Light, colour and underwater photography. Fixing colours using Adobe Photoshop (and Elements)

Background

All photography dependant on one thing: light.

The aim of taking a photo is to get enough light into the camera and detected by the film/sensor to produce a properly exposed image.

This means shadows are not too dark, highlights are not too bright and there’s a good distribution of light between those two extremes. Underexposing an image will discard shadows in favour of black. Overexposing an image will discard highlights in favour of bright white. For colour photography, in addition to receiving the right quantity of light, we also needs to capture light of the right colour.

Cameras have three factors which control the quantity of light and how it’s detected:

  • ISO: the film or sensor sensitivity.
  • Shutter speed: the amount of time the film or sensor is exposed to light.
  • Aperture: the size of the hole the light travels through towards the sensor.

When there’s lots of light a camera can be set with:

  • a low ISO rating (to decrease grain in the image)
  • a high shutter speed (to freeze the action)
  • a small aperture size (to increase the depth of field which makes more of the scene in focus).

When there’s less light, the opposite needs to be set:

  • a higher ISO rating (increasing grain in the image)
  • a lower shutter speed (which can make the photos blurry due to camera shake)
  • a wider aperture (which reduces depth of field making items in the extreme foreground or far background out of focus).

During the day above water when there’s lots of light, a camera can be left on automatic and you’ll generally get a properly exposed image.

Not all photographers use automatic settings and often isolate and manually set their ISO, shutter speed and aperture to get more creative control over their images.

What is light?

Light is energy that has a wavelength between 400nm (nano-metres) and 700nm. The source of this energy could be a light bulb, the sun, a candle, a hot piece of metal, some uranium etc. These energy sources will invariably be radiating energy in lots of other wavelengths too including gamma, x-ray, ultraviolet, thermal, infrared, microwave etc.), but its just the 400nm to 700nm wavelengths that our eyes can detect.

Colour

We have red, green and blue receptors (cones) on our retinas that detect these different wavelengths of light. Different proportions of different wavelengths are interpreted by our eyes as different colours. It’s the same principle for film or a sensor in a camera.

Every light source emits its energy at different wavelengths and therefore the colour of the light is different for every light source and is called its temperature.

Whereas paint colours are created by mixing the primary pigment colours: red, yellow and blue (sometimes called magenta, yellow and cyan), light colours are created by mixing the primary light colours: red, green and blue.

The light emitted from the sun has roughly equal quantities of red, green and blue which results in white light with a colour temperature of between 5,000K to 6,000K (Kelvins). Fluorescent tube lights produce much cooler, bluer light with a temperature of 4,000K to 5000K. Incandescent filament bulbs produce warmer, more yellow light with a colour temperature of around 2,700K to 3,000K.

Transmission

Light energy travels in a straight line in every direction until it’s reflected, refracted or absorbed or any combination of the three.

  • When light is reflected, it bounces and travels in a straight line in a different direction.
  • When it’s absorbed, the light energy is converted to a different sort of energy (i.e. heat).
  • When it’s refracted, the light continues in a straight line, but’s its direction of travel is altered slightly.

There is no known material that reflects, refracts or absorbs 100% of light energy, there is always some degree of reflection or absorption of light.

Every time light bounces off something, the material of that “something” absorbs some of the energy of the light affecting it’s colour and intensity.

For example, white light hits a red snooker ball. The material of the ball absorbs blue and green light and reflects the remaining red light. The red light hits our retina and we see a red snooker ball.

The same white light hits the green baize under the snooker ball. The baize absorbs the red and blue light and reflects the remaining green light to our retina and we see the green baize.

The red light bouncing off the snooker ball also hits the green baize, the baize absorbs the red and traces of blue light and nothing perceivable is reflected. Similarly the green light bouncing off the baize hits the red snooker ball which in turn absorbs the green light and any traces of blue light and again nothing perceivable is reflected.

Light is bouncing around all the time constantly having its colour, direction and intensity changed by anything it interacts with.

Light and water

When we try and take photos underwater, we have an additional material to deal with which affects light colour and intensity: water.

