Category Archives: Software

Backup Solutions: CrashPlan

When I first started backing up my data, I simply copied and pasted my files from one folder to another. The problem is that if the hard drive crashes, all that data will still be lost.

After that, I invested in an external hard drive, but eventually got tired of maintaining those backups, because it requires time and work on my end. Plus, I never kept the hard drive connected, as I didn’t want anything accessing or erasing it by accident, so that added to the hassle.

Eventually I upgraded to imaging my hard drive with Acronis True Image. The software basically creates a file that is an identical, compressed copy of everything on your hard drive. The plus side is that if your hard drive crashes, you not only get all your data back, but you get the operating system and its applications in perfect condition.

You might think that there’s no down side, but I had several problems with the software, so I eventually stopped backing up. Furthermore, it does not protect your data from physical damage, as everything is still in one location. Lastly, I never turned to restoring my hard drive from an image, because I always felt the need of starting over with a clean machine.

For a while I went back to maintaining copies of my data on an external drive, until a friend of mine pointed out CrashPlan.

Now, this software has multiple things going for it.

Why I chose it

  • Backs up all your data to a remote location
  • All your data is encrypted before it leaves the computer
  • Data is backed up in real-time
  • Retains different versions of your files
  • Unlimited storage for only $3/mo (one computer)
  • Reputable company with a good track record
  • Option to get your data shipped to you on a hard drive

What I like about it

  • I don’t have to do anything — I choose what I want to back up, then set it and forget it
  • I can browse through my backups via their interface
  • There are multiple options on how to encrypt your data

What I don’t like about it

  • This is not the company’s fault, but keep in mind that backing up to the cloud can initially take a very long time, depending on how much data you have and your Internet connection speed.

What I learned after I got it

  • You can actually backup to your own or a friend’s computer (or both) for free using their software

Conclusion

I have used products like Dropbox, SkyDrive, Pogoplug, etc, but those are not real backup solutions. I can’t say I’ve used any other cloud backup service before, but according to my friend’s recommendation and my own research, this service and company is solid.

I’ve used them for a month now and really, really enjoy it. If you leave here with anything, keep in mind that backing up to the cloud is cheap and hassle-free, so you should consider using one of these available solutions.

Official Product Website

Permanently share a folder between host (Mac) and guest (Linux) OS using VirtualBox

This is mainly for my own reference, but here it goes.

1. Share a folder on the host OS

  • In VirtualBox, click your OS on the left and click on Settings.
  • Click on the Shared Folders tab.
  • Click on the folder with the plus on the right.
  • Browse to a folder of your choice in the folder path.
  • Enter a folder name with no spaces e.g. “Share”.
  • Check Auto-mount and Make Permanent, if available.
  • Click on OK.

2. Mount the folder in the guest OS

  • Create a folder in your guest OS that you want to share.
  • Open up Terminal.
  • Type in id and press ENTER— remember that ID.
  • Switch to the root user using sudo su and enter your password.
  • Browse to the etc folder using cd /etc.
  • Edit the rc.local file using vi rc.local.
  • Move your cursor right above exit 0 and press the letter “i” on your keyboard to insert text.
  • Type in the following: sudo mount -t vboxsf -o uid=1000,gid=1000 Share /home/username/Documents/Share
    • 1000 should match the ID you noted down earlier.
    • Share should match the folder name from step 1.
    • username should match your Linux username.
    • /Documents/Share should be the absolute path of the new folder you created.
  • Now hit “ESC”, type :wq and hit ENTER to save and quit the file editing.

After you restart the guest OS, your shared folder will be automatically mounted.

Amazon MP3s don’t play in car CD player

I bought several albums on Amazon recently and burned them all to a CD in the MP3 format. When I inserted the disc into the car CD player, two albums wouldn’t play. I compared the MP3 files from an album that worked to one that didn’t, and couldn’t find any notable differences, so I tried burning the CD again… three times.

