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Archive for May, 2014

It makes my Heart Bleed!

The Heartbleed bug exploit and a series of high profile hacking attacks over the last year or so, have highlighted the fact that the more we make use of internet based storage for our personal information, the greater the risk we take.

Heartbleed

Hackers are now making use of highly sophisticated techniques to bypass, steal or guess our passwords. Even without stealing passwords through exploits like Heartbleed, hackers can use powerful computers to launch brute force password attacks, which can break even strong passwords, in a relatively short space of time. These attacks throw millions of password combinations per second at the intended target, until they eventually guess the right one.

The fact is that we are now entering an age when passwords alone are not going to be sufficient to protect the increasing volumes of personal data we have stored in the cloud.

But what if we could make use of a device most of us carry with us everywhere to act as a secondary key? A key that could prevent someone from logging into your account with a stolen password, unless they also had physical access to this key? 

I refer to the humble mobile phone. 

Most of the main internet service providers – Google, Facebook, Dropbox, PayPal etc. all provide a little publicised, secondary key option, known as two-factor authentication. Using two-factor, a code number is sent by the service provider to a registered mobile phone number, or generated by an app, whenever a new device logs into a protected account. This way, even if a hacker had access to your password, they could not log into your account, without also being able to enter the code number displayed on your mobile phone.

There is some inconvenience trade off against security, of course. You won’t be able to access your account from a new device, unless you have your phone with you. If you lose your phone, you’ll only be able to access your account from a previously authorised device, before you can update the two-factor settings. However, for the extra security offered, I think the pros far outweigh the cons.

Although no system will ever be 100% secure, it’s a fact of life that we are all going to have to take additional precautions with our data security, if we are to avoid falling victim to the darker side of the internet.

See below for linked instructions to enable two-factor authentication on a number of popular cloud based services.

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YNAB – You haven’t budgeted like this!

A budget is an essential tool in helping keep track of finances in our busy lives. But what if you don’t have the time or patience, to record manually, all your income and outgoing on paper, or the skill, to create a computer spreadsheet? Enter YNAB, or You Need A Budget!
ynab4_budget2

YNAB is one of the most user-friendly money management programs we’ve seen and promotes its own financial planning philosophy to help manage your budget. The objective is to rearrange your finances so, eventually, you can live off your previous month’s salary, rather than living pay check to pay check and struggling to pay the bills at the end of every month.

YNAB’s Method introduces us to four basic principles, explained in detail on their website:
1. Give every dollar a job – balance your budget to zero every month, budget for savings as well.
2. Save for a rainy day – always put a little into the budget every month to save for unexpected bills.
3. Roll with the punches – don’t worry, adjust your budget to cover any overspends that happen.
4. Live on last month’s income – save a little every month into a buffer and then relax! You can pay your bills this month because the money is already there!

The YNAB software provides all the tools needed to follow the four rules, but importantly, it only looks forward. You don’t have to enter months or years of previous transactions, as most other financial software will want you to do, in order to give some insight into your future spending. YNAB is only interested in what you spend NOW and balancing that with what you earn NOW.

You should still enter all your new spending into YNAB, of course, either from your PC, the mobile app on your Apple or Android phone, or from financial data downloaded from your bank. Importantly however, the software deliberately avoids the tools that allow automatic downloading and synchronisation of bank data. You still need to verify every transaction, so you remain aware of your spending. It’s far too easy to lose control over your money these days, when we swipe or click to spend. YNAB reminds us of the importance of the counting that used to be done before a financial transaction took place.

The best thing about using YNAB, however, is the company does not just sell you their software and forget about you. Rather than calling themselves a software company, they prefer to be known as an education company that also sells software. To back this up, YNAB provides free daily webinars, teaching users how to get the most from the software. Best of all, at the end of every class, one of the participants receives a free copy of the software.

YNAB has also recently announced that their software is now free for all College Students, on proof of registration, for each calendar year of registration.

For the rest of us, YNAB is offered free for a 34-day trial (enough to cover a full monthly budget cycle) and then sells for $60 (P2,700), if you are convinced. A single license covers as many computers as you want, PC and Mac, so the whole family can manage their budgets and synchronise data via Dropbox.

YNAB claims it will save the average user much more than the purchase price, in the first month alone! I’m not sure if I have achieved that level myself, but using YNAB for a month, it’s already highlighted a problem my bank balance was headed for in May. I’ve now been able to reorganise a few payment dates and saved myself some hefty bank charges!

If you think YNAB might be the answer to your budgeting problems, I would strongly recommend giving it a try. To get you started, use this link, with compliments and qualify for a 10% discount.
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