IT Services's blog posts for February 2016

PA55W0rDs ar3 Ch@ng!ng



The wisdom is simple; a strong password is a long password (and more rhyming fun later in the post).  That’s why, from February 24 2016, new ITS passwords created must be ten characters or more.  Currently, Sussex ITS passwords have to be exactly eight characters long but we’ve been trialling ten character passwords and we’ve made sure that all our systems can now accept them.

Passwords still:

  • are case sensitive
  • need to contain one character which isn’t a letter (a number, a space or any of these accepted characters)

How to make a strong password

It’s long been recommended that a good strong password involves some clever substitutions of letters for non-alphabetical characters and mixing up large and small letters, meaning, for instance that ‘password’ could be come P@55W0rD.  However, with the clever hacking programs that exist out there nowadays (apparently) this sort of password can be, in fact, extremely easily figured out.  Software, for example, could run millions of tests for a password in a second, speeding its way through normal dictionary words and substituting letters for their oft-used non-alphabetic counterparts.

Now it’s recommended that you use a nice long password of completely unconnected words.  This is much, much harder for hackers’ software to chance upon, and it should be easier to remember.

If you want to give this way of concocting a password a go but you’re struggling to come up with some memorable words, there are a couple of ways to generate some nonsense streams for yourself.  One way is to look at a picture and use the first four words that come to mind.  For more randomness, use Flickr’s interesting images from the last 7 days (randomly selected, high rated images) and use four words that picture inspires.  A nice picture of the Chicago skyline gave me Chicago tall white centre which, according to this handy password strength checker is a “very strong” password with a rating of 92%.  Stick a random number on the end and that goes up to 100%.

Alternatively, someone’s realised that we’re really, really good at remembering rhyming phrases (I bet you can all remember what year Columbus sailed the ocean blue in).  Marjan Ghazvininejad and Kevin Knight are two clever scientists who have worked out that while the above correct horse battery staple idea is good, a 60-bit password is better – simply as software is getting better and better and faster and faster at cracking passwords – but potentially difficult to remember.  Based in the Department of Computer Science and the University of Southern California, they wrote a whole paper on the subject.  Not only that, they made a website that generates a random little poem for you, one which creates a 60-bit password.  And not only that, but it’s helpfully in iambic pentameter – the most memorable rhythm, apparently.  Have a go.

Again, I had a go.  I couldn’t not.  I can’t actually share with you the first poem generated, because it contains such a delightful coupling of words that it has instantly become my go-to password.  Sorry.  But some of the next (yes, you will generate multiple password poems because it’s too fun not to) were good, and, endorsed by afore-used, they would make very strong password poems.

SO pleasingly, one of my randomly generated poems went as follows (I added my own punctuation):

Professor, married, celebrates;
Unwanted striding emanates.

I can see the prof in my head – he has tweed trousers and his hands are in his pockets, despite his jubilation.

One pitfall of these poetic passwords is that for some purposes, they’re going to be too long. Some password-box designers will have set the character limit to less than these couplets allow. Never mind; modify. For this case, Prof,Married, alone has a strength score of 97%, so consider a truncated version for variation.


Keeping your password safe

I don’t need to tell you this, but don’t use the same password for multiple sites, however tempting it is.  Instead, consider a password manager app like LastPass, KeePass and 1Password.  The idea of having all your passwords behind one master password often rings alarm bells, but on balance it’s much safer than using one password for many different accounts here, there and everywhere.

Don’t let your password manager be your desk drawer or your diary; don’t write your passwords down and store them “somewhere safe.”  We store your passwords very securely; you should too.

If you ever get an email purporting to be from ITS asking you to enter your password, don’t.  We’d never do that.  It’s yours, and we’ll never ask you for it.

Tweet Tweet




Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 10.30.36Harness the power of the little blue bird

As I see it, there are two ways to use Twitter at uni. For arguments’ sake, I’m going to name one the student life approach, and the other the academic life approach. That’s because there are probably two ways to see university really, isn’t there?  There’s the one where you go because it’s a rite of passage and it will help get a probably fairly unrelated but fun and lucrative job in, say, advertising. Then there’s the one where you go because it’s a life in academia for you or you’re one of the lucky ones who’ve always known what you’ve wanted to do, and your degree is the next paving stone on that particular path.

