Spent something close to 10 hours on a single computer this past week.
The issue at hand was a collection of Trojans and related malware. In the mess, I was unable to salvage anything from the file system. Even booting from a LiveCD did not offer much access to the files the client lost. We couldn’t even access the factory recovery partition. None of the standard Win7 tools were sufficient to recover things. So what we had was a major corruption of the file system itself, because everything reports that the harddrive was just peachy itself.
It all broke down when I had to use Windows Defender Offline. For once Vipre Rescue didn’t do it for me. The problem came when Defender removed Alureon.J and the file system finally tanked.
In the process I discovered someone had in the past installed a VNC application so he could fix the computer remotely, but he passed away and the thing was still there. Inevitably, those things prevent updates. I don’t doubt the guy was careful enough to secure the connection properly, but they always seem to prevent a system updating. Once it was uninstalled, the sucker tried to suddenly update everything.
It seemed the infection vector was a Linksys E900 wifi router one of the client’s family members installed. This relative didn’t live there, just wanted it for his convenience when he visited. He used the “Wifi Protected Setup” protocol, which is about as secure as stripping naked in a bad neighborhood in broad daylight. The client’s computer was “protected” by McAfee. Win7 even told her to remove the wifi router, but she thought it was just complaining about nothing.
The system stopped booting, so I first ran the Bootup Repair routine and got back in far enough to begin cleaning up. We got one tool to remove one pair of nasties, but we never could get her preferred Trend Micro Titanium to install because Alureon blocked it. So I tried Microsoft Security Essentials and it installed, and then recommended it’s Offline cleanup tool. But removing Alureon took a bite out of the file system and it simply could not recover with the tools available to me.
So we “nuked it from orbit” by reinstalling from scratch with a DVD I had. The client lost all their files.
Lessons learned: McAfee isn’t any good. VNC might be a good way for secure remote assistance, but if you aren’t careful, it can block updates. Malware can come through a badly configured router. One of the system error messages I got indicated the router was acting as a file system and fed into the damage. I didn’t pursue fixing the router, just removed it. Always keep your own copies of the OS installer you deal with, because a corrupt file system can ruin the factory provided recovery partition.
Teach folks how to use Windows Backup and a good external drive; they should come bundled with a new computer. Unfortunately, most of the backup software on external disks really suck. They are highly annoying and want to dominate what little time you have for using a computer. You need to be able to unplug it so viruses don’t infest your backups, too, and most of them whine if they aren’t plugged in 24/7. But Windows’ own backup tools are a bit hard to learn for average users, so most folks don’t mess with it.
Nobody has to tell me I could have done better, but I can’t afford some of the nifty tools other folks use. I work for donations, which sometimes means for free. I’m not a serious technician, just someone down the road ahead of most folks. Still, I put more effort into it than almost every computer shop I’ve seen. Windows 7 has some very good tools built in and I rather like working on it, but some things can’t be fixed that easily. I still think Linux works better, but this is a very bad time to learn it because no sane people are involved in interface development. XFCE is the most sane, and it’s still too radical and too limited to easily replace Windows in most people’s minds. I use it, but I don’t recommend it to your average home user. Taming the other graphical interfaces is simply way too much work because the defaults are user-hostile.
Meanwhile, I keep praying ReactOS gets good enough for general use, because common computer users are used to that, and it’s time they got a break.
They entered their hideaway and Preston took off his fanny pack, turned and dropped sideways across the hammock. Angie removed her pack and took his from the floor, moving to the desk to open them.
“Darlin’, I really love sleeping on this thing but it narrows our choices for other activities.” He turned his head back around and grinned at her.
She leaned over and put her finger on his lips, shushing him. Then she replaced her finger with her own lips, kissing him upside down. “We have work before pleasure. Come help me catalog these images.”
The cell signal was poor that evening, so nothing got shipped. They planned to carry the laptop down to see if the city offered enough wifi signal for the necessary traffic. Preston was quite sure there would be something in the dropbox, since they had nothing to indicate any schedule of events for the confab starting the day after next.