In order for our retinas (and camera film/sensors) to see something, here’s what happens:

  1. White light is emitted by the sun and hits the surface of the water above you.
  2. Some of the light is reflected back up into the air.
  3. Some of the light is refracted by the water surface and travels down into the water at a slightly different angle.
  4. As the light travels through the water, it starts losing energy. It’s red energy is absorbed first, followed by green, then blue. The more water it passes though, the more energy is lost.
  5. The reduced energy light hits an orange fish in front of you.
  6. The orange fish absorbs some of the blue parts of the light (orange = red + green) and reflects the remaining red and green light to your retina.
  7. Unfortunately there wasn’t much red and green light left after it travelled through the water above you, so the fish appears a dull blue instead of its vibrant orange.

If you had a dive torch and shone it at the orange fish, here’s what would happen:

  1. You shine your dive torch (which emits white light) at the orange fish.
  2. There’s not much water between the torch and the fish and between the fish and your retina, so very little of the red part of the spectrum is absorbed by the water.
  3. The orange fish absorbs some of the blue parts of the light and reflects the remaining red and green light to your retina (orange = red + green).
  4. There’s now lots of reflected red and green light hitting your retina, so you now see the fish as vivid orange.

Underwater photography

If you’re near the surface, then the water won’t absorb too much red light and your photos will usually look OK. They might have a very subtle blue cast.

If you’re deeper underwater and not using a light source such as a dive torch or underwater flash gun (called a strobe) then your photos will definitely have a blue or green cast to them.

Although the absorbed red data can never be recovered, the remaining few scraps combined with an approximation of what it might have been can be generated using photo manipulation software such as Adobe Photoshop and Photoshop Elements.

I’ll be focusing on Adobe Photoshop CC 2018 in this article.

What is a digital image?

A digital image is a graph with X and Y axes. These are the horizontal and vertical dimensions of the image expressed in pixels.

Each X and Y location on the graph has three values: red, green and blue (RGB) each typically expressed as a value between 0 and 255. When these three values are combined, they are interpreted as a single point of colour of varying brightness and saturation (the strength of the colour).

When the graph is filled with all this RGB data, a digital representation of the image is visible.

A properly exposed image has a good spread of red, green and blue data with varying intensities. This can be seen by analysing an image’s RGB data on a set of charts known as histograms. In Photoshop, these are termed levels.

Here’s a photo taken at depth without additional light along with its RGB histograms.

The histograms show the quantity of red, green and blue data at varying levels of brightness in the image. The X axis is pixel brightness left to right, black to white. The Y axis is the quantity of pixels starting with zero at the bottom.

The red histogram shows there’s a lot of dark red data, but very little mid-level or bright red data in the image.

The green and blue histograms show there’s a good distribution of green and blue data across the image with the majority being at mid-level without too much dark or very bright data.

Blue and green data is good, the red is lacking. This is why the image has a blue/cyan cast (blue + green = cyan).

Here’s an example of a well-balanced image:

In this instance, the red data has a good spread of intensities from dark to light in the image. Although there is more dark red in the image, the image is balanced as the rest of the red data is in the mid tones and highlights.

Its blue and green data is similar to the previous image with a good spread, lots of mid-range and not too much very dark or very light data.

The effect of all three channels having a good spread of data, results in a pleasing image with no discernible colour cast.

We need to do something about the red data in the first image so it looks as good as the second image.

The missing red data

There are two methods for adding red data back into your underwater photos:

Method 1: Spread out the red data

We need to brighten the red highlights and mid-tones while leaving the shadow data untouched.

This will have the effect of stretching the existing red data out across the histogram to look more like the green and blue histograms.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Open your image in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements
  2. Select Image -> Adjustments -> Levels
  3. Change the Channel dropdown to Red
  4. There are three sliders under the histogram, black, grey and white. Drag the white slider left to where the red data ends in the histogram. As you drag the slider, your image will be adjusted in real-time. Also try dragging the middle (grey) slider left or right to change the distribution of the mid-level data.
  5. Click OK when you’re happy.

You’ve now adjusted the distribution of the image’s red data. You can verify the change by viewing the red data histogram again.

The image looks a bit better but the updated histogram shows what happened. The small amount of red data was stretched out across the dynamic range which has resulted in some nasty fringing and obvious red pixels. It doesn’t look very natural.

Photoshop can’t fill-in the gaps in the histogram because it can’t know where the red data should have been in the image. The histogram only shows the distribution of light and dark data in an image, not it’s exact X and Y placement.

