'Internet Operations' Category

Sysinternals purchased by Microsoft

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2006

If you haven’t heard of Sysinternals you better visit their Website while it’s still live (and free) because they have been purchased by Microsoft. Sysinternals has a huge list of free Windows utilities that are very useful for system administrators.

The Sysinternals web site provides you with advanced utilities, technical information, and source code related to Windows internals that you won’t find anywhere else.

Some of my favorite utilities are:

  • BlueScreen – A “blue screen of death” screensaver : )
  • Junction - Symbolic links for Windows
  • Du – Disk usage by directory
  • MoveFile -  Schedule file rename and delete commands for the next reboot
  • Process Explorer – Task Manager on steriods


Technosocial Architect

Sunday, July 23rd, 2006

Thomas Vander Wal has a great post in his blog on social interaction with technology, which he refers to as technosocial. His perspective is that there is a gap between what information and when people need information versus what techologists provide. In my full-time job I am responsible for implementing Web metrics and it is always surprising to see how much information people *want*, but then never really look at or understand. :)

We (as designers and developers) focus on making our technology easy to use and providing a good experience in the domain we control.

People want to use the information when they need it, which is quite often outside the domains we as designers and developers control.

Technosocial Architect – vanderwal.net

PGP File Encryption Using GnuPG

Wednesday, July 19th, 2006

I frequently get asked how to encrypt files using Pretty Good Privacy (PGP). PGP using GnuPGThere is very good documentation available on the Web, but here is my condensed version.

Public key cryptography uses a pair of keys for encryption: a public key, which encrypts data, and a corresponding private, or secret key for decryption. Your public key can be distributed to anyone and does not pose a risk. Your private key needs to be kept safe and not given to anyone. Anyone with a copy of your public key can encrypt information that only you can decrypt using your private key.

I use free software called GnuPG (http://gnupg.org/). Once you have the software installed you need to create a public/private key pair and then you need to exchange public keys with the party you wish to exchange encrypted files.

Here’s what you need to do:

1. Download and follow the instructions to install the software:
http://www.gnupg.org/(en)/download/index.html (look for the Binaries section to make your life easier)

2. Generate a public/private key pair: Go to your GnuPG install directory and type in gpg --gen-key. The default settings are usually good (DSA (1024 bit) and Elgamal (2048 bit)/never expires).


Free Microsoft Goodies

Sunday, June 4th, 2006

I recently discovered the IE Developer Toolbar and it got me searching for some more hidden free tools available from Microsoft.  Some of them have been around for a while, but they are still useful utilities for Web developers.

Microsoft Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool
It is not a full featured anti-virus application, but it is a quick scanner for the most popular malicious software. It is Microsoft’s version of the McAfee Stinger.

The Microsoft Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool checks computers running Windows XP, Windows 2000, and Windows Server 2003 for infections by specific, prevalent malicious software—including Blaster, Sasser, and Mydoom—and helps remove any infection found.

Windows Defender
A very good anti-spyware tool that has received very good reviews. It has a simple interface and is very unobtrusive.

Windows Defender (Beta 2) is a free program that helps protect your computer against pop-ups, slow performance, and security threats caused by spyware and other unwanted software. It features Real-Time Protection, a monitoring system that recommends actions against spyware when it’s detected, and a new streamlined interface that minimizes interruptions and helps you stay productive.

Internet Explorer Developer Toolbar
The Internet Explorer Developer Toolbar is similar to Firefox’s Web Developer extension (not quite as good). It allows you to do several things like outline tables, table cells, images, or selected tags and validate HTML and style sheets. It includes something similar to Firefox’s live bookmarks (RSS Web feed links).

Windows Server 2003 Resource Kit Tools
Although the title suggests that the tools are for Windows Server 2003, Windows XP is also supported. The toolkit includes useful little tools like Tail (Unix like tail for Windows).

The Microsoft® Windows® Server 2003 Resource Kit Tools are a set of tools to help administrators streamline management tasks such as troubleshooting operating system issues, managing Active Directory®, configuring networking and security features, and automating application deployment.

Internet Information Services (IIS) 6.0 Resource Kit Tools
SelfSSL is a tool for generating ssl certificates, which is very useful for developers trying to develop secure sites. The Log Parser is a powerful command line tool for querying log files database style.

The IIS 6.0 Resource Kit Tools can help you administer, secure, and manage IIS. Use them to query log files, deploy SSL certificates, employ custom site authentication, verify permissions, troubleshoot problems, migrate your server, run stress tests, and more.

Create your personal VPN using Hamachi

Wednesday, May 17th, 2006

Hamachi secure peer to peer VPNIn our world of working at the office, from other offices, from home, friends’ homes, airports, Starbucks or even from parks and other wi-fi hot spots, security of our Internet connections is a major concern. Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) make it possible to connect securely to networks from remote locations. While employers normally provide VPN access to their networks for employees it is often useful for employees to have access to their personal networks at home – especially when they frequently work from home. However, setting up your own VPN can be costly and overwhelming if you do it the enterprise way. There are a few different ways to create your own secure network, but most are surprisingly difficult or at least to non-technical folks. Hamachi is an amazingly simple and free service for creating your own VPN.

