Jun 26, 2017

Match Head Rocket Science Experiment with Brizzle Fo' Shizzle



The above video is from my son Brayden, aka Brizzle's new Youtube channel called, "The Adventures of Brizzle Fo' Shizzle!"


In this episode, Brizzle, his sister Kizzle, his Grandpa and I try a science experiment! A match head rocket experiment! Will it launch into outer space? Will it simply explode? Will it fizzle out in a puff of smoke? Watch and find out!

Jun 8, 2017

What is SNI?

I felt like writing this post because I deal with this question quite a bit at my company. What is SNI? Well, in short, SNI is an acronym that stands for Server Name Indicator, or Server Name Indication. Wikipedia describes it as:
Server Name Indication (SNI) is an extension to the TLS computer networking protocol by which a client indicates which hostname it is attempting to connect to at the start of the handshaking process. This allows a server to present multiple certificates on the same IP address and TCP port number and hence allows multiple secure (HTTPS) websites (or any other Service over TLS) to be served by the same IP address without requiring all those sites to use the same certificate. It is the conceptual equivalent to HTTP/1.1 name-based virtual hosting, but for HTTPS. The desired hostname is not encrypted, so an eavesdropper can see which site is being requested.
In a shorter, more concise explanation, SNI lets us bind multiple SSL certificates to one IP address. In the past, we used to have to bind an SSL certificate to a single IP address, and any additional SSL certificates would require their own IP address.

This is a real problem when you can see that IPv4 is running out of addresses! It also became a problem if you wanted to host multiple websites on a single web server. One web server might need eight or nine IP addresses to server up eight or nine different websites!

The reason I get asked about this a lot is we have several clients whose applications don't support SNI, and when they try to connect to our API that requires SNI, they get some sort of SSL error. We have a workaround for those clients, but I still find myself having to explain this to many of the people I work with (Often several times over).

The reason the clients that don't support SNI get SSL errors is that their application isn't smart enough to tell the web server which website they are trying to connect to by using the hostname at the start of the handshake process. Because they can't tell the web server which site they are trying to connect to, they are presented with whatever is the default certificate, which doesn't match the hostname, so they get a handshake error.

I see this a lot with Java based applications, but occasionally I see this with custom .Net applications as well. I guess this depends on if the developers have taken into account SNI or not.

I also see this a lot with DataPower/WebSphere clients, but DataPower can be configured for SNI. Check out this video:




All modern browsers support SNI, and in my opinion, all modern applications should too. If your application does not support it, then I would suggest lighting a fire under your development team's collective ass, and have them update your application to support it!

Jun 7, 2017

How To Get Rid of Boxelder Bugs... Seriously!

This isn't really technology, computer or software related, but I thought I'd share this with you anyway since it is something that has literally been "bugging" me for the last two years. That is that I've had a huge issue with Boxelder bugs all over the front of my house! They weren't there when I moved in three years ago, but they took up residence last year and never left apparently!

Looking on YouTube, I found this video that tells you to use liquid dish soap and water on your siding because the Boxelder don't like it apparently:




Well, this technique did get them off the siding, it did NOT get them off my sidewalks or bushes around the front of my house. It did not solve the problem!

Well, today I had enough and decided to get something that would solve the problem. I bought some Spectracide HG-95830 Triazicide Insect Killer for Lawns & Landscapes Concentrate, Ready-to-Spray and attached that sumbitch to my garden hose!

I let loose a torrent of water and death all over the front of my house, on my sidewalks and in the plants around the front of of my house. Hordes of Boxelder bugs were covered in the Triazicide spray and slowly met their inevitable doom!

The ready to spray version is the best in my opinion because it hooks to your garden hose and allows you to spray a large area quickly.

The Spectracide website even lists Triazicide as one of their solutions to kill Boxelder bugs! Boom! Suck on that you nasty bugs!

If you have Boxelder bugs all over the front of your house, ditch the dish soap, grab a hose and hook up a bottle of Triazicide to it and unleash hell! You can thank me later!

May 31, 2017

mdadm: /etc/mdadm/mdadm.conf defines no arrays.

One of the most annoying things about Ubuntu 16.04 LTS server edition is that every time you go to run updates, you almost inevitably get hit with this message:
mdadm: /etc/mdadm/mdadm.conf defines no arrays.
It turns out that this message is completely benign and you can ignore it, but that doesn't make it any less annoying right? Hopefully they get that worked out in Ubuntu 18.04 LTS next year. Until then, there is a quick way to fix it.

Just open /etc/mdadm/mdadm.conf with your favorite text editor and add the following lines at the bottom.
ARRAY devices=/dev/sda
Save the file, and that's it. No more stupid error.

