Friday, October 16, 2015

Cybersecurity: Let's Talk About Passwords.

Did you know that October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month? For the last five years, we've been promoting Stop.Think.Connect.™ 

Has it worked?

What are some things that you've done differently in your everyday online activities? Do you have different passwords for different sites? Have you uploaded the latest malware protection on your computer? Have you become educated about the ways that cyber thieves can break into your computer and your phone, retrieving information that can hurt you financially? If you haven't done anything or feel like you haven't done enough, Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) has some ideas for you. 

How can I keep my online accounts and data protected? 

Your best defense is a good offense.

Step 1.

Make your account and passwords STRONG! Pins too. Use alpha numeric and long, strong passwords. An 8 character password with upper, lower, numbers and symbols could take 16 minutes to crack.

For example, you often aren’t limited in length to make a password a sentence that only you can figure out. I like pan au chocolate with strong coffee becomes: Ilik3pan@chocolatew/strongc0ffe. Even if your password can’t be that long you can still use a passphrase to create a strong password. IL6@cwsC0yum is based on the same sentence and used the first letters of the words and substituted number and symbols for letters. At 12 mixed characters it is very strong. I Like 6an @u chocolate with strong Coffee yum.

There are excellent random password generators available if you want to use them and they do produce a truly random password.  Apps and sites include:

They all work perfectly well and many will be able to let you tweak the password to meet the parameters of the password you must create.  But, they all have one problem; used on their own you still have passwords that are hard to remember, so you might be tempted to write them down. Which you now know is a cardinal mistake. So what to do?

Get a password program or app. What you really need is a password app or program to safely store your passwords. As an added benefit, most good password apps let you organize and file your passwords, the site URL’s with the ability to link directly to the site, random password generators, and much more. Some password safes that reside on your computer or device can be turned on so that they capture your passwords and ID’s and you create them and automatically store them so you can retrieve them later. All you have to remember is the initial “Master Password.” Some of the best rated password keepers for 2015, according to PCMag are:

These all have costs that range from $12.00 to $39.99 but, all three have free version that will make password management much easier, even if the free versions don’t have all the bells and whistles of the premium ones have everything you need to get the job done.

Next, get educated about cybersecurity.

Step 2.

TEEX Cybersecurity offers a wide range of online and face-to-face cybersecurity training for everyone from first-time users to experienced IT professionals. And it costs you nothing because it's funded through FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Start with one of our Online for Everyone - Non-Technical (Cyber 101) courses like Information Security for Everyone. It's short and easy and is available 24/7.  

Next, visit the Stop.Think.Connect.™ website or contact They've got valuable tips and information you can use year-round

Let's stay Cybersecure all year long!

Catherine Gibson is a Training Coordinator for the TEEX Cybersecurity Program. A graduate of Texas A&M University, she has been active in adult education and IT security for 16 years.

NOTE: Currently, the TEEX Cyber Security Facebook Page is running a contest, so enter to win today! It ends on October 31, 2015.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Determination Drives Heavy Equipment Operator

The Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) trains hundreds of individuals each year to become heavy equipment operators. Although most are successful, each is exposed to unique operational challenges during field exercises. For some, the coordinated use of equipment controls is the most difficult; others have problems with depth perception.

Regardless of the challenges, very seldom if ever are new operators required to manipulate machinery without the use of both arms. That is, unless you’re McCulloch County heavy equipment operator, Cody Crouch. TEEX was there during a recent training delivery in Brady, Texas, to witness the 29-year-old’s amazing determination and skill. And the only operative word we have for Cody is . . . awesome.

Back when he was 18 years old, Cody was involved in a four-wheeler accident that severed spinal nerves responsible for control and function of his left arm and hand. Although Cody underwent 12-hours of surgery to remove nerves from other areas of his body to repair his damaged arm, the damage was too extensive and the arm could not be repaired. With no other options, Cody was encouraged to remain positive.  Maybe someday, new technology would make repairs possible.