I read about Hamachi a few months ago on my favorite site lifehacker.com and have been using it since. It has great appeal to the gaming community because it allows one to create your own LAN over the Internet, but it has a lot of potential for the working professional. I’m not saying working professionals shouldn’t play games ;) . By creating your own Hamachi VPN you can create a secure network, which gives you access to files and services on any of your computers or servers.

Since the source code is not open, some people are concerned about the security around Hamachi. However, they claim “Nobody will be able to see what two Hamachi peers are talking about. Not even us.”

Hamachi is a zero-configuration virtual private networking application with an open security architecture…

A special effort went into designing and polishing Hamachi user interface. The result is sleek, simple and intuitive, while still very much functional. Everything you need, nothing you don’t.

Hamachi software contains no spyware, bannerware or any other -ware unrelated to its purpose. And it never will.

ExtremeTech has a very good article on setting up your own VPN.
ExtremeTech: Secure Surfing to Go: VPN Made Easy

Wikipedia has a fairly academic overview with many resources.
Wikipedia: Hamachi

Profit42.com: Share iTunes music over the internet in 3 easy steps

Printing to your home printer from anywhere is also useful!
Transparent VPN, Printing From Anywhere with Hamachi

I have read a lot of complaints about problems with getting Remote Desktop (RDP) to work on Windows XP with Hamachi. Cyberonica has a very good article with a solution to this problem by explaining how to configure free Hamachi to run as a Windows service. This kind of bridges the gap between the free and the commercial version. Nice!
Cyberonica : Hamachi

Another “running Hamachi as a service” resource:
It’s a Tech World: Hamachi VPN Solution

If you like podcasts, Security Now! has several discussions on personal use of VPN and Hamachi. Look for the episodes titled Virtual Private Networks (VPN): Theory, “Hamachi” Rocks! and VPNs Three: Hamachi, iPig, and OpenVPN.
Security Now!

B.t.w. the Hamachi site is fairly basic, however, you can find more info on these sections of their site:
Comparisan between the Free and Premium versions
Hamachi Discussion Forums where you can also download the lates beta

Hamachi is not perfect. It is not open source and it uses UDP to create a tunnel that many firewalls block. However, chances are that you can easily create a VPN that will allow you to connect to your home network. Apparantly Hamachi is working on a solution that would do tunneling over an open Web port, but not as a free service. I guess that’s where the open source folks would step in :) .


Run virtual appliances on your desktop PC

Saturday, April 22nd, 2006

Virtualization is becoming more real and if you ever wanted to try Linux, but have been too afraid to install it or give up your Windows or Mac, the VMware Player will allow you to run most operating systems virtualized. The VMware Player is a free application that allows you to run virtual appliances. It is a perfect sandbox solution: test and install applications without messing up your desktop. VMWare Virtual Server and Microsoft Virtual PC allow you to create and run virtual desktops or servers on your desktop. The VMware Player is a light weight virtualization server without the overhead of a full fledged virtual server that has system management features.

A virtual appliance is a fully pre-installed and pre-configured application and operating system environment that runs on any standard x86 desktop or server in a self-contained, isolated environment known as a virtual machine. Virtual appliances provide an evolutionary step in the software distribution model.

Ubuntu Linux running in a virtual desktop in VMware Player

There is a substantial list of free virtual appliances available on the VMware site, including operating systems like:

  • Debian
  • Fedora Core (4 & 5)
  • FreeBSD
  • Gentoo
  • Kubuntu
  • Puppy Linux
  • RedHat Enterprise
  • Ubuntu

and applications like:

  • BEA WebLogic
  • BugZilla
  • MySQL Network
  • Twiki

All you need to do is to download install the VMware Player (it’s a 28MB download). During installation it will ask if you want to disable autorun on your cdrom and also if you want to install the Google Deskbar, which you typically would want to disable by unchecking the checkboxes. To use the player you can either download pre-built virtual appliances or you can create your own. To use a pre-built appliance, simply download the one you want and open it with the VMware Player. You can also create your own virtual appliances, e.g. a virtual Windows XP desktop, by installing the VMware Virtual Server. It is currently in beta, but it is free for home use and it works just fine for creating virtual appliances. Note that you will need OS and application licenses (as usual) for the products that you install on the VM instance (e.g. Win XP).

So for me, as a new-cool-app-I-have-to-try-it type of person, this is awesome. It’s like having unlimited sandboxes at hand :)

Microsoft Virtual PC (MS Virtual Server 2005 R2 Enterprise Edition is currently available for free)