If you didn't know, mdadm is the Linux software RAID software. If you are running Ubuntu in a VM though, chances are it is not going to have a software RAID to manage.
[H/T Ask Ubuntu]

May 28, 2017

Get into cryptocurrency mining the easy way with MinerGate!

You may be asking what is cryptocurrency. Well, Wikipedia describes it as:
A digital asset designed to work as a medium of exchange using cryptography to secure the transactions and to control the creation of additional units of the currency. Cryptocurrencies are a subset of alternative currencies, or specifically of digital currencies.
Bitcoin was the first one out, and if you didn't know, as of the time of this writing Coinbase is reporting that 1 Bitcoin is currently worth $2,277.22! That's a lot of money, and it's value has only gone up over the last few years.

If you are unfamiliar with Bitcoin, I made this Tech Chop video a few years ago to talk about it:



So now you get the idea right? Well, Bitcoin isn't the only name in the cryptocurrency game. There are tons of other ones like Monero, Litecoin, FantomCoin etc. Almost too many to count. The problem with Bitcoin, even though it's the most mainstream of them is that mining it has really lost it's profitability. In the early days it was fairly easy to mine Bitcoins, and therefore the guys that got in early have made a ton of money by now, but that ship has sailed. That being said, since there are other cryptocurrencies, those of us late to the game still have a chance!

Introducing MinerGate!

From their page:
MinerGate is a mining pool created by a group of cryptocoin enthusiasts.

It is the first pool which provides service for merged mining. This means that while mining on our pool you can mine different coins simultaniously without decrease of hashrate for major coin
With MinerGate, you can easily mine other types of cryptocurrencies and transfer them to a digital wallet that you can use to cash out to dollars, or exchange for other cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.

A great free online wallet, that supports many cryptocurrencies that I recommend is Cryptonator. Cryptonator also lets you easily trade between currencies. If you are in Europe, it's also good to cash out to fiat currency like Euros.

If you are in America, I recommend converting your alternative cryptocurrencies to Bitcoin or Litecoin with Cryptonator, then transfer that to your free Coinbase account when you are ready to withdraw your money to dollars. I say that because a lot of foreign Bitcoin exchanges don't play well with American banks, but Coinbase does!

If you are new to cryptocurrency/cryptocoin and want to try out mining and see if it's right for you, then in my opinion there is no easier way of doing it than with MinerGate.

For those of you that have been doing this for a while, what other mining tools or programs do you recommend? Do you use MinerGate yourself? Do you like it? Let us know in the comments.

[EDIT] I found that it's actually easier to transfer your mined currency from MinerGate directly to your Coinbase account using Changelly! With Changelly, you can transfer any type of supported crypto-coin directly to any other type of crypto-coin. For instance, I just transferred my XMR (Monero) to my Litecoin wallet on Coinbase! Boom! Easy!

May 26, 2017

A Zenoss error has occurred



I had a bit of a scare the other day after a simple reboot of my Zenoss 4.2.4 monitoring server. When the Zenoss server came back up, I went to login like usual and I received the dreaded "A Zenoss error has occurred" message! Below it was the following:
Type: <type 'exceptions.KeyError'>
Value: 1495826580
Traceback (most recent call last):
File "/usr/local/zenoss/lib/python/ZPublisher/Publish.py", line 126, in publish
request, bind=1)
File "/usr/local/zenoss/lib/python/ZPublisher/mapply.py", line 77, in mapply
if debug is not None: return debug(object,args,context)
File "/usr/local/zenoss/lib/python/ZPublisher/Publish.py", line 46, in call_object
result=apply(object,args) # Type s<cr> to step into published object.
File "/usr/local/zenoss/Products/ZenUtils/patches/pasmonkey.py", line 153, in login
pas_instance.updateCredentials(request, response, login, password)
File "/usr/local/zenoss/lib/python/Products/PluggableAuthService/PluggableAuthService.py", line 1100, in updateCredentials
updater.updateCredentials(request, response, login, new_password)
File "/usr/local/zenoss/lib/python/Products/PluggableAuthService/plugins/SessionAuthHelper.py", line 102, in updateCredentials
request.SESSION.set('__ac_name', login)
File "/usr/local/zenoss/lib/python/ZPublisher/HTTPRequest.py", line 1379, in __getattr__
v = self.get(key, default, returnTaints=returnTaints)
File "/usr/local/zenoss/lib/python/ZPublisher/HTTPRequest.py", line 1336, in get
v = v()
File "/usr/local/zenoss/lib/python/Products/Sessions/SessionDataManager.py", line 101, in getSessionData
return self._getSessionDataObject(key)
File "/usr/local/zenoss/lib/python/Products/Sessions/SessionDataManager.py", line 188, in _getSessionDataObject
ob = container.new_or_existing(key)
File "/usr/local/zenoss/lib/python/Products/Transience/Transience.py", line 842, in new_or_existing
self[key] = item
File "/usr/local/zenoss/lib/python/Products/Transience/Transience.py", line 454, in __setitem__
current_bucket = self._data[current_ts]
KeyError: 1495826580
Doesn't look pretty does it? Everything seemed to be working still, I was still getting alert emails, but I could not login to the user interface to save my life!

