true. Despite Apple’s more secure UNIX based operating system, any computer is susceptible to attacks from unscrupulous programmers. However, in 20 years of using Macs online on a daily professional basis, I’ve yet to hear first hand of any successful, debilitating mass attack. To this day, the only reason I have an antivirus software on my computer, is because I was asked by a client to test it. I check it every 2 weeks or so, with no reported attacks.

Email is another issue that can be problematic from a security standpoint, particularly webmail services, such as Hotmail, Yahoo and Gmail. Hotmail is probably one of the most hacked email services out there, and you’ve probably gotten emails in the past year from ‘friends’ whose accounts have been compromised, and who have unwittingly spammed their entire contacts list. Your best defense against such potentially harmful hacking is to change your password to something more secure, and change it again every few months.

When I say a more ‘secure’ password, that means that it should not be a common word, or string of numbers. According to the New York Times, the most common passwords out there are ‘12345’, followed (logically) by ‘123456’, and then, if you can believe it, ‘password’. And if you’re one of the 70% of people I meet whose password is the name of their pet, or their children, don’t worry, there’s help for you.

One trick I use when creating a new password is to substitute certain letters for numerals, ie., if the word contains an ‘O’, I’ll use zero. If it has an ‘E’, I’ll use the number three, and if there’s an ‘I’, I’ll substitute a one. Also, any letter in the word that falls on the top row of the qwerty keyboard, I will capitalize, thus making the password far harder to hack by any online robot. Visually it will look similar to the word I find easy to remember, but it’s far more secure against hackers. For instance, if one of my favourite authors is Farley Mowat, I might have a password that looks like faRl3Y. If my pet’s name is Luther, my password mght look like lUTh3r. It might.

Passwords are probably the most problematic issue for casual users. If I had a nickel for every time I asked a client for their computer, email, Skype, Apple ID or wifi password, only to be greeted with a blank stare, I’d be a wealthy man. As discussed in the last installment, the Keychain access utility on your Mac will remember your lesser passwords for you, and allow you to retrieve them if need be, but you will need to know your computer user password to access them.

You can get away with not having your Apple computer’s password for a short period of time, but any software updates or installs will require that you remember it eventually. Luckily you can change the user password by booting from your system disk, included in the box at purchase time. To do so, insert the disk, click restart and hold down the ‘C’ key until you see the grey screen and spinning gear. Once it’s up and running, there will be a list of utilities in a drop-down box. Choose ‘reset password’ and input a password that you will remember, according to some of the previous hints. If you’re running Lion or Mountain Lion, hold the Option key on startup and choose the Recovery HD icon. That will bring up a similar set of options.

When it comes to passwords, my suggestion is to use one or two straightforward passwords for inconsequential websites, like Facebook or Skype, and another one or two more secure passwords for more sensitive uses, such as email or online banking. And it wouldn’t kill you to write them down somewhere and store them somewhere not far away, because your main security threat is not the person who breaks into your home to steal your valuables, but some professional in an office in Russia, or his mom’s basement in Dakron, sniffing around for trouble.

Protect yourself with strong passwords.

Bulletproof Email Solutions for iPhone and iPad

Now that you've got an iPhone and / or iPad, your email app is sure to be one of your most important tools for staying connected with friends and family while out on the road, or on the beach.

The major cellular providers on the Island, Rogers and Telus, have some obscure and hard-to-find email setup instructions for Apple devices. Shaw, the dominant internet provider, also fails to give a coherent solution for sending and receiving emails while outside your home’s wireless network area. Even if you manage to input the correct credentials, the results are often inconsistent and generally frustrating.

In my experience, your best and simplest bet for email on your mobile device is to use a Gmail account, and filter your existing email through that account. You can continue to send mail using your regular address no matter where you are, whether at home, in a coffee shop, or lounging poolside. Gmail is secure, free, accessible anywhere, and backed by Google, one of the largest, most respected companies in the world.

Navigate to http://gmail.com and click the sign up button, then follow the simple steps to create a Google account. Your Google user name will become your Gmail address, ie., This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Adding your new Gmail address to your mobile device is dirt-simple. Just type the address into your mail settings along with your password, and the device will add the rest of the settings automatically.

