Make Your Password Manager More Secure by Changing a Simple Setting

If you store all of your passwords in a password manager (as you should), you might be worried about someone gaining access to your files and brute-forcing their way into your password collection.

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 key transformations (also known as ‘password iterations’). Basically, when you input the master password in order to access your database, the software transforms this key multiple times before checking its validity (a process known as ‘key stretching‘). The more transformations, the longer it takes to check if a 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 for you. 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 value.

 

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 in all platforms. In KeePass 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 in 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 login.
  • By increasing the number of transformations, you can easily improve the security of your password database.
  • 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 login (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 sleep with our phone within reach. Already in 2015, a report on “Trends in Consumer Mobility” showed that 71% of American adults regularly go to sleep with their phone next to them, meaning that they leave it on their nightstand, on their bed, or in their hand. This number has likely increased since then, due to the increased prevalence of smartphones in our lives.

This is a problem, because keeping your phone next to you in bed can lead 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 there anyway.

 

Why sleeping with your phone next to you is a problem

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

  1. 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.
  2. It increases the temptation to use the phone if you wake up throughout the night. Normally, 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 browse Facebook (or perform any other pointless activity), until you eventually fall asleep again. This is obviously not good for your sleep.
  3. It makes it more likely that your phone will be the first thing you see in the morning. The same survey from earlier also shows that 35% of American adults check their mobile device as soon as they wake up; this number is likely higher among smartphone users and younger demographics. It’s not inherently a bad thing, but you should consider whether this is what you want for yourself, or whether it’s just a bad habit for you. Basically, think about how starting your day by immediately checking your phone is affecting the way you feel and act in the morning, 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, during, and after you sleep. You can also take into consideration how its placement will affect your morning routine, and put it somewhere where it won’t be one of the first things you look at in the morning.

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 definitely consider getting a separate alarm clock instead.

 

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

A lot of you will probably decide to keep using your phone in bed for various reasons, and that’s okay. Below are some simple tips which can help you reduce the issues associated with doing this:

  1. 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. Read this article to understand why blue light causes problems, and to get some simple recommendations on apps which filter it.
  2. Turn off the sound on your phone. This prevents late-night messages from interrupting your sleep or waking you up. Obviously, you should turn off ‘vibrate’ as well. If you must keep the alarm activated, most phones will allow you to disable general sounds while leaving the alarm sound enabled.
  3. 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/emails or to look at things online.
  4. Use an app that blocks other apps during set hours. This is especially helpful if you have a specific site/app that you know is problematic (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.
  • It 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 on things, but considering it’s something you just learned in about 10 seconds and can easily implement, it’s definitely a useful thing to know. If you’re curious why folding your paper towels is beneficial, read on.

 

Why folding is better

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

  1. Increased absorption rate- 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.
  2. Greater absorption capacity- 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. (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, leaving less unused (and therefore wasted) edges.

Aside from saving you time and money, saving paper towels through folding is also good for the environment: millions of tons of paper towels are currently used annually around the globe, and the North American market has the highest rate of consumption per capita.

In terms of folding it in half or in thirds: it appears that a tri-fold is generally more effective than a bi-fold. Based on this, it’s reasonable to assume that folding more is better, but there is likely to be an upper limit where you’ll start running into absorption issues. It’s up to you to decide how many times to fold it, based on what works and on what’s most convenient; this would obviously depends on the size and type of the paper towel.

 

Saving paper when washing hands

Since we’re already talking about helping the environment, another thing you can do to save paper is shake your hands over the sink a few times before wiping them; this reduces the amount of paper towels you need in order to dry your hands. In terms of time, there is no noticeable impact, since the time shaking your hands balances out with the time wiping them with the extra towels. (This method is originally referenced by this TEDx talk as the “shake and fold”).

 

Summary and conclusions

  • Folding paper towels increases their absorption rate and capacity.
  • Folding your paper towels before using them can help you save time and money, while also helping the environment.
  • After washing your hands, shaking them before wiping can also help reduce the amount of paper towels you need.