To Make Hard-to-Crack Passwords, You Write the Rules

By now you’ve heard from countless experts that the best way to protect yourself online is to have hard-to-crack passwords for all your logins. “Don’t use any words that occur in the dictionary,” they say, “and don’t use easy-to-find information like your pet’s name or the street you live on.  And while you’re at it, forget about memorable number comPasswordsbinations like your address, your date of birth, or ‘123.’” Great advice, but if you’re also told never to write anything down, how on earth are you supposed to remember a string of numbers, letters, and characters you’ve intentionally made as random as possible?

The trick is to invent a simple set of rules that’s easy to remember and replicable across all sites.

Here are some examples. You wouldn’t want to use these specific scenarios, of course.

  • First letter of each word in a common phrase + four-digit number + ampersand.  To change the password – something you should do every six months or so anyhow – just change the common phrase, or start using the second letter of each word.
  • Site name + your first name backwards + four-digit number + same four-digit number with the shift key held down. To change the password, come up with a new four-digit number or start using your last name backwards.
  • Take two words and run them together with a numeral at the beginning and a symbol at the end. So, “Gandalf” + “sesame” would yield 2Gsaensdalmfe#.

The trend these days is toward “pass phrases,” often composed of song lyrics or idiomatic sayings, rather than passwords.  Why? Because password crackers can generate millions of guesses in a second. The more characters you have for them to work through, the longer it will take them and the greater the likelihood that they’ll move on to an easier target. In other words, length beats complexity.

Tax Season Is Upon Us! Look Out For These Scams.

It’s tax-filing season, and as surely as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, scammers will be crawling out of the woodwork trying to take advantage of this opportunity to steal sensitive business data. Here’s how to make sure your small business doesn’t have identity thieves and con artists to contend with on top of the usual taxes and paperwork…Tax Season Scams

  1. Educate employees to be on the lookout for phishers, phone scammers, and email cons. People who would never open a suspicious-looking email in their personal inbox might not hesitate to turn over your Federal Tax Identification Number and names of key executives to someone posing as a representative of the IRS. The next thing you know, somebody has stolen the identity of your business and is taking out credit cards in your company’s name.
  2. Pay your taxes electronically. If you drop a check in the mail, all an identity thief needs to do in order to access your bank account number, routing number, Taxpayer ID, and other information is snag the right envelope. In contrast, the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS) is a free, secure government website that uses the highest level of security available. Every user must have a secure Internet browser with 128-bit encryption in order to access the site. To log on to the system, an enrolled user must be authenticated with three pieces of unique information known only to the user: Taxpayer Identification Number (EIN or SSN), EFTPS Personal Identification Number (PIN) and an Internet Password. That’s pretty secure.
  3. Pay your taxes, period. If somebody tries to sell you a package or kit that promises to help you avoid taxes by deducting personal expenses as business expenses related to a home-based business, don’t buy it. If somebody says the 16th Amendment was never properly ratified and personal income taxes are unconstitutional, ignore them. If you own a small business, you’re responsible for determining your personal and your business tax liability – and paying accordingly.

You can reduce the likelihood that you’ll have to deal with tax-related digital cons by using up-to-date spyware detection, antivirus, and antispam software. These should help to keep all those phony emails from making it into your inbox and prevent hackers from accessing sensitive business data. Go to  to find out what security services CMIT Solutions offers.


Got other tips or suggestions on how to avoid Tax Season scams?  Leave us a comment so we can share the knowledge!

Don’t Trust Luck to Keep Your Computers Safe

This St. Patrick’s Day, while you’re busy celebrating “the luck of the Irish”, remember – luck is a beautiful thing, but it’s no substitute for common sense and precaution when it comes to your computers.St. Patrick's Day icon

In the world of IT, luck is not a strategy!  And yet, how many of us still don’t listen to advice like this:

  1. Don’t use obvious or easy-to-crack passwords.
  2. Use a different password for every site or application that requires one, and change your passwords often.
  3. Back up, back up, back up. Back up to at least two different media or locations, with at least one of them off site. And if you can’t remember to run a backup, sign up for a service that will run them automatically. Make sure you know how long it would take for your backup provider to restore all your data if your office was completely wiped out. Some backup services can take days or even weeks to ship a full set of disks; others may take less than 48 hours.
  4. Update your antivirus software often and run a full system scan. Again, if you can’t remember to do it yourself, sign up for a service that will do it for you.
  5. Write down all your software product keys, license numbers, passwords, configuration notes, and encryption codes and keep them in a locked safe — preferably both on premises and off.
  6. Write down a detailed plan for restoring data in the event of a loss — that means figuring out the sequence in which applications, servers, and databases need to be brought back online in order for data to properly repopulate.