The next morning bright and early they walked down into the village, then followed the small road straight east toward Dinant. It was just over ninety minutes of brisk hiking to where the road began seriously descending down over the lip of the Meuse Valley. There were a couple of hairpin turns, bringing them right in front of the boarding school that Francophones referred to as “collége” before it offered a turn back down toward the main bridge. Preston decided to follow a hunch and chased the road farther south to the N936. He turned sharply left back down the hill a bit, then right at the overpass for the railroad tracks. Where the road sloped up toward the lip of the valley, about halfway to the converted monastery that was now a hotel, he stopped.
Preston pointed out they had direct line of sight across the river, down the narrow lane to the front of the Hall of Justice. That building was built tightly against the gray stone bluff. He checked it through the newer camera and zoomed in for a good, clear view of the entrance. He looked up behind him and noticed it was possible to climb up on the rocky embankment that had been cut for the road. Farther up near the hotel the slope was easy enough to clamber up. From there it was a simple matter of walking back along the higher point of view to the same line of sight. It was a beautiful shot, and Angie took a turn looking at it through the camera.
They went back down the road into town and crossed the bridge. This placed them back in the open square next to the cathedral, and at the foot of the stairs up to the citadel. A couple of the cafes were offering a decent breakfast, and they decided it would give Preston a chance to begin scanning some of the hotels and other places likely to offer wifi. His hand held wifi channel receiver hadn’t offered much so far.
One cafe not yet open had a signal too weak from that distance. After breakfast, they wandered south along the river. Most of the signals were encrypted, but up near the Ibis Hotel it got strong. The casino next door had a great open signal. Sitting on the walkway along the river was possible, but there was terrace cafe service there for coffee, so Preston felt it was only fair. Besides, the coffee smelled too good.
Once connected to the Net, they managed to exchange the images and videos taken so far. And sure enough, the dropbox contained a PDF with the itinerary for the three-day conference. There was also an appendix:
Don’t worry about the chateau where they are staying. We have a couple of friends there. Try to catch the limousines where they park and who hangs around them, and be sure to catch the river ride.
They noticed the schedule started with meeting the first day in the Hall of Justice, then a private hotel conference room on the outskirts of the city. The second day was a deluxe barge ride upriver and back, projected to run until mid-afternoon. In his mind, Preston saw lots of police and paparazzi boats escorting them.
Angie asked him, “Are we going to use that spot on the hillside to watch them unload the limos?”
“That would be cool only if we need to catch the big shots with telephoto, but I’d rather be in place to see where the limos go from there. Can’t be that many places to park a bunch of big cars all in one spot.”
They studied a detailed city map they found and noticed the streets were almost all one-way in that part of town. Preston noted, “If we can bank on the cops sticking with the simplest plan, that would mean pulling up in front of the Hall of Justice up that narrow street, unloading, and then turning left toward the cathedral. So when they start arriving, we’ll post ourselves on the plaza and see where the first one goes and take it from there. I rather doubt they’ll all come at once, for security reasons. If they are staggered out enough, we’ll have some time to get an idea where to start looking. I’ll bet they don’t go far.”
For the next few hours, they referred to the agenda and walked around, trying to estimate where the paparazzi and other onlookers would cluster. They found out the citadel would still be open, and expected a few to use that high angle view. Preston doubted there would be any helicopters or other aircraft, though. He joked about camera drones with the private and police ones crashing into each other or dog fighting.
As they stood on the bridge, leaning on the railing and gazing upriver, Angie asked seriously, “What if someone figures out what we are doing and takes exception. Could we be arrested?”
Preston thought for a moment. Turning his head, he met her eyes. “Somehow, I doubt it. We’ll be two out of hundreds of people using cameras. Even if someone gets upset at our behavior, they would have a hard time convincing the police to come after us. It’s more likely they’ll try to come after us themselves.”
She wrinkled up her mouth, twisting one side up without amusement. “I was afraid you would say that.”
Sweating from the burdened hike, this was hardly what Preston was expecting.
