Diary of a Network Geek

The trials and tribulations of a Certified Novell Engineer who's been stranded in Houston, Texas.

6/7/2019

PowerToys 2019

Filed under: Better Living Through Technology,Geek Work,MicroSoft,The Day Job — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

Some reboots are better than others.

Sometimes, I talk about really geeky things here, mostly because I AM a geek, but also because I am a professional geek. This is one of those times.
Back in the days of Windows 95 and Windows XP, Microsoft made a whole set of little tools that fankly should have been included in the operating system to begin with. Things like TweakUI that let you change almost every aspect of the look and feel of Windows, including where some system folders resided. There were other tools, too, like things thta would let you synchronize folders and autoplay CDs and, one of my favorites, Command Prompt Here that let you open, you guessed it, a command prompt in any folder from the Windows FileManager. Those little tools sort of fell off in popularity after those versions of Windows, but hard-core users and oldsters like me still remember them fondly.
Well, according to Lifehacker, Microsoft is bringing PowerToys back! What’s more, they’re making them open source, so you’ll be able to download the source code and write your own! Of course, they don’t have TweakUI in this batch of goodies, yet, but I’m sure some enterprising, young programmer will dive into the Microsoft GitHub PowerToys repository, and figure out a way to make all our old favorites. In any case, it’s a good space to watch for new utilities that may be useful to you. And, of course, it’s free, which is why I’m sharing it with you on a Friday.
Enjoy!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!

4/23/2019

Throw Away Drives

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Never trust a Network Admin with a screwdriver,The Dark Side,The Day Job — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Rooster which is in the early evening or 7:00 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Please, be careful.

We tend to treat USB thumb drives as essentially disposable these days, which, considering their low cost, they basically are.  At least, in one sense.  The problem is, those cheap, little drives still store an awful lot of data.  I recently read an article titled “You left WHAT on that USB drive?!” where the authors talk about several studies, formal and informal, where researchers scooped up random USB drives, either from eBay or the lost and found, to see what was on them.  The results are a little terrifying.  According to the article, “…about two-thirds of second-hand USB memory sticks bought in the US and the UK have recoverable and sometimes sensitive data. In one-fifth of the devices studied, the past owner could be identified.”  What’s more, in the case of one study, out of 200 drives, only 34 of them had been properly wiped out.  That’s just 17% of the drives.  Several had been formatted, but still had data that could be recovered off them.  Yes, that’s right, even reformatting the drives does NOT guarantee that they will be properly wiped out.

What’s more, the data that was left behind was of a very sensitive nature in many cases.  Everything from tax information to naked photos to photos of a soldier on deployment and at home, including the soldier’s address.  And, again, reformatting is not enough.  At least 8 drives out of the 200 examined had been reformatted, but had data on them that could still be recovered!  So, what can be done?
Personally, I tend to use USB drives until they absolutely don’t work at all any more, and I try not to put personal data on them in any case.
One solution is to get a USB drive that can be encrypted.  I’ve used several versions of the LaCie Imakey that includes an encrypted partition and utilities to manage it, but that doesn’t seem to be available any more.  A replacement might be the Kingston Digital Data Traveler Locker, which lets you set a password to restrict access, as well as doing hardware encryption of some kind and even backing up to the cloud in case the drive gets lost.  Granted those drives can get a little pricey, but how much does it cost to deal with the potential identity theft that lax personal security might bring?

If you have drives, USB or otherwise, that you’re looking to get rid of, then at least sanitize them before they go.  There are a lot of articles and utilities available to help you with that.  One that covers pretty much every drive you might have is How to securely erase external hard drives, SD cards, or flash drives, which details the steps as well as suggesting utilities to help you.  Now, for the most part, I assume that if you read this blog, as opposed to my other blog, Use Your Words, then you’re a geek like me and can handle more than consumer-grade procedures and software.  If that’s the case, or you’re feeling particularly brave, one great utility I’ve used is Darik’s Boot and Nuke aka DBAN.  It’s a free ISO you can download to make a bootable disk/drive that will let you securely wipe a drive before disposing of it.  It’s simple to use and free, but if you’re not comfortable burning an ISO to a disk or thumbdrive, then I’d recommend getting a more consumer-friendly product.

Either way, it’s a scary world out there to let your precious data roam free without a keeper, so be careful with those cheap, “throw away” drives.  If you’re not careful how you use them, they could get pretty expensive.