If this sounds like a lot of work — well, it is! But putting in the time now can prevent you from some major hassles later. Or call CMIT Solutions, and we can help you get started on the path to complete disaster preparedness. We often recommend taking a serious look at CMIT Guardian, a backup and disaster recovery solution specifically tailored to the needs of small business. It’s affordable, reliable, and stores all your valuable business data securely on and off-site.

Don’t Forget! On Thursday, March 25 at noon Central Daylight Time, CMIT Solutions is hosting a free informational Webinar on Google Tools. Learn about the ways you can harness the power of Google to promote your small business – without spending a dime.  Click here to register.

Use Google Alerts to Find Out What People Are Saying About You on the Web

There’s an easy way to find out anytime somebody writes about you or your business on the Web. Just set up a Google Alert and you’ll be emailed whenever your name turns up. And while you’re at it, you should set up a Google Alert for keywords such as your competitors’ names, trends you’re interested in, and your Web address. Adding all these things together, you can get a full digest of what’s going on in your world without having to visit separate Websites and wade through a lot of extraneous content.

Here’s how to set up a Google Alert:

1. Go to http://google.com/alerts

2. Fill in the relevant information. In the example below, we’ve set up an alert for CMIT Solutions, so we’ll know when our company name is mentioned online.

Google Alerts image

3. Selecting Comprehensive will let you monitor News, Blogs, Web, Groups, and Video. You can decide how often you want to be notified, and the maximum number of results you want in each notification.

Instead of getting Alerts delivered to email, you can have them go straight into Google Reader if that’s your preferred RSS feed.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Sign in to your Google account.

2. At the top of the left hand of the page, go to the more drop-down menu and then select even more.

3. You’ll see a long list of Google Products with Alerts at the top. Select Alerts, and you’ll see that same “Create a Google Alert” form. You’ll be able to select whether you want the alert delivered to your email inbox or Google Reader.

Want to learn more about other handy free tools from Google? Join us for a free informational Webinar on Thursday, March 25 from noon-1pm Central Standard Time. We’ll cover all the ways you can harness the power of Google to promote your small business – without spending a dime. Click here to register.

Use the Power of Google to Raise Your Local Profile

You know the old saying, “All politics is local”? Well, now it’s not just politics. All business is local – and if you’re not using Google to reach out to prospects in your immediate local area, you’re missing out on a huge (and free) opportunity to expand your customer base.

Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen a few convergent trends emerge. First, people are more interested in what’s going on in their specific city, town, or neighborhood. So-called “hyperlocal” blogs are proliferating even as national media struggle. Second, more folks are using their mobile phones to connect to the Internet and find local businesses and service providers.  As a small business owner, you’ve got to make yourself visible to anybody searching in your area – whether they’re on a fully equipped desktop computer with a 20-inch flat screen display or whether they’re peering at a 2.4-inch BlackBerry screen.

If you take five minutes to set up a Place Page through Google Local Business Center, you can raise the visibility of your company to anybody searching for relevant businesses in your area. You can even create coupons that can either be printed on paper or displayed on mobile phones.

1. Go to http://google.com/lbc.

2. Either create a Google account or use your existing sign-in.

3. You’ll be taken to the Dashboard. Under Locations, click Add new listing.

4. You’ll be taken to a page where you fill out preliminary information such as address, email, website address, and description. As you fill out the information, you’ll see your listing appear in the map to the right.  Here’s an example for the fictitious business “Ray’s Pies” in Cambridge, Massachusetts.Google Local Business Center example

5. When you’re finished filling out that information, click Next. You’ll then be taken to a page that asks for more detailed info, such as hours and payment methods. You can even post a picture of your products or storefront. When you’re finished, click Submit.

6. And it’s that easy! Google will contact you to verify your information, and then your full profile will be publicly available on what’s called a “Place Page.” A Place Page includes not only all the information you just supplied, but also ratings for your business, reviews, related maps, nearby transit options, and the Street View preview of your location. You can get to your Place Page by searching on your business in Google and then clicking on “more info” in your Google Maps search results or “more info” in the info bubble on the map.

To learn more about Google Local Business Center, including how to create custom coupons, join us on our free live Webinar covering Google tools, to be held on Thursday, March 25 at noon Central Standard Time.  Click here to register.