Well, I found a solution in an archived community support thread. To fix it I did the following to fix it by SSH'ing into the Zenoss server:
  • su zenoss
  • zendmd
  • from Products.ZenUtils.Security import activateCookieBasedAuthentication
  • activateCookieBasedAuthentication(zport)
  • activateCookieBasedAuthentication(app)
  • commit()
  • zport.acl_users._delObject('sessionAuthHelper')
  • app.acl_users._delObject('sessionAuthHelper')
  • commit()
  • exit()
  • zopectl restart
After that, I was able to login fine! Each of the above are one line commands in the terminal. 

I hope it helps you out!

May 19, 2017

Don't panic! New exploits and malware are released every day!

I work in an industry where security is kind of a big deal. Without getting into specifics, or naming company names, we'll just say that the companies I work with a lot are in the financial sector. Because of that, I've found that their security is pretty damned hard core, and their vendor risk assessment crews are even more hard core.

Knowing all that, you can probably assume that I get a lot of risk assessment questionnaires asking about the company I work for and our security practices. On top of their annual, or semi-annual risk assessments whenever news breaks out of some fancy new malware, their pucker factor goes up exponentially and I get bombarded with questions asking about what we're doing about it.

Although I completely understand where they are coming from, the truth is in the world of network security, threats like this are always out there. There are always viruses, Trojans, worms and other nasty things hackers are trying to do to cause chaos, damage systems, steal information or to steal money. The difference with these cases is that they are famous and they've made the news cycle.

This latest crazy threat that has everyone in a tizzy is WannaCry(Or WCry, or Wanna Decryptor). If you have been living under a rock, it's your typical ransomware that encrypts all your files and asks you to pay a ransom to have your files unlocked. In reality, it's no different than CryptoLocker that came out in 2013. One might argue that the difference is how it was spread using a vulnerability that the NSA had been using for years.

Guess what folks, I have news for you. Shit like this comes out every day. In fact, WikiLeaks has been leaking all of the CIA's exploits  for the past few months. The Hacker News reported yesterday that two of the CIA's tools affect all versions of Windows! WannaCry only affected Windows 2008 and below! Get ready for an epic shitstorm of hacks now that the United State's Government's secrets are all over the web!

Long story short, DON'T PANIC! Stuff like this happens every day. The best thing you can do is prepare for it. Keep your systems patched, make sure your antivirus/anti-malware is up to date, use firewalls, beware of phishing scams, and make sure you have reliable backups! You know, all the recommended security shit you are supposed to do, and not be lazy about! If you maintain a decent security posture, you can prevent a lot of this sort of thing, or be able to mitigate against it should you be affected.

Do you agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments.


May 18, 2017

Goodbye ExtraTorrent! Hello Zooqle!

Yesterday I posted that ExtraTorrent was closing up shop. In that post I mentioned a possible mirror, but that turned out to not be real. None of the download links worked. ExtraTorrent really is gone apparently.

That being said, if you like to torrent stuff, there are some alternative sites out there. Not all of them have RSS capabilities though. Well, I found one that does offer RSS! It's called Zooqle!



My only gripe with Zooqle is that they make you register. It's not that big of deal, but I recommend that if you register with any Torrent site, you do so while connected to a VPN connection. I also recommend NOT using your personal email address, and use one dedicated to Torrenting that also uses encryption like ProtonMail!

One thing I certainly do love about Zooqle, besides its RSS support, is the lack of intrusive advertising. One of my biggest problems with ExtraTorrent were their annoying redirect ads and pop-under ads. I respect having ads on your website. For many sites, that's their only source of revenue. I just had intrusive ads!

Now that ExtraTorrent is gone, which site or sites do you use? What alternatives do you recommend? let us know in the comments!


May 17, 2017

ExtraTorrent is down for good... Or are they?

Earlier today, TorrentFreak broke with the news that the famous BitTorrent site, ExtraTorrent was shutting down operations including all mirror sites.

From TorrentFreak:
Popular torrent site ExtraTorrent has permanently shut down. The abrupt decision was announced a few minutes ago in a brief message posted on the site's homepage. This means that after the demise of KickassTorrents and Torrentz.eu, the torrent community must say farewell to another major player. 
In a surprise move, ExtraTorrent decided to shut down today, for good.
Users who access the site’s homepage are welcomed by a short but clear message, indicating that the popular torrent index will not return (the message appears intermittently).
 
