Quoted

A tweet was recently posted featuring an advert claiming Firefox is the better browser in terms of respect for privacy:

Sadly, this isn’t the case, as this Pale Moon update clearly describes:

https://forum.palemoon.org/viewtopic.php?t=16154&p=117375#p117375

So, if you use #Firefox, best to expect information leakage back to #Google anyway.  If you value your privacy and want a functional browser, check out Pale Moon!

#palemoon

Also on:

Padlock and code image

Some time back, I wrote a post listing the steps required to migrate passwords stored in Chrome to Firefox

That post was a bit convoluted, so this post is hopefully an improvement!  My intention is to make this process as simple, and reliable, as possible.  To succeed, you will need:

There are five main steps.  Let’s get started!

  1. In Chrome’s address bar, paste:
    chrome://flags/#password-import-export

    …then hit enter.

    Chrome flag screenshot
    The option in Chrome should appear like this. Enable it!

    In the option that is highlighted, Select Enabled and then Relaunch.

  2. Now, in Chrome, navigate to chrome://settings-frame/passwords, scroll down and click Export.  Save the file with a .csv extension.
  3. Locate the CSV file and right click > Open With > LibreOffice Calc (Alternatively, start LibreOffice Calc and open the CSV file).
  4. Using LibreOffice Calc, you will need to modify the CSV file to import it into Firefox.  Do the following:
    1. Right-click on row 1 and select ‘Insert Rows Above’.  This should insert a single row at the top of the sheet.
    2. Copy the following and paste into cell A1, using Shift-Ctrl-V (to ensure you paste as plain text):
      # Generated by Password Exporter; Export format 1.0.4; Encrypted: false
    3. You need to move one column, B, to where column D is – but we don’t want to overwrite your data!
      • At the top of column B, right-click and select Cut.
      • Then right-click again and select Delete Columns – this should remove the now-empty column, and shift-left columns C and D, to positions B and C.
      • Now, on column D, select Paste.  Your url data should now live in column D.
    4. Paste the following into cell A2, using Shift-Ctrl-V:
      hostnameusernamepasswordformSubmitURLhttpRealmusernameFieldpasswordField

      When pasting, you may be prompted to select the data format.  Select “Unformatted Text” in the list and click OK.  We are ok with overwriting other cell contents, so “OK” that.

    5. Finally, we’re ready to export this data!  Go to the File menu, select Save As…In the Save As requester that appears, at the bottom check ‘Edit Filter’ and select ‘Text CSV (.csv)’ in the format drop-down:
      Select these options to correctly export your data!
      Select these options to correctly export your data!
    6. Before we get too excited, there’s just one more step to perform – some textual clean-up!Open up the exported CSV file in your favourite plain-text editor.  In the first row, you may see this:
      "# Generated by Password Exporter; Export format 1.0.4; Encrypted: false",,,,,,

      Delete the leading ” and trailing “,,,,,, from that line.

      Secondly, do a Find/Replace on double-commas (,,) making them ,””,  (with two quotes inserted) instead.  You may need to perform this Find/Replace twice.  Now save the file again.

  5. In Firefox, click on the burger menu and select Add-ons (or just go to about:addons).  Find Password Exporter and click Preferences.  In the Preferences window, click Import Passwords.  Now locate your saved CSV file and load it.You should finally see something like this:
    Importing saved passwords into Firefox. Not easy, but definitely rewarding!
    Importing saved passwords into Firefox. Not easy, but definitely rewarding!

 

Free software such as Linux is great at many things, including keeping your data very safe.  That is, if you are in relative control of it yourself.

Nautilus window open in GNOME.
Transferring sensitive files from one machine to another – offline, via USB stick.

Linux is also used by the likes of Google, Facebook, et al., not to mention most western governments.  In fact, its flexibility, suitability and cost-effectiveness means it’s pretty much there, in most pieces of consumer electronic equipment, plus any networking kit employed in telephone exchanges and data centres, through to the end points – the receiving servers which constitute “the cloud”.

