March Tech Challenge: Clear Your Cache

Our series of Tech Challenges are designed to help you get the most out of your devices. March’s Challenge is: Clear Your Cache; a phrase many of us have heard but maybe don’t fully understand why we do it, or how to do it.

What is a Cache?

The word “cache” refers to a collection of similar items that are stored and hidden away. You might have a cache of jewellery, a cache of weapons, or a cache of cash. Your computer stores data in a variety of places, and one of them is the cache. It’s an expensive piece of memory that allows for quick retrieval and faster processing.

your cache is like a table near your front door that holds your keys and walletThink of the cache in your computer like a table near your front door, holding your keys, wallet and other items you frequently need to grab in a hurry. The more cluttered the table becomes, the harder it is to find what you need, and the slower you are at getting out the door. Over time, certain items become obsolete – like the membership card to the gym you quit which you keep grabbing instead of the new card to the better gym you joined.

What Happens When the Cache Fills Up?

When you ask your computer to perform an operation or deliver information, it starts by checking the cache to try to quickly access what you want. This works well until the cache fills up or the information in it becomes obsolete. That’s when your computer starts to slow down.

Imagine that there’s a website with tons of race car images that you visit frequently. You want to show the site to your friend and you both access it from your laptops in your respective homes. Their laptop instantly pops up with the site, while yours is lagging. When it finally loads, you see empty image boxes with question marks in the centre. Your friend sees motorcycles. You blame your internet connection; your friend wonders where the cars are that you’ve been raving about. What’s going on?

white question mark in a blue box denoting missing image

This is an example of how your cache both helps and hinders. Websites are data-rich, with lots of images, fonts, and links. Your computer has to work hard to bring those items from the website’s server to your computer screen. So, the first time you visit a site, your computer does the heavy lifting and then stores data-rich items, like the images, in its cache. The next time you visit the site, it loads faster as your computer pops in the images from its cache.

But one day, the owners of the site change the images from cars to motorcycles. Now there’s a disconnect between what is actually on the site, and what your computer is trying to pull out of the cache to show you. And all those obsolete car images, not to mention images from sites you visited once three years ago and never visited again, are taking up valuable space and slowing things down.

This is why we clear the cache from time to time: to remove obsolete items and free up space for faster processing. The next time you visit the site, your computer will consult the cache to see if it has the information it needs. Your cache will have no memory of having visited this site before and your computer will take a few extra seconds accessing the website’s server to download and store all those new images. The next time you visit, you’ll have motorcycles on demand.

How to Clear the Cache

How you clear your cache depends on which web browser you’re using: Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Edge, Opera, etc. If you want to take our March Challenge to its extreme, clear the cache on all your web browsers on all your devices including laptops, tablets, and smartphones. This article provides instructions for clearing the cache on all major web browsers.

IMPORTANT: When you clear your cache, you will have to sign into certain applications that you may normally be logged into automatically, such as your Google Drive. So before you clear your cache, make sure you’ve done our January challenge and set up a password manager so you can retrieve all your passwords!

Want to Dive Deeper into March’s Tech Challenge?

Interested in learning more about your computer’s cache and terms like “cache hit”, “cache miss”, and “cache mapping”? Check out these articles for a deeper dive:

A Guide to Cache Memory

How Caching Works

Why Do I Need to Clear My Cache?

Good luck with March’s Challenge and we’ll see you in April!

February Tech Challenge: Reset Your Passwords

Did you complete January’s tech challenge and find yourself a password manager?

If you did, then this month’s tech challenge will be a snap. Anytime you login to an account, your powerful password manager will suggest passwords that need to be updated. February tech challenge complete!

If you haven’t yet found a password manager, then we have to ask: What are you waiting for? 

Passwords need to be updated periodically, especially any that have been involved in a data breach, are repeated across different accounts, or are too weak. A password manager will alert you to any passwords that fit those criteria. If you don’t have a password manager, then you’ll have to manually update each of your passwords across your different devices and browsers.

For example, if you have an iPhone, go to Settings, Passwords, Security Recommendations. Make sure “Detect Compromised Passwords” is switched on so you can see a list of passwords which need to be updated. 

Google Chrome and Safari both have password safety checks, although as this article explains, storing passwords in your browser isn’t the safest idea as anyone who has access to your device can access your passwords.

How to Generate Strong Passwords

Coming up with good passwords is tricky. This excellent article is a fun read (with great graphics), and does a superb job of explaining why password length matters and how to generate strong passwords. As the article points out, there’s a misconception that a strong password is one that is difficult to remember. But just because you can’t remember it, doesn’t mean it’s hard to guess. Fortunately a good password manager will suggest strong passwords for you.

At the VERY least, please update your highest priority account passwords, like your banking and investment apps and email accounts. Oh and one more thing… do yourself a favour and get a password manager already!

January Tech Challenge: Consider a Password Manager

“Spend less time on screens” is unlikely to have landed on anyone’s New Year’s resolutions list this year. The global pandemic has pushed technology to the forefront of our lives, from educating our kids, to helping us work from home, to keeping in touch with loved ones. It has also revealed how knowledgeable (or not) we are about these devices we rely on so heavily. With that in mind, Worldline is launching a series of Technology Challenge posts: challenges that are designed to inform and help you get the most out of your devices. Our January Challenge is to get a password manager…or at least consider getting one.

What is a Password Manager?

Mobile phone secure access. Man holding a smartphone with Login, password on the screen, wooden backgroundDo you have Netflix? Three or four social media accounts? A membership to an online workout program? Do you do online banking? Have customer accounts to various on-line stores? 

The average user has around 100 passwords. You’d need a memory of Guinness World Record proportions to be able to remember 100 passwords; especially passwords that fit the requirement of being long, complex, unique, and unpredictable.

It somewhat defeats the purpose to update a sheet of paper or a document on your computer with a list of usernames and passwords. A password manager suggests high-quality passwords and stores them for you. Each time one of your passwords is required, you simply type your master password into your password manager. The password manager handles the rest for you, inputting both username and password.

Don’t I Already Have that on my Device?

You head to your bank’s website and your computer kindly offers to fill in your password. You complete your banking and move on with your day. How does a password manager make this experience any different?

In that example, it is your computer’s browser making the password suggestion. Web browsers all contain their own password managers, however, the passwords are not encrypted. Anyone with access to your computer can access the password files. A password manager offers more security by encrypting your passwords, plus it allows you to access those passwords across web browsers.

Password managers also provide protection against possible phishing attacks as they use website URLs to access passwords. If you click on a link and think you’re being taken to (for example) your bank’s website, but your password manager doesn’t suggest a password to log you in, this could indicate that it is a site disguised as your bank.

Deeper Dive into the Challenge

There are factors to take into account before you get a password manager. January’s Challenge is to learn more about password managers and make an informed decision about whether or not you need one, and which one to get. The following two articles will help you with this challenge:

This article by Stuart Schechter provides a balanced look at password managers and makes the argument that whether or not you need one is largely determined by how you use technology and what sorts of risks you are most likely to be exposed to. This is a recommended read for anyone wanting to know if password managers are a good option for them, and it provides instructions for testing the waters before you fully dive in.

This informative article by Scott Gilbertson starts with the assumption that you should have a password manager and gives a comprehensive breakdown of the best ones out there. It also makes valid counter-arguments to some of the points in the previous article.

Good luck with January’s challenge and we’ll see you in February for the next one!