Browsing Safe Sites Securely with LastPass

July 11, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Posted in Computers, Internet, Online services, Security, Software, Technology, Web Apps | 9 Comments

You probably know that when you browse web sites and they ask for personal information or a login, you want to be on a secure server. The web address says https:// and the lock symbol shows. Your information is encrypted so is pretty safe. If anyone is “listening” to your data, they can’t read it.

But if you then use an easy-to-guess password like “password” or “0123456” (duh!), you’ve just tossed away your security. It takes hackers just seconds to break simple passwords that use common words and numbers. The fewer the letters, the faster. This is why many are getting their Hotmail accounts hacked, for example*. (Hotmail doesn’t prevent many repeated access attempts.(duh2))

If you use a harder password but use the same one everywhere, and then one of those sites is hacked, you expose yourself everywhere. This becomes increasingly important when there is growing cross-talk between services, like Googles integration, Facebook and suppliers, and so forth. You may not think it that important if someone can look at your Amazon book orders but don’t forget you gave them your credit card info too. It’s surprising what tidbits of information we spread around the Internet about ourselves. Do you remember what you entered 5 years ago?

I’ve written on this subject before:  Good passwords  Password Managers

[UPDATE: if you’d like a good password suggester, this PCTools page has a good one. Select quantity of 10 and it will give you a range to choose from. Choose one you like or run it again.]

I’ve used different techniques over the years. I tried KeePass but storage only tools are fussy to keep current. If not current, they lose usefulness fast. For awhile I used a spreadsheet in a secure Truecrypt “container” to store passwords. But this was a little fiddly to access and one day, it came up corrupted. Fortunately I was able to rescue the data. This also exposes another issue- backing it up. If it’s all stored in one place and that’s lost, you lose it all.

Storing your passwords on-line in a secure way can be the most convenient as they’re then accessible from anywhere. (with a secure password) When browser integrated, they’ll fill in forms and your remembered passwords automatically. And save new ones with a click. This makes them markedly more convenient plus you’re more likely to use a much more secure password if you don’t have to remember it.

You just have to remember one master password – for the password tool – and to log out when you step away from your computer. (NOTE: if you’re at a shared computer, closing the browser does NOT log you out of many services. The server doesn’t know you’ve closed your session. I’ve often sent people an email to themselves when I launched something like Gmail and was taken straight into their account. Yoohoo! And GMail – why have you made Logout harder to find??)

RoboForm is very well recommended but the free version is almost useless, storing only a few passwords.

Another I’ve recommended is LastPass. Gizmo now thinks it’s as good as Roboform. (See also Best Free Password Manager) It combines local software with on-line secure storage. The free version stores unlimited passwords in the cloud securely, decrypts them locally, fills in web forms, allows secure notes, and is accessible from any browser: computer, smart-phone, tablet, iPxx, whatever. (with the plug-in and your master password) Plus you can access your data when not on-line unlike pure on-line services.

Now, you may object to storing your passwords on-line but this is actually more secure than on your computer. They’re encrypted unless you open them on your local computer. LastPass staff cannot access your data, even if a court ordered it or someone hacked them. But if your local computer dies or is stolen, you’ve lost your passwords with the computer. With LastPass, they’re still stored on-line, just like your bank records.

My only quibble was that it didn’t offer a ‘generate password’ option to test strength until it senses you’re logging in to something. That sometimes doesn’t happen on a new site when you want to pick a password. However the Alt-G shortcut will bring you that option. Browse the Tools sub-menu for more.

The last setting during install is to Close LastPass with your browser. Unless you hop from one browser to another a lot, I’d recommend that change from default settings, especially if you’re on a shared computer.  If you miss it, this can be set later in Preferences.

They also have a Premium mode that adds export, on-line backup, USB-key version, separated work passwords, and more for the professional.

This site tells you how to run a Security Check in LastPass. How secure are your passwords? You may find you need to work through them to improve your security. LastPass will suggest more secure passwords that you no longer have to worry about remembering. That’s its job.

If there are some sites you expect to need to access away from your computers (say, your email), you can log into LastPass from anywhere. But simpler to have those few passwords still memorable. A nonsense name blended with characters and numbers can still meet the strong requirement. Think of a fictional nickname of someone at a prior address or having done something an amazing number of times, etc. See the prior article and comments for more tips around this.

David

*email servers have become much more secure, so nasty spammers now look for easily cracked web-mail accounts they can use for spamming. If you don’t nip such a problem in the bud (like when you started getting a bunch of bounced messages you didn’t send), you may get locked out of your account and/or have it shut down. Change the password to something secure NOW!

Password Managers

July 15, 2009 at 1:13 am | Posted in Computers, Internet, Online services, Security, Software | 3 Comments

Password Managers are basically secured databases. You remember one master password to open it and all your passwords, log-ins, etc. are stored within.

The top rated password manager is RoboForm. It has a free version but that only handles a pointless 10 items. It’s about $30 for a more rich version. It includes a bunch of neat tricks for filling out web forms, etc. etc.

For a free tool, there is KeePass. It’s open source and well supported but doesn’t have the same level of form-filling automation as RoboForm. But it does have quick keyboard shortcuts, etc. Great tool. *

LastPass is another free tool with features more like RoboForm. It’s a web service, making passwords available from various computers a little like webmail but also means your passwords are stored remotely on a private server. However they are encrypted before sending so no one has access. Interestingly, some consider this more secure than carrying it on your person. Have not tried it but they have videos on their site showing how it’s used. It does require some software be installed on the computer it’s being used on, like a browser plug-in. Evidently, they plan a version that stores the data locally too.