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"Plenty of people miss their share of happiness, not because they never found it, but because they didn't stop to enjoy it."
   --W. Feather

1/25/2019

Phishing Quiz

Filed under: Fun,The Day Job — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

No, that’s not a typo.

This month, I’ve been dealing with a higher than normal amount of phishing emails at work. For those of you not in IT, those are the emails you get that have links which look like legitimate links, say to your bank, but that actually redirect you to a compromised website that collects your username and password for a hacker’s later use. They’re worse than regular spam email, but not quite virus payloads. Either way, they cause me no end of grief. Normally, I don’t have a hard time spotting them, but even I have to admit, these cyber crooks have gotten really clever lately.
So, this week I’m bringing you something rather more important and educational than it is strictly “fun”. Still, if you bear with me, and follow the link, you’ll be helping yourself and endearing yourself to your IT Department. Trust me.
The link is to Google’s phishing quiz and it’s meant to both test your knowledge and skill at avoiding phishing emails. As an IT professional, I can tell you, it’s harder than it looks. Honest. The first time I ran through the quiz, I missed three of the eight questions, though, one was a “false-positive”, which means I was leaning more toward safety by the end of the quiz. In any case, after you answer each question, the site takes you through what was wrong, or right, about each email.

So, yeah, not the most traditionally “fun” thing for a Friday, but it is a kind of game, so I’m going to count it!
And, with any luck at all, by this coming Friday, I may be finally able to reveal one of the things that’s been keeping me from writing up better stuff for you on Friday’s the past month or so.

 

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words.

10/26/2018

Save Your Work

Filed under: Better Living Through Technology,Geek Work,The Day Job — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning or 7:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Have you ever lost form data on the web?

I hate when I’m typing into a form on a website and something happens, then all my data goes poof. Seriously. It’s super frustrating for me, because sometimes, when I’m putting in a support request for work, those forms have a LOT of data in them and losing it can really throw a monkey-wrench in my day.
Or, worse yet, when I’m setting up blog posts, I can really get into a writing groove and then my internet connection might blink and, again, poof, all that hard work is gone. Granted, I should be saving the draft as I go along, but, even though I may seem like a tech god to some, I’m really just a regular human who doesn’t always follow best practices. Sad, but true.
In the past, I’ve used a great Chrome plugin called Lazarus to help me recover lost form data, but that plugin has gone away. Now, though, there’s Typio Form Recovery. Sadly, it’s only available for the Chrome browser, so if you use Firefox or something else, you’ll have to find another alternative. It IS free, though, so there is that. Also? If you know of a similar plugin for Firefox, please, leave a comment with information about it!
And, yeah, I know, not exactly “fun”, but, hey, come back next week and see if I can do better!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!

10/19/2018

Scamming Scammers

Filed under: Fun,Geek Work,The Day Job — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning or 7:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

There’s a special place in hell for scammers that take advantage of the technologically weak.

Okay, yes, in some sense, my entire career is based on being more tech savy than pretty much everyone around me, but I’m pretty open about what I’m doing. Also, I’m actually trying to help and, frankly, it’s what I get paid to do. I mean, I make a deal with someone to actually help them with technology for money. What I don’t do is create a problem before I help solve it. That is both unethical and, for the most part, illegal.
Two plus years ago, when I was looking for work, I actually got a call from someone claiming to be from the “Windows department” and trying to convince me that I needed to let them on my computer so they could fix a Windows problem for me. I’m afraid that my twenty-five year and change of IT experience and having to fix the problems caused by these bastards led me to really hammer this scammer hard. I mean, to the point of calling him back and literally yelling at him over the phone about how he was a terrible human-being for trying to take advantage of people who are afraid of technology on which they rely. And, my own mother, who is in the scammer’s favorite category; older, retired, and with at least some disposable income, has stories of dealing with scammers like this trying to get her to give up her credit card information. Thankfully, I’ve trained her better than that and she didn’t fall for it.

Now, I know that these scammers aren’t limited to tech-related issues. They’ll come at you trying to convince you that they have cheaper airfare for you, or some other “too good to be true” deal. My mother and I have both been know to play with scammers like this, I suppose because we have a similar sense of both humor and justice. But, guess what? There are people who have elevated this to a real art. Or, maybe a sport. In any case, they’re brilliant and some of them have recorded their exploits for our entertainment. You can finally see and hear some of these scum-sucking bottom-feeding scammers get what’s coming to them at the hands of some scam-baiting artists over at Engadget’s blog post Making A Living Scamming The Scammers. Some of these go on for quite a bit, but it’s terribly fun to watch these scam-baiters messing around with terrible, heartless scammers.
Besides, how are you going to waste time on a Friday?