Their hostess opened the door for them. Patiently waiting until they unburdened themselves, she turned one of the chairs around from the table and faced where they sat in the two easy chairs.
“Heerlen is one of the best places to hide. You can disappear so easily in such a busy town. When we got an offer of a computer, the same person mentioned they would love to have a house sitter.”
Angie and Preston glanced at each other, eyebrows raised.
“First, you can never meet this person. It’s best you never look into the details; this protects everyone, as you know. On one of the central walking promenades in Heerlen, there is a top floor apartment above one of the shops. You access it from either the front or from an alleyway in the back. There is a crazy legal status I can’t explain, but this person cannot use the property for business nor rent it out, yet are required to keep it up. It’s quite valuable so they want someone to occupy it for security reasons. They estimate it’s at least two years before anything changes.”
She crossed her legs and smiled. “You can move in tomorrow morning. They left you a nice Mac system there. I was told you should simply rely on wifi, and I’m sure you can work that out. It’s not that we are eager to see you go, but this is so much better for you two.”
Preston thought for a moment. “I rather like the idea it reduces your risks, too.”
She smiled, but said nothing.
Angie stood and walked over to the older lady. Bending a bit, she gave her a hug. “We kunnen niet genoeg bedanken.” We can’t thank you enough.
The woman returned her warmth. “You two have opened many doors for us. It would all be worth it simply for what you’ve already done.”
As she got up to leave, Preston stood and hugged her, too.
“We’ve asked a friend to bring up a small truck to help you move. He’ll be here mid-morning, so you should have plenty of time to get ready.” She gently closed their door behind her. They never saw her again.
Next morning, the small truck pulled up in the courtyard around nine. You would have thought with so few worldly possessions, they could have easily been ready. Somehow, it didn’t quite work out that way. They were still packing the last few items as the truck arrived.
The ride into Heerlen was mercifully short in the cramped front seat of the little van. Their baggage and three bikes easily fit into the back. Only during the early morning hours could he have driven on any part of the walking plazas, so he had to park a ways off at the train station. However, he had a dolly and was able to help them with the baggage. They wheeled their bikes to the back of the building. There was a small steel rolling door with the obvious purpose of bicycle storage. The man spoke nary a word, simply pointing and smiling. He handed Preston a key for this door, then another key to Angie. The old fellow waited at the bottom of the stairs while they located the apartment. It took only a few trips and he disappeared when they last bag left his dolly.
Something in the layout screamed at Preston that one small room had to be their office. Sure enough, in a corner under a small, simple table sat some boxes. He pulled the two aging but serviceable rolling office chairs back from the table and slid the boxes out across the hardwood floor.
Inside was a complete Mac workstation of recent vintage with a large monitor. While Angie unpacked their clothing and other stuff, he fetched his computer tools and took a look inside the case. There was nothing suspicious, but he wanted to double check. He fired up his laptop. Sure enough, there were dozens of wifi nodes in the area. He picked at random one of the unsecured ones and looked up a site that offered complete tear-down instructions for Macs. He checked everything, including the cables.
By matching the images, he decided there was nothing amiss and reassembled the case. That didn’t mean things were perfect. Among the parts in the box was a wifi router. After getting the system up and running, but before connecting the router, he pulled a disk from his collection and inserted it. Mac is Unix with a pretty face, and he had some scripts that took advantage of this to make it more secure. It included a very smart firewall and some other measures to lock down the system against unsafe changes.
Angie walked in asking about how he wanted some of his clothing put away and stopped when she saw the system running. It was embarrassingly opulent. He quickly plugged in the wifi as she watched him get her online. Rolling back in his chair, he pointed to the system with his open hands. “There you go, Baby. It doesn’t get any better than this.”
She was clearly impressed. She sat down and began playing with it. He left it to her and went to the bedroom so she could work without worrying about his stuff.