Method 2: Generate new red data

A new red channel can be generated by doing the following:

    1. Create a grey channel based on the average luminosity of the pixels in the original image.
    2. Remove the blue and green data from this new grey channel leaving only a red channel.
    3. Replace the red channel in the original image with the new luminosity-based red channel.
    4. Auto-balance the new composite image.

This is quite an involved process, so I’ve created a Photoshop action which will work with a flattened image (i.e. a Background) and apply all these processed in one click.

You can download the action here

Unzip the file and drag and drop the contained .atn file into the Actions panel in Photoshop.

The action will come up as colourcorrect_red in the Underwater folder.

Double click the action name (colourcorrect_red) to run it or alternatively, select the action and hit the play triangle ► in the Actions panel.

Method 3: Use Photoshop’s new Match Color function

There’s a new feature in Photoshop and Elements that approximates the effect of manually generating red data based on the luminosity of other channels. This is Photoshop’s new Match Color function.

Here how to use it:

  1. Open your image in Photoshop or Elements
  2. Select Image -> Adjustments -> Match Color
  3. Click Neutralize. The colour cast will be reduced.
  4. Click OK

Colour correcting underwater video using Adobe Premiere CC

Taken from Gustav Ovier’s site (offline since Dec 2017).
Retrieved using the WayBack Machine then translated from Portuguese to English using Google Translate.

Filters for Adobe Premiere CS6 and CC

I’ve made available to download some filters I created for Adobe Premiere CS6 and CC (I don’t know if it works in other versions) for colour correction of underwater images.

These filters enhance the colour of videos made during dives. You should test multiple filters to see what is best for your video. Sometimes the filter is good at the start of the shot, but it can get bad as the light changes. So it’s good to go through each clip with the filter applied before finalising it.

Underwater at depth, the colours fade due to light being absorbed by the water. Many people use a physical filter in front of the camera lens: usually red or magenta. I do’t really like this technique because it makes the video more red when there is light.

The best result can be obtained with continuous artificial light, so even at depth the colour capture will be accurate. It really is amazing the colours of fish, crustaceans and corals from the bottom of the sea.

To install the filters go to the effects tab of your Adobe Premiere CS6/CC and import them (one by one).

Here’s an example of the filters in action:

The filters can be downloaded here:

UnderWater_SAC_Adobe_Premiere_CS6_CC.zip

Instant Pot Beef / Ox Cheeks with Red Wine

Description

Here’s my recipe for beef cheeks cooked in my Instant Pot Duo v2 7-in-1 Electric Pressure Cooker, 6 Qt, 5.5L. They’re cooked with vegetables, red wine and stock and have a Spanish/middle-eastern flavour.

Beef cheeks are very tough pieces of meat and can take all day to cook. Using a pressure cooker reduces that time right down to less than an hour.

Ingredients

  • 2 x whole uncooked beef cheeks
  • 2 brown onions – chopped 1cm
  • 4 carrots – chopped 1cm
  • 4 sticks of celery – chopped 1cm
  • 1 large glass of red wine
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  • Beef or chicken stock
  • Picante pimentón
  • Ground cumin
  • 2 x bay leaves
  • Cooking oil – rapeseed, sunflower, light olive oil etc.
  • Cornflour
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • Balsamic glaze
  • Parsley – chopped

Method

Cooking

  1. If the beef cheeks have an outer membrane, use a sharp knife to remove it.
  2. Season the beef cheeks with ground black pepper. Don’t use any salt.
  3. In a pan on the hob, brown the beef cheeks on all sides in the cooking oil.
  4. While this is happening, set the InstantPot (IP) to Sauté and add cooking oil.
  5. Sauté the onions, carrot, celery and bay leaves until softened.
  6. Add a couple of teaspoons of ground cumin and picante pimentón and stir through the sautéed vegetables.
  7. Deglaze the IP with the red wine.
  8. Add the tin of chopped tomatoes.
  9. Add the beef cheeks to the IP and cover with the stock.
  10. Put the lid on the IP, turn the pressure valve to Sealing.
  11. Press the Manual or Pressure Cook button and set the time to 50 minutes.
  12. Press the Keep Warm button to turn off this feature.
  13. Allow the cooking to complete and let the IP release the pressure naturally.
  14. When the pressure indicator valve has dropped down, Press the Cancel button and open up the IP.
  15. Carefully remove the beef cheeks and put to one side.

