Password Woes

           The first time I came across passwords was in Enid Blyton books where kids get a thrill of using passwords for entry to their play groups. Later I read about secret societies who used passwords and signs to prevent infiltration into their groups. The masonic handshakes were the passwords of the times.

masonic_handshake.jpg

      These days everyone needs passwords. . Is there anyone today, who doesn’t have to remember a one? They  are here to stay and  it is not just kids and secret societies who need passwords and signs like a masonic handshake .

An Excerpt from PC magazine

Everyone Needs a Password Manager
How many on-line accounts do you have? A dozen? A hundred? Do you remember a hundred different, strong passwords, or do you use the same simple password for all of them? Hackers routinely cross a list of weak passwords with a list of, say, PayPal accounts, trolling for matches. If they crack your account, you could lose big money. Worse, if you used that same password for other accounts, the hackers could take control of your email, social media, and financial accounts. Using a unique, strong password for every site is essential, and the only way to do it is to enlist the help of a password manager.

          Actually in using passwords we are met with a kind of conflicting requirements ; on one hand it should be easy enough to remember when you want to use it and on the other hand, it should be extremely difficult for anyone else to guess. Should you write it down or just commit to memory and risk forgetting it ? It goes without saying that when you want to avoid writing it down it is not going to be something like “@3$eZYT67U5”. There are any number of organizations where abc123 is a kind of standard password; the main reason for that being, to be  locked out of your own account can be worse than the risk of someone hacking your account.

            Sometimes it can be very frustrating to receive something like  a bank statement that is not accessible without a password. Even Bills are password protected. But then, companies are very helpful in helping  you to access your bills. How else would you know how much to pay them ? Today I got a communication from ideacellular :

   “ Dear Customer, Your Idea E-Bill dated 27-MAR-18 has been sent to murali@gmail.com with Password abcd1234, For query dial 12345.”

Can’t expect every mailer to be considerate .

        Most people take the help of the computer and are very happy to click when a browser asks “Do you want me to remember it ?” “Yes, Yes, Yes, please do “ . How does a computer remember it ? By writing it down in a file ,obviously. So anyone who has access to your computer can have a look at all your passwords stored by the browser.

So, what do we do. Unix /Linux users are inherently more security conscious and have some idea of how passwords function. I refrain from commenting on MS Windows firstly because I don’t know much about it and secondly because what I do know about the OS is not all that flattering.

For Linux users both KDE and Gnome Desktop Environments have password key rings Gnome key ring and KDE Wallet which are used to store passwords. Even here the puritans among Linux users are not satisfied till they have a system of Public Key and Private key to encrypt and decrypt all important files.

Everyone has to find his/her own solution to the problem depending on how tech savvy he or she is . The option of running away from technology is out unless you have a very considerate spouse or a friend who acts as your hard disk (storing everything, but not using the inputs for himself/herself )

I myself prefer to use a password manager for storing not so critical passwords and a gpg key for more critical passwords like bank accounts , trading accounts, main email account , amazon etc.(depending on memory is no more an option at this age) It goes without saying that your passwords for critical accounts should never be the same ones you use for non critical accounts.

Whatever be, “creating and managing passwords is not child’s play but a serious business at least till such time we all become “anguta chaap” (illiterates) and can get along by identifying ourselves by just thumb impressions!

 

Posted in security | Tagged | Leave a comment

Appy Times – First published in Jan 2016

 

These are times when  it is difficult to find someone who is not keenly interacting with a smart phone, be it in a cafeteria or a classroom. Even people of my age, have become ‘touch-savvy’ , if not ‘tech-savvy’. Guys who have problem understanding whats an app, understand and use ‘WhatsApp’

        There was the time when business men realized that a website had become an integral necessity in their business cards. Today , a business without an app is severely ‘handi-apped’ .
       For our NDA(National Defence Academy) course reunion, I made a basic website and was brazing myself for a stampede of visitors vying to upload a deluge of articles, photographs and all kinds of memorabilia.
          While our whatsApp group had an average of 150 posts a day along with all kinds of media, the website was like the NDA library, where none ventured unless forced to.
         I wished I could make an app for smart-phones. A cursory browse on the net led me to Android Studio, a beta grade software for app development. Once I installed it on my system, one thing led to another and I surprised myself by creating an app in 15 days. In fact, I created two, one for the course reunion and one for this blog.
       Here’s the link to download the app for this blog. (You have to ‘allow installation of apps from unknown sources’ by going to settings —-security.).
         I just love the learning environment in the IT world today. The net is full of tutorials, Discussion  forums, open source development software and most importantly people who love to share knowledge.
          Appy times are here again. Anything is possible in IT and through IT.
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Is Technology the new God ? First published in AUG 2015

Uparwala sab dekh raha hai” the saying is as old as the hills, but what’s new in the TV commercial is that  ‘Uparwala’ here  refers to ‘CP Plus’ CCTV.

