May 29, 2015

Create scheduled tasks to protect your Windows 8 computer from viruses using Windows Defender

For the last few years I have been a big proponent of Microsoft Security Essentials for use as an antivirus solution for Windows. To me, it is the best virus protection I have ever used. As some of you know you can't install Microsoft Security Essentials on Windows 8 or Windows 8.1 because the built in Windows Defender uses the exact same engine.

From their page:
Windows Defender for Windows 8, Windows RT, Windows 8.1, and Windows RT 8.1 provides built-in protection against malware. You can't use Microsoft Security Essentials with Windows 8.1, but you don't need to—Windows Defender is already included and ready to go. But if you’re looking to protect a PC with an older version of Windows, you can use Microsoft Security Essentials to help guard against viruses, spyware, and other malicious software. It provides free* real-time protection for your home or small business PCs.

Note: Windows Defender is also available in earlier versions of Windows. However, in earlier versions Windows Defender only provides protection against spyware. In Windows 8 and Windows 8.1, Windows Defender provides full malware protection for your PC. Malware consists of viruses, spyware, and other potentially unwanted software.

Here's a screen shot of Windows Defender in Windows 8.1:


Looks familiar right? The only thing it is missing that Microsoft Security Essentials has is option within Windows Defender to do scheduled updates and scheduled scans. That's because Microsoft in their infinite wisdom wants that done through task scheduler for some reason.

Scheduled Tasks will automatically be created for you under Task Scheduler Library > Microsoft > Windows > Windows Defender once you manually conduct your first update and scan in Windows Defender. They will not however have a scheduled time associated with them. Therefore you need to go into each of the four tasks available and configure what times you want them to run. The available tasks are:
  • Windows Defender Cache Maintenance
  • Windows Defender Cleanup
  • Windows Defender Scheduled Scan
  • Windows Defender Verification
One thing to note is that there is no scheduled update for Windows Defender in that task list. That's because Microsoft wants you to get your updates from Microsoft Update, however if you want real virus protection you need this updated at least daily. To have Windows Defender update daily do the following:
  • Create a new scheduled task called Daily Update and set it to start a program. 
  • In the Program/Script box enter: "%ProgramFiles%\Windows Defender\MpCmdRun.exe"
  • In the Add arguments box enter:  -SignatureUpdate -MMPC
  • Make sure the task is configured to be run by "System"
Obviously you will want the above task scheduled to run daily. Another task you might want to schedule is a monthly full system scan. The scheduled scan that is built in is really only a quick scan. You might want to schedule the built in scan to run on a daily or weekly basis. A full system scan will take a long time and use up a lot of resources which is why you might want to limit that for once a month.

To schedule a full system scan do the following:
  • Create a new scheduled task called Full Scan and set it to start a program. 
  • In the Program/Script box enter: "%ProgramFiles%\Windows Defender\MpCmdRun.exe"
  • In the Add arguments box enter:  Scan -ScheduleJob -ScanType 2
  • Make sure the task is configured to be run by "System"
If you have never created a scheduled task before I found a pretty good tutorial here.

That's it, once you have this setup and configured you probably don't need any other antivirus program on your computer slowing you down. Besides the scheduled tasks above, Windows Defender does offer on-access real time protection from viruses and malware.

Are you using Windows Defender in Windows 8.1? Why or why not? If not, what are you using for virus protection? Let us know in the comments!

May 25, 2015

Creating a Website: The Importance of Mobile Optimization


The Internet now runs on mobile, and it's not going back. More than 60 percent of the Internet is accessed through mobile devices, according to ad network InMobi, and that number is expected to continue rising.


So why do we still write code for the desktop? Keeping a clean, functional site for the big screen will always be important, but based on the data above, it's clear that it should no longer be the first priority. But here we are, lagging way behind current trends, with some sources citing that less than 10 percent of small business websites are optimized for mobile.

There's no excuse not to have a fully responsive website in 2015. The benefits far outweigh the headaches, making it a worthy investment to create a new site or update your current system so mobile users can navigate with ease.

Google's Reward

SEO is a huge market for websites competing for prominent placement in search results and sites that don't go mobile miss a huge piece of that pie. Google now rewards mobile-friendly sites with better search results.

The "why" is never spelled out by the search engine giant, but this could be its way of trying to move a majority of the websites on the Internet into the 21st century. With such an enormous incentive on the table, expect to see a huge increase in mobile sites in the near future.

Anyone Can Do It

You don't need to know code to go mobile. Website builders are current with both smartphones and tablets, and have all the tools needed to build a good website, even if all you want is a landing page.
Many tools no longer even give you the option and assume mobile is just part of the deal.

