The Password is PASSWORD

                     Highlights from the last few months in cyber-chaos

cyber security, password

  • April, 2014 – The “Heartbleed Bug” strikes, affecting as many as 500,000 websites.
  • November, 2014 – Sony Pictures Entertainment hacked by person/persons unknown; leads to a complete and total meltdown in Hollywood,  forcing people in the “biz” to actually pick up a phone and talk to their cubicle mate and for the rest of us to stream a bro-stick comedy over Christmas that we all probably would have been better off waiting for on Netflix.
  • December, 2014 – North Korea’s Internet service undergoes a “DDOS attack” (distributed denial of-service) by person/persons unknown.
  • January, 2015 – US Central Command’s Twitter and YouTube accounts hacked by Islamic State sympathizers
  • Retailers such as Target, Neimann Marcus, Michaels, Aaron Brothers, PF Changs, UPS, Home Depot, Chik-Fil-A – ALL HACKED!!

A recent study found that 13.1 million U.S. adults are victims of fraud, with a total somewhere in the $18 billion range of fraudulent activity accounted for annually.  Earlier this month, President Obama proposed legislation that would encourage companies and government agencies to share information about security threats and vulnerabilities with each other.

Remember when you got that email from your bank, your social media website, your email server to change your password in the wake of Heartbleed. Did you actually do it? A Pew research study last year found that only 61% of those who knew about Heartbleed changed their passwords.

Just how lazy are we?

 A survey from 2012 by Research Now for CSID on password habits among American consumers found:

  • 61% of us reuse passwords across multiple websites.
  • 54% of us have 5 or fewer passwords for all of our internet usage.
  • 44% of us change our passwords once a year or less.
  • 89% of us feel secure with our current passwords and security habits.
  • 21% of us have had at least one online account compromised.

Splashdata’s annual list of most commonly used passwords found that “password” had been supplanted by the surely uncrackable“ 123456” as the most popular password of 2013.

 So what kind of passwords should we be using? 

The latest and greatest recommendations from cyber experts, including Blizzard’s own Hosting Manager, Tish Lockard, agree on the following guidelines for creating strong passwords:

  • A strong password should contain AT THE VERY LEAST 8 characters, combining upper and lower case letters, numbers, punctuation marks and symbols; there should be no inclusion of words found in the dictionary or the names of your friends and family.
  • Never use easy to discover dates like birthdays or anniversaries; you’d be surprised what is clearly visible on our personal and business social media pages these days.
  • You should have a unique password for all of your important accounts.
  • You should change your passwords every 90 days and not reuse them for different sites.

There are password generating sites that will create strong passwords for you. Tish says, “Can’t think of a good password? There are tools out there, such strongpasswordgenerator.com that will cook up a good one for you.  You can even decide the length of your password and what type of characters to use.  I use this Every. Single. Day.” Hear that? Every single day! I am listening Tish!  Some others generators  are random.org and freepasswordgenerator.com.

  How the B!33P am I supposed to remember that gobbledygook?

cyber security, heartbleed, passwords

Keep your Hello Kitty in a secure location, NOT near your computer!

How are you supposed to remember these nonsensical passwords? I know I have  been  loath to use passwords like those described above because there is no way I  am ever  going to remember them. Most security experts recommend the use of a password manager such as Dashlane.com, LastPass.com or 1Password.com which have apps that can go with you from your computer, phone and tablet. YES, you will have to have a password  for these heavily  encrypted secure sites, but if you can’t remember ONE goofy  password, well, maybe this  World Wide Web thing just isn’t your bag.

DO NOT store your passwords in a public cloud, in a Google doc, in emails that  can be  hacked, on your phone’s notepad app or maybe not even in that little spiral  Hello Kitty  notebook that you carry around with you everywhere unless you have really bad  handwriting.

According to Tish, “If everyone could make these criteria a priority and truly commit to changing their passwords regularly, there would be a lot less chaos in  the world. Well, ok, chaos caused by hackers, anyway.” If we listen to Tish, at  least we all can do a little something about this cyber chaos. The hacker free-chaos, Tish and I will endeavor to deal with that another time.

Whatever method you decide upon to have truly secure passwords, remain ever vigilant as you cruise along the world-wide-web. There are hackers around every bend and it’s up to you to keep an eye on your online accounts. And don’t forget that old adage, if you don’t have something nice to say in an email about someone, maybe just jot it down in your Hello Kitty notebook.

Timeline of TripAdvisor in the News for last 12 months

Read a  summary timeline of TripAdvisor in the news during the last 12 months with links to articles with more details:

10/28/11 Hoteliers and restaurateurs anxious to sue TripAdvisor in the U.S. over travelers’ disparaging reviews may have to rethink their strategy following a legal decision involving Yelp. Read More

10/20/11 TripAdvisor gets sued for 10 million after naming hotel the “dirtiest hotel” in the country.  The Grand Hotel, in Pigeon Forge, was ranked the dirtiest hotel in America and now its owner is going after TripAdvisor.  Read More.  Also read: Does TripAdvisor Play Dirty with Hotel Reviews? in USA Today.