Earlier days, a child was told “God sees all,  knows all, is all powerful and  he knows what you are up to , anywhere, any time, so better behave…..” As one grew up either the conscience took over the role of God or one just concluded that as an adult one had only his boss or the policeman to watch out for.

Today, be it a child or an adult, we have Technology watching over everyone. The Omnipresent,omniscient, and omnipotent God is in the form of CCTVs, databases and drones armed with all kinds of sensors and weapon systems.You may receive a challan for overspeeding and you may not even be aware as to  where and when you broke the speed limit. To compound the issue thee is no human face, call it cop, to negotiate or reason with. You may receive a demand note from IT dept for arrears of tax dues along with fine and you may be  blissfully unaware of any tax evasion on your part; nor is there any other human being aware; it is just as “What God giveth, He taketh back”

With the kind of digital foot print you leave of every activity; details of your movements, telephone calls, money transactions, shopping habits are  all saved in some server and some software is forever crunching the ‘big data’ to catch you with ‘hand in the cookie jar’.

So have we finally invented a God, as Voltaire had wished we should ? But so far we have seen this God acting as a policeman, faithfully  enforcing man-made laws.
       May be some day we have Technology used to locate a hungry child and direct a food-laden drone to feed her; providing the proverbial “manna from the heavens”. Till then , God is God and Technology is just Technology.
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Pen Drives are Secure First published in May 2015

Ever since  the news of ‘Navy War room leaks‘ broke out in 2006 , pen-drive phobia reached such proportions that many senior officers would not touch a pen drive with a barge pole. Ironically use of CDs increased though they can be as much of security hazard as a pen drive. Had pen drives not been available probably CD or some other media would have been used to steal info.

There are many myths related to pen drives, that they cause  virus infection, security leaks and loss of data.

Let us do a reality check. Is a CD or DVD any more secure than a pen drive ? I can hear the users saying ” a pen drive is inherently insecure as it allows easy reading and writing ”

The biggest disservice done by developers of propriety software is to make the users believe that they were imbeciles and cannot be trusted to alter anything made by  the Gods of Technology .

Your work environment should be customisable to the extent that if you want to open a window or close a window, whenever you want, the way you want, you should be able to do it. Everyone has the basic common sense to know when to open a window (not MS Windows) and by how much. So is it with a pen drive. If only a user is trusted to know how to partition, format and configure a pen drive, it is very very safe and secure.

People do not know much about pen drives. The other day, I had gone to the market to take a printout. As I plugged in my pen drive into a Windows machine, the file I wanted to print wouldn’t show up. I realised that the entire partition was invisible to Windows. When I explained the problem to the guy there, he  sagely pronounced ” only hard drives have partitions and pen drives don’t ” It sounded absurd to me as I have always used pen drives with multiple partitions. To confirm, I went to the adjacent shop and tried another Machine. One windows machine is as dumb as another, and this time, a young boy, may be tenth pass (or tenth fail ?) gave an exasperated look and said,”Uncle, ek pen drive, ek hi partition (one pen drive, one partition”

Coming back to reality check, whenever I bought a pen drive, the first thing I did was to partition it and format it as per my requirement. It had a boot-able partition (if required), a small secure partition with 128 bit encryption and a large general purpose data partition for data . This way, data is secure and if you want to protect the drive from virus attack, you can make it read only as well.

Why is every one not using it ? At the risk of  sounding too condescending , I would say ‘ due to ignorance’. Manufacturers of pen drives and the dominant OS, M$ would want us to believe that you cannot customize a pen drive. The main threat is that the warranty would become Null and Void.

How to do it ? One word answer is “Linux”. I tried some googling on how to do it through M$. All solutions appear too complex and involved third party, propriety software.

‘Disks’ is a simple free utility which is part of Ubuntu installation. Here’s a snap shot of my usb drive partitions. I normally have a small secure portion and a large general purpose portion.

The reality is that 80 % of Computers have M$. So is it an advantage or a disadvantage to partition a disk ? I would say it is a definitely a step in the right direction for safety and security.

In a multi-partitioned disk, Windows sees just the first partition. So when using a M$ Machine I just have to have a very small first partition . What I have realised is that my pen drives are really safe from M$ virus. How can a virus attack when the entire partition is Invisible ? The real virus or the threat is the Windows Operating System, and blaming a pen drive is like shooting a messenger. Avoid M$ and you avoid Virus.

If only everyone uses Linux Machines and Linux partitioned Pen Drives, the Infotech world will be safer, much more secure and a lot more happier. Is the IT God listening ? Om Computaraya namaha ! Thathastu !