With restaurants, cafes, snack-bars and grocery shops aplenty in easy walking distance, food was never an issue. The apartment was fully furnished, aside from linen. Again, shops within walking distance covered every need. Everything in the apartment was obviously well-used, but certainly better than nothing. As they were working away on their photographs that evening, Preston looked over at Angie and said aloud, “I didn’t notice dying, so how did I get to heaven? The only thing missing are the wings on your back.”
She turned with a big smile, leaned over and kissed him. “Don’t be silly. We still have a lot of work to do. I’m betting our bicycles will not rest much in that lock-up downstairs.”
Preston grinned. “Well then, we’ll have to play angels on wheels while the real angels guarding us will never get much rest for their wings.”
(End of Part 2; Part 3 follows.)
The message came in their email the next morning.
Bingo; good eye. We believe someone tried to follow you. Here’s hoping you succeeded in losing them. Rescued about half the bus kids; another setback for them. Send more ordinary shots for our general collection.
They spent the day relaxing and organizing their work. Angie turned out to be quite good at it, and he insisted she needed a bigger system to work with here at home. Then he got up and stood behind her, pulling apart the braids as she worked. He brushed her hair out thoroughly, and then began rubbing her shoulders and back. She groaned and nearly collapsed face down on the little table. She slept hard that night. The next morning, she returned the favor, and then some.
As they lay clinging to each other, Preston observed, “We broke the rules.”
She raised her head up, “What rules?”
“You climbed the rocks and were away from me. I could see you, but we weren’t physically close,” he explained.
“You encouraged me.”
“Yes, I did. Sometimes the rules don’t apply. Still, we have to be careful.” He kissed her forehead. “I’d hate to have someone steal you from me now.”
She giggled, that enchanting girlish sound.
After breakfast, he asked their hostess how he should go about getting Angie a good workstation. She thought for a moment. Suddenly she said, “Leftovers.”
“Leftovers?” He was puzzled, but game to follow the idea.
“Every business buys that stuff. Some buy lots of it. Let me check amongst our associates. You may need to pay something but that should still be less than retail or even wholesale. Then I want you to check it thoroughly for anything that’s out of place, because we never really trust anyone.” She turned and started for the door. “Give me a day or so and I’ll let you know.”
He turned to Angie. “Meanwhile, I think we need to go back to where we started.”
“Wablieft?” She was puzzled.
Preston grinned. “Geographically. I still have some stuff I left in my room at Harry’s place, and I need it. Electronic gadgets, tools, software, so forth.”
“Oh. Then maybe I can take a formal letter of departure to the school. I don’t have anything there I need, but they will want me to take my stuff away.” She went to find some paper and a pen.
They hiked cross country into Wijlre and caught the train. While waiting, Preston decided to test his new cellphone, sending a text message he hoped Harry would read before they arrived. Angie composed her letter as they rode. A couple of train changes and they got off around noon at Hazerswoude, just a few kilometers from Hoogmade. It was their good fortune to find the fish wagon in one of the parking lots near the river. It was essentially a motor home converted into a sea food shop on wheels. Such vehicles typically kept a regular route through villages too small for any kind of full service locally. There was a similar thing with grocery wagons. The fish wagon also had frying vats behind the counter, so lunch was quick and easy, eating fried breaded cod wrapped in paper as they walked.
There was no direct route, but taking a narrow lane along the polders required only an hour to reach the marina. Naturally, Harry hadn’t seen the message. He wasn’t even around the place. Preston gathered his small collection and stuffed it into a couple of travel bags. He didn’t relish lugging the baggage, but it had to be. They caught the bus and worked their way to Haarlem. It was only a few hundred meters to the school from where they got off.
Angie had warned him he couldn’t come inside the place. Much as he didn’t like losing sight of her, he agreed to wait in a small open area nearby with a couple of benches. He poked around his conscious mind a bit and decided the uncomfortable feeling was just a feeling. It was nonetheless an unpleasant wait. His pocket beeped a notice of incoming text message. Had she reactivated her old phone?
