I have not been at the ‘sharp end’ of the computing world for several years. In fact for the most part I now find the industry one that is running in ever decreasing circles as the whiz kids keep reinventing the wheel. The endless oscillation between centralization and decentralization makes me seasick. The latest name for centralization is ‘The Cloud’, but in reality it is merely yet another iteration in the game, the names change, but the concepts stay the same. Another area that makes me roll my eyes is the whole world of HTML. I first encountered it in the early 1970’s, oh it was not called HTML, but it was essentially the same thing. It was a word processor that ran on large IBM mainframes, and used tags like <h1>, <h2>, etc!

The one area that I did think had improved over the years was that of security. As our reliance on our personal computers increases, so does the tendency to store sensitive information on them. Passwords, we are told, should be treated with care. We should use a combination of upper and lower case letters, and throw in a few numbers for good measure. We should also use different passwords for different web sites, email addresses, and everything else. This is good, but impractical advice to the majority of users. The most common gripe I hear is how do I remember them all?

I know many people that keep this information in a document file on their computer. Banks, Utility Companies, Social Networking sites, eBay, retail, etc etc.

The rational behind this decision is that ‘my home computer is safe’, Microsoft has told me that my password will protect me.

I too had assumed that Microsoft had moved forward from the security disaster known as Windows 98. This delightful piece of junk offered a login screen where you could input the Username and password. In the event that you did not know this information you could just hit ‘cancel’ and you had full access to the computer anyway!

Microsoft countered with the release of XP, this we were told combined the usability and friendliness of Win/98 with the robust security of the NT and Win 2000 business systems. This too was a bit of a security disaster. Using a Linux bootdisk and not very much effort you could access the user data. I never had the need to try it, but it seemed pretty trivial.

The next major Microsoft upgrade was the wonderful world of Vista. Once again the subject of security was touted. This was a system that was bullet proof.

I had no idea if these claims were true, and no inclination to explore. I had ditched Windows for more fertile ground. I found that Linux offered a more stable environment. One that did not seem to involve constant reloads and reboots.

Several months ago a cousin of my wife asked me if I would take a look at her computer. She was suffering not from the Blue Screen Of Death, but the Black Screen Of Death. Turn it on, and nothing happens!

A quick look revealed that the most likely culprit was the motherboard, of course the computer in question was one of those delightfully proprietary brands. My advice for years has been, if you want to by a washing machine buy a Maytag, if you want to buy a computer, walk down the row of available computers, if you recognize the brand name, keep walking!

“Just hang on to it till I have some money for parts”.

I found some generic parts, and with a little modification got everything back in the case. New motherboard, processor that was twice the speed, and faster ram, total cost was less than 50% of just buying the proprietary motherboard.

Life is good! I power it up, and low and behold, Windows Vista boots up. Great news. I am presented with a login screen. A quick call to the owner reveals that ‘Houston we have had a problem’, she has no idea what the password might be.

It would have been easy to just reload Vista, but then all of her settings and likely, data and pictures would have been lost.

Early this morning I decided to have another kick at the problem. It took me less than five minutes to locate a piece of bootable software to remove the forgotten password. It was not gleaned from some ‘black hat’ hacker site. It was freely available for the mainstream. It claims to work on all versions of Windows, including Windows 7. Within 5 minutes of burning the CD I was into the system.

The moral to this story…. Windows security is about as good as using Saran Wrap as a method of birth control!

Simon Barrett

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