I.T. Security and Linux Administration

July 31, 2013  9:28 PM

Why the NSA stuff doesn’t bother me

Eric Hansen Eric Hansen Profile: Eric Hansen

I love security, the cat and mouse game, the endless ventures of finding ways to thwart your best-friend-gone-rogue.  You’d figure all of the events circulating the NSA would at least raise a hair or two on my scalp, wouldn’t you?  Well, not really…

First and foremost, it just doesn’t surprise me.  This isn’t the first time the NSA has been involved in these types of scenarios, and I’m not really sure why this is any different.  The government never really has been for or against its people, its been for itself.  Just like a business, the government wants to protect its IP, however it has fewer mediums to do so due to the risks there would be if word got out.  Case in point: now.

Edward Snowden also isn’t a hero to this, either, as far as I’m concerned.  He held an interview about it, yes, but stuff like this has been portrayed in movies and such for a long, long time.  Yeah, I know, Hollywood is fake….but, really, how fake is it?  Think about this.  Anti-Trust came out in 2001.  Its basically a movie about a big corporation that creates something called SKYNet, where everything is linked up together (the cloud), what did we get a couple years later?  “The Cloud”…even though its just a buzzword for technology that’s existed for a long time (see: roaming profiles in Windows).

Don’t get me wrong, I think its pretty horrible what we got going on here.  This sort of stuff shouldn’t have happened in the first place, but the NSA isn’t really to blame as much as it is us for thinking this isn’t real.  There’s no reason to wear tin-foil hates all the time, but there is a reason to be more self-aware of your surroundings.

Lastly, as a small note regarding our freedoms, we lost those when we blindly allowed 9/11 to happen…  Lets face it, we can’t fix the past but we can fix it only and only when we know where we went wrong.

July 31, 2013  9:15 PM

More Encryption NOT the Solution?

Eric Hansen Eric Hansen Profile: Eric Hansen

I found an interesting piece/article on Slashdot that covers an interesting prospect to all of the hooplah over the recent scares in IT regarding data theft and storage (looking at you Mr. NSA)…don’t try to implement more encryption.

The basic idea of it is to not look for solutions that add more security to your environment, because with the way things are now its not unfeasible that the government or some other body will look to pursuade businesses to reduce the security in their products.  A good example of this is HTTPS and browsers.  Take the 3 biggest browsers in the market (Firefox, Chrome and IE), and have the government pay up a large lump sum to them to randomize HTTPS keys out of a known dictionary.

This wouldn’t be your normal 300-word dictionary, however.  This would span millions and millions of lines, and with a lot of products introducing cloud and *-as-a-service offerings, there’s no real way that we can tell this isn’t already occurring.

I’m also not a conspiracy theorist either, so if it is or isn’t are two different playing fields, but it should make you re-evaluate what these scares and controversies are really bringing to the table.  My biggest complaint is I’ve always lived the mantra of “if you have nothing to hide then don’t be afraid”.

July 31, 2013  2:44 PM

4Shadow : An IDS For Mac Users

Eric Hansen Eric Hansen Profile: Eric Hansen

There’s a plethora of IDSes out for Linux, and even a fair share of them out for Windows as well.  While I’m not a fan of running Mac OS as a server, and I’m not sure what software it has already in this regard, I found this little gem today called 4Shadow: http://4shadowapp.com/

Given a lot of people use Macs at their local coffee shop, bakery, etc… it does make sense to think about this, however, especially if you’re there coding away at a website and locally testing it.

I can’t say very much on it as I don’t use Mac, don’t have access to one, or really want to except for OSx86, but it is something for those who do use the OS to look into.

If you do try it please leave a comment so I know how it is, at least.

July 31, 2013  2:31 PM

Debugging Yourself to Stop Eavesdropping

Eric Hansen Eric Hansen Profile: Eric Hansen

I read an interesting article talking about how a piece of malware placed a very interesting blockade in being figured out by hooking into Windows’ debugging functionality itself.  The article itself can be found here: http://blog.malwarebytes.org/intelligence/2013/07/zeroaccess-anti-debug-uses-debugger/ but this raises an interesting point in malware analysis.

According to the article, debuggers are used heavily to analyze what is going on behind the scenes, which makes sense.  A debugger is a tool that allows you to browse memory and most will decompile programs into bytecode or convert the program into assembly best it can.  This allows analysts to be able to see what’s going on and also browse various aspects of binaries such as text strings.