“ExtraTorrent has shut down permanently.” 
“ExtraTorrent with all mirrors goes offline.. We permanently erase all data. Stay away from fake ExtraTorrent websites and clones. Thx to all ET supporters and torrent community. ET was a place to be….” 
TorrentFreak reached out to ExtraTorrent operator SaM who confirmed that this is indeed the end of the road for the site.
If you browse to ExtraTorrent.com or any of their mirrors, you see a page like this:


Not long ago though, this message popped up on the ExtraTorrent Facebook page leaving many of their followers confused:


If you browse to the link that is circled in red above, it takes you to ExtraTorrent.cl which appears to be a live mirror. i haven't tried any of the downloads though.

So are they down or not? Is this just some kind of ruse to stop people from trying to DDoS their servers? If you have the goods, and know what's going on, let us know in the comments!

[EDIT] It looks like they really are gone. The site mentioned above is a fake mirror and the links don't work. If you are looking for an ExtraTorrent alternative, you should check out our post on Zooqle.

May 9, 2017

US Government Recently Passed New Pirate Watch List

With the new Trump administration comes an increase in the crackdown of online piracy, and with that the Office of the US Trade Representative has published its annual piracy watch list, also known as the Special 301 Report. In this 81 page report, around two dozen countries are listed has hotbeds for online piracy.

From ExtraTorrent:
The Office of the US Trade Representative has published its yearly piracy watchlist officially named Special 301 Report. The document highlights countries failing to comply with the copyright protection standards of the United States. Apparently, the enforcement of IP rights is a priority for the Trump administration. In the report, Canada and Switzerland are listed among the two dozen of other countries. 
USTR publishes its report listing countries that aren’t doing enough to protect US intellectual property rights every year. The latest report is the first under the administration of President Trump, but slightly differs from Obama’s: China, Russia, Ukraine and India are major threats, while even Canada and Switzerland remain in the list.
Switzerland is a popular country to host pirate related websites due to their Logistep Decision.That decision was a ruling from the Swiss Federal Supreme Court that prohibits companies from harvesting IP addresses of file-sharers because the Swiss Federal Supreme Court views IP addresses as private data.

May 4, 2017

I've switched from BitLocker to VeraCrypt for full disk encryption because SCREW MICROSOFT!

"Damn!" you are probably saying to yourself, "That's a pretty harsh title to a blog post." Yeah, I suppose you are right. Still though, it's pretty accurate. I'm not really a fan of Microsoft at all, and whenever possible I really like to use alternatives. In the case of drive encryption though, I think it just makes sense from a security perspective.

Allow me to explain, you see it was only a few years ago that Edward Snowden leaked information about the NSA's PRISM program. One of the interesting things that came with that leak was that the NSA was working with companies like Microsoft and Google to bypass security built into their platforms so they could illegally access users data. Backdoors if you will. 

So now that we know this information, how can we actually trust anything that Microsoft puts their name on to truly secure our data? Sure, it's probably safe from the average hacker, but it's certainly not safe from Big Brother!

That's why I've opted to ditch BitLocker, and go with the open source alternative of VeraCrypt. Besides, even if BitLocker is safe from Big Brother, I still feel that VeraCrypt is probably more secure because of it's PIM feature. That's just my opinion though.

The only drawback I see from this change is that VeraCrypt's boot time is slightly longer, but that is tolerable in my opinion.

What do you think about this? Let me know in the comments.

May 2, 2017

Why haven't we found aliens yet? (Infographic)

Have you ever wondered why we haven't found conclusive evidence of aliens yet? Well, this infographic hopes to shed some light on that question. Check it out!


[Mobile users: click the image to view]


[H/T Imgur]

May 1, 2017

I've replaced TrueCrypt with VeraCrypt on my VPS

A couple of days ago on Saturday I talked about VeraCrypt being the only real alternative to TrueCrypt, I also mentioned that I was still using TrueCrypt on my Linux VPS private email server. Well, after writing that post I wanted to see if VeraCrypt could mount a TrueCrypt volume, and it turns out it can!

So I went ahead and installed VeraCrypt on my VPS. The setup is almost identical to the TrueCrypt CLI version. After the install, I changed my mount scripts from:

truecrypt --mount /secret/secret.tc /var/vmail

To
veracrypt --truecrypt --mount /secret/secret.tc /var/vmail

Boom! Easy peasy lemon squeezy!