Its use and application is rich and strange: sometimes in your interests, and often, arguably, not so.  But whether you’re a Linux/UNIX, Windows or Mac user, taking care of your own data is vital for a life of value!

Making your digital life private, again

Is it possible to retract data that you previously opted to store online, and be confident that cloud service providers no longer keep it stashed somewhere?  There are two responses to this:

  • “yes”
  • “no”

Let’s assume for a moment that “yes” is, by far, the prevailing truth.  “Yes”, data which I previously uploaded was properly deleted when I deleted it, and an online service provider no longer has any copy, nor any meta data about my data (ok, I’m laughing now).

“there are many ways in which you can protect your data, and protect your privacy”

Many of us have done it: uploaded photos to Google Photos, posted images or event information to Facebook, shared our location on Twitter, set up an account on … well, the list goes on.   But forgetting the “privacy” policy of such entities, just for a second (well, ok then – it’s not that easy to put aside “We store data for as long as it is necessary to provide products and services to you and others”, but even so!!), there are many ways in which you can protect your data, and protect your privacy.  It starts with a little effort and time.

First things, first: get a backup routine!

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is your data security.  For example, consider the following:

  • Is any of your personal data stored on company equipment?
  • Do you absolutely know, hand on heart, that your data is backed up?
    • Did you go ahead and do that yourself?
    • Did someone sign a certificate and say, in no uncertain terms, that they did that on your behalf?
    • When?
  • When did you last audit your data?

A friend of mine recently lost years of pristine digital photos due to a failure of company equipment (“the company laptop”) and because he hadn’t backed them up to a secondary device – even though he had one of sufficient capacity in his possession!

Don’t let this be you!  Get a routine in place for backing up. Even if it’s only monthly, usually cameras and phones have enough capacity to store a month’s worth of shots.

Designate somewhere safe for your backup!

A safe location can be anywhere.  You don’t have to get a fireproof safe – although I’m not saying don’t!  But if you backup your personal data at home, try not to keep your backup at home.  A USB drive costs so little these days, that it’s the perfect medium for backing up photos and then taking it to work and locking in your desk drawer.

Encrypting your data is always a good idea for a removable storage device, provided you can easily remember a strong password.  Although the ease of managing encrypted removable storage varies between operating systems (note, it is very easy to encrypt data on GNU/Linux).

Test restoring from your backup and backup again!

A backup is no good if you can’t restore files from it.  Luckily, with a simple backup process you can easily monitor and validate that your backups have occurred successfully.  If you are confident that your system backups work ok, do another one.  Then store.  Wash, rinse, repeat.

How does this keep my data private?

By setting a rule for yourself to back-up your own data, you won’t become so dependent on cloud services for backing up your photos.

Common objections to keeping data off the cloud include the oft-argued (but ill-conceived) notion that it’s free of cost.  Let’s just examine this for a brief moment:

  • Data centres cost hundreds of thousands, to millions of £/$/€ to build
  • Running costs are tens to hundreds of thousands of £/$/€ each month
  • They must be staffed, too – requiring monthly salaries
  • If everyone is uploading for free, how can it pay for itself?
  • There must be an end-purpose: the end does not justify the means!

The value of your “free” data storage is in the metadata that is stored with it.  Tied to your user account (that same user account you might use to log in to other services, signifying your activity at other times even when not using the primary service…) is data – in the form of metadata – that describes it quite clearly.

What photo metadata tells my cloud provider about me

That photo which was kindly synced to your cloud provider’s account will contain data, like:

  • Where you were (where you live, work, visit, or where friends, family live, work, etc)
  • What local time it was (when you may not be working, placing you into a social demographic)
  • What equipment you were using (which brand you like to buy)
  • What network you were using (who you are a customer of)
  • What the weather was like at the time of the photo
  • Who you were with from the faces of people you were with & photographed … thus registering where they were at that time too (thanks to facial recognition technology and perhaps against their will)
  • Due to prominent colouring in the photo, whether you were inside or outside
  • … and much more.