Reducing

  1. Give the IP a good stir and make sure nothing has stuck to the bottom.
  2. We need to reduce down the liquid in the IP, so press the Sauté button and leave the lid off. This will bring the liquid up to the boil and keep it on a rolling boil.
  3. Reduce the liquid down to half to a third of it’s original volume. For me, this took around 30 minutes.
  4. Press the Cancel button on the IP and unplug it.
  5. Slake a teaspoon of cornflour with some cold water and stir it into the remaining liquid. Depending on your preferred consistency, you may need to reduce or increase the amount of cornflour.
  6. Stir in a tablespoon of balsamic glaze to add a sweet/sour note.
  7. Taste the sauce for seasoning and add salt to taste.
  8. Put the beef cheeks back into the sauce.

Serving, portioning or storing

The meat at this point should be in large pieces – if not still whole, but it can be easily broken up as it’ll be super-tender. It can even be turned into pulled-beef and shredded up with a couple of forks.

Add the parsley just before serving.

Facebook security

Everyone uses Social Media these days and we’re trusting it with more and more of our personally identifiable information (PII).

Our interests, comments, check-ins, likes and the network of friends and family we build-up all contribute to a context-heavy online identity.

If an attacker gains control of your online identity, they can easily:

  • Steal all your personal information
  • Post content and messages on your behalf to hurt you or your network of friends and family
  • Use implicit trust to gain access to other online services
  • Impersonate you, abusing the trust you have with your network of friends and family to infiltrate their online identities and networks
    etc.

In this guide, I’ll focus on the social media platform Facebook and talk about how to review your security settings.

Review your public profile

It’s important to review exactly what information you’ve entered as part of your Facebook Public Profile – as it’s exactly that: Public.

You may have entered something personal, inappropriate, misleading, regrettable or just incorrect without realising it’s being broadcast to the world. The settings controlling what’s displayed as part of your public profile are separate from Facebook’s general security settings so must be reviewed independently.

To configure your Public Profile, do this:

  1. Browse to https://www.facebook.com and log in
  2. Find your mini profile picture and name in the top of the left navigation bar.
  3. Click on the the 3 vertical dots next to your name
  4. Click on Edit Profile from the pop-up menu
  5. Your Edit profile popup window will appear

Examine all photos and read all text and options in this window from top to bottom. Whatever you see here  is publicly visible to the whole world.

After making a change, remember to click the Save button that appears.

Edit your About Info

IMPORTANT: Make sure you click on the Edit your About Info link at the bottom of the Edit Profile window.

The About Info section can contain a huge amount of personal information you might want to keep private.

Go down the navigation items on the left and examine each panel of information on the right. Examine everything here. If there’s something you’d rather keep private or don’t want the world to see or know about – such as your mobile phone number or your relationship status, change it here.

 

Security and privacy settings

Facebook security settings can be accessed via the Facebook. Accessing the Facebook security settings:

  1. Browse to https://www.facebook.com and log in
  2. Click on the down arrow ▼ in the top right corner
  3. Select Settings from the drop down list

Facebook Security Settings

There are lots of security-related settings here, so to save you time I’ve use the following colour coding:

[QUICK WIN] = You should address these straight away

[EFFORT] = Require a bit more thought and effort but will definitely improve your security posture

[REVIEW] = Items for you to review. These are mainly about privacy but also cover notifications and alerting.

 

Security and login

Where you’re logged in [REVIEW]

This is a list of all devices and locations that are currently logged into your Facebook account.

If you have a home PC, a laptop, a smart phone, a tablet etc. you’ll see multiple entries here. Facebook will try and identify the type of device and where geographically it’s logged in from.

Make sure you click on the See more button to display everything.

Look down the list and if there’s anything there you don’t recognise, click the three dots menu icon on the right and select Not you?. This tells Facebook that you are not responsible for this login and will help Facebook block this connection in the future.

If you’re knowingly using a VPN or routing your traffic via a different country, you’ll see that reflected here.

Seeing anything unexpected here can indicate that your Facebook account has been compromised and someone else is logging into your account without your knowledge. Is this is the case, I would recommend that you immediately do the following:

  1. Change your Facebook password
  2. Go back to the Where you’re logged in list and click Log out of all sessions at the bottom.

This will cause every device on the list to be logged out. If they try and log in again, they’ll be prompted to enter your password which you’ve just changed.