According to VeraCrypt, you can convert an existing TrueCrypt volume by performing any of these functions, but you must select TrueCrypt mode to do it:

  • Change Volume Password
  • Set Header Key Derivation Algorithm
  • Add/Remove key files
  • Remove all key files

I haven't tried it yet, but changing the password and or key files to convert it to a VeraCrypt volume via the terminal version should be as simple as running the following on your original TrueCrypt volume while it's dismounted:

veracrypt --truecrypt -C tc-volume.tc
Not wanting to risk corrupting all of my emails, I think I will hold off on doing that until I'm ready to change my password again, and I'll make sure I have a good backup first! Still though, even if it doesn't work, at least I can mount that volume now with VeraCrypt!

Edit: I've verified that the above command does in fact work to change the password and upgrade your TrueCrypt volume to the new VeraCrypt format via the cli/terminal! If you were wondering how to upgrade a TrueCrypt voume to a VeraCrypt volume via command line, there you go!

Apr 29, 2017

Serious Alternative to Truecrypt: VeraCrypt

As many people know, TrueCrypt has been discontinued since 2014. The developers said that TrueCrypt had some unfixed security issues. In 2015 the Fraunhofer Institute for Secure Information Technology conducted an audit on the last stable release of TrueCrypt, and although they did find a number of bugs, they came to the conclusion that it is still secure when data is at rest.

That being said, since TrueCrypt is no longer being developed, if you are still using it you should move to something that is actively being developed. Now, there are lots of encryption solutions today. Most modern operating systems have some form of disk encryption built in now. Microsoft has BitLocker, Linux has LUKS. You get the idea right? What if you really liked the way TrueCrypt worked though? What if you liked that TrueCrypt was multi-platform? Then in my opinion, you only have one serious alternative.

That alternative is VeraCrypt! From their page:
VeraCrypt picks up from where TrueCrypt left and it adds enhanced security to the algorithms used for system and partitions encryption making it immune to new developments in brute-force attacks. 
VeraCrypt also solves many vulnerabilities and security issues found in TrueCrypt. It can load TrueCrypt volume and it offers the possibility to convert TrueCrypt containers and non-system partitions to VeraCrypt format. This enhanced security adds some delay only to the opening of encrypted partitions without any performance impact to the application use phase. 
This is acceptable to the legitimate owner but it makes it much more harder for an attacker to gain access to the encrypted data.
Now, to be fair, there is another fork of TrueCrypt called CipherShed, but they only have a pre-compiled version for Windows. If you want to use it on Mac or Linux, you need to compile it yourself. Not to mention, they don't issue releases as frequently as VeraCrypt.

Some cool things I like about VeraCrypt are that the layout is very similar to that of TrueCrypt, and I'm already used to that. Also VeraCrypt offers some other encryption algorithms that TrueCrypt did not. Those algorithms are Camellia and Kuznyechik.



They also have some other hash options.


I'll be honest, I am still using TrueCrypt on my VPS email server. I'm not terribly worried about it because it should still be able to protect my emails at rest if my VPS is shutdown to reset the root password without my permission. Still though, I'm making plans to migrate to a new VPS when Ubuntu 18.04 LTS comes out, and when that day comes I'm going to make the switch to VeraCrypt!

Do you still use TrueCrypt? Do you think you will make the change to VeraCrypt? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments!

Apr 28, 2017

Now Virginia farm boys are trying to break into my email server?

One day after my post about Venafi setting off a host based intrusion detection alert on my email server, and me wondering if Venafi is a front for the NSA since they are stationed in Utah where the NSA's gigantic datacenter is; I get another interesting alert. This time from an IP address in Ashburn Virginia!



What is only 30 minutes away from Ashburn Virginia? Oh, just CIA Headquarters in Langley Virginia!



The alert I got was a little more aggressive than that from Venafi. This one was fired off as a "Possible attack on the ssh server (or version gathering)."




I get it. Just because Venafi is out of Utah, and the NSA is out of Utah doesn't make them both NSA. Also, just because this IP is out of Virginia, and the CIA are in Virginia doesn't mean that it's the CIA trying to hack my email. Still though, the timing of it is suspicious don't you think? One day after possibly outing a NSA front?

Just to be cautious I added firewall rules to block the following IP ranges from the ISP out of Virginia:
70.104.0.0/16
70.105.0.0/17
70.105.128.0/18
70.105.192.0/19
Hopefully that will keep the Virginia farm boys from snooping in my email.

Apr 27, 2017

Who the hell is @Venafi, and why the hell are they trying to connect to my private email server?

I work in a company where cyber security is kind of a big deal, and one of the tools I use a lot is a host based intrusion detection system called OSSEC. Well, the other day I decided to also install OSSEC on my private email server to see what kind of threats and intrusion attempts are happening on a daily basis. Needless to say, things have been interesting.