No, it was Harry. He was sorry he missed his friend and insisted they not lose touch. Preston knew Harry couldn’t sit still for ten minutes unless he was sailing. During the few weeks he had stayed at Harry’s place, Preston spent less than two hours total time with him. They would keep in touch by email and the forums, but Preston’s life was on a totally different track right now.
The distraction did him good, because he was surprised to see Angie walking back toward him with a large nylon duffle bag, and her small backpack was now bulging. She sat down next to him and they kissed. “I didn’t realize how much it would bother me,” she said.
“Being away from you, silly boy. If it is addiction, I don’t want a cure.” Then she added, “Oh, and they seemed almost happy to see me go.”
She insisted on a detour to a shop front near the center of the old city. It was a charity clothing place, and she left the larger bag. Preston wished he had known she was going to do that, but didn’t want to rifle through his belongings now to separate out what he could keep.
It was a long ride and several train changes back to Wijlre. They had eaten dinner from the snack cart on the train, and it was still light out as the train pulled up to the platform. They decided to grab the bus which took them to Scheulder up on the ridge and much closer to the orchard. Angie pestered him until he gave her the smaller bag, but it was still work and they stopped twice on the way to rest.
They were a bit surprised to encounter their hostess outside their door as they came into the courtyard. “Good news! Don’t unpack,” she announced.
Preston set a blistering pace but Angie managed to keep.
At one point it seemed he was unsure of the route, because he turned toward the west again. At the next trail junction he stopped, yanked the camera out of the cargo pocket on his hiking shorts and fiddled with it a bit. Angie was too much out of breath to ask what he was doing. Almost as suddenly he stuffed it back into the pocket and turned, nearly doubling back the way they had come.
The Dutch-Belgian border in that area generally follows the lip of highlands. Preston’s breakneck pace continued down the steep slope, but in Sint Martens he finally slowed down. They stopped at a friture for dinner. Preston pulled out a sturdy plastic fork. “I hate those little picks they give you with fries.”
They passed under the arched viaduct bearing the rail line through the village, and then decided against camping. After checking to find several hostels and hotels full, they found one opening. The map had indicated it was a bed and breakfast and the price for staying was cheap enough.
Preston sat down on the side of the bed. Slowly he reached into his cargo pocket again. He pulled out the camera and held it up as if it were evidence of a crime. Angie asked, “Did we break it?”
He sighed. “If we had it might have prevented some of our excitement today.” He woke it from sleep mode and began stroking the screen menus. “After thinking about it on our meandering way here today, I finally realized why they found us so easily after all we went through to avoid them. I was thinking about how you followed me for several weeks.”
On the screen was a submenu for GPS settings. One of the items said, “Tracking.” He tapped with his finger to show it could be changed to “Active mode.” He tapped it again and changed it back to “Passive mode.”
Preston explained, “It was set by default to active mode and I changed it when we stopped back up on the ridge. It’s supposed to be an anti-theft feature. On cheaper cameras like this, there aren’t many options for controlling how it works.”
He took a deep breath. “I said it shared a lot of technology with cellphones. This one reports a unique identifying code to any cell tower. Most carriers ignore it until you report it stolen and pay a small fee to activate the tracking. Then they report the location to the local police as stolen property. The range is nothing like regular cellphones, so while we were at the orchard, it probably didn’t reach any towers consistently. When we climbed that tree, it probably sent one blip to the cell tower at Valkenburg because it was in line of sight. The next nearest tower I saw was near Margraten, so I doubt our hosts were compromised because of the lack of triangulation. Our boy was Israeli, and Israeli companies have a near monopoly on the technology that runs most telephone carriers. Their software often has backdoors, too. They wouldn’t even have to pay a fee to identify what towers reported the camera’s location, but thin coverage out here made it tough on them.”
He lay back on the bed. “However, for the price of a decent meal at any gasthaus, you can purchase a scanner that picks up the same reporting signal. All someone has to do is match the unique ID this thing transmits with the data that was imprinted in every frame of that video I gave Mr. Venkman. He was being a little subtle when he warned me about the GPS and it falling into their hands.”
Angie gasped, putting her hand over her mouth.