ThemeForest.net, a popular marketplace for WordPress themes, bundles smartphone and tablet layouts right alongside desktop layouts in nearly all of their templates. In fact, when using many of the building tools out there, it's nearly impossible not to make a mobile-friendly site even without trying.

Users are Fickle and Impatient

The average web user will leave a page within three seconds if it doesn't load correctly or the interface is frustrating to use. That means you've lost hundreds, maybe thousands, of viewers who don't want to deal with a non-mobile friendly site before they even see any content on your page.
If your site relies on ad revenue, this is even more devastating as advertisers certainly don't want to invest on a site with a viewer retention rate that's lower than a few seconds, let alone when there are little to no clicks on ads.

Build a Site to Complement

A final note of importance is to build a mobile site that complements your full-size site, not one that stands apart from it. People think of logos and tag lines when they think of the phrase brand equity, but it applies to your web design too.

Take a company like Apple, that is renowned for excellent marketing and branding. Even though Apple.com is fully responsive on mobile, it carries the same feel on both mobile and desktop versions, which is exactly what you need for your own site. The functionality should change depending on the format, but the look and feel should be consistent throughout.

May 22, 2015

Change the interface threshold for high utilization in Zenoss

One of my favorite open source network and monitoring solutions is Zenoss Core. It is so easy to setup and configure! Just like most monitoring solutions though, you need to make adjustments for you environment to avoid false positives and avoid alerts that you don't care about.

One event that I see a lot from my Xen Servers is "threshold of high utilization exceeded". It happens so often, but the VM's seem to be fine. I decided to raise the limit a bit, but couldn't find where to make that change. Well, after digging I finally found where you can modify that setting!

It's located under Advanced > Monitoring Templates. Then at the bottom you need to select the Device Class button. From there you have two templates you need to modify:
  • ethernetCsmacd_64
  • ethernetCsmacd
By default, both are set to alert when the utilization of the network interface is at 75%. That might work for some of you, but I only want to be alerted if that threshold is at 90%. To change that, click on each item mentioned above, and under the Thresholds box select high utilization, then click on the gear icon.

Click the picture to enlarge
Now change the Maximum Value box from (here.speed or 1e9) / 8 * .75 to (here.speed or 1e9) / 8 * .90.



Obviously that last decimal number represents the percentage of utilization, so increasing it from .75 to .90 changed it from 75% to 90%. Makes sense right?

Anyway, I hope this helps you keep your alerts down to manageable level.

May 15, 2015

Script To Automatically Connect and Reconnect VPN in Ubuntu 15.04

This is an update to my post I did a few years ago on how to make a script that will automatically keep you connected to VPN. You would think that it would still work in Ubuntu 15.04, but then you would be wrong.

There are a few reasons for this:
  • For some reason Ubuntu 15.04 doesn't like people adding random scripts to init.d anymore. You get errors about lsb tags and overrides.
  • nmcli changed their command line options. Namely status is now show. (Why? Who knows?!)
  • Since we are no longer using /etc/init.d you don't need to add your password to the VPN file in  /etc/NetworkManager/system-connections/. You also don't have to change the password flags.
  • Network-manager-pptp package has a bug in it where it doesn't like to connect to PPTP VPN connections and errors out.
Ok, so for the first item, I got around the /etc/init.d issue by creating my autovpn script and placing it in my home directory. I then went into Applications > System Tools > Preferences > Startup Applications and added my script in there. When I reboot and login, the script is launched in the background and keeps me connected to VPN!



For the second item, your script should look like this:

#!/bin/bash
while [ "true" ]
do
    VPNCON=$(nmcli con show uuid d42cc2a7-a582-418c-a018-188b89fbb471 | grep VPN.VPN-STATE | awk '{print $2}')
    if [[ $VPNCON != "5" ]]; then
        echo "Disconnected, trying to reconnect..."
        (sleep 1s && nmcli con up uuid d42cc2a7-a582-418c-a018-188b89fbb471)
    else
        echo "Already connected !"
    fi
    sleep 20
done

The only difference from my original script is changing status to show. You can read the original post on how to find the UUID of your VPN connection.

Finally, to fix the issue with network-manager-pptp I had to create a file called  /etc/modules-load.d/netfilter.conf. I did that by running:
#sudo nano /etc/modules-load.d/netfilter.conf
I then added the following lines:
nf_nat_pptp
nf_conntrack_pptp
nf_conntrack_proto_gre
After I saved that file I rebooted and VPN connected fine.

