Get ready to put your best foot forward with these geek tips for starting the new year right.

As 2014 draws to a close, we begin look ahead for what lies in store for the next year.  While most New Year’s resolutions seldom see February 1st, these tech tips can be implemented so fast you won’t have time to lose your initiative.

Change your passwords

The past several months have certainly shown the havoc that can be wrought by unscrupulous jerks with access to other people’s data.  Taking the time to reset your passwords is a great start, but you should also be thinking how you’re going to manage your security credentials for the new year.  Here are some things to consider.

  • Don’t use passwords, use passphrases.  Everybody has a movie line, song lyric, or poem verse kicking around their head.  While the math involved shows that even a passphrase is not unbreakable, using a passphrase makes dictionary attacks against your accounts significantly more difficult.  The key is to make it something you will easily remember and where possible to use substitutions such as the number “4” for the word “for”, or “2” for the word “to”.
  • Don’t use the same passphrase for every account.  If your passphrase is cracked in one place, you don’t want the hacker getting access to all of your accounts.  Use different phrases with different levels of complexity based the impact of the account being hacked and the likelihood that you will use the passphrase in an “unsafe” environment such as a public network or in public where people can see what you typed.  You could use a scheme like this to layout a “perimeter” defense with each layer being more secure and therefore requiring more protection.
    • Social sites – impact is generally limited to embarrassment and having some explaining to do to your friends or coworkers.
    • System access – impact here is based on the system but for network passwords or enterprise systems, large scale damage can be done and it will all eventually track back to you.
    • Financial services – whether its shopping on, paying your utility bills, or accessing your bank accounts this is a key layer with significant impact if penetrated.  This is a great place multi-factor authentication such as SMS verification or Microsoft’s “Microsoft Account” mobile app.
  • LastpassUse security services like LastPass or Norton Identity Safe to manage your online security.  While using a security service such as these may feel like putting all of your eggs into one basket, the benefits can be quite appealing if you have many passwords to manage.  These services are primarily enabled via browser and OS plug-ins such that whenever you are prompted for a password it will prefill the fields if you’ve stored your credentials and if not, it will ask you to save them once you have entered them.  Other features include the ability to generate random passwords of varying length and complexity, to suggest proper security policies like not using the same passwords for all accounts, and even the ability to share your access with a friend or family member without sharing the actual password.  Do take caution if you set the “Automatic” login features as this basically negates the security if the user gets physical access to your computer.

Check your privacy

Another aspect of security that you may want to reconsider is your privacy settings on your social networks.  The simple fact is that we tend to publish much more about our lives out to the Internet at large than we probably intend.  While recent attempts have been made to limit the scope and longevity of that data, the adage is that once it’s on the Internet its there forever.  Here are some links to help you get started deciding for yourself where you want your status updates and tweets going.

Re-evaluate your cloud providers

You may not realize it but there’s a war going on in the cloud.  As a result, the big cloud vendors are cutting prices on a nearly quarterly basis to try to gain or keep a competitive edge over their rivals.  Microsoft for example reduced prizes for compute by 35% in March based on pricing set by Amazon and Google followed after that.  In addition to better pricing you’re also getting quite a bit of new services available on all of the platforms including RemoteApp application virtualization and Amazon RDS for Aurora.  As infrastructure and platforms become a commodity, all developers and eventually customers will be able to take advantage.  So look again, you may be able to get that same virtual machine at a better price from another vendor.

Update your tools

vs2013updatesWhile 2015 promises a new and improved version of Visual Studio, there are quite a few more updates out there waiting to be had.  With open source creators, JavaScript frameworks, and now even the core .NET framework classes getting regular fast updates, its likely that by the time you finish a small-to-medium project the tools you used to create it have already been updated.  As most of the minor updates don’t usually involve breaking changes you’re going to want to stay as current as possible if you don’t want to miss out on some new feature or optimization.

Update your skills

Just as your tools need resharpening, so do you skills if you want to keep up with the never ending flow of new technology.  The holidays are a great time to jump start learning new programming languages, new models for development, or just how to be a better programmer.  If you’re looking to add to your intellectual tool belt, there’s no better place to do that than at WintellectNOW.  Of course, we are a bit biased.  Other resources include a subscription to SafariOnline for technical publications, or perhaps attend a conference such as Microsoft Build, Apple WDC, Amazon AWS re:Invent, or Google I/O.