2 Mac Tips for Moving Your Dock & Guarding Your Secrets

| Computing with Bifocals

In this column I will try and answer questions from two readers who took the time to seek advice. One asks about the Dock and the other about passwords.

Dock Tip

First letter - In my universe the Dock goes on the bottom of my screen.  I’m sorry, but that is just the way it is.  When it is moved somewhere else my eyes twitch, my hands sweat, and monsters appear under the bed.  IT IS NOT PRETTY.  Well, OK, maybe it is not really that bad, but you once wrote about a secret for moving the Dock around easily and quickly without constantly having to reset the Dock in the preferences. It was in your column. Can you give it again.

There is a fast and easy way to temporarily move your Dock out of the way, and since I share your need to have the Dock safely grounded on the bottom of my screen, I know how to do it.  In fact, I know how to do it in older versions of the OS and in the current versions as well, which tells you how much I do this little trick.

In older versions - Place the cursor over the vertical line on the right side of the dock and hold down the mouse button and the shift key.  Start dragging the cursor to the right or left side of your screen and the dock will pop to that side of the screen out of the way.  When you are ready to move it back to the bottom, repeat the process and the Dock will pop back to its home base on the bottom of the window.

In Mountain Lion, and as I recall, in Lion, place your cursor on that same line, hold down the right mouse button and a contextual menu opens. One of the options is “Position on Screen”.  Click on it and make your choice. Do it again to move it back in place.

 

In Mountain Lion - click on line and select Position on Screen from menu

Computer Password Tips

Second letter - My sister doesn’t have any password on her computer. She says she is afraid she will forget it and it is too much bother. My brother has a password that is 15 characters long and says you absolutely have to have a password or anyone can get into your computer.  I have had my Mac for four months and created a simple password when I first set it up. What is the correct answer?

Does your computer never leave your house which is guarded by an alarm system and your beloved pet, Fang? Or does it travel everywhere you go in a back pack, or somewhere in between the two? The answer is different for everyone. I don’t know anyone who uses a computer regularly (your sister notwithstanding) who doesn’t agree that you should have some type of password on your computer.

Security experts say your password should be a combination of 12 letters, numbers, and symbols and you should sign out every time you walk away from your machine. They also warn that you should not use words or combinations of words found in dictionaries in any language because there are applications out there capable of checking for such passwords at a rate of thousands per second.

Personally, my password is not 12 characters long and I most certainly do not sign out every time I walk away from it because my life style does not require that much security. Common sense must prevail. Evaluate your own needs concerning the level of security you need.

You can get feedback on the security level of your password using Password Assistant. (see next tip)

Password Assistant

You should periodically change your administrative password. Most businesses routinely require their employees to change passwords on a set time frame for a reason. You should do the same with your home machine(s). OS X can help you determine the security level of your password and even suggest secure passwords.

Make sure your are signed on in your administrator account. For most people, this will simply be their normal account, but there are folks who create special non-administrative accounts for themselves, so I mention it.

In any event, choose Apple > System Preferences > Users and Groups > the Password tab.

Click the “Change Password” button.
 Enter your current password in the “Old Password” field.
Enter a different password in the “New Password” field.
 Click on the key icon to the right of the new password field.

A new window will open that will give you a security rating for your new password. Red is insecure . Yellow is moderately secure. Green is secure. The new window will also offer suggestions for more secure passwords. You can ask for passwords that are easy to remember, letters and numbers, all numbers, random, or FIPS-181 compliant (compliant with HIPAA regulations).

Help with passwords

Caution about passwords

If you have information on your computer that affects others (such as family financial records) you need to make sure at least one other person knows the administrative password to your computer. If you become incapacitated or die unexpectedly, a caretaker or surviving family member will need to get into those records.

I hope these responses are helpful and thank the readers for asking the questions.

Comments

geoduck

Nice column. The one question that I get often is how to come up with a password. 123456789 is easy to remember and to guess. zGt%k@aBe&lk;@^45 is hard to guess but also hard to remember. The best idea I’ve heard of recently is to use a series of words with no spaces. MyCatFlies7Kites! or TodayIs4Potatos&Clams; are both easy to remember and quite hard to crack. Length and complexity equal security and you get both with a nonsense sentence. MizpellingzAlsoRG@@d

Nancy Gravley

That is a great suggestion geoduck. Particularly good when you want to sign-in to something from an iPad and don’t have Keychain handy to remind you of a password.

Kiwi Graham

It is maybe also worth noting that of itself a password on your account does not protect all the data stored on your hard drive. Effectively it only protects your keychain of other passwords.

If one requires the data to be secure then FileVault, or similar full disk encryption, should be turned on.

Graham

Rick Hyman

Nancy, it’s a coincidence that just last night at the SIG meeting for MacinTech (south Denver), I gave a talk on secure passwords. It is unfortunate that the Mac system password is easy to reset, assuming someone has physical control of your machine.

As for online accounts, some rules are important. *Never* use the same password for any two accounts or even similar passwords. This appears to be what David Petraeus’ biographer did.

As for good passwords, a general measure of randomness or entropy can be measured. Maximum entropy per letter for truly random letters and numbers ranges from 5.95 to 6.24. So, a 12 character password has entropy up to 75. This is pretty good.

Geoduck, your “zGt%k@…”” example has too many punctuation characters to be truly random, but its total entropy is about 80 to 90. Unfortunately, the longer phrase you suggest, while made of random words are dictionary words; some experts believe the per character entropy to be 3 or less, so your phrase has an entropy of about 60. The use of passphrases is becoming more popular, so software that can crack phrases is now more common. In 2004 an interesting article on this subject was written about MS PC system passwords: <http://technet.microsoft.com/library/cc512609>

As for the misspellings and leeting, spelling backwards and other patterns software used by crime groups around the world know these techniques, and they are really no better than dictionary words.

James Leo Ryan

As for temporarily moving the dock, one can also hold down the Control key while positioning the cursor over the center line in the dock and then clicking..

Log-in to comment