When free is not free

If I am a massive indexing engine and I start aggregating and analysing these data, I will be able to determine some interesting trends:

  • How many people use my service in an area/region/country
  • How many people who use the service were in a particular area/region/country at a specific time
  • How many of those use Camera brand “B” or Phone brand “A”
  • How many faces I recognise (people who have opted in to facial recognition)
    • Who is in whose “networks” and extended networks (friends of friends)
  • How many faces I don’t recognise (potential targets for acquisition – new users)
  • How many people like being outdoors on a bright, dry day
  • And how many don’t
  • Whether you like being outdoors … or not
  • Who you like being with during those conditions
  • What you might be doing at that time, on that type of day, in those conditions, with those people, while using your “brand X” device.

we are now at a stage where it is easier to get a phone, and rely on Facebook for photo storage

Some people I know seem apathetic towards online security, and yet suspicious towards cloud service provider’s intentions too.  Perhaps we are now at a stage where it is easier to get a phone, and rely on Facebook for photo storage, than to “bother” seeking alternatives.  “The answer is not readily to hand, so let’s move on.”

Living a life less ordinary

The problem with systems is that they need parameters.  Do a search on something, somewhere, and you’ll be sure to see ads and sponsored links of that thing, somewhere else.  This is, and has been for a while, the new internet “norm”.

Breaking out of this “think, search (hunger); feed (consume with contextual data)” lifestyle has been described as the “search bubble”.  A self-fulfilling data management and presentation matrix based on your lifestyle habits.

By adopting a simple routine such as taking care of your own data and not subscribing religiously to online services, it’s possible to find not only more sanctity in life’s unique moments, but also more richness from the due consideration of others.  Where people know you a little less, and are curious to know you a little more.

#CITIZENFOUR

For those who value freedom.

I was lucky to have spotted a recent social media post, alerting me to showings of CITIZENFOUR in London over the past weekend. CITIZENFOUR, in case you are not aware, is a film made by celebrated filmmaker Laura Poitras (Praxis Films), who accompanied journalists Glenn Greenwald and Ewan MacAskill to Hong Kong to interview Edward Snowden in the summer of 2013.

My partner and I took a train to Wimbledon. It was an uncharacteristically warm day, summer-like in all regards except the browning of the leaves. The trees looked tired as we marched along to the station; we weren’t missing this film for anything.

In contrast to the anticipation building up inside of me, waiting to see this film, Wimbledon itself was very ordinary. People going about their normal lives. Appetizing whiffs of just-cooked food were wafting over from the market stalls. Traffic was permanently in a hurry with barely any regard for pedestrians’ safety. And the shoppers held an equally high regard for the traffic too, voluntarily stepping out in front of anything coming.

And the shoppers …
voluntarily stepping out in front of anything coming.

The matinée showing at the bijou HMV Curzon cinema was starting just after lunch. I wanted to get there early so that, in anticipation of the queues, we would be assured of a good seat. When picking up our tickets, we spoke to a member of staff behind the bar/counter about the expected numbers.

Staggeringly, four seats had been booked. Including ours. Citizens: four.

To my slight relief, more than four people eventually turned up and attended the showing. Twenty, maybe. Perhaps thirty, tops. In a 110-seat room. And they were comfortable seats too. The best you’d find in any cinema, with lots of leg room and deep, comfortable cushions.

A Tale of Two Cities

After reading Lawrence Lessig’s blog post of his recent cinema outing in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with 500 movie-goers attending their picture house, I wondered how there could be such disparity across the pond. For us, there was no line to stand in before entering, and perhaps adding insult to injury, our tickets were not even checked by a member of staff when we walked in to pick our (unallocated) seats.

Perhaps it was the over-air-conditioned screen that turned people away. Considering that outside it was the very end of the British summer and we saw temperatures of 20 deg C, inside was another story altogether. We were lucky if it was more than 14. But I don’t think this was the reason for the poor turn-out; any evidence of forward-thinking would surely have improved the attendance?

What does this say about continued British apathy towards such fundamental issues?