This program however prevents a lot of this functionality from happening by debugging itself on start up so nothing else can.  This is a fault in the Windows API itself as it only allows 1 program access to debug another at a time.

So, why am I talking about Windows on a Linux-centric blog?  Because this is also about security.  After what feels like years of the same old methods just being renamed, something new…something interesting…happens.  Now, this technique isn’t exactly new in the realm of programs, because a lot of programs in the 90′s, when cracking and pirating was all over the news, put in place measures to prevent people from debugging their code like this.  I  dabbed into this side of security when I was younger so I have a fair understanding of what went on.

I don’t see this being a major turning point in malware, but it definitely makes the field that much more interesting.

July 31, 2013  2:03 PM

What My Linux is Like: Browser

Eric Hansen Eric Hansen Profile: Eric Hansen

This is one I was really looking forward to writing about, simply because I find it fun to mess with different browsers.

My netbook, as ironic as it will be in a little bit, uses Firefox and Chrome, depending on the need.  Using Chrome’s DOM inspector and such is far superior as far as I’m concerned compared to Firefox, while Firefox offers a different view of how the page is rendered.  Since I don’t care to support IE, I support these two and it works.

However, my PC uses a different browser usually called LuaKit.  As the name suggests, it involves the Lua scripting language, however its more than that.  It bundles the rendering engine found in Chrome into a small, bite-sized application that is extremely extendible.  Wha tmakes it ironic though as that this is entirely keyboard driven (similar to Awesome).

I’ve tried using it on my netbook, and while I still do occasionally, I just feel its too difficult to work with.  I feel this has more to do with my fingers being big and the keys being small more than anything else, however.

I do also use Firefox and Chrome on my desktop, but have began to stray away from Chrome more and more.  I’ve noticed over the years that Firefox has greatly improved their product and it is no longer the bug-riddled, memory using product it used to be and is actually comparable, perhaps even better than, Chrome at this point, at least for me.

I also don’t have a bunch of extensions installed for either browser, either, so that probably plays a part in it as well.

July 31, 2013  1:46 PM

What My Linux is Like: Text Editor

Eric Hansen Eric Hansen Profile: Eric Hansen

I do a lot of programming.  Way more than I like to even admit at times.  There’s a lot of options out there, including Eclipse, vi/vim, emacs, etc…  Eclipse, while being probably 2nd most popular next to vi/vim, is also way too much.  If you were to program in Java its great, but 99% of my work now is in Python, and I want to make a mobile app I just use something like Phone Gap.

I’ve tried different writers, like KWrite, and used vim for a while with a plethora of plugins to make things even easier.  However, I eventually discovered Sublime Text Editor.  This program is like the Notepad++ of Linux editors as far as I care.

If you want extreme control, Sublime offers a good chunk of it but not to the extent of vim.  The matter of this really is moot, I suppose, as what editor you use is extremely dependent on what you need, want, and how you have it set up.  For me though its very nice, it also plays nicely with Git if you install a plugin for it.

For Python, I personally recommend STE because it has a lot of features you would need from vim right out of the box, but it also costs money too…

July 31, 2013  1:20 PM

What My Linux is Like: Terminal (desktop+laptop)

Eric Hansen Eric Hansen Profile: Eric Hansen

This was the biggest point of me moving away from Awesome3 for my PC.  I don’t use my netbook often enough for it to really effect me, but my PC is used virtually 24/7 (at least it feels like it).  As such, I had to find something that worked more in my favor.  I always loved Konsole, and it plays nicely with what I like (easy shortcut keys, not Gnome, works without having to customize it much).

The problem is with my netbook I got used to Stjerm, which basically emulated Quake-style console where you hit a key and it drops down, hit it again and it rolls back up.  I loved this feature, and luckily someone emulated it in KDE as well.  This is where Yakuake makes me a happy Linux user.

It doesn’t take a lot to get Yakuake up and running, its basically just a container of sorts for Konsole but adds some extra eye candy to make it a bit pleasing.  Pretty cool, huh?

Stjerm on the other hand requires some slight work to get it working.  While it can be simple run ad play, if you want anything customized from what I found you have to pass arguments to it.

July 31, 2013  1:12 PM

What My Linux is Like: The Distro (desktop+laptop)

Eric Hansen Eric Hansen Profile: Eric Hansen

A little series I thought I would start detailing various aspects of what my daily uses of Linux are, including the distro, programs, tools, etc… and why.  Sounds fun, no?

The one will cover the distro, and since I use it for both my PC and netbook (aka laptop in this), I’ll join it into one.  I’ll also cover the window manager and all that pretty stuff, next will go into the specific programs I use to make my life easier (i.e.: terminal, text editor, etc…).