Setting up extra security

Get alerts about unrecognised logins [QUICK WIN]

This works hand-in-hand with the Where you’re logged in list (explained above).

Facebook can send you a notification if it sees a login that’s from a previously unknown device, browser or location. This is really important so you can react quickly if your account is compromised.

If this isn’t already On, click the Edit button and make sure notifications are enabled for all alert types. Remember to click Save Changes.

If you’ve just turned something on, you’ll get an alert saying so.

Use two-factor authentication [EFFORT]

You can learn more about the concept of Two Factor Authentication (2FA) by reading my guide here.

TL;DR; In order for a new device or browser to log into your Facebook account, a person will need to know not just your username and password (which might have been leaked) but also have access to your unlocked mobile device and use its code generator app.

If you enable 2FA in Facebook, it requires a minimum of your mobile phone number and a code generator of some sort.

The Facebook smartphone app will serve as a code generator, but if you’re embracing the concept of 2FA to protect your online identity across multiple online services, you should take the option to set up a third-party app as a code generator.

After you’ve read my guide to 2FA, adding Facebook’s QR code to your code generator app will be a breeze.

Choose 3 to 5 friends to contact if you are locked out [REVIEW]

Your Facebook account can be locked-out if someone is trying to brute-force your login credentials or someone has reported your account behaving maliciously – usually after it’s been compromised.

You can choose a few trusted Facebook contacts to help you out if your account becomes locked-out. They will be contacted by Facebook to help your identity to prove you are who you say you are.

Privacy

Your activity

Who can see your future posts [QUICK WIN]

Unless you are a public figure and want everyone to know exactly what you had for lunch or where you went last night and with whom, I would strongly recommend making sure only your Friends can see your future posts.

This setting usually defaults to Friends, but can switch if you’ve recently changed the visibility of a post to Public.

If this is set to anything other than Friends, click the Edit button, change to Friends then click Close. This setting doesn’t have a Save Changes button and takes effect immediately.

Limit the audience of old posts on your timeline [QUICK WIN]

If you’ve posted stuff in the past that you might have thought was a good idea to make Public, or may have accidentally made Public, you can fix this and set everything you’ve done back to Friends.

Click Limit Past Posts then click the Limit Past Posts button that appears below, then click the Limit Past Posts button in the window that appears, then click Close. The change will take effect immediately.

How people can find and contact you

Who can see your friends list? [REVIEW]

If you want to stop people you don’t know seeing a list of your Facebook Friends, you can change that here.

Click Edit, then change the visibility button to Friends. The change takes effect immediately.

If you’re happy for people you don’t know to see your list of Facebook friends, leave it as Public.

Who can look you up using the email address you provided? [REVIEW]

If you want to prevent people you don’t know from finding your Facebook Profile via your email address, you can change that here.

Click Edit, then change the visibility button to either Friends or Friends of friends. The change takes effect immediately.

If you’re happy for people you don’t know to find you by your email address, leave it as Everyone.

Who can look you up using the phone number you provided? [REVIEW]

If you want to prevent people you don’t know from finding your Facebook Profile via your mobile phone number, you can change that here.

Click Edit, then change the visibility button to either Friends or Friends of friends. The change takes effect immediately.

If you’re happy for people you don’t know to find you by your mobile phone number, leave it as Everyone.

Do you want search engines outside of Facebook to link to your Profile? [REVIEW]

You can stop your Facebook Profile page from appearing in search engine results by changing this option.

Click the Edit button and either tick or un-tick Allow search engines outside of Facebook to link to your Profile, then click Close.

It can take days or weeks for your profile to disappear from search engine results, so don’t expect an immediate effect. If you’re still seeing your profile coming up in search engine results, you’ll need to contact the search engine company directly and request your profile to be removed.

Timeline and tagging

Timeline

Who can post on your timeline? [QUICK WIN]

TO DO

Who can see what others post on your timeline? [REVIEW]

TO DO

Tagging

Who can see posts that you’re tagged in on your timeline? [REVIEW]

TO DO

When you’re tagged in a post, who do you want to add to the audience of the post if they can’t already see it? [REVIEW]

TO DO

Review

Review posts that you’re tagged in before the posts appear on your timeline? [REVIEW]

TO DO

Review what other people see on your timeline [REVIEW]

TO DO

Review tags that people add to your posts before the tags appear on Facebook? [REVIEW]

TO DO

Public posts

Who Can Follow Me [REVIEW]

TO DO

Public Post Comments [REVIEW]

TO DO

Public Post Notifications [REVIEW]

TO DO

Public Profile Info [REVIEW]

TO DO

Apps and websites

Every time you interact with a Facebook app, you grant it access to one or more elements of your profile. This can include your personal profile i.e. age, sex, religion, address, email etc and your friends list.