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!

9/14/2018

Send Big Files

Filed under: Red Herrings,The Day Job — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning or 7:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

Frustrated with email limitations on big attachments?

Lately, I seem to be offering up solutions for email problems. I guess, email is on my mind lately. Don’t get me wrong, I love email. I frankly think it’s one of the most incredible things about the internet and quite possibly the greatest invention since sliced bread. Seriously. Think about it. Email connects us almost instantly with virtually anyone else in the world who has an email address. No time spent waiting for postal carriers to get a letter from where we are to where they are which might take days or weeks. Just near instantaneous communication.
Of course, there are some limitations. Obviously, I can’t send someone physical objects directly via email. I suppose, though, that when 3D printer technology catches up to our imaginations, we could send the digital files for some object and then you could print it locally, but that’s far, far in the future. Also? Most email systems have pretty strict limits on how big a file you can even send. Most top out around 25 megabytes, but some are really strict and are capped at as little as 5 megabytes. So, what can you do to keep those limits from killing your ability to share your big, beautiful Photoshop files? Where there’s a will, there’s a way!
In this case, the way is Send by Firefox. Yes, by the people who make the Firefox web browser, but, no, you don’t have to have Firefox to use it. You can watch a small video of how it works here, but really, it’s just a matter of uploading a file and following the instructions. They do recommend that you keep files under 1 gigabyte, but if you’re sending files that big, you’re really better off talking to your IT Department about setting up an FTP server for you. (Don’t worry, they’ll know what that means.)
In any case, this should be a simple solution for you under most circumstances.
And, that’s about the best you can hope for on a Friday!
Enjoy your weekend and I’ll see you back here next week!

This post originally appeared at Use Your Words!

9/7/2018

Burner Email Addresses

Filed under: Red Herrings,The Day Job — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning or 7:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

Because having a disposable email means having privacy.

I hate spam. I mean, I really hate spam and spammers with a passion. As a system administrator, which is what I really am no matter what fancy title I may currently have, I can tell you that dealing with spam is the single most time-consuming and irritating thing about having an email server. The last time I checked, spam accounted for something like 75% of all email communication. The problem is, a lot of the time, to get the one thing you want from a site, you are forced to sign up for an email newsletter that you don’t really want. Now, don’t get me wrong, I actually like email newsletters. I subscribe to several and I’m even working on setting up one of my own. But, for those times you really just want the one “free” download a site is offering and don’t have any intention of coming back, what are you to do? Or, what if you’re not even sure that it’s a legitimate download or website? Maybe you’re afraid that a hacker has set up a site just to collect personal information, what then?
Well, then, you use nBox by notif.me to setup a free, anonymous and private “burner” email for any site you want to sign up for. You can then choose how and when you’re notified when they send something out. You can even delete the addresses you’ve used for sites you don’t want to be bothered with any more and *poof* they’re all gone, all at once.
And, yes, it’s free. How? Well, it’s free because it’s notif.me’s way of advertising and getting the word out about their service.
So, why not try it and take control of your email notifications this fine Friday?

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!

4/13/2018

PWNED?

Filed under: Fun,News and Current Events,The Day Job — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning or 7:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

Have my super secret accounts been compromised?

Probably. I know, that’s not really what anyone wants to hear, but it’s also pretty truthful at this point. I mean, if you pay any attention to the news these days, then you’ve heard about all the recent data breaches. Most recently, there’s the Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor data breaches, but before that there was Equifax, Under Armour, Uber and more. And, I know for myself, just having a Yahoo-related email account has made me susceptible to having my information compromised multiple times over the years.
But, what if you’re not sure? Or, what if you think you may have had an account that was part of a breach and want to know for sure? Then, head over to Have I Been Pwned and put in your email address. If you’ve been part of any of the big breaches in the past couple years, this site will tell you.
Also, if you’re not sure about that “secure” password you’re about to start using, then you can put that in at this site, too, and if it’s a well-known, well-hacked password, you’ll know before you use it. (That’s important to know because the well-known passwords are easier to pull out of even an encrypted password database.) If you don’t see it at first, just check the top menu for “Passwords” and you’ll get straight to it.

