Sunday, 11 September 2016

Just a Few of My Favourite Things...

No, I'm not going to go all musical on you - i'm going to point out a couple of inexpensive or free bits of software that have saved my butt a couple of times over the last couple of years. This post isn't really for the more technical among you (OK, I'm pretending I have readers here, I don't), as you probably already have solutions to these problems, but rather for those who are happily wandering through their digital life with a few bits missing. I've found myself doling out the same bits of advice a couple of times to friends and family members over the last year or so, so here it is, condensed in barely readable blog form...

You gots to have backup. Please believe me when I tell you that there's no such thing as a reliable harddisk (or, these days, SSD). Not only can the storage in your PC or Mac easily take a turn for the worse, but there's now ransomware, viruses, and plain old human stupidity to contend with. The last time I suffered a total loss of an entire PC was a combination of mild stupidity, laziness, and a windows 10 upgrade. And I am supposed to know better. So my go-to tool here is Backblaze. For £50 a year you get an unlimited amount of space in Backblaze's cloud to store your data. The little bit of software you download works out which files you've added or changed, and uses your Internet connection to store a copy far, far away. You will find it chews up your internet connection for fun to begin with, as your entire life's work gets compressed, encrypted and sent to the cloud. This is but a temporary inconvenience. When everything goes wrong, you can download files ad-hoc, or buy a harddisk from them with all your data on. Lifesaver.
PC or Mac -  £50/yr -

Password Management
Most people have a fair few passwords in their possession. Actually, they don't. They have a fair few accounts, and mostly they reuse the same password, because the human brain is rubbish at storing passwords. Occasionally, one of your accounts will get popped by the bad guys, and depending on the security chops of the organisation that lost your deets, the bad guys will have your password, clear as day (the one you re-used everywhere) within a couple of hours or a couple of weeks.  Dropbox, for example, have had roughly 70 million accounts compromised. Many of those users will subsequently have their email or Amazon accounts taken too. My suggestion is to use a password manager that securely generates random passwords for you. You lock these passwords up in an electronic safe which you protect with one, strong password you don't re-use. Ever. This is putting your eggs in one basket, and watching that basket like a hawk. Personally, I keep about 4 passwords: Email, Bank, Credit card, Password manager. The Password manager looks after the other 135.
My favourite is LastPass - the free account is perfectly serviceable, I go for the $12/yr premium.
PC, Mac, IOS, Android - Free -

Old, old hat, but many people, especially Mac users (of which club I am a newly minted member, see also the Windows 10 debacle) dont bother with AV. I still wouldn't bother on a mobile device (to my mind, the app store gives a level of protection that makes the extra battery drain and aggro of AV not worth while) but on a desktop or laptop AntiVirus remains essential. Windows Security Essentials is OK, but far from perfect. I'm going to recommend Sophos, and this is for a few reasons: they're a decent enough company, they score OK on the AV comparatives, and they're the only free anti-virus out there that doesn't bombard you with ads or freemium upgrades. I picked Sophos for the mac ahead of a couple of paid-for variants. When I couldn't transfer my Bitdefender licence, the market for Apple AV is still pretty small. Sophos hit the heights in the recent comparatives on Mac, and I wasn't about to argue on price. Hopefully the simple download and install and zero cost will get you using AV if you don't already have it, or it is out of date. All management is through the web console: this is both a blessing, and occasionally a curse (less so if you have Lastpass, logging in is so much quicker!). You can add up to 10 computers to the management console.
PC or Mac - Free -

I know i've only hit the high spots here, but if you aren't using anything in these 3 categories, please, start today. I've only given you one product - Backblaze - that costs anything, and even that is fantastic value.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Converting Firefox Bookmarks

So, I recently bought a Macbook. Windows PC had died a horrible death involving Windows 10.

I have my backup - but I no longer want to use Firefox (I have Chrome, I have Safari... that'll do). I need to convert Firefox bookmarks into something useful. Normally, you'd export as "bookmarks.html" and have at it. Unfortunately I don't have the running system to export from.

Firefox has some loopy compressed json backup format - I couldn't read that based on 5 minutes googling. I used "places.sqlite" from the profile directory instead.

Here is a bit of perl which will do a very rudimentary job of converting the mozilla sqlite database into something approaching bookmarks.html. I hope somebody finds it useful, and maybe it saves them installing Firefox just for a conversion.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Wordpress goes HTTPS - Not All Good News?

Wordpress has recently turned on encryption for blogs hosted in their cloud. Good news, mostly. Particularly good for Wordpress users, who will benefit from a better google pagerank.

To be honest, that's about the only major benefit here. I hope it will help, long term, to get folks thinking about crypto. I hope it results in a few fewer security issues.

Unfortunately, it will lead to an uptick in secure traffic that's malicious. Wordpress blogs are a notoriously good place for stashing a bit of something unpleasant, and if Internet wrongdoers can get a "green padlock" on their fishing site, or avoid mixed content issues, I am sure Wordpress just got a little more attractive.

Ultimately, Wordpress are heading in the right direction, for which I admire them, but sometimes, doing right by the good guys also gives the bad guys a leg up. It's up to the rest of us to raise our game.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

The Last Bastion of Port 80?

It's good to see the wane of plain HTTP traffic, and the rise of almost ubiquitous HTTPS. Indeed the 30 or so tabs I happen to have open today comprise 24 HTTPS and 6 plain HTTP (3 of these belonging to a large organisation that should know better). We can't trust the transmission media in the way we did in those carefree days of the 90s, so everything sensitive must be encrypted. Of course, we know the perils of mixing plaintext delivered content within supposedly secure pages, and likewise the issues around moving from one realm to the other. As such, we have no option: HTTPS is everywhere.

There is one last place, however, where plain ol' HTTP reigns supreme - home network appliances. Things like the new NAS I treated myself to the other day to replace an aging linux server. What do I need to bother with keeping that running - all I really need is a DLNA server, Samba... case closed, the NAS is perfect. Trouble is, these devices all encourage us to administer them over port 80. I can see why, as well. Because of all the issues secure sites have had being spoofed, it is more and more difficult to visit a site with no "real" certificate. You need to click through 101 warnings and find the "advanced" section to allow the transaction to continue. This is a good thing for the Internet at large, but it brings difficulties in cases like this.

What's the answer? Well, there's not a good one - at least not yet. I appreciate the efforts Buffalo have gone to in allowing me to upload a certificate for my NAS. That's a start. I'd like to see HSTS as an option: so that once I have either sorted the cert, or added it as an exception I don't accidentally go back to plaintext.

Is there room for an extension to HTTP/2 that can help us set up these home devices, where we've got no infrastructure? Perhaps. It sounds like something that could be exploited, however - so would need careful thought. If the "Internet of Things" is going to be a reality, though, we must do better (perhaps the "everything has it's own webserver" paradigm is what needs to die?)

In the meantime,  make sure you give each of these devices a unique password, so if it is sniffed off your network by the cat (my cat's not that into hacking, so I'm ok), she can't log into your amazon account.