A somewhat senior lady who attended the film, mentioned to me on her way out, “I don’t think I meant to come and see that. I thought it was something else.Citizen Kane, perhaps? I hope she wasn’t one of the original four who bought in advance…

Perhaps people felt it was a story already told. In some ways it was – but arguably, in many ways the whole story had not been told until now. A couple of reveals towards the end of the film were new information to me. Stuff I wasn’t aware of, from reading the Snowden book.

The Wombles

I am glad that a healthy number of people in the US are curious about this subject and decided to explore it further. You might expect this from the residents of Cambridge (Mass.), with its connection to Free Software and socio-political activism, and well done to them.

So, a quick glance at the population numbers of both areas provides some fairly meaningless stats on which to close.

Cambridge’s popn = 107,000 or so. Wimbledon’s: around 60,000.  Roughly speaking, for every 214 residents in Cambridge, one person attended Saturday’s matinée there. Only one person of every 3,040 in Wimbledon managed the same feat.  What does this say about continued British apathy towards such fundamental issues?

I am left feeling that provided Centre Court and strawberries are always available, Wimbledon won’t care much.  Unless, of course, someone personally has an infraction with the law, as a result authoritarian paranoia.  Then, perhaps, it might fill a column in page 7 of the local rag.  Residents might even chat about this at a local pub, in-between opinions on the state of the brew.

But to complain against wrongdoings is normal.  It’s human nature to focus on the oppressors rather than the oppressed.   Luckily, for us, in respectable communities there still burns a glimmer of hope that sense may prevail.

Naughtyware. No, not that sort.

It looks like some app development may be taking a dark turn. Since ebay has released a new version of its app, the old version no longer works on my phone.

I start it, it crashes and then it kindly notifies me that a new version of the app is available.

The new version requires the location privilege, where the old location did not, and now to use ebay on my phone I have little choice but to install it and switch off location services while I use it.

Sigh.

Part #2 of the Data Liberation series

Mozilla, the organisation behind the ubiquitous Firefox web browser, kindly publishes its source code powering a key service which it provides – Firefox Sync.  Because of this, we are able to run our own password sync servers securely and not necessarily be the target of a large-scale data-mining break-in, such as might be performed by a malicious cracker, or the NSA.  Sorry, of course they are the same thing.

FFirefox logoirefox Sync is a neat service which allows you to, quite literally, sync your settings in Firefox across multiple devices.  These settings can include bookmarks, web browsing history, cookies, form-filling data and passwords.  Anyway, I too was keen to run my own password sync server, so I set about doing just that.

I host quite a bit of stuff using Virtualmin, another superbly produced piece of software which facilitates the set-up of multiple domains on a single box. Setting up Firefox Sync on your own server under virtualmin is actually very straightforward.

The main task at hand is to follow the detailed instructions published by Mozilla.

As per the instructions, I had to run the following, in order to install required software:

# apt-get install python-dev mercurial sqlite3 python-virtualenv libssl-dev

In addition, I also needed to install and enable the WSGI Apache module, which wasn’t present on my system (drawing in dependencies as needed):

# apt-get install libapache2-mod-wsgi

I decided to install the Mozilla sync software in the home directory of my newly created domain, which in Virtualmin is either “/home/domain” or “/home/domain/domains/subdomain”, depending on whether you have created a subdomain for this specific purpose or not.  In the subdomain situation, the folder path would end up being: /home/domain/domains/subdomain/server-full.

Once installed, I inspected the Apache config file. A key change I had to make was to the WSGI configuration within this file. On my Debian box, the Apache config files are located in the standard place: /etc/apache2/sites-available – the same would be true for Ubuntu (on CentOS and other RHEL/Fedora derivatives, you’ll probably find them in /etc/httpd/conf.d/). Once you have created your domain in Virtualmin, your domain’s config file should be within this folder, appropriately named “domain.com.conf”.