In this day and age, none of us can afford to be lax with our personal data and our data security. So, it may not be my normal “fun” link for Friday, but it’s definitely worth taking a minute to check your on-line safety.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words.

2/16/2018

Hacker Games

Filed under: Fun,Fun and Games,The Day Job — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

Sounds like a good title for a book!

Except it’s not.
In my day job, I’m a professional geek. And, what I mean by that is that I work with computers for money. It seems like the vast majority of the guys my age who got into computers professionally did so because they were inspired by the movie [amazon_textlink asin=’B0011EQBOS’ text=’War Games’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’jkhoffman-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’38c6d846-0d15-11e8-a8f6-f12f91a6eb2a’]. Not me, though. I fell into it a little sideways and my interest in the computer security angle of my work came from [amazon_textlink asin=’B00WGUWDVG’ text=’Sneakers’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’jkhoffman-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’53433e58-0d15-11e8-991f-01aca75f720d’]. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be Martin Bishop? A computer geek that looks like Robert Redford and could swing sleeping with Mary McDonnell? Seriously, sign me up!
The reality is, of course, a little less sexy. Trust me. No one who looked like Robert Redford was walking around DEFCON. Though, to be fair, I did learn to pick locks sitting next to a very nice and more than moderately attractive young woman. Who, incidentally, learned lock picking faster than any guy at the table.
In any case, times have changed since the early 90’s and all the harmless exploration I did when I first got into IT is mostly illegal now. Though, I’ll never forget helping an international guest at the Hyatt Regency Chicago get remote access to her VMS and find the program she needed to run. She had authorization, of course, but no idea how to find what she needed and I was blind in a VMS system for the first time. When I get her into her program, I think she clapped and then hugged me. It was cool! And FUN! But, opportunities like that are few and far between. And, there are plenty of places that won’t hire someone who has a criminal record. So, how do you recreate that experience without risking jail time?
Wargames by OverTheWire. These fine hackers have put together more than a dozen “games” meant to test your skill at electronic breaking and entering. And, honestly, a little bit more. Each game let’s you connect to it, most often with SSH via its own, dedicated SSH port, and then let’s you go after the rest. I haven’t had the chance to do much here yet, honestly, but the OverTheWire gang suggests you start with Bandit, which is aimed at absolute beginners and consists of 27 “levels”. Each “level” gives you information to “beat” the next “level”. It sounds like fun, but, then again, I am a pretty hardcore computer geek.

So, there you go! It’s a free introduction to computer security in game form. The perfect Friday diversion for the aspiring network geek or hacker!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words, my ironically non-computer-geeky blog!

12/29/2017

A Personal Security Plan

Filed under: Fun,News and Current Events,The Day Job — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning or 7:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

It’s never too late, or too early, to get more secure on-line.

Those of you who know me, know that I spend most of my days toiling in the corporate data mines and as a result, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about computer security. I also tend to be tech support for my friends and family, which covers a surprising amount of ground and technical situations. It seems like, lately, the biggest concern has been security. Either people are worried about having credit card information stolen or getting a virus or having some other password violated. Unfortunately, not enough of them are worried about backing up their systems, and, if I’m being totally honest with you, dear readers, I should worry about that more myself.
But, at the end of the day, I’m often left feeling like I can’t possibly give everyone the good advice that they need to stay safe with their technology and the internet. I tend to approach things from a corporate point of view, and even run my own network at home a little bit like a smaller version of the networks I’m responsible for at my “day job”. But, that approach doesn’t work for most people and I don’t have time to do a lot of customizing for their individual concerns.

Now, though, I’ve found a site that can help; Security Planner. It’s a free, interactive guide to let regular people get expert-reviewed advice to help them address their concerns about staying safe on their phones, tablets and computers. You just answer some simple questions about what worries you regarding technology and what can go horribly wrong, and they give you a simple action plan to help you get and feel safer. And, if you’re a more advanced user, or more intensely paranoid, they can help point you toward expert advice that, with a little more research and work on your part, can help you, too.
Best of all, it’s free.
Right now, the site is only in English, but they hope to expand to Spanish and French eventually, too.

So, do me, and whoever else you might go to for tech support, a favor; make a security plan for the coming year now.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words.

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