After it still didn’t work, and I comfirmed that the issue was not with the computer, burner or disc, I tried re-encoding the songs from the albums that wouldn’t play, which solved the problem.

I used NCH’s Switch MP3 Converter Software for that. After you download and install the software, you’re greeted with an explorer-like interface. Here is what you need to do:

  1. Click on the “Add Folder” button to add the folder containing the songs you want to convert.
  2. Below the newly added songs, click on the “Browse” button to choose a new folder on where you want to save the converted songs.
  3. Click on “Encoder Options” and make sure that your “Bitrate” is set to the same bitrate as your original songs — you can get that info by right-clicking on one of those MP3s in Windows Explorer, then click “Properties”, then on the “Details” tab and note the “Bit rate” under the “Audio” header e.g. 256.
  4. Click on the “Convert” button toward the very bottom right.

That’s it! Now you can burn that album to a disc and it should play in your car.

Note: I mentioned Amazon because I’ve never had this problem with any other MP3 site, but this solution will not just work on MP3s from Amazon.

How to install and configure OSSEC to monitor the integrity of your website/server

OSSEC is a lightweight, but powerful piece of software that you can install on your server to monitor its integrity. On the official website, OSSEC is defined as:

[…] an Open Source Host-based Intrusion Detection System that performs log analysis, file integrity checking, policy monitoring, rootkit detection, real-time alerting and active response.

I’m going to go through the installation of OSSEC with a focus on how to configure the file integrity checking to monitor your web accessible files and alert you when something has changed. In addition, I’ll touch on OSSEC’s configuration file and what it’s comprised of, so you can tweak the settings to match your needs.

Before we get started though, let’s briefly talk about the idea of file integrity monitoring and why it might be useful on your website.

Most of the time the files on your server that power your website don’t change very often. All of the data is usually stored in a database, so what’s left are the core files of your content management system, for example. The only time those files should change, is if either you or someone authorized is performing an update.

When a website is compromised through a vulnerability, there is a pretty high chance that a successful attack will either add or change at least one or two files on your website, so that the attacker can either execute additional attacks or perform malicious activity.

In a perfect world, you’d be immediately alerted when a file’s or directory’s contents, permissions or owner changes. This is exactly what OSSEC’s file monitoring system does. It provides you with the ability to monitor certain directories on your server, exclude folders that you expect to change frequently, such as caching or upload folders, and allows you to be alerted in real-time when something is added, removed or updated.

Let’s get started with getting OSSEC up and running.

Change Firefox’s update release channel from esr to release

I noticed today that my Secunia PSI was reporting that Firefox 11.0 was outdated. I went to Firefox > About to check on that, but it was reporting that it was up to date. That’s when I noticed I was on the “esr” update channel, which is odd, because all the other Firefox installs I have on other computers are set to the “release” update channel. A quick Google search showed that there wasn’t a user-friendly way to change this, but it was nevertheless pretty straightforward.

The easiest way to change it is to browse to the following folder on your Windows computer: <installation directory>\defaults\pref. Your installation directory will most likely be either Program Files or Program Files (x86). By the way, make sure Firefox is completely closed before doing this.

In that folder is a file called channel-prefs.js. Copy that file to your Desktop (select the file, press CTRL+C, go to your Desktop and press CTRL+V). Now open it with Notepad, which you can do by right-clicking on it, choosing open with, and then selecting Notepad.

Change the second line from:

pref("app.update.channel", "esr");

to:

pref("app.update.channel", "release");

Now save the file and close Notepad. Select the file on your Desktop and cut it (CTRL+X), then go back to your pref folder and press CTRL+V. Windows will ask you to confirm this, just press Continue.

Next time you launch Firefox and go back to Firefox > About, you’ll see that you’re now on the “release” update channel and it will start downloading Firefox 12.0.

Let me know if you have any questions or problems!

PS: If you’ve read to use about:config to change the update release channel, this is deprecated and will no longer work.