One thing that caught my eye this morning though is an SSL error message that showed up in the Apache logs that said "rejecting client initiated renegotiation". See below:



Okay, a simple SSL error. So what? No harm no foul right? Well, there is something kind of strange with this one. The IP address in question is 208.93.152.147, and when I do an IP address WHOIS lookup I see it belongs to a company out of Utah called Venafi, Inc.



Their website says that they are in essence an SSL company, and Wikipedia describes them as a privately held cyber security company that develops software to secure and protect cryptographic keys and digital certificates. The problem is that I don't do business with them, so they really have no reason to be scoping out my private email server.

Another thing that made me wonder about this company is that this isn't the first time I've seen their IP addresses show up in intrusion detection alerts. I've also seen their IP addresses in alerts for some of my day job company's web servers as well, and we don't do business with Venafi either.

Maybe it's my conspiracy mind at play here, but you know who else has a big data center in Utah that is designed to hack and store data about everyone on the Internet? That's right, the NSA has a huge data center in Utah called the Intelligence Community Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative Data Center.



Could Venafi be a front for the NSA? It makes me wonder...

Anyway, for now I am blocking the entire 208.93.152.0/22 range and I will continue to block ranges of suspicious IP's. There is no reason for Venafi to be connecting to my servers at all, even if they really are the NSA.

Have you seen these guys trying to connect to your systems? What are you doing about it? Do you do business with them? Is this something I shouldn't worry about? Let me know in the comments.

======

UPDATE: Venafi sent me the following tweet in reply to this post:



The link to their TrustNet Scanner talks about how they passively scan the certifications of every IP address on the internet to build a global certificate repository that they make available to the public. I suppose that's plausible... I'm still not convinced they aren't a front for the NSA though!



Update #2: Is the CIA now trying to break into my email server?

Apr 26, 2017

Super cheap cell phone for my soon-to-be teenage daughter

My Daughter and Her New Phone
I am not like most modern parents I think. Lots of kids these days are walking around with the latest and greatest in cell phones because their parents buy them for their kids. I'm a little bit more old fashion. I refuse to buy my kids a cell phone unless they can pay for it themselves!

When I was a teenager, my parents didn't buy me a cell phone. Granted, cell phones were way more expensive in the 90's, but that's not the point. I did have a pager (Remember pagers?!?), but I bought that with my own money!

My daughter has been wanting a smartphone, and she actually came up with a brilliant plan on her own! She decided that she would earn some cold hard cash by mowing my lawn and doing chores around the house, then she would go out and buy a pre-paid Verizon Samsung Galaxy J1 for $45!

Normally Verizon makes you sign up for a pre-paid account that is billed monthly at $40 per month or more. Instead of doing that though, she said she would use a free app for text and calling over WiFi!

The app we opted to use is TalkaTone which gives you a free phone number and lets you have unlimited text and calling in the US and Canada! It's available for both Android and iOS too!

Some things to consider if you decide to do this setup for your kids:
  • The pre-paid cell phone wants you to go through an activation process when you power it on. You can actually skip this process. The activation app will pop up occasionally to bug you about activation, but you can ignore it.
  • Your child will only be able to make and received calls/text where WiFi is available. Keep in mind that many restaurants like McDonalds have free WiFi. Encourage your kids to connect to these free hotspots so they can call you if they need to.
With this setup it only cost my daughter a measly $45, and there is no monthly fee for me to take care of! Win win if you ask me!

Do you use a similar setup for your kids? Let me know in the comments.


Apr 24, 2017

Mindless Investing Made Easy

Have you ever seen Superman III where Richard Pryor's character came up with a computer program to rip off the company he worked for by rounding up company transactions to the nearest penny and sticking those fractions of cents in a bank account? They did the same thing in Office Space. Well, imagine doing something similar to that for yourself, but with your own money. Sounds weird? Well stay with me, it will all make sense!

I discovered an app that in essence does this for you, but instead of fractions of a penny, it's fractions of a dollar. Once you sign up, this app rounds up transactions on every purchase you make to the nearest dollar and takes that difference and invests it in a diversified portfolio! You don't even have to think about it!

Still not making sense? Let me give you an example. Let's say you go to the grocery store, and buy $123.48 worth of groceries with your debit card. This app will then round that up to $124.00, and take that $0.52 and invest it in the stock market for you! After a while, that money can add up to thousands of dollars, and you don't even have to think about it!

This app is called Acorns, and here is a video that can explain it better than I can:




If you've been looking for a way to get into the stock market, but didn't know where to start, then you might give Acorns a try. It's ridiculously easy to setup, and you don't have to be a finance major to figure it out. Best of all, it's automated and you don't have to think about it!

