Category Archives: Security

The Post About Backup, Part 1

Macbook Pro, Western Digital Studio, Backblaze, Chronosync backup system explained

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Let’s imagine a scenario.

You’re working on your laptop in the safety of your own home and your best a friend comes around for a coffee. Your sitting around your dining room table, having a coffee, eating cake and chitchatting about life and everything else. You then show some of your latest illustrations, web designs, lesson plans, music video, spreadsheet, short story, novel or the 3-D model of the TV cabinet you’re secretly building in your shed.

Then the inevitable happens; you bring a whole half a litre glass of orange juice for your friend. The glass slips our of your hand, on to the computer. All of the juice filters through the innards of your two year old MacBook Pro. The juice shorts the circuitry and from a puff of smoke, you know, that your laptop left this world and returned to Infinity.

What happens next? Do you:

a) Panic and whack your friend with a clenched fist (after all you wouldn’t have dropped the juice if it wasn’t for him)?

b) Start crying.

c) Calm and collected, you call your insurance company and tell them to send you a new laptop. Tell your friend that it’s OK, everything has been backed up to the moment he arrived.

If you chose ‘c‘, you can stop reading and pass this on to your friends. But if you chose ‘a‘ or ‘b‘, keep reading and pass this on to your friends.

Maxims to keep in mind:

  • If a hard drive hasn’t crashed yet, it is about to.
  • Backup has to be automatic, otherwise you will not do it.
  • Keep three copies of each file. Two onsite and one offsite.
  • Backup is not an archive.

In this post I’ll first explain how I handle my own backing up procedure. In part two, I’ll give you tips on building your own backup strategy.

My data mostly live in two places; on the hard drive of my MacBook Pro (MBP) and on two Western Digital Studio 1TB (WD Studio) drives. My data accumulation rate is probably about a gigabyte to one and a half per day on average. Not an inconsiderable amount but not unmanageable either.

First, my laptop is backed up hourly with Time Machine (TM). This means that if I’ve been out shooting for a day and importing images into Aperture library, they’ll most likely be backed up by TM before they get moved to my main library on the WD Studio drive. TM can’t at the moment backup external drives but at least the files will be duplicated there for few months even if neither of the work drives are backed up immediately.

Time Machine has its downsides. Biggest issue for me with it is that it takes up quite a lot of processor cycles and read bandwidth of the internal hard drive while it’s backing up. This can be a problem if you’re trying to edit photographs or video at the same time. I find myself quite often cancelling the backup and restarting it at a more convenient time. (There is a Time Machine script you can use to schedule the backup but I don’t use this at this time.)

Best thing about Time Machine is its simplicity. Plugin your backup drive and it takes care of the rest. And it’s very easy to recover from data loss, just plugin the Time Machine backup drive to your new computer and few hours later your back where you were.

Most of the photos and videos that I work on, when I’m in the office, live on the WD Studio drives. They offer faster read/write speeds than the internal drive and have a lot more space. Those drives get backed up every few days on a barebones 2TB drive using Chronosync. It’s a $40 backup utility that allows you to do all sorts of clever tricks and schedules for your backups. It handles exclusions well, and dissects library folders—such as Aperture and iPhoto—so only changes to those libraries will be backed up.

Then there’s offsite backup. I’ve used Backblaze for almost two years now and today have over 1.1 TB backed up to their servers. Backblaze takes all your personal files (this excludes the system and application files, which are easy enough to replace) from your internal and selected external drives and uploads them via your broadband connection to the data centre. Of course, how fast this happens depends on how often you leave your computer on and, especially, how fast your upload bandwidth is. Our actual peak bandwidth is about 200 KB/s. That translates to about 17 GB per day but–realistically–I can expect about 12 GB to be uploaded in a day if the computer is left on all day.

Backblaze, or another offsite backup service, can also be used to access files when you don’t have access to your computer. For example, one time I needed to edit a Pages document that was on my laptop. Only my laptop was in London, I was in Pyhäsalmi. Not a problem, I went online to the file restore page and in couple of clicks, I had the file sent to my email.