My systems have Arch Linux installed.  For my netbook, its a prime candidate for it, as I only have 160GB of space and 1GB of RAM,  I didn’t want to fuss around with Ubuntu, Fedora, etc…  My desktop, while I only have 250 GB of space, it has 8GB of RAM (why?  because I wanted to max out my board, even though I’m only ever using ~5-30% of it, depending on what I’m doing).

The “funny” part though is that I’ve ended up working with two different environments from my laptop to my desktop.  My laptop uses the Awesome3 (aka Awesome) window manager, and it works well because the touch pad mouse annoys me greatly, and I’m too lazy to get a spare USB mouse.  Awesome is a keyboard-driven tiling window manager that fits in nicely for those who also want extremely fine-grained control over how they use their computer.  It is very easy to customize and theme, and virtually everything can be modified.

Now, for my desktop.  This one is a little bit different because I started out with Awesome as well, but I couldn’t find a good enough terminal to use.  What I ended up doing is just installing KDE, and I’ve been happy with that since, actually.  Sure it comes with a good amount of bloatware too, but…well, knowing me I’ll just be reformatting and fixing things up anyways come fall (I tend to reformat every 6 months for no other reason than just because).

May 31, 2013  6:56 PM

Dynamic or static website?

Eric Hansen Eric Hansen Profile: Eric Hansen

Should you run a dynamic or static website?  Its typically a tough call.  Dynamic sites offer a lot of functionality that, for obvious reasons, you don’t get in a static version.  However, there are some things to consider:

1.  Dynamic sites end up giving a lot more overhead and resource usage from your server (not good if you plan on running multiple sites on one server)

2.  Static sites, while may not have search functionality, can still provide other options like a tag cloud (just make sure you use good tags is all)

3.  Dynamic sites are more vulnerable to security issues opening up a flood gate to hackers entering your server

#3 is the biggest concern I have.  WordPress, for example, is an amazing piece of software for blogging…and now website management.  Its not hard to install a theme, plop a plugin or two in, add some pages and make a blog post welcoming the world.  Static sites, however, can be very tedious to work with, even if you template-ize the whole thing (i.e.: put common code in separate files and include that at run time).

What does that have to do with security?  Everything.  WordPress has been hot under the gun lately for some security issues, as well as Drupal having some issues not too long ago (though not with their software…yet).

In rebuilding my business’ website, I had to sit down and really think about what was used and not-so-used.  I didn’t make a lot of blog posts, no one commented, and for all intents and purposes the page design broke in different instances.  Basically  I had a set up that was using around 50MB of RAM (Apache2 + PHP + MySQL), powering WordPress, and was doing nothing that its intended for.  So what if I cut all that down?

If someone wants to comment, I have Disqus available.  Now the main focus on the site is not about blog posts, but about what my business offers.  I can still use Apache, but why?  Sure I might need it for my CMS (client management system), but my website won’t need it.  Install Nginx, have that serve the static content, off-load everything else to Apache via proxy and be happy.  Apache won’t be trying to do so much with the disk and resources now, and I’m able to improve speed performance by not running my rarely-modified files through a pre-processor (i.e.: PHP).

May 31, 2013  2:56 PM

Outlook.com vs. GMail : Part 2 – Sending Emails

Eric Hansen Eric Hansen Profile: Eric Hansen

Besides mentioning the whole GMail IM-email concept that I stated my dislike for in part 1, there’s some points to make about both in terms of composing email.

Lets take GMail’s full window composing version for this, as an equal comparison.  It was nice, but it threw a whole lot of things into your face.  You had about 20 options in front of you before you even started typing a recipient or anything.  Which, for a user who wants to customize the heck out an email is great.  But, when you just want to type up a quick “how do you do” email, why?

Outlook, on the other hand, sets it up pretty neatly.  The left side has the recipients and the right side allows you to set the subject, some formatting tools and then the body.  Plain, simple, easy to manage.

Google’s IM mail offers sort of the similar feature set, but its layered into menus.  So, if you want to remove the formatting, you have to click the “A” symbol, wait for the menu, then click on the format remover option.

The recipient area is quite similar in that you can type in the name or email and it’ll populate a list for you.  One thing that does bother me though about Outlook is that it lists frequent people you email.  I understand the logic as to why, but I do feel it can be a privacy concern if you are emailing someone that you don’t want others to know, or don’t want others to easily see the email address of.

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