Another thing I’ve seen people do is put them in an ordinary spreadsheet, but the spreadsheet is stored on a thumb drive in a secured partition. I used to do something similar as I had hundreds to track and they had to be portably accessible 24/7. You can also use tools to encrypt just the file but it’s usually more useful and easier to have one secure place to keep stuff than a bunch of encrypted files.  (again – one password to remember)

Some USB (thumb) drives come with secure partitioning tools. If not, you can use a tool like Rohos Mini Drive for free.

How to set up a drive with Rohos

For fancier encryption options, TrueCrypt is the top rated free tool. But encryption tools are not typically simple to learn.

*You can also put KeePass on a thumb drive to keep it with you.

Don’t simply password protect a spreadsheet. That’s easily cracked with free tools.

And don’t forget to back it up. Decent backup programs allow you to password protect the backup.

This may sound a little complicated but it’s just a matter of choosing your best tool, setting it up, and then getting in the habit of using it. Once your passwords are in there, it makes it all easier and faster.
David

PS – don’t forget the master password. If it’s well encrypted, that’s your only way in.

Accepting Cryptocurrency

February 10, 2021 at 10:41 pm | Posted in Backup, Economoney, Software | 1 Comment
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I’ve had some requests to accept digital currency on my other WordPress site. When I last looked, this was a rather challenging proposition. But I discovered it’s now much more straightforward.

Cryptocurrency is a huge topic. It’s like combining the stock market with international currency exchange and international trade. Uniquely though, it’s decentralized, distributed, very secure, and transactions are all public (but not identities).

I’m just a beginner but I thought it worth sharing what I’ve learned for others in a similar place. There’s lots of conflicting opinions out there.

First, you need a “digital wallet” to hold your funds.

The most secure is a hardware device you plug in via USB.
Devices by Ledger and Trezor are recommended.

But this is premature for getting started. It’s simpler to start with a software digital wallet.

Careful with online trading accounts as you may not control your private key and can be totally dependent on them for your funds and security. No bank insurance.

For a desktop computer, simplest may be an app that handles a single currency, like the recommended Electrum for BitCoin. However, if you’re going to accept several currencies, it’s more straightforward to use one app that handles all your currencies in one wallet and allows easy transferring between them.

I settled on Atomic Wallet. During setup, you’ll be asked to make note of your seed phrase. This is a way to recover your private key and restore funds in the event of a computer problem. Don’t skip this.

Sending and receiving digital funds is free. Exchanging and purchasing coin can be more costly within the app but is also more straightforward and avoids third-party risks. In the upper right is a button to a settings screen that allows you to turn off the currencies you’re not interested in now.

Another recommended option is the similar Exodus. They have a partnership with Trezor, making migrating to hardware later more straightforward. They also have a mobile wallet. The software has fewer features than Atomic and their support pages were lacking.

For iPhone and Android, Trust Wallet or Exodus (above) are recommended, though I’ve not tried them. Evidently Atomic will soon have a mobile app too.

Advantages of a cell app include having the wallet with you and using QR code scans to get wallet addresses rather than copy-paste. The big disadvantage is increased vulnerability, so take care with security settings.

With a digital wallet up and running, you can now exchange digital currency!

The key with any wallet is recognizing your data has monetary value. You need:

1) A password manager. Your wallet needs a strong password that’s hard to remember. You don’t want to lose your funds. And there is no central authority that can restore your password.

This is also a good place to store your Seed Phrase (private key) securely so you can recover your wallet.

2) A backup. While your wallet data is encrypted and stored decentrally online, your access to that is in your wallet. Again, you don’t want to lose that.

After you’ve chosen and installed a wallet, your second step is to offer it to the world. That needs a WordPress plugin. The Cryptocurrency Donation Box was just the ticket.

After installing and activating the plugin, you add your wallets public addresses for each coin you want to offer.

In Atomic, click the currency and click Receive and it will show the public “address” of your wallet for that currency. Click Copy, then paste that into the plugin for that currency.

A few popular ones should do it. Save. On Settings, you may want to tweak the Description.

Finally, just paste the Shortcode into the Page where you want it to show up. I used the tabular one, as shown at the top of the plugins description page.

Now you can accept digital currency on your WordPress site. The user copies your address, pastes it into their wallet, adds an amount, and clicks Send. In a few minutes, it shows up in yours. Easier than PayPal.

Like to know more? A very simple introduction to Bitcoin:

On YouTube

An overview of the implications:

On YouTube

David

DNA testing – Part 3 – Follow-up

June 5, 2017 at 10:27 pm | Posted in Health, History, Online services, Science | 3 Comments
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I’ve written before on DNA testing. In the first article in 2015, I compared the 4 prominent services for personal DNA testing. I chose 23andme. I then reported the broader results. Now I have some updates to that discussion.

It’s turned out the Y chromosome has had a lot more mutation than the maternal line so they had to update the haplogroup naming conventions last year. The original paternal haplogroup name is no longer current and the tree more complex. In my case, the guys wandered further too.

A few terms for the major testing:
Autosomal is the 22 pairs of chromosomes in the cells nucleus, excluding the pair of sex chromosomes. It’s the broad overview and allows you to match to other family members, etc.

