Hello! I'm Defron and this is my blog.

Data Privacy Day: Passwords

Part One in a five-part exposé for Data Privacy Day

Data Privacy Day: Smartphones

Part two in a five-part exposé for Data Privacy Day

Data Privacy Day: Web Browsing

Part three in a five-part exposé for Data Privacy Day

Monday, September 18, 2017

My Operating System Journey

My current primary desktop: KDE Neon LTS

It's interesting to think back on how my sentiments about what an OS should or shouldn't be have changed over the years. My current opinion is "Every OS sucks, it's a matter of choosing the one that sucks the least for you", which for me is currently KDE Neon LTS, but more on that later.

I'm relatively young, The first computer I ever got was an old hand-me-down Compaq that's probably still collecting dust in my parent's garage. I was around 11 at the time, and it came with Windows 95 on it. My dad had a copy of Windows 98SE available for me to upgrade it, so upgrade it I did! It was cool having a computer in my room, though when I wanted internet, I had to run a 150ft ethernet cable from my computer all the way to the other side of the house to plug it in (After a few months of doing this, I was able to finally convince my dad to properly install ethernet for me). Those first couple of years were pretty uneventful. I just did normal computer stuff that anyone my age would do (pokemon, neopets, etc) but from the comfort of my own room rather than fighting over the family PC. The Operating System didn't matter much.

Computers came and went. I used Windows XP and then for Christmas one year, I got my own brand-new computer running... Windows Vista. Honestly, I should have been much more grateful than I was. The computer was actually pretty decent and properly specc'd to run Windows Vista, which was the biggest problem with the OS at the time. However, being that it was a new computer (meaning it didn't come with much software) and being that I was a poor high school student at the time it did leave me down the wonderful world of open source via OpenOffice.org, and later Linux (Downgrading to XP wasn't an option for me, so that just left Linux). The first Linux distro I tried was Ubuntu 7.04. It worked, and things were good, but I never fully switched. For me, at the time, Windows Vista did what I needed with the least amount of hassle.

Somewhere along the way I was given a hand-me-down laptop that had all sorts of problems with Windows XP on it and no recovery disks. I put Lubuntu on it and I was pretty happy. It served me well for a while there. As I continued in my education I came across a need to use MS Access, so I got a new laptop with Windows 7. I put Kubuntu 10.04 on it and enjoyed a dual-boot. While using this laptop, I was pretty evenly split between Windows 7 and Kubuntu, probably because I made booting into Windows 7 so painful to improve security by using TrueCrypt with the boot image stored on a flash drive, so I could only boot into it with the flash drive plugged in.

Then I built my own desktop... and I felt no need to put any linux distro on it. I continued to play with Linux distros like Lubuntu, Arch, and Fedora (and various Windows Server OSes) in virtual machines for the next few years, but I felt no reason to switch to Linux for my main OS. Windows 7 did what I needed. It was the beginning of the pragmatic approach to my OS choice. I built the PC specifically for gaming, so why would I use Linux? Windows did what I needed at the time better.

Somewehre along the way I decided I needed a NAS, and decided to build my own. I had already used both Linux and Windows server OSes in my professional work at this point, and knew instantly that I wanted it to run Ubuntu

Then came Windows 8. Oh how I hated Windows 8. The start screen and deep integrations with Microsoft's cloud were incredibly off-putting. For those reasons, I never upgraded to Windows 8, nor Windows 8.1. However, I was still into gaming and I thought Microsoft might straighten out by the next release.

Then I saw Windows 10. I instantly knew there was no future for my personal computing in Microsoft's OS. I have no interest in Microsoft's cloud or having my information collected by yet another company. I started a clock; I wouldn't be using Windows as my primary OS after Windows 7's End of Life.

In the end, I beat that timeline easily. I no longer play games all that much, and those I do play work well enough in Wine. I finished finding alternatives for software I need and regularly use earlier this year and switched to Linux full time. In my next PC build I plan on buying components that will allow me to do VGA passthru, but it's more of a "just in case I want to".

For the distro, I settled on KDE Neon LTS because I quite like the KDE stack and Qt framework and quite like the Ubuntu base. Is it bug-free? No, but I've yet to use an OS that is bug-free. It does what I want the best, though. Which, what I want is easily getting the software I want, automated patching of just security updates and some specific other core packages like Google Chrome, and good documentation with a decently-sized online community that has some buy-in from the corporate software world (I don't live free of proprietary software). Fedora and Debian, while fine OSes, just don't quite meet all my needs without too many additional hoops. Arch's bleeding edge was initially appealing, but I care more about staying up and staying secure than I do about having the latest version of nmap. Also, while I know some people love AUR, I personally love automated security updates much more than I liked AUR. None of that is meant to bag on your OS, as they are all fine linux distros, just not the right one for me.