For the record, here are some of the errors I was getting before I created that file:

May  6 20:33:14 Media-Server NetworkManager[753]: ** Message: nm-pptp-ppp-plugin: (nm_exit_notify): cleaning up
May  6 20:33:14 Media-Server NetworkManager[753]: ** (nm-pptp-service:11430): WARNING **: pppd exited with error code 16
May  6 20:33:14 Media-Server NetworkManager[753]: <warn> VPN plugin failed: connect-failed (1)
May  6 20:33:14 Media-Server NetworkManager[753]: <info> devices removed (path: /sys/devices/virtual/net/ppp0, iface: ppp0)
May  6 20:33:14 Media-Server NetworkManager[753]: <warn> VPN plugin failed: connect-failed (1)
May  6 20:33:14 Media-Server NetworkManager[753]: <warn> VPN plugin failed: connect-failed (1)
May  6 20:33:14 Media-Server NetworkManager[753]: <info> VPN plugin state changed: stopped (6)
May  6 20:33:14 Media-Server NetworkManager[753]: <info> VPN plugin state change reason: unknown (0)
May  6 20:33:14 Media-Server NetworkManager[753]: <warn> error disconnecting VPN: Could not process the request because no VPN connection was active.

It took me a while to sort this out, and it wasn't very fun. Hopefully it will help you! If it does, let us know in the comments.

May 8, 2015

How to install Cinnamon in Ubuntu 15.04

Ever since Ubuntu moved to it's awful Unity desktop environment, I've looked to other environments that work better for me. For a while I was using XFCE in Xubuntu, but I eventually fell in love with Cinnamon. It just had a smoother feel to it that I liked.

Anyway, in the past you had to add third party repositories to install it, but in Ubuntu 15.04 it is available in the Ubuntu repositories according to user Ginggs on the My Broadband Forum. To install you should only have to run:
sudo apt-get install cinnamon-desktop-environment
That should work fine in a clean install of Ubuntu 15.04, but if you are like me and had Cinnamon installed in a previous version of Ubuntu you will have to clear up some broken dependency issues first.

Oh, the joy of Linux right?

May 4, 2015

Get Your Head Out of the Cloud and Put Your Business in It

Whether your business is large or small, the ability to expand and grow within your economic means is essential. One way of doing that is taking advantage of cloud storage technology. The trend of moving daily business services to the cloud is expected to grow even more in 2015, further proving that cloud storage technology is a big part of the new evolution of business. But it's how you choose to incorporate cloud storage technology into your business that will determine how much money you'll save.

Lowering Costs, Raising Expectations

One of the main reasons cloud technology is so popular — that is, aside from its infinite storage space — is its cost-cutting benefits. For example, server maintenance, cooling and power costs, upgrades and software licensing are all places that the cloud can take over. With physical servers, the lifespan is limited and maintaining them is a major expense. Cloud storage can alleviate that issue. Without the full reliance on physical servers, you can see your business's electrical bill shrink and your IT department will be able to focus on important projects other than constant maintenance on servers.

Another costly expense your business can avoid by using cloud storage technology is data loss. Having secure and reliable online data storage can help you avoid the devastation of losing sensitive and highly important data that, in the event of a natural disaster or other damage, could cripple your business in an instant. You'll find that accessing your data from the cloud is also faster, thus saving you time (and time is money). You'll find cloud storage syncs your files automatically and can be accessed from your personal computer or any mobile device, which also allows for safe file sharing. Your data and all these options are protected from damages, tampering, leaks and viruses as they are kept in a secure location, adding one more layer of protection to your sensitive business information.

IT Relief / Choosing a Provider

When running a business, one expense that always seems to eat up the budget is IT. Using a cloud storage provider like the highly-rated Sugar Sync, for example, lets you loosen your tight IT dependency leash a bit. Sugar Sync is available by phone and email and it also offers video tutorials with step-by-step directions and forums for you to learn how to navigate through your cloud storage system. Plus, it's readily available when maintenance issues come up. The business of IT assistance and consulting is expected to boom just as much as cloud computing and cloud storage is. Cloud storage technology has become more reliable because of the package deal businesses get, which usually include multiple tiers of support and 24-7 availability.

The use of cloud storage technology is still new and continues to change as it grows more popular. Jumping on the cloud bandwagon now can get your business plugged in and up to speed on such technology quickly, in which your business will then be able to adapt to newer and advanced cloud storage technology. Many businesses are already converting to what are known as hybrid clouds (a combination of private cloud platforms with public cloud providers, like Google Cloud or Amazon Web Services). This allows businesses to avoid pushing data through the public Internet, which reduces access time and latency and decreases risk of any major setbacks in case the server goes down. If you're just getting introduced to cloud storage technology, however, focusing on a standard cloud storage provider is the best way to start, and you'll find how quickly your business will begin saving money and and operating more efficiently.