In the meantime, Cody moved forward with his life and six years ago he was hired as a motor grader operator by McCulloch County, Precinct 3.

“It was challenging at first, but Cody picked it up pretty fast,” said McCulloch County Commissioner Jim Ross. The motor grader he operates for the county has eight controls and a steering wheel.  What most people learn to do with both arms, Cody accomplishes quite well with only one.

During recent proficiency training delivered by Billy Williams of TEEX, Cody was required to demonstrate motor grader proficiency on the Caterpillar® 140M3 motor grader.  This piece of equipment has two control joysticks; one used to steer the equipment; the other to control the blade movements. In addition to the Cat® 140M3, Cody proficiently operates the John Deere® 670-6 motor grader, as well as loaders, skid steers, dump trucks, and bulldozers.

After completing training, Cody’s supervisor praised him for “having a great attitude and for always going above and beyond the call of duty.” In return, Cody says, “I’m grateful to McCulloch County for giving me the opportunity to work for them.”

Now that’s what we call “Making the Grade.”

Learn more about TEEX Heavy Equipment Training.

By Guy Benson, a member of the Business Development & Marketing Department of TEEX’s Infrastructure and Safety Training Institute.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Caring for Bentley after Ebola exposure

When nurse Nina Pham contracted the Ebola virus and was hospitalized for treatment last October, her canine companion, Bentley, came into the care of Dallas Animal Services. This presented the city with a rare situation in which a veterinary patient was also a potential source of a contagion, essentially a hazardous material, and veterinary staff had to take protective precautions far beyond their normal experience with personal protective equipment, or PPE.

With no procedures in place to draw on for best practices, they called on the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) and the Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team (TAMU VET) to provide some expert assistance. Dr. Debra Zoran and Dr. Wesley Bissett from TAMU VET supported the staff charged with Bentley’s medical monitoring. TEEX hazardous materials specialists Ron Batchelor and Lori Peace consulted with the veterinarians regarding safety, site assessment, procedures and best practices for handling potential contaminants, as well as providing decontamination support for the dog’s caregivers.

Dallas Animal Services obtained a vacant officers’ quarters building at Hensley Field, a part of the Dallas Naval Air Station. Bentley took up residence in a back room that was draped with tarps and contained a crate filled with soft materials, toys and food. The veterinary staff made entry to Bentley’s room (the hot zone) several times each day to ensure his physical and psychological health.

Throughout the quarantine, Bentley, a King Charles Spaniel, learned the daily routine and looked forward to his time engaging with the veterinarians. Playful and well-mannered, Bentley identified his favorite toys and kept them near. He remained pleasant and cooperative when blood samples were taken, making the veterinary medical care process very smooth.

Caring for Bentley while wearing chemical protective suits and PAPRs (Powered Air Purifying Respirators) presented some challenges and adaptations in PPE for the veterinary staff. All activities were planned and double-checked prior to entry into Bentley’s quarters. To ensure the highest degree of safety, several additional measures were applied and a sound standard operating procedure (SOP) was developed regarding entry, management of waste, invasive care procedures, management of samples, and decontamination.

After his 21-day quarantine, Bentley was pronounced Ebola-free and happily reunited with Nina in November.

Thanks to the dedicated staff from Dallas Animal Services and some practical assistance from TEEX and TAMU VET, Bentley’s quarantine was a comprehensive, safe, and functional operation – and, most importantly, there are now procedures in place to manage future events of this nature.

You can read more about Ebola and Pets and Bentley's stay with Drs Zoran and Bissett from TAMU VET's website. 

UPDATE: Nina Pham and Bentley visited College Station April 24, 2015 and thanked Dr. Zoran and Dr. Bissett of the TAMU VET team for all of their help in taking care of Bentley and making sure he stayed safe and sound. Video from KBTX Media
~ By Lori Peace, Hazardous Materials Training Specialist for the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX). Peace also serves as Training Officer for the TX-1 Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT) command staff.