Y-DNA is the Y or male sex chromosome. It traces your male line back: fathers, fathers, father, etc. You need to be a male or have a male member of the family tested for this one.

mtDNA – mitochondrial DNA comes from the mitochondria. It is passed down from mothers to both sons and daughters. It traces the mothers line back: mothers, mothers, mothers, etc.

Haplogroup – those that share a common ancestor based on haplotypes, groups of genes inherited from a single parent. We all have a paternal and maternal haplogroup. Haplogroups can be viewed in a tree structure of sequential mutations.

They can trace these 2 lines back roughly 100,000 years now for well-tested populations.

23andMe
Skip forward 2 years and 23andMe has finally upgraded my data to their new site format as promised. For a while, they were offering health results only to Canada and the UK due to US restrictions on “diagnosis.” With the site redesign, they’ve removed a lot of the more detailed health analysis and focus now on general markers like lactose intolerance, sleep depth, and so forth. Gone are more diagnostic things like Celiac and Parkinson’s markers.

Reporting is more centralized and distributed to tabs to support smaller screens. It surprised me to discover printing the reports (for me to PDF) gave a more complete view.

A new report on the Maternal line (haplogroups) goes back as far as the National Geographic’s “Deep Ancestry” report (below) although the second has slightly more detail.

The paternal haplogroup name was updated but there’s a gap between the tree map in the paternal section and the specific haplogroup named. As I discovered on FTDNA below, it’s also less specific.

Genographic
Meantime, I had also decided to take advantage of a sale on National Geographic’s Genographic Project. I wanted to support their work, and it offers more of a deep ancestry approach.

Here a deviation has taken place. Family Tree DNA used to do all their testing, allowing you to load your DNA test results into FTDNA (below) afterwards for free. However, for US customers, Helix is now doing their testing. They’re using a newer system that is not compatible with FTDNA. If you get the Helix test (white box, spit not swab), you can’t download the genome after either.

But as I’m Canadian, I still got the black, cheek swab kit to send to FTDNA in Texas.

My first impression of the Genographic results wasn’t positive – they didn’t notify me when the results were up. And the first presented report is “Genius” matches. It displayed famous people (not geniuses) who had some unmentioned genetic match. Essentially a pointless report.

The Regional Ancestry report had quite different percents from 23andMe but I suspect was less accurate due to the much smaller testing population.

What I did enjoy was the Deep Ancestry reports. This showed the maternal and paternal lines over thousands of years, migrating across vast distances as the ages changed.

There is also a Hominin report for the percent of Neanderthal DNA. This varied substantially from the 23andMe result as well.

Another disappointment was printing. The reports didn’t print well and the official printable report that summarized much of the above was missing all the maps even though the reports refer to them. I had to use screen captures for the maps and assemble them with the reports myself.

Given that 23andMe now includes very similar reports and has a great deal more other ones, it’s certainly preferable. It’s possible the Helix testing for Americans offers more reports or detail but that’s unclear. I suspect 23andMe would still be superior.

Family Tree DNA
Because I got the old Genographic kit, I could transfer the results to Family Tree DNA for free. This allowed downloading the Genome file and offered a few basic reports.

One of note though was the Y-DNA haplotree. This went much further than 23andMe, offering a Haplogroup that was 15 steps more detailed. And there they offered a further test (at a cost) to take it a few steps further.

From this, I discovered the links between the 23andMe paternal map and their designation of my haplogroup plus further steps that FTDNA named.

One of the bigger differences with FTDNA is their a la carte approach to ordering tests. You send in or transfer one sample and then pay just for the tests you want when you want them. Where the others above include autosomal, mtDNA, and Y-DNA, FTDNA lets you choose. Y-DNA is of no use for women, for example, as they don’t have the Y chromosome.

You can also choose the degree of testing for the mt and Y reports. If you’re a male and test all 3 at the basic level, it will cost you more than these others. But for serious researchers, there is a level of detail available you don’t see in the one-size services.

The site has many “projects” where members discuss details of their research. The one’s I looked at required the Y67 test to join as they were specific to certain haplogroups.

FTDNA offered me a significant autosomal discount, so I ordered the Family Finder test to connect with a few relatives on the system. This gave me the Matches section and Chromosome browser, similar to what 23andMe has. The Origins reports where too general to be of much use. They did not match known family regions either.

Also note they’re using the oldest technology now.

Conclusions
I’d still recommend 23andMe for the overview. Their reports are broader and bring a more complete perspective. They use newer tech and have a larger customer base which increases accuracy and matches.

Family Tree DNA is superior if you want to explore genealogy in greater detail. They have more detailed test options but use older tech and are more expensive. Just understanding the value of their options requires a serious exploration.

National Geographic Genographic Project loses much of it’s advantage as others begin to include deep ancestry reporting. With their migration to the newer tech, it can’t be uploaded to FTDNA nor the genome downloaded for other services.

Ancestry also includes a DNA testing service but this would only be helpful if you use their services already. The family tree building software is sophisticated but is an ongoing expense.

