Sunday, March 18, 2012

Browser War Motion Chart

Below you will find a graphical representation, called Motion Chart, of the browser usage statistics from W3 Schools starting January 2008. The statistics are managed in a Google Spreadsheet that will be updated every month. The graph will obtain the statistics from this spreadsheet before rendering, so this post will not be outdated when you read it.

Motion Chart
To get started just press the play button in the left corner below the graph and start exploring the browser war. You can play around with the Motion Chart by changing colors, X- and Y-axis values etc. Other options are:

- Zoom: Choose a data range (x and y) that will become the chart boundaries, then zoom in to focus on an area within the chart.
- Bar Chart: Switch between a bubble chart and a bar chart by clicking the icons at the top right of the chart window. You can organize the bars in alphabetical order or other order you select from the Order drop-down menu, below the chart.
- Line Chart: Switch between a bubble chart and a line chart by clicking the icons at the top right of the chart window.
- Settings panel: Click the wrench icon to access this panel. Use the slider to set the transparency of bubbles or bars that aren't currently selected.

Three easy observations to make while looking at the visualization:

1) Internet Explorer has steadily dropt in user share.
2) Firefox share is was stagnant for a while, but is dropping as well.
3) Chrome had a steady rise to the top.

We would like to ask you to put your own insights in the comments to the post.

Browser War Statistics

Browser wars is a metaphorical term that refers to competitions for dominance in usage share in the web browser marketplace. The term is often used to denote two specific rivalries: the competition that saw Microsoft's Internet Explorer replace Netscape's Navigator as the dominant browser during the late 1990s and the erosion of Internet Explorer's market share since 2003 by a collection of emerging browsers including Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Safari, and Opera.

Below you will find a graphical representation of the browser usage statistics from W3 Schools starting January 2008. The statistics are managed in a Google Spreadsheet that will be updated every month. The graph will obtain the statistics from this spreadsheet before rendering, so this post will not be outdated when you read it.

You can select different graphical representations of the data by clicking on the "Open Editor" button that you will find below the graph on the left. An interesting visualization to play around with is the Trend Analysis.

We would like to ask you to put your insights in the comments to the post.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

How to create a good password

Passwords serve as a means of restricting access, whether to files, a computer profile or an online application. Passwords ensure privacy and protect valuable data from getting into the wrong hands.

Creating the perfect password is only the beginning. If the password itself is not protected, then the whole point of creating a password to begin with is   null and void. Writing passwords on random pieces of paper is not the wisest thing to do. Neither is storing them in an unprotected spreadsheet or in an email.

Password creation tips
Whether the password being created is for use in locking desktop applications or for use on web accounts, these tips will assist in creating not just strong passwords, but passwords that stand up to the greatest passwords hackers out there.

  1. Use a combination of cases. Try to avoid using only lower case or all caps in your passwords. To be unique, use upper case letters in areas least expected such as at the end do the password. Eg. pAssworDonE
  2. Integrate numbers in passwords. Using simple tricks such as replacing “e” with “3” ,“o” with “0” and “s” with “5” will help to protect passwords from inexperienced hackers. Eg. Pa55w0rd0n3
  3. Use as many special characters as possible. Replacing “a” with “@”, “i” with “!” and “s” with “$” will make cracking your password difficult. Eg. P@$$word / !nternet
  4. Using complete sentences can also offer greater protection online. Eg. Mydog’snameisRex
  5. Separate words in your password with special characters. Eg. My&dog’s&name&is&Rex
  6. Using a combination of two or more of the above mentioned characteristics when choosing a password. Eg. My%P@ssw0rd%!s%m!N3

Things to avoid with passwords
Avoid using birthdays, anniversaries and names of pets as passwords, especially if they will not be altered in any way.

Where possible, do not use the same password for more than one web account, example your email account and your social media account.

Be very alert! Watch out for those websites that ask for you to use your email account as your username. Do not, under any circumstance, use the password for your email account to access these applications.  Doing so compromises your email account. Your password will now be stored on another server which may not be as secure as the server on which your email account is hosted and leave it open for compromise.

Check for password requirements ahead of time 
It is important to bear in mind that most applications usually have a password restriction in terms of the number of characters allowed for each password and the combination of characters that should be used. To reduce frustration, it is recommended that you check ahead of registering to ensure that the password you have in mind will work. The last thing you would want is to forget the password as soon as it was created because of numerous attempts to get the correct combinations.