10/20/11 TripAdvisor is seeking verification from a consumer after discovering a potentially false review.  The Howarth House (a hotel in the UK)  brought brought the review to TripAdvisors attention. Read More

10/4/11 Trip Advisor punishes hotel for writing its own reviews, and for writing a negative review of a competitors.  The hotel now has the “red badge” on its listing at TripAdvisor and denies wirting fraudulent reviews. Read More

9/27/11 TripAdvisor now emphasizing Traveler photos (along with reviews).  With over 8 million traveler’s photos on TripAdvisor, your guests can now shape public opinion of you not just by writing about your, but by also sharing photos.  This is a natura; extension of TripAdvisor’s user-generated content.  Read More

9/12/11 TripAdvisor waters down its trustworthiness when it removes “Reviews You Can Trust” and changes to “Reviews from our Community” Read More [Read more…]

How Does Your Website Rank in Google’s Quality Rating

Jennifer Ledbetter, the author of PotPieGirl.com shared a great blog post last week abut how Google makes its algorithm changes using human raters to rate search engine results.

In a nutshell, Google has an army of humans that guide their algorithm changes by examining the “quality” of websites.  Those quality signals eventually become encapsulated into the mathematical algorithm and then roll out into the entire Google index.  Your website goes up-or-down based upon  your “quality footprint.”  The possibility even exists that your site could go up or down as a result of a manual review, outside of an actual algorithm change.

Here is a short video from Google explaining:

Is this scary?  We don’t think so. In fact, this really confirms what we have been teaching our clients for years: Focus on making your site the BEST site and your search results will follow.

The most fascinating element of her post is that she shared a “proprietary and confidential” 125 page document from Google that gives step-by-step instructions on how to do a “quality rating.”  Unfortunately, Google asked her to remove that link. (you can find it probably by searching for it)  Fortunately, we downloaded the document last week and will summarize the important bits for you. [Read more…]

Google Places May Be More Important Than You Think

A fascinating eye-tracking study was released by SEOMoz today that is worth paying attention to. The eye-tracking research shows how eyes moved through Google search results and posted several “heat maps” of the results.  These results included Google Places and Google map data that is currently being “blended” into the search results by Google.  The conclusions Blizzard draws for hotel and lodging websites are not new:

  • How you look when you do rank is very important.  A lower ranking with a great looking search results can really deliver.
  • Because so many lodging related searches are “local searches”, your Google Places becomes increasing important because Google uses Google Places data to “enhance” a simple search result with red map icons and review info.

This is something we spoke about a few months ago when we got excited about how Google Places was giving individual hotel websites a big boost over Expedia and TripAdvisor in Google’s own search results.  The bottom line is that lodging companies should work to improve the visual appeal of their search results.  This will encourage the consumer to actually look and see your listing when he or she searches.  Practically speaking, this means working to improve your presence in Google Places.

I encourage you to visit the SEOMoz post to look at more, but here is an example:

 

Hotel Calculator: Online Travel Agency Hidden Costs

Madigan Pratt & Associates have created an online calculator just for hotels:
The Hotel-OTA Hidden Cost Calculator

The average annual spends are pretty spectacular even with modest numbers.
The clear suggestion is that perhaps investing in online marketing would drive a higher ROI.

TripAdvisor Reviews – The Good, the Bad, and the Crustiest of 2011

“It looked like a CSI Crime Scene.”

“Crusty.”

“Bug bites.”

“Cockroach filled pool.”

These are just a few of the words used to describe this year’s coveted list of Top 10 Dirties Hotels from TripAdvisor as reported by travelers.

As in previous years, the class of 2011’s Dirtiest Hotels did not have a lack of sickeningly descriptive reviews.

It really is fun to read through bad reviews (when they aren’t about you, of course) so here are a few snippets of my favorites from this year’s list:

“I would have preferred to stay under a bridge or in a dirty rental car.”

- Jack London Inn

“It all started with the manager burning trash in the fireplace in the lobby.”

- Super 8 Estes Park

“They told us that the competition writes the bad reviews and puts them on the internet but don’t believe it its really bad and they don’t care!!!!”

“The hallway smelled of urine.”

- Desert Inn Rose

You get the point.

For more crusty details, check out the rest of TripAdvisor’s list of the Top 10 Dirtiest Hotels in the US.

If you have a strong stomach, don’t miss the Dirtiest Hotels in Europe (“I wish this hotel would burn down so no one else would have to stay here”) and India (“No extra charge for cockroaches at this place”).

TripAdvisor and Google Struggle Continues

According to the WSJblog Digits, TripAdvisor Says Google Won’t Stop Using Its Content

TripAdvisor LLC says Google Inc. has refused its requests to stop using content from TripAdvisor.com, the travel information and reviews site, on Google services that could compete with TripAdvisor.

In an interview this week, Chief Executive Stephen Kaufer said talks between his company and Google broke down after the Internet search giant said it would continue to include TripAdvisor’s user-generated reviews of businesses such as hotels in its Google’s Place pages and Hotpot business-reviews service. Mr. Kaufer said those services compete for Web traffic with his company’s site.

Here is a timeline of the struggle between TripAdvisor and Google:

It will be interesting to see how this plays out, for clearly this skirmish is not over yet.  For many hotels, resorts, and other lodging businesses, TripAdvisor reviews are a powerful element of their marketing success… and they often experience frustration with something they can’t control and often feel is unfair.  Of course, some hotels enjoy great reviews and rankings in TripAdvisor and should be keeping their eye on this development.