From some of the commentary I’ve read on-line, serious researchers use several of the services for different features and to connect with different populations. As the number tested grows, the detail levels will increase. Added features will make going back in and taking a look around again useful, even for the casually curious.
David

Windows 10 Upgrade & Tweaks

May 13, 2016 at 9:02 pm | Posted in Computers, Internet, Software | 14 Comments
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If you’re using Windows 8, the free upgrade to Windows 10 is an obvious choice. Some describe it as what Win8 should have been in the first place. Windows 7 is a bigger jump but unless your hardware isn’t up for it, upgrading while it’s free may be a good idea. I waited for the dust to settle and the bugs to be fixed. But now, the end of the free upgrade period is coming July 29. Experts say it’s unlikely to be extended. If you’re considering it, it’s time to make your move and avoid a last-minute crunch.

If you’ve already upgraded, you may find the Protection section and below worth reviewing.

Usually, I install a fresh version of a new operating system so I’m starting from a clean slate without historical problems. But this requires reinstalling all the software and making all the settings changes from scratch. Because Win10 is a smaller change and my Win8 installs are newer, I opted for the free upgrade.

Preparation
You first want to update Windows fully.

And update your major software to ensure it’s current & compatible with Win10. You may find PSI useful. I had a problem with several things hanging after the upgrade. Turns out I needed to install a new version of my Antivirus tool. I had thought it’s version was current but it turned out not to be.

Next create a full image of your operating system – the update gives you the choice to revert but if something goes wrong, you want to be able to get back to where you started. I had trouble with Windows backup on my tablet. It wouldn’t accept any of the media options that where available. Macrium Reflect (free) allowed me to choose a large thumb drive and get the job done.

For Windows upgrade, you can download the tool to start the upgrade process here. This is preferable to using the “Get Windows 10” tool Microsoft has pushed on many computers.

If you’d like a fresh install, you can get the media creation tool here. It has DVD and thumb-drive options. But you’ll need a prior Win10 activation. To get that, you first have to Upgrade to Win10, then Activate, and then you can wipe the drive and install fresh. When you come to activate that, Microsoft will recognize a valid install on the same system. Fred Langa goes into details here. (paid content)

Installation
The install software first spends time checking your system and downloading the upgrade files. This can be done while you continue to work. When the time comes for the actual upgrade, a lunch break would be optimum.

I upgraded a hybrid tablet and a custom desktop system. Both went smoothly and retained most of my customization and settings.

As the install is completing, it will ask you to log in to your Microsoft account. If you had been using a PIN or similar, be sure to have your original password ready.

Next you get the “Get Going Fast” screen – don’t. Click the tiny Customize link in the lower left and review some of the default settings. If you want some privacy, you’ll want to turn a lot of the initial settings off. Also the default apps if you already have programs you prefer.

After more processing, it will bring you to the desktop. Most of it should look about the same.

If you were using a third-party start menu, it will probably have been turned off. Microsoft told me twice Classic Shell had been “removed” but it wasn’t uninstalled, just tuned off.

Protection
For some reason, System Protection is turned off by default. In Control Panel, System, System Protection, turn on System Protection for your boot drive, set the space at about 2% and create a Restore point. Details. This gives you the ability to roll back if an update causes trouble. Windows Updates are now only automatic so this is important.

Windows key-X will give you a quick menu to access various admin functions, including Control Panel. Or right-click the Start menu icon.

Adjustments
Three areas that need attention are the new variation of the Start menu, Search, and Settings. We’ll look at Settings first.

Continuing in the trend of Win8, Windows 10 has settings in 2 places – Control Panel and the Settings app. The second is accessed by the Gear icon in the Start menu. You’ll want to review each area as some of the default settings are less than desirable.

If you travel a lot and want to share settings across devices, want to use mostly MS products, and want to share everything with Microsoft and the world, you may be happy with the default settings. If not, spend a bit of time reviewing them. This will also give you a better sense of what Win10 offers and what you can control.

System
Most in here are fine. You may want to review Notifications.
Offline Maps may be useful for you if you need map access where Internet service is lacking. But the maps are large files. If they don’t finish downloading before you reboot, you have to start again.

Devices
By default, it has Windows manage your default printer, based on the one you used last. I turned that off. My printer was off during the update and was not on the list. When I turned it on and asked it to search for new printers, it said there was none but added the printer meantime.

Network
It’s notable Windows now tracks your data usage like a cell phone.
If you have wireless, in WiFi, Manage WiFi settings, turn off the automated connection options. You want to manage what hotspots you connect to, not your Contacts, etc. And why would you want where you connect being shared like this?

Personalization
I found that Windows retained my prior settings but the accent colour didn’t look as good.
You may want to tweak the Local Screen settings.
Start is where you adjust the Start menu. If you use default Windows locations for your music and such, you can control which folders are displayed.

Accounts
If you don’t plan to sync settings on multiple devices, turn off Sync. Key to understand here is it’s all synced through your Microsoft account on-line. That’s not exactly privacy.

You will need to keep your MS account but can add and use a Local account so you’re not obliged to sign in to Microsoft (and be connected to the Internet) whenever you’re using your computer. Of course, the later is required for some features.

To create a Local account, go to Family and Other Users: look for ‘I don’t have this persons sign-in’ and add a User without a MS account.

For security, it’s not recommended you do regular computing in an Admin account. One way to avoid loosing your personalizations is to create a new Admin user, then log into it and change the original account to Regular. You’ll need the Admin password to make changes but it prevents malware from running accidentally.

It was also recommended to create a 2nd Admin account as backup, in case the first gets corrupted.

Time and Ease
Worth browsing to see what’s here.

Privacy
This is the big one. Your Advertising ID? There are a series of sections to go over, including which apps can access your personal data. If you don’t use the App, you can turn it off.