Then they both burst out laughing helplessly, and she collapsed on the bed beside him.
The next morning Preston got out his laptop. Since he ran Linux on it, he showed Angie how to use the basic features, then he had her watch him change the MAC address on the wifi. “We may need to do this pretty regularly. I also need to pick up a couple of different types of USB wifi adapters to switch out now and then. For the time being, we’ll be very careful and do this one thing. And maybe we can talk our sponsors into getting us a better camera.”
Their hosts had given them an account on a service Preston had not heard about before. It amounted to a dropbox for encrypted files. It was an FTP folder; at random intervals the files stored there came and went, or were simply renamed. The time stamps were constantly changed. They were all encrypted, but what mattered was the key used. Preston wrote up a brief report of what they had experienced, encrypted with the key their hosts had given them physically. He had struggled to memorize the long passphrase, but eventually got it. Angie had it almost immediately. All they knew about the service was that someone checked the contents of the folder frequently and would find his message. If he was expecting a message, he simply grabbed the contents of the folder, entered the passphrase into a script they gave him and it checked them all. When the script closed, it deleted all the files. This time there was nothing, so they decided to continue their exploration of the Ardennes.
A couple of days later they were in a campground in the German-speaking part of Eupen, preparing to enter the high moors and visit the lake east of the city. Preston found he could get a clear wifi signal if he crossed the little stream and climbed part way up the wooded hillside. He and Angie sat in a small clearing just off the trail. When he checked the FTP account, this time his script spat out a decrypted message.
No survivors. Tracking device in the car confirms your suspicions. We can get you a better camera later. For now, vacation is over. Train to Raeren; hike over the border into Roetgen for bikes. Speak English; call yourselves Daphne and Edward Forttensie. More later.
There was an address at the bottom for a bike shop. He placed the computer in her lap. “Memorize that, Miss Perfect Memory.”
She grinned. “I suppose you aren’t Daphne,” she suggested, patting his knee. They both chuckled.
When she handed it back to him, he said, “Babe, are you ready to give our riding legs and guardian angels another workout?”
She kissed him. With a big grin, she affirmed, “I’m with you all the way, schatje.”
This ends Part 1. Part 2 coming next.
It’s not straightforward to install, but VMWare Player for Linux works very well on RHEL 6 and clones (I’m using Scientific Linux 6). However, XP does not work properly as a client, and you may not get it running at all. I had no trouble with Win2K once I got SP4 and the final rollup installed. Without those, you can’t install the VMWare drivers to make Windows run right. With the drivers installed, it’s fully integrated with the host system desktop and allows me to run a lot of software that WINE cannot handle. For security reasons, I don’t allow the VM to connect to the Internet, but it’s easy to share folders between the host and VM once you set it up. Now, under Windows 7, VMWare took quite a bit of power and was pretty slow. Under SL6, it takes some power to load, but then runs about as quietly as if I were running Win2K itself. I haven’t tried the built-in KVM because kernel level stuff is simply not necessary for this and way too complicated. The other desktop VMs seem more difficult in the descriptions so I went with what I knew.
Capitalism is bad. It’s a cruel and heartless economic system. Socialism and Communism are also very bad, and Fascism is worst of all. All of them are very bad because all of them are inherently materialistic. Each of them treats material goods and creature comfort as god. Humans become no more than a resource, rather than the whole point of things. God said we are designed to live under a tribal government with a family economic system. The modern secular state is one of Satan’s major accomplishments on earth.
In this real world, the American political system and culture are so horrifically evil from the very start, no economic system will work. Places like Europe are socially more boring, but the politics avoid the extremes of what people can tolerate, for the most part. Their governments and economic policies have a human face, where ours is all fangs and hatred. But socialism works out tolerably well there, compared to the idiocy of our welfare-warfare state system. Honestly, if I had the means, I’d rather live in Europe somewhere, but not the UK. I’m sure that leaks out in my writings.