Do you use Acorns? Do you like it? What do you like about it? Let us know in the comments!

Mar 31, 2017

Verizon set to royally screw over their customers with spyware now that Congress voted to repeal privacy restrictions

Congress recently moved to screw over all American's by voting to repeal broadband privacy restrictions allowing internet service providers to actively spy on their customer's internet usage and sell that information to the highest bidder. A few days later Verizon made it known that they plan to step up their douche-baggery by also installing spyware on their customer's smart phones!

From EFF:
Within days of Congress repealing online privacy protections, Verizon has announced new plans to install software on customers’ devices to track what apps customers have downloaded. With this spyware, Verizon will be able to sell ads to you across the Internet based on things like which bank you use and whether you’ve downloaded a fertility app. 
Verizon’s use of “AppFlash”—an app launcher and web search utility that Verizon will be rolling out to their subscribers’ Android devices “in the coming weeks”—is just the latest display of wireless carriers’ stunning willingness to compromise the security and privacy of their customers by installing spyware on end devices.
Isn't that just lovely? Don't worry though, you should be able to stop douchey big brother Verizon from watching all of your phone activity. There are a couple of ways you can disable Verizon's AppFlash.

From The Hacker News:
How to Get Rid of ‘AppFlash’ on Your Verizon Android Phone 
Users can get rid of this bloatware in two ways: you can either root your device and remove the app in question, or only disable the app.
  1. Root to remove AppFlash from Android: Since the company has made AppFlash a default app on the home screen of its Android handsets to help users search content and browse the internet, the app can not be uninstalled.

    So, in order to uninstall AppFlash, you are required to root your Android device and then delete the app from your storage memory.
  2. Disable AppFlash without Root: Since rooting is a dangerous process that void your device warranty, you can simply disable AppFlash.

    Disabling bloatware apps on newer phones is easy, as Android has a built-in way to do this, which doesn't require any root access.

    Just head on to Settings → Apps (or 'Applications' on some phones) → AppFlash. Now open it and click 'Disable,' 'Force Stop' and then 'Clear Data' as well.

I'm not sure how the folks at Hacker News got the above information, but on my Google Pixel I don't have AppFlash installed (Yet) so I can't test disabling it myself. If it's like most bloatware that comes on phones these days, I'm sure they are right though. Let's hope... for privacy purposes anyway.

What do you think about this? Are you ticked off? Don't care? Let us know in the comments!

Mar 30, 2017

How to fix WinEvtLog: Security: AUDIT_FAILURE(4625) caused by Windows Defender

I've written in the past about how I really like the built in Windows Defender as my antivirus of choice in Windows 10 and above. More specifically, I wrote about how to configure it for regular updates and scheduled scans. Well, I recently went back to it on my main laptop and when it kicked off it's first quick scan all of a sudden I noticed a lot of alerts coming from one of my work servers!

The alerts I was seeing were WinEvtLog: Security: AUDIT_FAILURE(4625) coming from our host based intrusion detection monitor.  Our log monitor was also sending alerts saying Microsoft-Windows-Security-Auditing: An account failed to log on. Subject: Security ID: S-1-0-0 Account Name: - Account Domain: - Logon ID: 0x0 Logon Type: 3 Account For Which Logon Failed: Security ID: S-1-0-0. All of the alerts listed my computer's host name as the account that was failing the audit!

Well, it turns out that by default Windows Defender wants to scan network files and network file shares. That's honestly pretty annoying since we have antivirus on those servers already, and I don't need Windows Defender to scan anything except what's on my local machine. It's also annoying because it kicked off all of the alerts!

Well, to disable network scanning is fairly simple. You just need to open powershell as an administrator and run the following:
  • set-mppreference -DisableScanningNetworkFiles 1
  • set-mppreference -DisableScanningMappedNetworkDrivesForFullScan 1
To see what settings you have enabled or disabled you can run the following from powershell to get a list:
  • get-mppreference

As you can see above, network scanning has been disabled. Now when I run a scan, it stays local to my computer only and doesn't kick off anymore alerts!

Did you find this helpful? Let us know in the comments!

Mar 28, 2017

Man possibly jailed forever for not giving up his encryption password

Cryptographically secure pseudorandom number g...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I am a huge proponent for encryption. I'm also a huge proponent for the 5th Amendment which protects you from self incrimination through testimony. Apparently a judge in Philadelphia as well as the 3rd US Circuit court of appeals says the 5th Amendment doesn't apply in this particular case.

You see, Francis Rawls was charged with possession of child porn which is a horrendous crime. The issue here is that in order to make the case against him the police seized a number of devices including some encrypted hard drives. Without the contents of those drives, the prosecution doesn't really have a good enough case to really throw the book at him. Rawls apparently won't give up the passphrase for the drives citing the 5th Amendment despite the court's order, so Rawls is being held indefinitely until he coughs up his passphrase.