Update
Updates are always automatic in Windows 10 Home. In Windows Update, Advanced options, change the setting to Notify. Otherwise it may reboot your computer to update while you’re working.

Some have suggested you can control updates by setting your connection to Metered. But that’s canceled whenever you connect to a new network.

Search
Click Cortana in the Taskbar (by the Start menu), then the Settings icon and turn off online. Otherwise, everything you search for on your computer is also searched on Bing and tracked. Don’t know about you, but I don’t expect to find my work files on the Internet. I also find it more useful to use a browser to search on-line. I can also then use the search engine of my choice. You may want to turn off Cortana reminders at the top too.

You can also change the space it takes – an icon may be fine. For that, right-click the Taskbar, select Search, and then box, icon, or hidden.

Start Menu
As usual, there’s some junk in the Start menu to unpin. I prefer desktop programs over almost any of the apps. Once you clean out the “Get Office” etc, the right side is more manageable. You may also find you can make the tiles smaller. If you’re not on a touchscreen, the big tiles just take up space.

I find the lack of a Programs folder view annoying. The All Apps alphabetical view is much less useful as I group related programs in folders. But I was happy to see you can right click and Uninstall the undesirables.

At first I found some weird things on the list, like program Help links rather than just executables. But that seems to have sorted itself out. However, if you open folders, it shows everything in all the sub-folders together, including files like “legal” & “readme”. It doesn’t show which program they’re associated with. They apparently assumed no one organizes their Start Menu.

You can browse the alpha list and Pin your more commonly used programs, or create a folder with shortcuts for them and make that a new Toolbar (from the Taskbar). Woody shares many other tricks here.

I’ll have to decide how I will organize the Start menu – break programs out of groups? That will make the list vastly longer and require I remember the right name (Office? Microsoft Office?). Or use a third-party Start menu? The free Classic Shell still works for Windows 10 and is great for hierarchical menus. The exploration continues.
David

CHIPping Away

May 25, 2015 at 3:11 pm | Posted in uncategorized | Leave a comment

I wrote previously about CHIP (Complete Health Improvement Program) and some of the science behind CHIP. I also wrote a related article on Minimizing Cancer Risk, basically with much the same recommendations.

The first articles were written early on in the course. As the course has progressed, we’ve gone into much more detail on various things, like the value of fibre and micronutrients vs calorie-dense foods. We’ve explored the major effect lifestyle has on issues like heart disease, diabetes and cancer plus cleared up some nutritional myths about protein, calcium, iron and vitamins.

If we look at the bigger picture of our health and well-being, it works out that about 70% of it is determined by our lifestyle choices. In other words, the bulk of our health is in our hands.

Another 10% is influenced by our genetics. But more important than our genes is gene expression. The study of gene expression is known as epigenetics. Just because we have a gene doesn’t mean it will be expressed.

For example, every cell has the entire set of genes. But an ear cell doesn’t need to express any of the genes that create proteins specific to brains, gut or eyes. Those genes are turned off. And the largest influence on gene expression? Nutrition.

Makes sense if you consider that our diet is what gives the body both it’s building blocks and many of the challenges it has to deal with. Change the gene expression and it changes your body. This is why even identical twins get increasingly different over their lives – small differences is choices. They add up. And you have a choice.

Sometimes you see diseases that are “passed down” in families. We may blame genetics but what is something else we pass down? Lifestyles, including diet and activity levels. These typically have a stronger effect on our life than our genes themselves do. In other words, it’s not so much what we have but how we use it.

We also explored how beliefs drive feelings and feelings drive behaviour. Becoming conscious of some of our old beliefs around food and exercise can be very useful. Say for example, “I hate broccoli”. I certainly once felt this way. But finally as an adult I discovered that I don’t actually, especially if it’s served with a squeeze of lemon.

Another common example is around exercise. Many of us have tried exercise routines that became difficult or a chore. We then associate exercise as unpleasant and something to avoid. And yet gyms are full of people who get a high on it.

The key with making changes to diet and exercise is to make the process pleasurable. Otherwise, you’ll develop an aversion to it. The key challenge is moving past the initial inertia in getting your body moving again. Once you do, then it becomes pleasant. When you get into the zone, pleasurable. The it becomes much easier to establish it as a habit.

As most exercise and goal setting programs tell you, take it a step at a time. Grow into it.

I’ve been really enjoying the walking and notice I’ve gradually increased how far I go effortlessly. And the program has now upped the ante. They noted that exercising an hour a day and then sitting 10 hours will not help your health as much. We have to break up all that sitting. Key is adding routines, like a stretching program and a gentle resistance/ strength training routine. In other words, building a more well-rounded exercise routine.

This increases fitness further and helps with weight loss and health maintenance.
We’re in the last 1/3 of the course now…
David

Android Security

July 11, 2014 at 11:44 pm | Posted in Computers, Internet, Online services, Security, Software, Web Apps | Leave a comment

I’ve noticed that a lot of smart-phone users don’t take their security as seriously as they do on Windows machines. They’re happy to surf the web without virus protection and to install software with rather appalling permissions. I’ve seen simple games wanting access to your call history, data, identity, location and more – yet they’re recommended by the Play store. Clearly, their standards are not mine.

Android has become the most widely used OS in the world. It dominates mobile devices. So it’s become a target for trouble. And for the modern trend of collecting user info and selling it.