I wouldn’t trust an offsite backup as my only backup for two reasons. One, it might often take a few days for new files to be uploaded (or a few weeks as it did after we got back from Japan). And two, if I needed to recover every single file from the backup, it’d be a choice between downloading over 1TB of data or waiting until they send all the data on a hard drive. Either way, it might take a week or two.

That’s more or less it. In part two, which will be out in weeks time, I’ll go through the steps you need to take to start backing up. You wont need to wait for it if you can trace back what I do but I’ll offer some further tips deciding what’s the best strategy for you.

As they say, you can’t get it back if you don’t backup.

Caught on Camera

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“+100 geek points” – Alex Kent.

Had no idea they caught me on their wheeling cameras but they did. Pretty cool. I’m the only person I know on there. It really puts those privacy issues on to another level when it’s you. It’s the same with a lot of other things. We know that the ‘information technology workers’ at your ISP (or your company’s IT dept) ARE reading your email. Or that each of us are recorded some 100 time a day on CCTV. Or that everytime you pay at a parking meter, that coin is DNA analyzed and added to the states records. With your name on it.

But when this information is actually made easily available, to everybody, it becomes a little invasive. Especially 1) if you have something to hide and/or 2) if you’re bothered. I think Google Streetview still falls into the ‘security through obscurity’ category in that if I wasn’t now shouting of my existence there, nobody would know. And with that photo, nobody from outside my circle of friends would recognize me. I obviously don’t think Google is invading my privacy – but I also understand those caught in less favorable situations. What’s good about it is that it really reminds us that we are constantly being watched and recorded, and if we’re not happy about it, we better start behaving.

[Important Update] Just to be clear – and to make me not look like a Tory ***t – I am against bio-metric ID cards and governments cataloging our DNA just in case we might do something. There’s been too many cases of people being wrongly accused and arrested for that to make sense in anyway. It’s preemptive invasion of privacy. CCTV is supposed to prevent crime by making it clear that you’re on camera and your wrong doings can be proven with it. BTW, those records are public, you have the right to ask for the tapes and watch them. Within the last 6 months, I’ve reported to two crimes to the police, both of which were committed under CCTV cameras. What did the Police do? Nothing. CCTV didn’t prevent the crimes, neither did the Police use them to solve the crimes.

So, to sum up, and clarify the last few words in the original post; It’s not great that we’re being followed with all the cameras but we haven’t got that much to worry about either as we’re still pretty anonymous.

ISS Got Infected

Just quick note to the people in charge of ISS (International Space Station); go get yourselves some MacBook Airs and stop having to worry about viruses. Seriously, this is almost as bad as those US voting machines needing anti-virus software. To quote xkcd: “It’s better that the alternative – yet someone is clearly doing their job horribly wrong”.


Firefox Security

This may not be news to all of you but I think many will be pretty chocked. Certainly I was. It was noticed earlier on last year but nothing – at least on OS X version – has been done to fix it. It’s a feature, not a bug.

You know when you’re login on to a website for the first time, your browser asks if you want to save the password? I often choose to save the login credentials on sites that aren’t in the circle of ‘important to keep secure’ sites. After all, my laptop locks up every time it goes to sleep or screensaver comes on so it’s not THAT easy to get on it.

Firefox obviously does this, too. It’s convenient to use it. But what I didn’t know before is how easy it is to get those passwords, in plain text. Go to Firefox Preferences and select the ‘Security’ -tab (those were air quotes) there select Show Passwords. Unbelievable. Anyone, who has access to your computer for about 30 seconds without you watching, will be able to LOOK at your passwords and copy them. In the following video, I will demonstrate how this is done, in under 20 seconds:

Of course some websites don’t let you save the password, banking websites foremost. But the problem is that so many people recycle their password. Using the same password for banking and facebooking is not a good idea.

I haven’t been using Firefox for a while now but when I did, I used to recommend it to people. I don’t anymore.


ps. Safari saves passwords, too, but it saves them in Keychain. Keychain database has AES 128 bit encryption on it making it not far from un-hackable. You can still access them, but you need to be authorized as the admin.