zerosleeps

Since 2010

NAB's password policy

Monday 25 June 2012

“Change Internet banking password” has been on my todo list for a long time, because I’ve always had this niggling feeling that it wasn’t very secure. It didn’t have any special characters, and it was quite short in length.

So I steered by browser towards NAB’s homepage, logged in, and found the functionality I was after.

And then I saw this:

Your new Internet Banking Password must be between 6 and 8 characters in length and consist of a combination of letters and numbers (e.g. 1acb1234).

What. The. Ho? This isn’t Weatherzone, where it’s cute to create an account so the temperature is always displayed in Kelvin instead of Celcius, this is an Internet banking site. A password of just eight alphanumeric characters doesn’t cut the mustard these days. Are you listening NAB? It’s people’s money. My money. Savings. Credit cards.

Update 2012-06-26

Spotted on The Register today, in a story about a breach of user passwords at eHarmony:

…more than 1.2 million passwords were cracked in 72 hours, using three NVIDIA GPUs…

DNS and CDN

Wednesday 30 November 2011

Let’s start with a problem: the latest iPhone software update was going to take an estimated 6 hours to download here in Sydney. By undoing a “performance” tweak I had made on my network, it downloaded in about 12 minutes.

Before I reveal the solution, let’s talk about those acronyms in the post title.

DNS

Okay, so Domain Name System (DNS) is like a phone book for the internet. When you type “zerosleeps.com” into your browser, there’s a little magic going on behind the scenes. Your computer or router will ask your DNS service for the IP address associated with zerosleeps.com, and DNS will respond accordingly, spitting out something nasty like “65.39.205.54”.

Now you might be able to remember “65.39.205.54”, but what about remembering that, and Google’s IP address, and BBC News, and Daring Fireball, and…? And with the deployment of IPv6 it would only get worse, with IP addresses of “2001:4860:0:1001::68”.

That’s why DNS was invented.

CDN

Right, what about Content Delivery Networks (CDNs)? Well these puppies are used to help deliver content to internet users worldwide. Now zerosleeps.com is hosted on one server, somewhere in the USA, and that’s just fine given the volume of traffic received. But take a service like the iTunes Store, which simultaneously delivers massive amounts of data to tens of thousands of users worldwide? CDNs help with this problem by storing the same data in lots of different geographic locations, and try to serve that data to users from the closest of those locations. That means that global network traffic is decreased, because instead of downloading that movie from Apple’s servers in California, there’s a good chance you’ll end up being served by a data centre much closer to home. It also means you’ll be watching the movie much faster.

So what’s my beef with all of this? Well there are oodles of DNS servers out there, all keeping themselves synchronised with each other so that when a new website comes online or moves, within minutes you’ll be able to access it without knowing or caring what that new site’s IP address is. For the vast majority of home internet users, the DNS service you use is your internet service provider’s (ISP) own service. Sometimes, ISP’s DNS services can be a bit slow, or out-of-date, or unreliable, so geeks like me can tweak our network settings and tell our computers to use a much chunkier DNS solution, such as the one provided by OpenDNS.

However, because OpenDNS don’t have any servers located in Australia, I end up being dealt with by a DNS service located in the USA or Singapore or somewhere. What this means is that when I request data from a CDN (i.e. buy a movie in iTunes), the CDN thinks I’m in the USA or Singapore, and directs my computer towards an iTunes server somewhere around there. See how everything is coming together now? Although OpenDNS provides me with faster DNS lookups than my own ISP, what actually happens on the rare occasion that my computer requests data from a CDN is that I end up with slower data transfers.

A letter to Australian television broadcasters

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Dear Australian television broadcasters,

I can only imagine the process of preparing a television show for transmission, but I am almost entirely confident that some time prior to showing a pre-recorded show you know exactly how long - to a precision of seconds - each show lasts.

I am also somewhat confident that you know how long each commercial you plan to transmit runs for.

By using simple arithmetic, it is relatively straightforward to add up all these durations, and determine to a very high degree of accuracy how long each broadcast will last.

Granted there are complications caused by minutes consisting of 60 seconds, and hours being made up of 60 minutes, however these obstacles can be overcome and calculations can be performed which tell you that if The X Factor runs for 98 minutes, and you have sold 20 minutes of commercials, the total length of that broadcast will be one hour and 58 minutes. Add in two minutes of self-promotion, and you have a two hour broadcast.

Armed with this information, you can in turn tell viewers in advance that the show following The X Factor will start exactly two hours after The X Factor begins.

You can see that if we continue this chain, you can quickly and easily create an accurate daily schedule of television goodness.

I do hope that this information will be of some use in the future. Perhaps even one day you’ll be able to eliminate the vast amount of bollocks you seem to put into your viewing schedules at the moment.

Kind regards, Scott.

Everything else is secondary

Thursday 6 October 2011

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

Steve Jobs, 12th June 2005.

The Big Picture: Space Shuttle Atlantis

Sunday 24 July 2011

The Boston Globe’s Big Picture has really outdone itself this time.

Update: Tuesday 2 August 2011

Coincidentally, I’ve just arrived home after attending a lecture by Gregory Chamitoff, who was one of the mission specialists aboard STS-134, the last ever space flight for shuttle Endeavour. He was talking about the mission objectives, life aboard the International Space Station, and showed us a stack of cracking photos.

I get the feeling that he could have talked for hours, and he obviously has lots of stories to tell, but he ran out of time. He’s apparently done a lot of teaching at the University of Sydney: I didn’t even know we had a big aeronautical engineering department!