Fred Langa recently wrote a good overview of some of the apps you might find useful for Android security. He reviews AV suites, Password management, device recovery, wiping, and VPNs.

I’ve been surprised how robust the Android security suites have become. Fred mentions Lookout, which I’m not familiar with. He runs through it’s features, making it a good comparison point for other suites. He also notes that there is some garbage posing as security software – you do want software you can trust. I’ve been using ESET Antivirus for some time on my PC’s and have been very happy with it. So it’s a natural that I checked out ESET’s Android offering. I was surprised to discover they were actually underselling it on the web site.

The app walks you through setting up each section as you choose to activate that feature set. If it recommends setting changes, it gives you easy access to those settings. I didn’t have a need for ‘Call and SMS Blocking‘ but the rest of it was rich with features I found useful.

When I tried to register on the web site for an anti-theft account prior, it failed. But when I registered through the app, it worked fine. Not sure why they have a register option on the web site when its the device that has to register. I was then able to test the anti-theft features on-line. It did catch a picture of me and did show the phones location within about 5 meters. (that’s controlled by the area and phones GPS) If you’re prone to leave your phone places, that can be really handy. You can also text commands much as Fred describes in the article, like locking the phone, have it make a loud noise, and so forth.

Most satisfying to me was the ‘Security Audit‘ feature as I’d become concerned about the behaviour of some apps and I wasn’t as informed when setting the phone up. Indeed, it found one of the games had infection issues through it’s advertising. And a few apps had stepped over reasonable permission bounds. ESET takes you right to the apps permissions and uninstall if you need it.

The free version has somewhat reduced features but is fully functional. It’s clear in the app which parts you’re test-driving during the 30 day free trial. Scroll down the page here to see a comparison chart of the differences.

Premium ESET is currently on sale for $10/ year, $15 for 2. From Fred’s article, $15/yr seems typical for paid versions, though Lookout is $30. ESET is usually in the middle.

More
If you travel a lot or use public hot spots, a VPN can much improve security – especially if you need to do some banking or some such. Fred reviews some of those options. Device recovery and system wiping tools are included in some AV suites, like the above, but he also suggests stand alone ones if that’s needed.

Finally, Password management. For this, you want a tool that’s useful both on your PCs and mobile. Fred suggests several which basically mean having 2 or more password stores.  Not very efficient to have different passwords in different places – the one you need is the one that will be stored somewhere else.

As readers here know, I’m a fan of LastPass, a free PC password manager. The premium version, for $12 a year, adds many other features including mobile access to your password vault from any device. It also allows you to separate work and home passwords, create family shared ones, and adds enterprise tools.

Safe surfing, wherever you are.
David

Network Media Centre

June 19, 2014 at 1:56 pm | Posted in Computers, Hardware, Internet, Media, Online services, Security, Software, Technology | 1 Comment

In recent years, how we consume media has changed markedly. Video rentals stores have mostly died. Some have cancelled their cable service. Flat screen TV’s, then Smart TV’s (with built-in computers) have become common. On-line media sources as well. Movies now offer digital copies and so on.

If you mainly get your services from online sources like Netflix and Hulu, then you want a Smart TV or attached media box with a wireless keyboard and a smart remote like LG’s Magic Remote. (a standard TV remote is near useless for web browsing and such)

But if your main source is local digital media, like your movie, photo and music collections, you need a local storage solution. It might seem like hooking your computer up to your TV is a great idea, but that’s not likely to be convenient for how you normally use it. It will also create issues with backup sizes. Plus, I’ve found that TV media serving software tends to bog your computer and doesn’t update changes reliably.

Custom-building a PC as a media server may seem like a great idea, but the form factor and energy consumption are not as good. And PC’s need all those fricking updates.

Your better solution is a NAS (Network Attached Storage) that includes a media server. These are energy efficient boxes designed for handling large media files. They’re somewhat similar to an external hard drive except they plug into your network (typically the router) and contain a small computer that allows them to handle several drives. They’re a natural for the job.

You do need to check it will work for your setup though – will it hold drives large enough for your growing media collection? And does it have the right kind of media server for your TV? Typically a DLNS is supported by Smart TV’s but do check yours. Can your TV even connect to a network? Smart TV’s do.

In my own case, I have an LG Smart TV and their Magic remote.

Normally with a NAS, the drives are set up to appear as a single massive drive or are mirrored in pairs. A mirrored drive creates an immediate backup of everything that’s on the main drive. This is a common practice on servers. You get half the available space but a perfect backup.

Buying a NAS, they don’t typically come with drives pre-installed – you choose your own. The exception would be some home offerings like HP’s My Cloud models. They’re more limited and pricey but get good reviews. The reviews oddly seem to compare wildly different types of NAS (with huge variations in price) rather than separating out home and business systems. Ideally, you get matching drives – especially if you’re going to mirror them. But you can start with one and add the other later.

I got a Shuttle OmniNAS KD20 on sale. This is a basic model made by an established small-format computer maker. It’s not a fast NAS but is much less expensive than many and does fine at turning your TV into a media centre from local content. We’re not talking about your office data centre here. The box is well designed and I found it very straightforward to set up. They indicate it’s supported by Win XP+, Mac and Linux.

In buying drives, the OmniNAS supports 2 drives up to 4TB each for max of 8 TB. That’s a lot of media. The WD Reds get the best reviews for the purpose, but this is a budget project. I found 2x 3TB Seagate external drives that were on sale for much less than the bare drives. Removing them from the case is straightforward but this does void the warranty. Thus it’s a good idea to test the drives in their cases prior to removal, if you take such a route. It’s also a slight bit more work.