In the “domain.com.conf”, there are a few lines to add and one to edit:

Firstly, find the DocumentRoot declaration:

DocumentRoot /home/mydomain/domains/subdomain/public_html

and change it to:
DocumentRoot /home/mydomain/domains/subdomain/server-full

Next, you’ll need to insert the following lines, within the same stanza as DocumentRoot (the best thing is to adjust and paste these lines directly after DocumentRoot:

WSGIProcessGroup sync-http
WSGIDaemonProcess sync-http user=<your-virtualmin-domain's-user> group=<your-virtualmin-domain's-group> processes=2 threads=25
WSGIPassAuthorization On
WSGIScriptAlias / /home/mydomain/domains/
subdomain/server-full/sync.wsgi

The above example assumes that you are working within the :80> stanza. If you have enabled SSL on your virtual server, within Virtualmin, then you’ll also have a :443> stanza to add these lines to, with one or two exceptions!

A WSGIDaemonProcess is assigned to each virtual server in Apache. In doing so, it creates a system process which requires a name. According to the WSGI docs, this name must be unique:

“[…] note that the name of the daemon process group must be unique for the whole server. That is, it is not possible to use the same daemon process group name in different virtual hosts.

When you come to pasting in the additional lines in your :443 stanza, you are dealing with a separate virtual server in Apache.  So, within your Apache config file, be sure to rename your WSGIDaemonProcess process name. E.g.:

WSGIProcessGroup sync-https
WSGIDaemonProcess sync-https user=<your-virtualmin-domain's-user> group=<your-virtualmin-domain's-group> processes=2 threads=25

This configuration should now be valid. You can test this with:

service apache2 reload

This won’t stop the current Apache process, but it will attempt to load the new configuration file. If it fails to load the config, it will tell you without stopping Apache.

Once this works, simply issue:

service apache2 restart

Syncing on mobile

If you intend to use Firefox on Android, or any other mobile Firefox (or clone) that supports the same syncing protocol, there is one caveat.  If you are using an unsigned or self-signed SSL certificate on your sync server, you should visit the site first in your mobile Firefox and add a permanent exception.  Once done, set up firefox sync in the normal way, by typing the characters into your desktop browser’s sync dialog, and the two browsers will shortly be synced up nicely!

[ This is a retrospective publication ]

It takes heroes like Edward Snowden to reveal how malicious governments can become. The Snowden revelations during the summer of 2013 showed that not only does everyone have to be wary of internet-based “threats”, but that those threats could be in the form of legally-appointed agencies seeking to catch out anyone who accidentally clicks something they shouldn’t.

Worryingly, despite the big players’ assurances of high levels of security, a post on Ars Technica discusses (and links to) slides created by the NSA, and leaked by Snowden, showing how Google’s international internet traffic was intercepted, analysed and understood – for a variety of its services. Thankfully, more heroes have recently stepped forwards with updates of their own.

My heroes today are +Brandon Downey and +Mike Hearn, who have voiced their contempt for the authoritarian misuse of power with, as we like to call it, the two-fingered salute (this would be one finger in the US…).

Google, too, has a data-collection objective

Let us not forget who Google is and what it does.  Yes, while its employees might be upset that their systems’ security has been brought into question, their employer’s mission “is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”.  So Google, too, has a data-collection objective.

The good thing about the Snowden revelations, if indeed any of them can be “good”, is that it has revealed how much work still needs to be done and how much we assume our data won’t be intercepted and inspected. It’s no longer safe to think like that, and the use of encryption should be mandatory between two end-points.

But now that the larger players are catching up with better security implementations, who is there to help the smaller players? Running a hosting outfit myself, I know how much time is required to stay informed with regards to common exploits and vulnerabilities, as well as implementing working solutions when certain zero-day exploits are revealed. Every internet service provider, hosting company and other entity transacting business via the internet has a responsibility towards safeguarding confidential data. How many take it seriously enough?

It’s time the larger players stepped up and started working collectively in a security community designed to help the smaller players in the market, rather than try to pwn the market itself; if that were to happen, the purpose of the internet would be destroyed and the argument moot.