Once you’ve created the address, you can navigate to the Gmail settings menu to allow you to send email from your existing Shaw, Telus, or any other address. That option appears in the ‘Accounts and Import’ panel of your Gmail settings. Add your existing address in the ‘Send Mail As’ option in the list. You’ll have to then confirm your account via an email that Google will send you.

On the same settings page, you can also choose to use Gmail to check the messages from your other account, thus allowing you to keep just one email account on your device. Because Gmail uses the IMAP protocol, this will help sync your messages across all your applicable devices, ie., if you delete an email from your phone, that message will also be deleted from your iMac, your iPhone, and your iPad.

There may come a day when local service providers catch up with the technology their customers are using, but until then, Gmail will do just nicely, thank you.

Your Startup Disk Is Almost Full - But not for long!

I've seen the same issue on 3 different MacBooks in the past week, a computer that basically ceases to function due to a completely filled hard drive. Your computer needs free space (aka headspace) to be able to 'think', room to place the data while it's busy computing. The original MacBooks shipped with hard drives as small as 60 GB and up to 120 or 160 GB, which at the time was a fairly decent size considering the proportions of the files it was using. iTunes libraries have expanded, cameras have increased their pixel resolutions and people are downloading movies at a rampant pace, leading to the problem of lack of storage.blog9-img1

Luckily there's no reason not to keep that computer on the info super-highway, and the fix is cheap and easy. There are two ways to mitigate this problem, either by upgrading the internal hard drive or by using an external drive to store your files. The former is my preferred method and a 500 GB internal drive can be yours in less than 24 hours and for a cost of around $225.00, complete with a restoration of your old data onto the new drive.

The latter is just as easy and can be as cheap as $100-$150 for a 500 GB or 1 TB drive. Make sure you format the drive using Disk Utility as Mac OS Extended, since your MacBook can communicate with the drive right out of the box, but you will likely have problems dragging larger files onto the drive if it's formatted as MS DOS FAT. Drag your movie files and other large folders directly onto the drive and erase them off your internal disk to free up headspace. If you have a substantial iTunes library you can use the external drive as the source of your music files, same goes with iPhoto and your iMovie media files. You can continue to use the external drive as your Time Machine backup (also highly recommended).

Times are tight and most people don't have the budget to buy a brand new computer every time their older machine fills up. This is quick, cheap and easy way to extend the life of your older machine.

Testimonials

  • Just a quick note to thank you again for coming by……this is working ever so much better. See you next month.
    Maggie
  • Dan retrieved the iPhoto library I had deleted from my boyfriend's computer from a Time Machine backup I didn't even know we had. Thank you Dan, you saved my bacon!

    Kerry
  • Hi Dan,What a difference!  My MacBook is working much faster now, and not getting hung up.  The newer OS and more memory really helped.Thank you.

    Yvonne

  • Hi Dan, thanks for the January newsletter. I added my vote to you for "outstanding customer service".

    Ambrose

  • Whoa .....fabulous ...wonderful ...fantastic ...beautiful......OMG ...thank you so much. I will look into the photos and see what I can do  ....touble is I don't actually know much about Marilyns life! I will make something up .....!!  wow Wonderful to what you have created...

    AJ

  • Your expeditious replacement of my hard drive is very much appreciated. I had a little trouble restoring the system, but it's now working perfectly (and it seems to be a little faster).In my excitement I forgot to ask about warranty. What do I do?Thank You again

     Trevor W Jackson

  • Hi Dan,

    It was great to meet you and thanks for your help, I love the dual screen and upgrades. I seem to have forgotten how to access the iphoto shots from the original iphoto and can only find the few new ones, can you re direct me.

    Melanie

  • Hi Dan,

    I picked up quite a few useful things in class even without a laptop, and enjoyed the course. Do please let me know if you decide to offer an intermediate level follow up. Thanks,

    Paula

  • Just got home. plugged the router and computer in and its working!!!  Go figuure. You must have done something right.

    Thanks,

    Al Z

  • Hi Dan:

    Thank you so much for helping out with my urgent problem the other day, so promptly – and from the arena! I really did appreciate it (and was so impressed!).

    Ann