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October 24, 2017

A Paper That Changed Our World

Filed under: Columns — Tags: , , , , , , , — Ron @ 5:08 am

You know everyone makes mistakes; however, not many make as far reaching a mistake as Bill Burr.  Mr. Burr is the person responsible for the current password guidelines he dispersed and he now says the instruction was wrong.

He authored an eight-page document which was OK’d by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.  He also mentioned that, “…the paper wasn’t based on any real-world password data, but rather a paper written in the 1980s.”   Unfortunately, the document he wrote went on to become the Holy Grail of industries around the world.  It made it so that all businesses, governments, etc.  updated their password policies to coincide with this new information.

Password graphicYou know the spiel if you are in the workforce today.   You should have capital letters, lowercase letters, numbers, symbols, nothing related to your date of birth, children’s names, pets’ names and maybe a few more.  And the one that made me the craziest, you must change your password every 90 days and cannot repeat one within a certain time period.

In a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal Burr was quoted as saying, “Much of what I did I now regret.”   It went on to say that none of these actually make your passwords that secure.  Especially the, “change it every 90 days” rule.  It was determined in a 2010 study at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill that updating passwords regularly can actually help hackers identify a pattern.  (You know you do it, changing just the last letter, number or symbol of a password you have used for years.)  I read another article stating that if you have never been hacked or noticed any strange happenings regarding your password you should never change one.

Guess what the new rules state?   A better solution is to create a password with four random words.  If you are allowed to do so you should include spaces.  This combo is supposedly harder to crack than the old revered password stylings.  You can even capitalize or use punctuation if you wish.  However, the length of the password is what discourages the hackers not the combination of letters, numbers and/or symbols.  The old rule of thumb about being at least eight characters long seems to be weak too.

So, my new passwords may be something like, “IscoffeeanElephantoraTomato?” or “Is coffee an Elephant or a Tomato?

I do have a couple of thoughts/concerns regarding the past guidelines…which we have found out could be bogus.  “They” always said not to use any word in the dictionary as this was how hackers started with their hacks. However, now it appears that commonly known words are OK.  Huh?  Who said that they should not be used the first time and where was their research documentation?   Is that one true or false?

All I know is that I hope where I work will quickly change the 90-day period between changes – life would be so much easier.

Change my passwords how often?!!!

April 19, 2011

Excel Formula Auditing, Part 2

Last week we covered the first three items in Excel’s “Formula Auditing” tools: Tracing Precedents, Dependents, Remove Arrows and Show Formulas in Excel’s “Formula Auditing” tools. Today we will wrap up the last three features.

I am sure you have never seen an “Error” popup box in Excel. That’s not true, unless you are an Excel Pro and have never made a mistake. I picked one that is easy to reconstruct for this column.

“Error” popup box in ExcelI created a formula that divides a number by zero. I know you all know why you can’t do that. Okay, you were taught, but you don’t remember why not either. In Excel if you do that you will get, “#DIV/0!” which (if you speak Excel you know) means you cannot divide any number by zero (0). If you’re not sure what that means you can click the “Error Checking” button. This button is found under the Formula Tab and then in the Formula Auditing command group.

Once clicked, you get several options; “Help on this error,” “Show Calculation Steps,” “Ignore Error,” “Edit in Formula Bar” and others you can check out. This should help you figure out the error made and give you some guidance as to how to best correct it. The “Help…” link is usually the best to aid me.

Click the yellow diamond with an exclamation markAlso, keep in mind you can get this same help directly from the cell containing the error warning. You will get a little green triangle in the upper left corner of the offending cell. When you click on that cell you will see a yellow diamond with an exclamation mark in it. When you click on the exclamation mark you will get the same list of options you saw in the previous area and you may click on the one you choose.

Next is the “Evaluate Formula” button, which I am not that fond of; however, it may really pay off for you. It will basically walk you through a complicated formula step by step. This gives you the ability to evaluate how each part of the formula works and even if it does work the way you designed it to.

Finally, one of the neatest Excel tricks for auditing formulas: the “Watch Window” command. If you haven’t tried it before give it a shot now.

Let’s say that you are working on Sheet 3 in your workbook and want to view changes occurring in cell A10 on Sheet 1. This is hard to do until you use the “Watch Window” feature.

Watch WindowNavigate to the Watch Window button and click it. Now go to the sheet and cell you want to view and click on it. Click the “Add Watch” button at the top of the window and you will always see the Book and Sheet name along with the Cell Name, (if you have named it) the cell address, value and formula, no matter where you go with Excel. You will see any change reflected in the watch window where you can immediately deal with it or be advised what is happening.

Let me know if you appreciate these looks at Excel and if you would like to learn more, or if you would like to explore other Office products.

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