A tweet was recently posted featuring an advert claiming Firefox is the better browser in terms of respect for privacy:
Shots firedfox pic.twitter.com/yaKS2hwOyS
Sadly, this isn’t the case, as this Pale Moon update clearly describes:
UK Gov reaches an all-time low as it tries to monitor everyone.
Sinking to new lows.
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:
…then hit enter.
In the option that is highlighted, Select Enabled and then Relaunch.
# Generated by Password Exporter; Export format 1.0.4; Encrypted: false
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. Note, you may need to separate out the headings into columns, left to right.
"# 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.
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.
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!
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:
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.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is your data security. For example, consider the following:
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.
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).
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.
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:
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.
That photo which was kindly synced to your cloud provider’s account will contain data, like:
If I am a massive indexing engine and I start aggregating and analysing these data, I will be able to determine some interesting trends:
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Firefox 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:
and change it to:
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:
WSGIDaemonProcess sync-http user=<your-virtualmin-domain's-user> group=<your-virtualmin-domain's-group> processes=2 threads=25
WSGIScriptAlias / /home/mydomain/domains/
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.:
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.