Friday, May 21, 2010

Essentials for browsing safely

1) Mozilla Firefox, set to delete all history/cookies/etc. on closing (except saved passwords)

2) The following addons for Firefox:
BetterPrivacy manages Flash's equivalent to cookies, known as LSOs. Basically, LSOs are another way legit websites can save preferences for when you come back to their site, and malicious sites can use them to try to track your browsing history.

NoScript limits what a malicious website can do to your computer by disabling (by default) a good chunk of the code they use to try to infect your machine. It does this by stopping Javascript/Java code from running on web pages, and then allowing you to enable the code (either permanently or temporarily) if it's for a website you trust. Also, since many popular web pages have content from several sites on one page (like Flash ads), NoScript will let you selectively enable Javascript/Java content from each of the various sites. It will not prevent you from clicking on malicious ads or weblinks, so please still be careful.

For logging into to very sensitive sites (like your bank): open Firefox, click on Clear Recent History in the Tools menu, set "Time range to clear" to "Everything" (except for Saved Passwords, if you let Firefox remember any of your passwords). Under the Tools menu, click on BetterPrivacy, click "Remove All LSOs", then click OK (You can keep certain LSOs from being deleted [like from your banking site] by selecting them and clicking on "Prevent automatic LSO deletion. You will then be asked whether you want to delete protected LSOs whenever you click on the "Remove All LSOs" button). Once you've done these steps, return to the Tools menu, click on Start Private Browsing, and do your banking. When finished, go to the Tools menu, click on Stop Private Browsing, then close Firefox. Be sure to also clear all other LSO objects using Better Privacy as well.

Of course, also remember:
  • Above all, be cautious. Security is a mindset, not a magic combination of apps. Also, dedicated intruders will get in if they spend enough time and effort, just like a dedicated burgler can get into pretty much any house. The key is to not make your computer an easy target.
  • Don't give out your info to sites unless it's absolutely required, and only give as much as you need to.
  • Use a separate email account (like another Gmail account, for instance) to sign up for dodgey sites/advertising/etc.
  • Have a firewall running and configured correctly. If you're having an issue, don't turn off the firewall to troubleshoot it unless you have no other choice. Seriously. Disconnect from the internet before lowering your firewall. Remember, your router's built-in firewall can only stop incoming traffic - software firewalls help to prevent outgoing traffic that you don't want. Also, routers can be hacked easily if you don't change their default passwords.
  • For your router password or for important sites, use a long password with numbers and symbols (or at least a passphrase) that is not easy to guess from your publicly accessible info.
  • Don't use the same password for everything. If you have trouble keeping track of passwords, use a password managing program like KeePass.
  • Don't run more than one software firewall at once. It doesn't add any security, and it slows down your system.
  • If you're running Windows, install an off-the-shelf antivirus/anti-malware program like Norton or Kaspersky and make sure it's automatically updating itself and scanning your system daily. Go for their "Internet Suite" if you want one-stop security setup (antivirus+anti-malware+firewall+antispam tools, browser add-ons, etc).
  • Beware clicking on shortened addresses, such as from (especially in emails or on Facebook and Twitter). 
  • Always hover your mouse cursor over links to check them before clicking on them.
  • Don't click on links to financial sites in emails, period. Close your email program and log in to the company's website directly via your web browser to check if a warning is legit or not. If still unsure, call the financial company's support number directly, using the number on their site or in the phone book (not the number in the email you just got). If you do not have an account with the company in the email, then it's a scam.
  • If you get a web browser pop-up saying you have a virus and offering a free scan: don't click on any part of your web browser. Instead, close your browser by using a system monitor such as Task Manager in Windows (via Ctrl-Alt-Del), System Monitor in Ubuntu, etc...

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Timidity and DOSBox in Ubuntu 10.04

For those of you who care about this sort of thing, here's how I finally got decent General MIDI playback for DOSBox in Ubuntu 10.04:

(These instructions are somewhat adapted from a post by Malor on the official Ubuntu forums)

1. Go into Synaptic Package Manager and install these packages:
  • dosbox
  • timidity
  • fluid-soundfont-gm
  • fluid-soundfont-gs
2. Open a command prompt, and type:
sudo gedit /etc/timidity/timidity.cfg
  • The last line in the file says:
    source /etc/timidity/freepats.cfg
    Put a # mark at the beginning of that line to comment it out. We're going to use the soundfonts we installed from the previous step.

  • On the next line, type:
    soundfont /usr/share/sounds/sf2/FluidR3_GM.sf2
  • Save and exit
3. If you don't already have a dosbox.conf you want to use, type:
and hit enter. Dosbox will pop up. At its command prompt, type:
config -writeconf dosbox.conf
This will generate one for you. Then type:
to quit dosbox.

4. Type
gedit dosbox.conf
  • Click the Find button, type:
    and click Find. You should see a line highlighted.
  • Close the search popup.
  • The three lines starting with mpu401= should look like this:
  • Save and exit
5. Restart Ubuntu
6. Open a command prompt, type:
timidity -iA -B2,8 -Os -EFreverb=0 2>&1 &
7. Start dosbox
8. Enjoy General MIDI. :)
9. Close terminal window when finished.

Note: You may have to occasionally change
in your dosbox.conf. Watch the output when you start timidity and it'll show which to use.

Also, if you get permission errors while installing or running timidity, you may have to add "timidity" to the "audio", "pulse", and "pulse-access" groups in Users and Groups (In the System menu).

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Ubuntu 10.04 LTS

I finally broke down and installed it, and here's some initial thoughts:

The Bad:

-The "Default Keyring" thing is still around, and it must die. Now.
- There should be an option to install "forbidden" codec support and encrypted DVD playback during installation. Given the amount of people who need to play MP3s alone, this should be a no brainer. I'm sick of having to explain to potential Ubuntu users why they can't do something every other operating does out of the box without jumping through hoops.
- No volume control on the top bar without the mail/messaging control? Really?
- Adding the Medibuntu repository is still a necessary evil if you want to use Handbrake or FFWin to convert Flash video to another format... like for your iPhone or PSP.

The Good:

- Snappy boot performance, slightly better than before.
- I thought I'd hate the new cosmetic changes, but the left-side window controls are actually kind of handy, and the new default theme is actually pretty cool looking (salmon accents aside).
- Overall better performance.
- New Thunderbird and Firefox. The former especially is a major upgrade.
- Ubuntu Software Center. It's almost to the point of being the easiest package manager ever made.

It feels more like a non-Long Term Service release, but still worth upgrading IMHO. My issues may not be the same as yours, so take my comments accordingly.