Regardless of the password combination selected or where it is stored, it is important to create a password that can be remembered under pressure.

Browser Vulnerabilities

A browser is an application used to access information over the internet. In addition, web browsers are used to retrieve information from servers that are privately held and not open to all users online. Some of the top browsers include Google Chrome by Google, Internet Explorer from Microsoft, Mozilla Firefox and Opera.

Exploitation of browser vulnerabilities 
From time to time, users of the various browsers may experience a host of challenges.  In some cases, these issues are not necessarily on the side of the company responsible for producing the browsers, but with hackers and software engineers and developers all over the world working assiduously day in day out to discover flaws and security loop holes in the various internet browsers.  These malicious hackers will often exploit those flaws or vulnerabilities in the browsers and commandeer the unsuspecting user’s computer.

Gaining control of the browser will allow the unscrupulous individual or software to infect the computer with a wide range of malware including, but not limited to worms, viruses, trojans, spyware, hoaxes and various spyware.

Using the back door 
Most browser vulnerabilities are exploited through a “back door”. A back door refers to an unconventional way of accessing programs on a computer for example.  This is done by bypassing the usual authentication mechanisms that are usually in place. Using a back door will allow the hacker or malware to not only gain control of the system, but also infect the system with viruses and other harmful software.

The importance of browser updates
In the same way hackers are out to find vulnerabilities in browsers, so too are the developers of the various browsers. Browser companies such as Google and Microsoft hire developers specifically to test the latest version of their browsers for vulnerabilities and try to fix the problems before end users are widely affected.

How will an end user know when the company has made improvements to its browser? The company will usually advise users to update their browser manually, while others will do force updates. These security patch updates, as they are often called, will allow users to be protected from browser exploitation while online.

Where browser updates fail, or are unavailable, a good anti-virus and a firewall will protect the end user against browser vulnerabilities.

What is SSL?

Thanks to Netscape, the security of online communication was revolutionized with the creation Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) in 1994. SSL refers to security technology of global standards which essentially handles the encryption of links between a web browser and a web server.

Although Netscape’s browser the Netscape Navigator lost market share to browsers such as Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Opera, Safari and Avant Browser, the importance of SSL has however not been lost.  Almost two decades later, SSL is still a critical element which affects how users interact online.

What does SSL do?
SSL is responsible for ensuring that any data shared or passed from the browser to the web server, and vice versa, remains secure and private.  This privacy and security is represented by the use of a padlock which is displayed in the web browser.

Below are two examples of how the SSL padlock is displayed in two different browsers for a particular webpage.

SSL padlock on Chrome 

SSL padlock on Internet Explorer

Not all the pages of a website will have the SSL padlock. For example, the Google homepage and search results page will not display the padlock; the Google Adsense page however, will display the padlock, given the type of content and data shared on that page.

Who uses SSL?
SSL is extremely popular with eCommerce or eBusiness providers.  With online sales forecasted to hit the $200 billion mark in the United States by 2012, security and privacy online for shoppers is paramount. In 2009 for example, over 154 million persons living or visiting the United States made a purchase online.

In addition to protecting information about the exact nature of the purchases made, imagine the nightmare of trying to protect 154 million names, addresses, telephone numbers, social security numbers, credit card numbers and debit card numbers, which at some point would have been used online to do one transaction or another.

Thanks to SSL, individuals doing business online can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that measures are in place to protect personal identifiable information passed from browsers to web servers online.

SSL Certification
Checking for the SSL padlock is one of the easiest ways to identify whether or not a particular website or webpage is certified. An SSL certification and certificate is granted by the Certification Authorities (CA).

The CA also works with providers of online products and services to ensure that the appropriate measures are implemented to make visitors and shoppers feel comfortable doing business online with those retailers.  The presence of the SSL padlock has proven to affect the psychology of visitors to most online retailers, converting mere visitors into repeat buyers.

An important point to note about SSL certifications is that they do not last forever. SSL certificates are assigned an expiry date and must be renewed accordingly. The renewal process will allow the CA to check for issues with breaches or vulnerabilities ahead of issuing a new certificate.