Some apps, also demand permissions to post on your behalf.

This page is split into 3 tabs: “Active”, “Expired” and “Removed”.

Apps under “Active” have continued access to your data.

Apps under “Expired” previously had access to your data but their access has now expired.

Apps under “Removed” are those that have had access to your data removed manually by yourself.

For all “Active” apps, you can check exactly what privileges it has by clicking “View and edit”.

If you’re certain you don’t want an “Active” app to access your data any more, tick it’s box and click the “remove” button.

You should perform this simple check regularly – especially if you’re in the habit of completing Facebook quizzes, questionnaires or playing Facebook games.

 

Apps, Websites and games [QUICK WIN]

 

Game and app notifications [REVIEW]

TO DO

 

Payments

TO DO

 

 

Setting up and using Multi Factor Authentication (2FA/MFA)

What’s wrong with my username and password?

Typical online authentication requires a username and a password – this is something a user has to know.

These can be (and are frequently) written down, shared with other people or leaked to the world via hackers.

Users will often setup the same username and password with multiple online services. This is super-convenient because they only have to remember one set of credentials, but if those credentials get leaked, hackers will have access to all services where that set of credentials have been used.

This could be your mailbox, your social media accounts, online shops, dating sites (!) etc. and once an attacker has access to your mailbox, they can use the “forgot password” function of any website to reset your password and control your account.

To remedy all this, you can add an additional layer of security called Two Factor Authentication (2FA), sometimes called Multi Factor Authentication (MFA).

What is Multi Factor Authentication?

This is so-called because it adds an additional factor to the authentication process – specifically it relies on something a user has in addition to something they know.

MFA is typically implemented on a physical device such as a security fob or smartphone. The device generates a 6 to 8 digit number every 30 seconds which is unique to the owner of the device and the online service that provided the code.

To log into an online service protected by MFA, you now need to provide your username and password (something you know) and the number displayed by your code generator (something you have). The online service knows the number your code generator will produce and checks all three items before logging you in.

to be continued…

Weak passwords and how to choose a strong complex memorable password

LoginWhat makes a password weak?

A weak password is one that can be easily guessed or broken.

This might be because it’s made up of public information associated with you. For example:

  • You or your family’s dates of birth
  • Names of your family members
  • Your pet’s names
  • Your nickname
  • your car
  • your favourite football team
    etc.

Your password might be a known default password.

Many items of computer hardware which connect to the Internet have factory default usernames and passwords. These are often variations of the words admin and password.

Recently installed, but unconfigured software or content management systems will often use a default password which is publicly known and published in online manuals.

So far these are examples of public information being used as passwords.

For passwords made up of secret information, brute-force methods can be used to guess a password.

Common passwords

You might think your password is so easy to remember and type but so obscure, that no-one else would have ever thought of it, but you’re probably wrong.

Here are the top 100 most popular passwords that crop up on the leaked lists:

123456hello12341234chelseaadmin123
passwordfreedomferrarisummerpussy
12345678whatevercheese1990pass
qwertyqazwsxcomputer1991asdf
12345trustno1corvettephoenixwilliam
123456789654321blahblahamandasoccer
letmeinjordan23georgecookielondon
1234567password1mercedesashley1q2w3e
football1234121212bandit1992
iloveyourobertmaverickkillerbiteme
adminmatthewfuckyoumeandyoumaggie
welcomejordannicolepepperquerty
monkeyassholehunterjessicarangers
logindanielsunshinezaq1zaq1charlie
abc123andrewtiggerjennifermartin
starwarslakers1989testginger
123123andreamerlinhockeyyankees
dragonbusterrangerdallasthunder
passw0rdjoshwasolopasswordMichelle
master’s degree1qaz2wsxbananafuckyouassholeaaaaaa

In 2017, it was estimated that almost 10% of people used at least one of the 100 most popular passwords and almost 3% of people have used 123456 as their password.

These lists are regularly used for brute-forcing passwords, so anything on this this list should be avoided.