From Ars Technica:
On Monday, a US federal appeals court sided against a former Philadelphia police officer who has been in jail 17 months because he invoked his Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination. He had refused to comply with a court order commanding him to unlock two hard drives the authorities say contain child porn. 
The 3-0 decision (PDF) by the 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals means that the suspect, Francis Rawls, likely will remain jailed indefinitely or until the order (PDF) finding him in contempt of court is lifted or overturned. However, he still can comply with the order and unlock two FileVault encrypted drives connected to his Apple Mac Pro. Using a warrant, authorities seized those drives from his residence in 2015. While Rawls could get out from under the contempt order by unlocking those drives, doing so might expose him to other legal troubles. 
In deciding against Rawls, the court of appeals found that the constitutional rights against being compelled to testify against oneself were not being breached. That's because the appeals court, like the police, agreed that the presence of child porn on his drives was a "foregone conclusion." The Fifth Amendment, at its most basic level, protects suspects from being forced to disclose incriminating evidence. In this instance, however, the authorities said they already know there's child porn on the drives, so Rawls' constitutional rights aren't compromised.
I'm no lawyer, but from what I can understand from the law surrounding the 5th Amendment and encryption is that it only applies if the police have no idea what's on your encrypted drive, and the only way to find out is by asking you for a password. In this case, they had eye witness testimony that child porn was indeed on the drive, as well as other system logs showing that illegal files were saved on those drives.

Another way the 5th Amendment doesn't apply to encryption is when there is a physical mechanism like a key to unlock the drive. A physical key does not require testimony, and therefore does not require you to testify against yourself to hand that key over.

There is a nice video explaining this here from the EFF:



I certainly don't condone Rawls' actions here, if he indeed does have child porn, but there is a lesson to be learned here for those of you that value your privacy and your rights. Number one, if you want to be able to use the 5th Amendment to protect your passphrase, then you can't have any other un-encrypted "tracks" pointing to what's on your encrypted devices.

What do you think about this? Let us know in the comments.

Feb 14, 2017

4 Software Tools to Help Run and Operate Your PC Like a Pro

We often use cars as analogies for computers, but it's not exactly a 1:1 matchup. With cars, hardware modifications are responsible for improvements, but with computers, both hardware and software can make a difference. Here are four kinds of software tools you can use to run your computer like a pro.

Hardware Monitor Tools

Software tools can help you monitor your hardware to make sure your computer is running smoothly under the hood. Like smartphones, computers generate a lot of heat, with some parts running as hot as boiling water. Heat sinks and fans may be needed to keep your computer from overheating — and if these parts aren’t working correctly, your computer can be at risk of malfunction.

Hardware monitoring tools help you keep your computer’s temperature under control and your machine running right. These tools give you dashboards that display key hardware information, including the voltage and temperature of different parts of your computer, and how well your fans are running. Some of today’s best hardware monitoring tools include HWMonitor, Speed Fan and Open Hardware Monitor.

PC Tune-up Utilities

To keep your computer running at top speed, you need a PC tune-up utility. With constant use, your computer will inevitably start to slow down. Outdated drivers from obsolete apps, archived files you no longer use and large cached data can all slow down your performance.

PC tune-up utilities help fix this problem, automating tasks such as defragging your hard drive, fixing your Windows registry, and deleting duplicate files to free up disk space. Some utilities also have advanced functions such as optimizing your boot process. PC tune-up utilities come in both freeware and premium varieties. CCleaner is a popular free tune-up utility, but PCMag rates iolo System Mechanic as today’s best premium option.

Password Managers

A long password is a strong password, but the downside is that it can be hard to remember. Of course, creating one that's hard to remember makes it tempting to leave that information lying around on a sticky note, which kind of defeats the purpose of having a password altogether. On the other hand, creating a password along the likes of "ABC123" can make it easy to crack.

Password managers overcome these difficulties by automatically generating strong passwords for each site you visit that requires a login. The manager program then saves and inputs your passwords for you the next time you log in, relieving you of the need to type it in each time. Advanced password managers can also remember billing information for credit card purchases. Some managers have other advanced features such as syncing your passwords across all your devices.

Automated Cloud Backups

In an age of rampant cybercrime and ransomware, having reliable backups for your data is a necessity. Without a good backup system, you run the risk of losing all your files at any time. The most efficient way to back up your data is to schedule automated cloud backups. Backing up your data on the cloud allows you an unlimited amount of storage space. Top backup services such as Mozy provide military-grade encryption to ensure your data stays safe in the cloud.



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