Oh, and yes, I've used MacOS too. both as a Hackintosh and on official hardware. I personally was not a fan of the UI, especially the UI of Finder. The way many default system packages were really old (like Bash) and the general philosophy of Apple were also big negatives for me. Whenever I use it, I only feel productive when in a terminal, and even then I just am meh about the experience.

So I guess I could be classified as an Ubuntu fanboy if you want. Until something else checks off all my checkboxes and gives me a good reason to switch, I plan on staying with KDE Neon LTS.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Life After Crashplan (AKA My New Backup Plan)

If you use Crashplan, you should have gotten an email that starts out like the above, just like me, around August 22nd. Crashplan was a pretty decent service that did what I wanted (offsite backups) without too much hassle at a price I was willing to pay. It wasn't without issues (buggy, memory-hungry java client being the biggest), but I felt I was getting my money's worth out of it. Crashplan Home, unfortunatly is no more. Once your current subscription runs out, that's the end of it, which for me is this upcoming November.

So, if you are like me, you need a new backup plan, or at least to modify your backup plan. Below outline my needs for a backup solution:

  • Robust file history
  • Relatively set-and-forget
  • Optional encryption
  • Off-site backup
  • Headless server support
  • Linux support
Crashplan checked all those boxes. It had one of the nicest file history options, allowing me to choose what version of a file to restore from (almost) any point in the past. It runs as a background process all the time and would email you the status of your backup regularly (though it is always a good practice to periodically verify your backups to make sure it's working correctly through a test restore). The more effort a backup takes to do and maintain, the less likely you are to do it. For encryption, it provided a plethora of encryption options to be as user-friendly or secure as you could hope for. The paid home service came with an unlimited cloud backup option to satisfy your off-site needs as well. Finally, while the default isn't headless, it could be set up with a little effort, and linux support was better than the major competition in that it actually existed. Of course, that doesn't matter since it's going the way of the dodo. So began looking for a replacement I did.

For local backups and remote backups via SSH, Borg backup is the one I found the most full-featured. I am sorry for any Windows users out there, but it's not really officially supported on that. Mostly everything I own runs some linux distro, including my NAS, which is where I store most of my files. Borg backup can be slow, but then again so was Crashplan if you didn't have enough RAM.

The problem is, at this time, I don't have a sufficient remote server I can ssh into for remote backups using Borg. Based on my current usage, and planning for the future, I decided 5TB is the sweet spot, and I'd be willing to pay up to $150/yr for it. If I had a family member somewhere sufficiently far from me with fast enough Internet, that would be my first choice. Unfortunately most of my family  lives within the same area and are plagued by the same environmental risks as myself. As such, this doesn't make for a good option.

As mentioned above, most of the big names don't support Linux for backups. If you are on a consumer Windows version or MacOS (so Headless and LInux support don't matter), then Backblaze can meet your needs (the only caveat on robust file history being that it doesn't keep deleted files past 30 days, something to be aware of). Their Linux "offering" is B2 would cost over $300/yr, plus additional charges for file restoration. No thanks. So if you are on Linux like me, what are your options for a cloud backup?

I've narrowed it down to three options that fit within my $150/yr price range:
  • Crashplan Small Business: This one is mentioned in the Crashplan email. Existing users can switch over their existing plan to small business for free and keep data intact (if less than 5TB). After your current subscription expires, it will be discounted significantly for one year, and then finally will be $10/mo/device after that. On paper it seems like a pretty good deal (if you just need to back up one NAS like me), but after being burned by Crashplan on their Home plan, I do not consider this viable in the long-term.
  • Google Drive Unlimited through GSuite Business + rclone: If you have GSuite Business already (which I do), it's just an additional $10/mo/user to get unlimited Google Drive space added to it. The catch? According to the terms, you need 5 users to get unlimited space, otherwise you are limited to 1TB. While currently Google does not enforce this limit, they could at any time. As such, at the current time, I do not consider this viable in the long-term either.
  • hubiC + rclone: For around $60/yr hubiC offers 10TB of storage, which is more than enough for my needs. Like Google Drive, on Linux you will need to use a third party tool, of which there are a few, but rclone is the one that looks the most promising to me. The catch? They throttle, hard. 10mbit/s is the max speed you will see, so uploading a large amount of data is going to take some time.
So what one will I be going with? For now, Crashplan Small Business until my subscription runs out, then I plan on switching to hubiC + rclone. Rclone lets you keep old versions of files and offers encryption, and hubiC offers enough storage for my needs. While the throttle is annoying, I never saw super-great upload seeds through Crashplan either.

In the future, if Google Drive for GSuite Business ups the limit for <5 users to 5TB, I will definitely switch to that. I will also continue to look for a good option for an off-site "server" (most likely just something like a raspberry pi with two mirrored 6TB drives) that I can set up with SSH and 5 TB.