You can check whether your password is on one of the leaked lists using this website: https://haveibeenpwned.com/Passwords

Password complexity

The more complex a password is, the more difficult it will be for brute-force methods to succeed.

Password complexity can be improved by doing one or more (or all) of the following:

  • Avoid using a single word from a dictionary as your password. This will be found straight away when a list of dictionary words are tried one after another.
  • Increase the number of characters in the password. A four character password is much weaker than an eight character password for example.
  • Include upper and lower case characters in the password. Don’t just use a single uppercase letter followed by all lowercase letters.
  • Include numbers and symbols in the password.

It used to be popular to replace letters with numbers that look like their alphabetic counterparts. For example, replace O (oh) with 0 (zero), L with 1 (one), A with 4, S with 5 etc. to created words like:

Baseball = b455b411

password = pa55w0rd

secret = s3cr3t

However, the brute-force algorithms have long been wise to this, so this sort of character replacement is one of the first things they try.

The most secure passwords

The most secure form of password is a long string of random uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols like this:

zKa4zD#5    (8 chars)

$f4qX6rxBU&B    (12 chars)

1!^B5qUA$t0iU7l%    (16 chars)

The disadvantage of these un-guessable context-free, complex passwords, is that they’re almost impossible to remember and as a result are then written-down – which completely defeats their purpose.

Passwords are often found written on Post-it notes and stuck under keyboards, in front or back covers of notebooks or on computer monitors.

Hawaii Emergency Broadcast System now broadcasting their passwords

Using a Password Manager

I would always recommend the use of long strong complex passwords in conjunction with a Password Manager. A password manager will generate, remember and enter long strong complex passwords for you, so you don’t need to remember them or write them down.

Read my guide about setting up and using a password manager.

Of course, you’ll still need at least one strong complex memorable password to protect your password manager, so read-on.

Choosing a strong complex memorable password

  1. Think of 3 or 4 random words. Look around you and get some inspiration. Don’t choose words that can be guessed by someone else or could be associated with you.
  2. Imagine a silly or weird situation in your mind that can be described using those words. This image is the key to memorising your password.

If you’re forced to use special characters by someone’s password policy:

  1. Choose where to put your capital letters. Don’t use a capital letter as the first character. Maybe the start of the 2nd and/or 3rd words?
  2. Can one of your words be a number? Change it to its numeric version.
  3. Pick one or more symbol characters and put them somewhere in the middle of the password. Don’t use them as the 1st or last characters.

Here’s a fun cartoon from xkcd.com

xkcd Password Strength

This is a really popular cartoon, so please don’t use correcthorsebatterystaple as your password as I’m certain its now in every password cracking dictionary  🙂

Setting up and using a Password Manager

What is a Password Manager

A Password Manager (PM) is a service or app that generates, stores and manages usernames and passwords for online services.

The core concept is that you have a single strong but memorable Master Password that secures access to the PM. The PM will generate un-guessable passwords for you, store them securely and type them in automatically when you need to log in to somewhere online. It does this by providing an extension or plugin to your browser.

Why should I use one?

Read my post titled Stop using the same password everywhere!

Getting started

There are a few password managers out there and at time of writing, two popular ones are LastPass and 1Password. Both offer their basic features as a free service. They both also offer a paid-for service for more advanced users.

I’ve been using LastPass for many years and this guide continues assuming you’re using the free service offered by LastPass.

Disclaimer

I have personally paid for the more advanced services provided by LastPass and have not received any incentives or payments from either of the two PMs mentioned in this post.

Do this straight away

Choose a strong un-guessable password for your Master Password.

Read my guide here about weak passwords.

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Living with a Password Manager

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Using multiple devices

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Gotchas

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Tips & tricks

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Stop using the same password everywhere!

Why is this a bad thing?

Using the same password everywhere makes everyone’s life easier. It means you can log into your bank, your online shopping, your mailbox and social media without having to remember dozens of passwords.

However, using the same password on multiple online services is like using the same key to unlock your front door, your car, your suitcase and your safety deposit box.

If someone sees your key and makes a copy of it, they can now unlock everything. They can not only steal whatever you’re protecting with that key (money, personal information etc), but they can also impersonate you to steal your friends and family’s money and personal information buy abusing their trust in you.

My password is secret, so no-one will ever know it

You might think your password is secure because you’ve not told anyone about it.

