Make Your Password Manager More Secure by Changing the Number of Password Iterations

If you store all of your passwords in a password manager, you might be worried about someone trying to hack it by brute-forcing their way in.

The best way to avoid this is by using a strong, random password, which will be impossible for a hacker to brute force. However, with the constant advances in computing power and hacking techniques, the bar for how strong your password should be is constantly increasing.

Luckily, there is a way to significantly improve the security of your password manager, without increasing the complexity of your password, and without much effort on your part.

All you have to do is change a single setting in your password manager: the number of password iterations (also known as key transformations). Basically, when you input the master password into your password manager in order to access your database, the software transforms this password multiple times before checking its validity (a process known as key stretching).

The more times the password is transformed, the longer it takes to check whether a certain password is correct, and the longer it will take someone to brute force their way into your database.

KeePass, for example, currently specifies a default value of 6,000 transformations. However, on most modern computers you could easily change that number to several million transformations, without experiencing a noticeable increase in the time it takes the software to load your database when you input the correct password.

This means that if you increase the number of transformation to 6,000,000, a hacker will now take 1,000 times as long to crack your password, while the program will still load almost instantaneously when you input the correct password.

In fact, KeePass lets you set the number of transformation so that it takes the computer approximately 1 second to check the password. On modern computers, these values can often far exceed the 6 million transformations.

 

The KeePass database setting for changing the number of iterations/transformation the master password goes though.

 

Keep in mind that the loading time will vary for different devices; this will be especially noticeable if you access the password manager on mobile, so make sure you’re not setting the value too high for that.

Likewise, the optimal value might be different if you use an online service, such as LastPass, which currently recommends not exceeding 10,000 password iterations for client-side encryption (compared to the default 5,000), though they do allow users to go as high as 200,000.

The setting itself is generally easy to find on all platforms. In KeePass, for example, you will go to File > Database Settings > Security. In LastPass you go to Account Settings > General > Show Advanced Settings > Password Iterations.

 

LastPass setting for controlling the number of password iterations.

 

One more thing worth noting: while this post focused on password managers, this advice is also applicable to other types of encryption software. VeraCrypt, for example, allows you to set the number of iterations used for encrypting volumes, using their Personal Iterations Multiplier.

 

Summary and Conclusions

  • The master password to your password manager undergoes multiple transformations/iterations before being verified; this number scales linearly with the time required to check whether a certain password is correct.
  • By increasing the number of transformations, you can easily improve the security of your password database, without increasing the complexity of the password.
  • This will lead to a negligible increase in software loading time for you, but will significantly increase the time it takes to brute force the password.
  • When setting the number of transformations, make sure to account for any differences in the processing power of the devices you will use to log in, especially if you use mobile.
  • Instructions on how to do this are generally easy to find. If unsure, search for ‘software name + key transformations’ or ‘software name + password iterations.

 


Why You Should Stop Sleeping with Your Phone Next to You (and What to Do if You Decide to Keep It)

Literally a picture of a phone laying on a bed.

 

Most of us go to sleep with our phone within reach. This can be a problem, because keeping your phone next to you in bed often leads to a variety of sleep, health, and productivity issues.

In the following article, you will learn why you are better off putting your phone out of reach when you sleep, and what you can do to reduce its negative effects if you decide to leave it near you anyway.

 

Why sleeping with your phone next to you is problematic

There are a few main reasons why keeping your phone within reach when you’re in bed is bad for you:

  • You’re more likely to browse your phone, which makes it harder for you to fall asleep, and reduces your sleep quality. The negative impact of electronic-media usage before bedtime is well-documented, and occurs due to a multitude of reasons. Because of this, avoiding using your phone and other electronic devices before you go to sleep is considered to be an important aspect of sleep hygiene, which improves your sleep quality.
  • It increases the temptation to use the phone if you wake up throughout the night. Normally, if you wake up in the middle of the night you would want to just go back to sleep. However, if you have your phone nearby, you now have the temptation to check messages or perform some other unnecessary activity on your phone, which is obviously not good for your sleep.
  • It makes it more likely that your phone will be the first thing you see in the morning. This isn’t inherently a bad thing, but you should consider whether this is what you want for yourself. Basically, think about how starting your day by immediately checking your phone is affecting the way you feel, in terms of factors such as anxiety and productivity.

Because of these issues, it’s better if you keep your phone out of reach when you go to bed. The further it is, the less temptation you will have to look at it before or during your sleep. You can also take into consideration how its placement will affect your overall morning routine, and put it somewhere where it won’t be one of the first things you look at in the morning.

 

What to do if you decide to keep your phone next to you

First, if the main reason why you need your phone next to you is so that you can use the alarm to wake up, you should consider getting a separate alarm clock instead.