Also note that setting up the NAS will erase anything on the drives, so copy anything off them before installing in the NAS. They’re generally configured to be in an array in a NAS. That way they appear as a single drive on the network.

In my case I was disassembling Seagate Expansion drives and used the free Seatools to test the drives prior. Seatools is not restricted to Seagate drives. This video reviews both the testing and the drive removal for that model. Shims do a better job than a screwdriver to avoid breaking the clips or damaging the surface – then you have spare cases for another external drive.

The OmniNAS supports both PC and laptop-sized SATA drives. Installing the drives is straightforward. Just follow the Quickstart Guide. You screw them onto the drive tray, then slide them in. Screws provided, as was a network cable. Plug it in and turn it on, voilà!

You then install Finder software on your PC. You can get the newer version from the web site. This finds the NAS on the network, then opens a browser window to configure the device.

It will ask for an Admin password, then later wants to set up a username and password. Make sure you have strong passwords, especially if you plan to share the media through the Internet. A tool like LastPass can help you track all your passwords securely.

I highly recommend you install the Firmware upgrade through the browser interface. (see the Downloads tab) The problems I saw reported with the unit when I researched it prior are addressed with this update. If you loose access to it on the network prior to updating, shut it down and then restart.

Be sure to edit the Workgroup name to match your LAN if it’s not the default “Workgroup”. (on your computer, right-click My Computer and select Properties. Scroll down to see the Workgroup name)

In my case I set up mirrored drives as the backup was more useful than all that drive space. I can easily change that later if I need more space.

Share Box sets your NAS up to serve media onto the Internet as your own “private cloud”, accessible from your Internet connected devices. Basically your own Dropbox service. This is done through an Omninas domain portal. You can skip that and set it up later if your main desire is for your local network and TV.

The box has a Twonky DLNS media server included free, which the LG TV happily and easily supported. Anything added to the “disc” folder is available to the TV. I added a lot of files – this took a bit of time to copy over on my non-Gigabit network – but the NAS had no trouble serving it all. In contrast, the LG PC software choked on a fraction of it and didn’t update reliably.

It also has an iTunes server, if you’re in Mac world or like serving your media that way. If not, turn it off.

And it has a print server to share your USB printer on the network. And an SD card reader and USB ports if you want to add or copy media that way.

It even has a torrent server, although you have to disable the media server for that. Several reviews criticised that but it may be a security measure.

The OmniNAS also comes with a copy of Acronis imaging software if you wish to use the NAS for your backups as well. It will work fine with recent editions of Microsoft Backup and Mac Time Machine as well – in fact any software that will backup to network locations.

If you want your backup to also serve as a remote access store, use a tool like Cobain Gravity that copies files rather than images them. Imaging software is ideal for the operating system and programs but copy software is better for your files to ensure immediate access in the event of trouble.

If you Map the network drive, then the NAS shows up as a drive in Windows Explorer and such making file transfer easier.

For simplicity, I set up the free Microsoft SyncToy to echo to the NAS some of the media folders like Photos. I like copies of those on my computer, so when I update them, Synctoy will match all the changes to the NAS.

Then you can have slide shows, music playlists, and more on your TV. It becomes today’s stereo. If you have surround speakers, it’s better even than an old Quad system. Any other devices on your network also have access to all the content now too.

And if you also want to access that media on your tablet, smartphone (Android or iPhone  apps in the Stores) or laptop on the road, Share Box to the rescue. No worries about storing your stuff on someone else’s servers. If you’re a small business person, you can backup your documents to the NAS, ensuring both a backup and that you always have access. No worries about remote access to your PC. (note the comments about backup types above if you want document access – don’t image those files)

I’ve been much happier with the OmniNAS than serving from my laptop. It’s been more reliable, frees up computer resources, and provides another layer of backup.
Have fun!
David

Heartbleed – what is it?

April 11, 2014 at 11:16 am | Posted in Economoney, Internet, Media, Online services, Security, Software, Web Apps | 7 Comments

When you log into a secure web site and get “https” and a lock symbol, what you transmit is secure, right? Maybe. About 2/3’s of the web uses OpenSSL and its recently been discovered it’s had a bug for about 2 years.

“Heartbleed has the potential to be one of the biggest, most widespread vulnerabilities in the history of the modern web.”

Security expert Bruce Schneier says “‘catastrophic’ is the right word. On the scale of 1 to 10, this is an 11.

While there is a fix and it’s unlikely this was discovered and exploited in the past, the issue now is with sites that don’t have decent maintenance and don’t get updated. Now that the bug is known, some old site you used once long ago may now be insecure. If you have the habit of using the same password all over or using your social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc) logins on other sites, you may have unwittingly shared your access all over. Including to sites that are now secure.

Changing your password on such old sites won’t help in the slightest, contrary to some of the advice floating around. It’s only a useful exercise if you know the site has updated. But you can on sites that are fixed. All the major ones apparently have but there are millions of servers out there.

And the trick is, even server admins may never know they’ve been hacked with this one.

This article explains: Heartbleed Nightmare

You can check a site you use here

This is a great reason not to use the same password on multiple sites and may be a great time to implement a password manager like LastPass, if you have not already.