You might be guilty of writing it down somewhere, but you’ve kept that private too. So there’s no problem right?

Wrong.

Every time you use a password, it gets sent over the internet. If it’s correct, you get logged in.

In order for an online service to validate your login, it has to know your password – or at least enough about it to ensure what you’ve provided is a match.

If an online service contains security vulnerabilities, it won’t be long before all the usernames and passwords of all its customers will be stolen and end end up online for all to see. Hackers do this for fun and commercial gain.

Can I find out if my credentials have been leaked?

Have I Been Pwned?Yes you can. Check out the website of Troy Hunt: https://haveibeenpwned.com

Troy is a reputable and professional Information Security advisor. He’s been collecting published usernames and password lists over the last few years and has built a free service where anyone can check to see if their email address or username has been leaked.

At time of writing, Troy’s database has over four billion unique username and passwords.

His site also allows you to check whether your password has been publicised. It doesn’t give anything away other than saying that it’s known and that it should never be changed immediately.

What should I do?

The first step is to make a conscious decision to never ever use the same password for any online service ever again. This means having a unique password for every one.

You can do this by enlisting the help of a Password Manager and being tidy and disciplined.

Set up and use a Password Manager

Here’s my guide for setting up and using a Password Manager.

 

Be tidy

Your password manager is the only place you should store your passwords.

To avoid storing (potentially different) passwords in different places, you should:

  • Stop your browser from remembering passwords – you will be using your Password Manager for this. Here’s how.
  • When you’ve got everything in your password manager, clear down all passwords stored in your browser. Here’s how.

Be disciplined

  • Always use your password manager and never store your passwords in a browser on any device.
  • Whenever you sign up for an online service, use your password manager to generate and store a unique password.
  • If you can’t use the password generation feature of your password manager, for example on your Smart TV, never use a weak password. Here’s a guide.

Add an extra layer of security

More and more online services also give you the option to add an extra layer of security called Two Factor Authentication (2FA) – sometimes called Multi Factor Authentication (MFA).

It sounds complicated, but is actually very straightforward and relatively friction-free.

Here’s my guide to setting up and using Multi Factor Authentication (MFA)

What to do if your Facebook account is “hacked”

How might this have happened?

  • You have authorised an app in Facebook to post on your behalf
  • Your have used the same email address and password on another online service and these credentials have been leaked/exfiltrated.
  • You are using a weak easily-guessed password for either:

Facebook (this is fixable)

another service such as your mailbox (gmail, outlook etc) that an attacker has used with Facebook’s “forgot password” function (really bad)

your password manager (worst case)

What should I do?

Secure Facebook

  1. Change your Facebook password to a temporary one you’ve never used before and isn’t a variation of your previous one.
  2. Go through the apps you’ve allowed Facebook to use and revoke any you don’t recognise or don’t need any more.

Stop using the same password everywhere

Start using a password manager.

This will ensure you never inadvertently use the same password mire than once. When your login credentials are leaked (because they will be) the damage is then restricted to a single online service which can then be quickly fixed.

  1. Choose a password manager (such as LastPass, 1Password etc)
  2. Install it on all your devices. This includes desktops, laptops and mobile devices.
  3. Make sure your master password is a strong one which you haven’t used before and one you can easily remember. Choose 3 words and jo n them together. Don’t use any words that can be associated with you.

The password manager will install an extension or plugin into all detected browsers on you desktop/laptop. This is used to interact with the password managers central store and to enter your credentials for you into your web pages.

For mobile devices, go to your App Store and install the app for your chosen password manager. This will provide the same functionality on your mobile device.

Use your password manager to protect Facebook.

  1. Log out and log into into Facebook again.
  2. Change your password (again) and this time use your password manager to generate and secure a new secure one for you.

Secure your online footprint

Go through all your commonly used online services and all those where you suspect you might have used the same password.

Change your password on each of these services and use your password manager to generate and store a new secure password.

Stop your browser from remembering your passwords

Your chosen password manager now looks after your passwords. Go into your browser settings and disable “remember passwords”.

Purge any passwords your browser has remembered so it’s list is empty.

Go through the browsers on all your devices and make sure this has been done.

Turn on two factor authentication

If an online service allows the use of two factor (or multi factor) authentication, turn it on.

This means an attacker not only needs to KNOW your username and password, they also need to HAVE your mobile device in order to log in as you.