Even if that’s not a viable solution, many people will still decide to keep their phone next to them, despite the issues that doing this presents. If you choose to keep it, there are some things you can do which will help you avoid some of these issues:

  • Use an app to filter out blue light from the phone screen. While exposure to light before bedtime is bad in general, exposure to blue light leads to the most issues in terms of sleep quality. By filtering it out, you solve a big part of the problem, without much effort on your part.
  • Turn off the sound on your phone. This prevents late-night messages from interrupting your sleep or waking you up. In addition, you should also turn off any vibrations, which will have a similar effect. Note that if you’re using your phone as an alarm, there will usually be a setting which allows you to disable general sounds on your phone, while leaving the alarm sound enabled.
  • Turn on airplane mode and turn off the WiFi. This can also help reduce the amount of sound coming from your device (with the potential exception of some notifications). More importantly, this removes the temptation to check messages or to look at things online.
  • Use an app that blocks other apps during set hours. This is especially helpful if you have a specific site or app that you know is problematic for you (e.g. something that you browse for hours in bed instead of going to sleep).

 

Summary and conclusions

  • Keeping your phone next to you in bed can lead to problems falling asleep and reduce sleep quality.
  • Keeping your phone next to you can also cause anxiety and productivity issues if it’s the first thing that you look at in the morning.
  • If your main reason for keeping your phone within reach while you sleep is using it as an alarm, consider getting a separate alarm clock instead.
  • If you decide to keep your phone next to you, there are some things you can do to reduce its negative effects, such as using apps that filter out blue light, or turning on flight mode.

 


Fold Paper Towels to Save Time, Money, and the Environment

Picture of the trees you're supposed to save.

 

Folding paper towels makes them more effective at absorbing liquids, which can help you save a bit of time and money, while also reducing your ecological footprint. This obviously has only a small impact overall, but considering the fact that it’s simple to understand and implement, it’s definitely a useful thing to know.

If you’re curious as to why folding your paper towels is beneficial, read on.

 

Why folding your paper towels is beneficial

Folding your paper towel makes it a more effective cleaning tool for two primary reasons:

  • Increased absorption rate- a folded paper towel absorbs liquid faster than an unfolded towel. This occurs due to laminar flow channels between the between the folded parts, which reduce the viscous flow resistance. All this increases the rate at which the towel is able to absorb water through capillary action.
  • Greater absorption capacity- a folded paper towel can hold more water than an unfolded towel of the same size, because water is stored between the folds of the towel. (A TEDx talk on the topic refers to this as “interstitial suspension”).

There are two other advantages to folding. First, folding the towel means that it is able to absorb more liquid at each pass (even without interstitial suspension), so using it will require less time and effort on your part. Second, a folded towel is going to be smaller, so a greater portion of its area will come into direct contact with the liquid, meaning that there are less unused edges.

Overall, this means that folded paper towels absorb liquids faster, and are able to absorb more liquid than unfolded towels. Accordingly, folding your paper towels before using them helps you save time and money, while also being better for the environment.

 

How many folds you should use

In terms of how many times you should fold your paper towels, it appears that a tri-fold is generally more effective than a bi-fold.

Based on this, it’s reasonable to assume that more folds are preferable, but there is likely an upper limit where you’ll start running into absorption issues, once the folded towel becomes too thick. It’s up to you to figure out what this upper limit is, based on what works and on what’s most convenient for you to use; this obviously depends on the size and type of the paper towel.

 

Saving paper when washing your hands

One of the most common uses for paper towels is to dry your hands after washing them. Aside from folding your paper towels in such cases, another thing you can do is shake your hands over the sink a few times before wiping them, since this reduces the number of paper towels that you need in order to dry your hands.

This shouldn’t increase the overall time that you spent washing your hands, since the time spent shaking your hands roughly balances out with the time spent wiping them with the extra towels that you would other need.

Note: this idea was originally proposed by a TEDx talk which refers to it as the “shake and fold” method.

 

Summary and conclusions

  • Folding paper towels before using them increases their absorption rate by creating laminar flow channels between the folded parts, which improves the ability of the towels to absorb water through capillary action.
  • Folding paper towels also increases their absorption capacity, since a folded towel can hold more water than an unfolded towel of the same size, because water is stored between the folds of the towel.
  • In addition, folding the paper towel means that it absorbs more water at each pass in general, and means that a large portion of its surface area will make contact with the liquid each time.
  • In general, the more folds you can make, the more you will benefit from these effects, up to a point where the towel is no longer convenient to use.
  • All of this means that folding your paper towels before using them will allow you to use them more effectively, and help you save time, money, and the environment.