May 1, 2015

Damn! Got my first copyright notice. Time for extra precautions.

English: Anonymous Español: Anonymous
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Last week my Plex media server randomly disconnected from my VPN service while in the middle of downloading a popular TV show. It was during that window that my IP was made available to those who snoop Torrent peers looking for IP's to complain to ISP's about. Yesterday I received my first hand slap letter from my ISP about it.

This isn't the first time that Torrent Privacy has let me down. They only have one server for you to connect to in the Netherlands and if it is having problems, you are not protected. It's kind of a pain in the ass really.

Not wanting to kowtow to my ISP and copyright cronies, I decided to change to a different VPN service that has multiple VPN servers all over the world. If one is having a problem, I can easily switch to another. It's called EarthVPN! From their page:
Connect From Anywhere
Our users have access to all 32 countries and 151 locations, strategically placed on 6 continents to facilitate minimum latency, greatest speed and continuous connectivity wherever you are in the world.

PPTP, L2TP, SSTP, OpenVPN and SSH/Socks Proxy
EarthVPN supports all the major VPN protocols: PPTP, L2TP, SSTP and OpenVPN(Both TCP and UDP Mode) protocols on all servers, and provides the highest level of security using advanced encryption and authentication protocols that protect your data from unauthorized access.We also provide SSH Tunnel/Socks proxy.

Absolutely No Logs
EarthVPN neither logs VPN usage nor user activity. Neither us nor third parties are technically able to match an IP address to an account. Under no circumstances we will provide any personal or private information to third parties.
On top of switching to another VPN service, I wanted to be able to have a backup in case my VPN connection went down in the middle of a download. Now, EarthVPN offers proxy services, but I didn't want to put all my eggs in one basket. Instead I found a site that offers a list of free proxies called  idcloak. From their page:
idcloak's free proxy IP list offers public web proxies from around the globe. It is the world's largest proxy sites list, constantly updated with the latest fresh proxies... Our IP proxy checker tests each proxy for speed, connection time and anonymity levels. It also validates the proxy protocols for each proxy on the list so you know what to expect before you connect.
So now when I'm downloading my favorite shows my Torrent client will be proxied through Germany, while my entire internet connection is VPN'd through Sweden. If my VPN connection goes down, I should still be somewhat protected by the proxy. That's the idea anyway.

How do you protect your identity while using BitTorrent? Let us know in the comments!

Apr 7, 2015

The Best (and Worst) Corporate Responses to High-Profile Hacks

We live in an age where data breaches are common, hitting even some of the biggest corporations in the world. The data breach that struck Target during the holiday shopping season in 2013, for example, saw victims awarded up to $10,000 each for the error. One of the most important factors about these situations isn't necessarily that a breach occurred, but rather how a company chose to respond. The best (and worst) corporate responses to high-profile hacks are a veritable education in how to react should your organization fall victim to the same fate.

Sony

The unprecedented data breach that struck Sony in late 2014 will go down in history for a number of reasons — including Sony's poor response. From the moment information about the hack became public, it was clear that the technology giant had very little under control. The hack itself started around November 24, but was not formally addressed until a few weeks later.

Afterwards, Sony played the blame game by pointing the finger at both the North Korean government and at disgruntled former employees, in an attempt to take the focus off the colossal security failure. Fallout from the hack is still going on, and the lawsuits from past and current employees alone is expected to cost millions when everything is said and done.

Home Depot

On the other end of the spectrum is the corporate response to a high profile hack that struck Home Depot recently. Home Depot's CEO Frank Blake was already transitioning into retirement by the time the company's internal systems had been breached. Instead of leaving a gigantic cyber mess for his successor to clean up, or blaming others for his company's mistakes (as was the case with Sony), Blake did essentially the opposite.

He and his team quickly made information about the breach public and accepted full responsibility, both in an attempt to save the company's public image and to legitimately warn past and current customers that an issue had occurred. He and his security team got to work fixing the problem and apologized in a touching public statement only a few hours after the breach had been discovered.

The most important lesson to learn from Home Depot is that all throughout the ordeal, Blake and his team emphasized that their concern was not with themselves, but with their customers. This went a long way toward restoring much of the goodwill that had been devastated by the hack.

Apple

Another poor response to a massive hack also comes from one of the world's largest corporations — Apple. Following the iCloud photo hacking scandal in September of 2014, Apple was quick to issue a statement denying all responsibility for the attack. To make matters worse, Apple went as far as blaming the victims. The company indicated that if only celebrities had been using stronger passwords, they wouldn't have had these types of issues. The fact that Apple would later release patches for the flaw in its security system implies Apple executives are putting at least some of the blame on themselves, even if they haven't said so publicly.



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