Many of the tweets from the former are actually beyond the limits of my understanding due to the, er, swift evolution of English colloquialisms, and I think that’s intended, and that’s fine. For these purposes, I’m going to look at how a good academic focus on Twitter can help you get more out of #unilife.

There’s a lot going on out there on the Twittosphere. There’s a huge amount of academics on Twitter, and the reasons why aren’t in the least bit mysterious.  (Shhhh: academics seem to like to get their point across.  And procrastination isn’t just reserved for undergraduates you know.)  Through the use of hashtags and some crafty wordsmithery, Twitter can connect you with a whole customised, tailor-made world all revolving around your particular academic endeavours. Others who use related hashtags will be sharing relevant articles and other readables, and inevitably getting into discussions.

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 10.30.36

Be an excellent academic tweeter

As always, first impressions do, I’m afraid, matter. Twitter has become more and more customisable so take some time over getting your profile looking right, and represent yourself as fully as possible by using a relevant banner image for the top of the page, choosing an appropriate (don’t read this to mean boring) profile photo and consider your short biography carefully. You can now include websites, tags and Twitter handles in these bios, so use this spot to make a statement about your reason for being on Twitter. Are you a #historygeek? Tell them. #WomaninSTEM? Tell them here. If you’re associated with any research groups, add their Twitter handle in your bio or simply show your affiliations by including your School’s handle. Sum up your academic interests as succinctly as possible to help make the most relevant connections, but don’t forget that we’re all human and we have some unrelated interests as well. Likely to throw in some tweets about music/Star Wars/cats/canal boats? Add a hashtag!

And hashtag your life away.
 Twitter is the birthplace of the hashtag. They’re often overused, so use sparingly (or, alternatively, hilariously). Hashtags are searchable too, so a search of #theoreticalphysics, #anthropology or #ArtHistory, for example, is going to immediately land you amongst peers. There are several useful hashtags that bring students and academics together. #ECRchat stands for Early Careers Researchers, #PhDChat and #PhDLife do what they say on the tin, and #AcWri is used to identify tweets about academic writing. #studentlife, #unilife and #SAchat (student affairs chat) generally, but not exclusively, identify and collectivise undergraduates, and find other people sharing your pain with #dissertation, #thesis, #finalyear, and so on. Join some academics lamenting the end of the weekend (and talking about more relevant things, presumably) by using #ScholarSunday.

phd hashtags

Hashtags commonly used with #PhD

Talk (tweet) to people!  A lot!  Academics on Twitter are surprisingly responsive, and Twitter gets more and more interesting the more you get into exchanges with people. Talk to people with common interests, regardless of their level of expertise.  They’re likely to respond.  You’ll find you get more followers that way as well, if that’s what you’re after. (Anecdote: I once challenged Ben Goldacre of Bad Science/Bad Pharma fame on a tweet of his about risk, and ended up having a decent discussion with him and gaining 25 new followers.)  Enlarging and strengthening personal and professional networks is only ever a good thing and on Twitter, those networks are just out there for the taking.  You really never know where each connection might take you in the future.  If you’ve read an article and have something good to say about it, see if the author is on Twitter and send them a few nice words.

Eavesdrop on events. If you can’t get to a particular conference, find out its hashtag (clue: it’s probably the initials of the conference and the year it’s taking place in) and follow it while it’s on. Many conferences now have someone responsible for live tweeting during the event, highlighting salient points from speakers’ spiels and delegates themselves take it upon themselves to keep the world up to speed with what’s going on for those lucky few with the conference name tags. (Be warned: you’ll get pictures and full reviews of the free lunches and the evening antics too.)


Make some lists. These lists are a bit like those that you might find on IMDB where people (with too much time on their hands) compile a list of their favourite comedy movies, or films that averaged a score of 50 or less on Rotten Tomatoes that were set in a desert in 1969 with a certain actor in. These lists are ultimately more useful for others, so it’s quite a philanthropic thing to do but it does make you look like you know loads. See this chap, for example. He knows loads of sociologists – way more than you know. But now you can know them all too. Hunt some lists out, find 600 new – and relevant – people. Then later, make some lists – probably when you really, really need to write a paper.



Remember, academics can be funny people too.  Check out #AcademicsSay for proof.  And never fear, of course there are also plenty of cats in this corner of the interwebs; #AcademicsWithCats even gave rise to this year’s inaugural Academics with Cats Awards.





For more info on how to make best use of Twitter, check out (buy) this eBook written by the University’s very own Dr Catherine Pope:



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