Q: You have been very bullish for online password vaults. With the LastPass security leak, are you still?
It seems to me the safest place to have your passwords stored is off your main computer, on an encrypted thumb drive, with a printed list that is hidden in your home when not in use. But that’s just me.
— William Forester
A: Yes, I’m still bullish on strong password managers. And yes, LastPass is one of those. It also happens to be the one I use.
While LastPass was breached by hackers who gained access to some customer data — including user names, billing and email addresses, phone numbers and IP addresses — password vaults stored in LastPass servers use 256-bit AES encryption and can only be decrypted using a unique key generated by each user’s master password. LastPass does not store users’ master passwords. That’s called “zero-knowledge encryption.”
LastPass did advise customers to make sure they have followed guidelines for strong master passwords, those using complex strings of numbers, letters and special characters. If you didn’t follow those guidelines, you’ll want to change your master password.
In short, while any company or user is susceptible to hacking, LastPass security measures appear to have protected the most critical information: passwords that you use to access sensitive sites, such as financial institutions.
As for your method of protecting passwords by storing them on an encrypted thumb drive and having a hidden printed list as a backup is also reasonable. But thumb drives can be lost or corrupted and if your house is afflicted by flood or fire you may be out of luck.
Also, when people generate their own passwords they tend to repeat the same password for multiple sites and they often don’t make them very strong. Password managers like LastPass, on the other hand, make it easy to generate unique, strong passwords that you don’t need to remember.
For my part, I feel more comfortable using unique, strong passwords that are stored in an encrypted vault in the cloud.
Q: I have a VCR tape of a family reunion in Sweden which I would like to convert to something I could share over the internet. Using Google I discovered there are 101 options. I am not concerned much about cost but am very much concerned about quality and ability to use on various devices. Any advice?
— Ray Rikansrud
A: There are two options to consider.
First, you can convert the VHS tapes to a digital format yourself. What you’ll need is a VHS player and a USB-to-composite video converter. If you don’t have a VHS player they can still be found on sites like eBay and Amazon. Just make sure it has composite jacks for audio and video.
Next you’ll need to choose a video converter. They range in price from about $10 to $90. Be aware that lower-cost ones don’t include video capture software so you’d need to get that separately if you don’t already have that. Just make sure the product you choose supports the format your VHS was recorded in: NTSC or PAL. If your video was recorded in Sweden it may have been recorded in PAL. Converters also differ in the top resolution they are capable of delivering.
If you don’t want to hassle with doing the job yourself, you can take (or mail) your tape to a conversion service. A quick search of the internet will show you that there are lots of options to choose from, including your local Costco or Walgreens. Prices vary, but expect to pay $20-$80 per cassette. And check if the service delivers on the medium you prefer. Some services charge extra if you want the digitized video delivered on a USB drive instead of a DVD.
VHS tapes are not archival, so they may have begun to degrade already. If your tapes are showing signs of age and you are doing the conversion yourself you’ll also want to look into a software package that has tools for cleaning up that video.
If you’re opting for a conversion service, make sure they offer to restore the video as much as possible.