My current fiction series will end with chapter 11. I already have a part 2 ready and I’m working on part 3. Same characters, similar geography, etc., but the core mission becomes steadily more obvious. I’ll keep posting it here, so if this fiction bores you, you’ll probably lose interest in this blog. Right now, this is something really important to me.
Can you weather the storm?
Perhaps with the outrage in Cyprus with the banking situation, you now realize how tenuous is your control over whatever you have deposited with your bank. Without warning, the whole thing can be frozen and you can’t touch your own money. It might quickly no longer be yours. There was a time when carrying around loads of cash was risky, and so was trying to hide it at your home. Banks were more secure and they had a contractual obligation to give you quick access. Then there arose the system by which they would handle the transfer of funds for you. Now it’s just a matter of waving your plastic cards. But the whole system is surprisingly fragile and degrading before our very eyes.
Worse, far too many of us have no choice. Our income source demands we accept it in the form of a direct deposit at the bank. Do I have to make note how this plays into the hands of oppressive government officials who don’t love Jesus and aren’t particularly fond of you and I, either? The probability of having your access blocked in the near future is very, very high. You might want a backup plan.
The same goes with your digital data. While I can’t prove it’s a nasty plot to intrusively grab control over our private data, you’d have to work pretty hard to convince me otherwise. Who uses film cameras any more? All your pictures, your financial records, private correspondence, everything you’ve written — they want you to put in the cloud. They want you to trust them to guard it for you so you can get to it as you wish without anyone else seeing it. Except you’ve already seen what happens with things like the Mega Upload caper.
I suppose if the cloud was totally automated and distributed with failover backups across some global system, blindly shared between a large group of servers scattered across the world, I might be more relaxed about it. Instead, they are already planning to make all commodity computers incapable of actually storing data, so you are forced to use the cloud.
But having seen what TPTB can do with stuff like this, I think I’ll keep my old computers and rely on my own storage, thank you. I keep at least two copies of the valuable stuff on separate drives not permanently attached to my computers. Stuff on this blog that I really value I keep that way; some of it becomes articles on my static website or published as books elsewhere. Most of it reflects what’s already in my soul, and I can regenerate it when needed. Still, I don’t trust anyone else, given I teach you can’t even trust yourself.
If you fall for the propaganda ploy to let someone else hold your money or your data, don’t cry when things fall apart on you.
Systems administrators can be caught up in senseless prejudice, at least as bad as the rest of us. There was a time when hackers used Lynx and other text-only browsers as a major tool for cracking websites and servers. It’s been at least two decades since that changed. These days such use is exceedingly rare. For the most part, Lynx is now used more by blind or sight-impaired surfers. But the prejudice hangs on and we have a whole generation of sysadmins who believe it’s a good idea to block disabled users. Of course, these younger guys think they are demigods and never listen to the facts.
More and more I’m forced to stop using non-graphical browsers, or avoid the growing number of sites administered by these jerks.
You can write me off as an information purist who refuses to participate in the ad-supported Internet and it would be partly true. I also suffer a bit from Adult ADD — whatever that really is — to the point that, if I have to put up with all the graphical sewage, I might as well not even be on the Net. There are other ways to handle this.
I use Chromium (the open source version behind Google Chrome) for sites which simply cannot be used without graphics, like Facebook, Wired, etc. I also run it with Ghostery and Adblock Plus, obtained pretty much the same way as with Firefox. Stuff like FlashPlayer can be controlled by checking the advanced options to load on demand, not automatically. However, because of Facebook’s ubiquitous and deceitful tracking practices, I create a second profile in the browser and use that only for Facebook. I never chase links in that profile. It is Facebook only, and it has none of the blockers installed.
I still use Opera for email and chasing links that come in my email. While it offers far more fine-grained controls built into the browser, it also tends to screw up DNS queries randomly on Linux. I’m not sure what it is, but at odd times it can’t seem to find certain sites, but those sites load very quickly in some other browser. I’m wondering how things will change when Opera switches over to Webkit for their core rendering. Webkit is notoriously anti-user, favoring the big advertisers by refusing to implement features that users want that might block the more egregious tracking practices. All those protections have to be implemented on top of the Webkit engine, and they don’t make it easy.