Not only did Monday bring Heartbleed but there was a security update for WordPress on Tuesday and another for Jetpack on Wednesday. The second 2 are things bloggers should update now. The first you want to be sure your web host has. You really don’t want your ecommerce offerings to go nasty on you.
David

UPDATE – see comments for more links. It’s also become apparent it exists in many security devices.

Safe Browsing, still

February 19, 2014 at 11:52 pm | Posted in Computers, Economoney, Internet, Online services, Security, Software | 1 Comment

Periodically, I’ve recommended some tools that help keep your browsing safe. Web sites are the most common way of getting infections now. Not to mention tracking your activities and identity. I thought it was time for an update as the threats and tools continue to evolve.

Of course, the most important tool is common sense. Don’t go into bad neighbourhoods. Look before you leap.

I personally use the Firefox browser because it’s the most customizable. It’s also an open-source platform that’s not invested in making money from the collection of user data. That collection in itself leads to both privacy and security issues. Some consider Chrome superior but I have concerns about using too many Google services as they do collect user info for marketing. LifeHacker discusses the browser issues here.

This article is thus focused on securing Firefox on a Windows PC. Some of these tools or equivalents are also available for Chrome and Internet Explorer. This is not a review of all security tools but rather recommended examples in several categories, with a few caveats. All are free, unless otherwise noted.

Your first line of defence is of course a good Anti-Virus service and Firewall. With Windows 7, the built-in firewall is fine. The hardware firewall in routers is also advantageous. As for anti-virus, you can check testing sites like AV-Test for your choice. Some free ones are as good as the paid ones for basic protection. I’ve been using paid ESET NOD32 AV to good effect for some time.

Firefox Add-ons:
Anti-Code:
AdBlock Plus
Blocks most annoying 3rd party ads that slow down web sites and track your presence.

NoScript
The first thing many suggest you install – it blocks the troublesome scripts on web sites, similar to the above. Lifehacker suggests this is redundant with AdBlock. I’ve been using both but they have come to overlap more.

RequestPolicy is a more aggressive version of this. With it, I typically found a web site was text-only until I worked out where their styles and functionality were loaded from and adjusted the settings. This is a bit of a guessing game that makes it less effective in practice to me.

Priv3
Specifically targets tracking done by social networking services on other sites, like the omnipresent Facebook “Like” buttons that can track your browsing even without clicking.

Better Privacy
This deletes “Super” or Flash cookies – a more invasive and persistent type of cookie. I’ve not found the deletion affects performance of any sites. But I was surprised how many some sites use.

None of these would be necessary if web sites played more politely with visitors.

Safe Sites marker:
WOT (Web of Trust)
This is a crowd-driven add-on that will flag your search results to warn you off of troublesome sites. (versions for most everyone)

Safe Preview
This tool does not show up in search results unless you ask but can give an overview from 5 services, including WOT, before you click. (Norton now stingily blocks 3rd-party tools like this) I use it as a 2nd opinion if the WOT result is unexpected either way. I used to recommend LinkExtend similarly but it’s not been updated in some time.

VTzilla
A Virus Total tool to give a site or download link a deeper check with a right-click. How’s it fare with multiple anti-virus sources? A cautionary step before inviting something onto your computer from unknown sources.
(VT has other versions for Chrome and IE)

Search Management:
Google No-Tracking
Shuts off nested links in Google search results to avoid click-tracking. Google will still track you but it reduces some of this and it makes copying web addresses, doing checks with the above tools and so forth much easier. It also makes Google faster.

StartPage.com is a search alternative that doesn’t track but uses Google. DuckDuckGo is also suggested but I’ve not found the results as useful. Both eliminate the “filter bubble” of targeted search results where your IP and history determine what you see, rather than what the larger world is discussing.

Support tools:
LastPass
For secure passwords – much more secure storage that will fill-in login details and remember strong passwords for you. Way better than browser tools. I’ve recommended this before. RoboForm is also well-recommended but not free.

TIP – Avoid the temptation to use your social site logins on other sites. It makes you much easier to hack and track. That’s becoming all too common and is not in your best interest. Use distinct logins for every site and let something like LastPass help you keep track of them.

FEBE
backs up your Add-ons, themes, and settings in Firefox automatically.

If you want to see how a site is tracking you, try Lightbeam.

Some of the other add-ons I’ve tried I found too aggressive. Lifehacker recommends Disconnect, for example. While it may reduce tracking, it also greatly reduces the functionality and display of web sites. Again it becomes a guessing game to know what needs OK. They have made you more anonymous but do it by breaking site features.

And if you’re also logged into a sister site, you’ve lost the advantage. Even worse if you’ve logged in using a social media sites credentials.

Browsing through a VPN, sandbox, or alias site would be more effective if privacy is a priority. Just keep in mind that the web is not about privacy but sharing. That’s why it’s called a world wide web. Anything you share often stays shared, beyond anything you may have imagined. A long-gone web site I built 16 years ago still has a copy on-line at the Wayback Machine, for example.

Bad Add-ons:
On the flip side, you may find this HowToGeek article useful – some browser add-ons are or have become spyware, reporting all of your browsing history and inserting ads on pages you visit. The article includes a follow-up list of troublesome ones to avoid or remove.

I considered moving away from popular webmail services to avoid some of the tracking but soon realized that many contacts use them, so the messages get tracked anyway. Email has not yet had this kind of functionality added. Another gold mine for advertisers.

Safe computing!
David

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