Yeah, all browsers suck. Most sysadmins suck, too.
I loved SuSE back in the days between versions 6-9. At the time Novell took over around 9.0, things quickly went downhill. Everything I liked about SuSE was badly damaged or taken away. A few releases were okay, but the whole model of development was bad corporate. There is no “good corporate” but at least Red Hat is tolerable; Novell was not.
It took some time for the developers of SUSE to shake off the worst effects of bad corporate herding, but the current release of 12.3 is just about usable. It still takes some tweaking, and you will have to get used to things being a little different, but I believe it’s worth the trouble.
The two primary usability issues are still the KDE desktop and font rendering. KDE will never be what it once was, but it’s finally getting tolerable. (Look out! That can only mean they are preparing to screw it up again.) I won’t waste a bunch of time rewriting the two best guides for fixing things.
MTE (Make Tech Easier) has a very good guide on taming KDE 4 and making it act more like KDE 3. Just change one detail: your new desktop theme “Vintage” goes in
/home/[username]/.kde4/share/apps/desktoptheme — the
.kde folder in your HOME has changed to
Part of the damage from passing through Novell was the destruction of font rendering. I highly recommend you follow the guide at OpenSUSE Starter and add the muzlocker repo to get things back like they once were. Just change the details to match the 12.3 release.
I’m still entirely disappointed by the failure of the Plasmoid widgets to match the glory of the Kicker stuff in KDE 3. I want more system information at hand, and I want it all in one place. So I use GKrellM and I built the gkrell-weather plugin from source. Simply add the
gkrellm-devel package, accept whatever dependencies come with it, then get the plugin source here. You can build with the defaults and let it install where it likes, because when you restart GKrellM after installing the plugin, it will be found. You can find the appropriate weather station codes here. For example, the closest to me geographically is Tinker Air Force Base, KTIK (you have to use all caps).
Naturally I had to add WINE so I could run Notepad++ because nothing in Linux works so well, and also so I could run Word 97. I still use Opera for mail, in part because KMail is an overly complicated boondoggle and you are lucky if you can get it to work. It tried to import settings from Opera, but failed to create any kind of usable configuration and I can’t work out the obscure non-standard options in KMail while the automated settings keep interfering. YMMV.
Still, I’d say if you really need a current Linux distro for a newish machine like mine, it’s pretty good for desktop use.
Perhaps you are aware of the recent incident where hackers obtained the credit reports of some big names. Much entertainment; they even got His Majesty Bill Gates. Part of this is connected to revenge for the treatment of the Occupy protesters. I suppose there is some sense of getting even here, since it’s celebrities none of us would ever likely meet in real life, and whose lives intrude pointlessly on our news media all the time. You can’t escape them.
Unfortunately, at about the same time, some very carefully targeted fraud sprang to life. For example, that old scam phone call with people claiming to be with Microsoft and talking you through examinations of your computer to show you serious problems they can help you fix. They try to get you to download and install something that gives them control of your computer. It seems the most recent round of this foolishness is aimed precisely at seniors. Not just sort-of-old like me, but 70+ — those most likely to be uninformed confused enough to believe this scam. It was previously randomly aimed at all ages.
Meanwhile the same victims are hammered with fake spam bounces because someone is spoofing their email address. Again, older folks who usually don’t have a clue about such things. I understand there is also some texting scams on the same victims, faking their phone number on spam texts. At least one older lady I know has been hit with all three attacks. She’s not stupid; she resisted the phone call, but was shocked when her relatives started getting texting spam from her number. She doesn’t have texting on her landline phone.
While I don’t know if this stuff is connected, the timing is truly suspicious. It would seem someone is siphoning off the non-famous credit information and abusing those who are old with good credit ratings. This is not a “hooray for our side” moment.
Oh, and one other tidbit: The federal government is now allowing every clandestine intelligence agency total free access to your banking and credit information. The crooks in Washington will always outdo the amateurs.