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Genesis of Innovation -First published in mar 2015

What sparks an innovation ? Does it always require a genius ?
The other day, I while scrolling through an endless stream of facebook jokes, and I came across this.
“ A lady (could have been a gentleman) complained at a computer shop, claiming that the new laptop computer she had bought would not carry out even the basic functions. On enquiry she explained that she was not able to copy a file from her old laptop to the new one. When asked how exactly she proceeded to carry out this task, she explained,
“I right clicked on the file icon on the old laptop, unplugged the mouse, carefully took it to the new laptop and plugged it and did a right click paste”
The salesman fainted.
The joke was followed by typical facebook responses ; ‘haha’, ‘LOL’, ‘ROFL’ etc. Amidst all that what caught my attention was the comment “That’s an interesting idea, a mouse with a memory”.
It got me thinking.

People who were very comfortable using the command line interface  designed the Graphical User Interface for the not so tech-savvy users to click their way through the digital world. Till today, many Unix/Linux users cannot understand how ‘ten clicks’ can be easier to do than a simple command on the terminal.  The  aim is to design a  ‘user-friendly’ device.

Find out what an user is doing , and make your device work to such behaviour, and you have the ultimate user-friendly device.

Why can’t we have a mouse with a memory? After all we have an internet dongle with memory and storage space of its own? Make it a wireless mouse and it would be a ‘wow’ gadget. Point at a file, do a right –click copy , put it into your pocket and now you are ready to do a right-click paste – transfer to any other PC !

As for the cyber-security police , it would mean a terrible nightmare.
Coming back to the question what sparks an innovation, may be it does not need a spark of genius, even a spark of acute idiocy would do.
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

MIGRATION TO LINUX – First published in Feb 2015

MIGRATION TO LINUX
An article originally I wrote for Indian Army..
INTRODUCTION
1. Today, we are in information age and we use many electronic devices to meet our information needs. The core component of any electronic device is its operating system. Though there are many types of devices used for computing, Computers have become synonymous with PCs and Operating System(OS) has become synonymous with Windows, at least in India. Even IT professionals feel that we have come too far down the road and now it is fait accompli to maintain the status quo ?
2. The question is, can we ever switch to a liberated world of Open Source Software (OSS) or are we condemned forever to a Digital World, controlled and manipulated by a few multinational software giants. OSS in general and Linux in particular offer great opportunities to individuals and organizations alike to make the Digital world far more friendlier, far more creative and definitely lighter on the wallet.
3. The scope of this paper is not restricted to just Army, but to any individual or organization dissatisfied with Propriety Software. Migration to Linux, is nothing but pure liberation. This paper addresses need for the migration, away from all propriety software, be it for exercising the right to choose or for attaining strategic self dependence.
AIM
4. The aim of the service paper is to evaluate the case for individuals and organizations to migrate to Linux from Microsoft Windows to meet all their computing requirements. The paper is divided in three parts as under:-
  1. Part – I . Review of Operating Systems over the past three decades.
  2. Part – II Why we need to migrate to Linux.
  3. Part – III Seven Steps to Software Liberation.
PART – I : REVIEW OF OPERATING SYSTEMS
OVER THE PAST THREE DECADES.
A Historical Overview of Operating Systems
5. Though there are many operating systems, they can be broadly categorized into three basic families viz, Mac family including all shades of iOS , Microsoft family from MS Dos to Windows 10 and the Linux family that would include all flavours of Linux, like Red Hat, Inux Mint OS, Ubuntu and so on. When we come to the hand-held devices like phones and tablets, we have iOS, Android, and Windows as the market leaders. There is definitely a convergence taking place with availability of Ubuntu phones and android laptops.
6. Till the advent of Open Source Software, the IT fraternity was vertically divided into two schools of thought, the Mac way and the PC way. The Mac products believed in tight integration of hardware and software. Quality was of utmost importance and it was propriety all the way, be it the hardware or software or the formats used . Even the styling of icons mattered as the bitterly contested copyright case between Apple and Samsung showed. As for PC was concerned, IBM had freed the hardware part, resulting in mushrooming of IBM clones, while the marketing genius, that young Bill gates proved to be, kept a tight hold over the OS , which ironically he had bought for a pittance. QDOS (Quick and Dirty Operating System) was bought from Tim Patterson, rechristened as MSDOS and loaded on an IBM PC. With a series of outright purchases and repackaging MS Office was born and today we have MS Windows and MS Office dominating the market in India.
7. End of cold war gave a big boost to Internet which led to extensive collaboration over the net. It was not just a software, but an entirely new philosophy was born. Programmers could download source codes for free. They were free to look into other programmers’ codes; they could make modifications and propagate their products as long as they too kept it free. It was called not copyright but copy-left. With that software got liberated from the clutches of multinationals. Today, you can buy a PC without any Software and load your own OS and applications.
Present Environment
8. Most people and organizations today go for a hardware software bundle and in India, most of the additional software is available for free due to non-implementation of laws on Intellectual property rights.
9. Of course there is a small percentage of users who scrupulously use licensed software and an even smaller percentage of users who are aware that there is enough resources available under open source and there is really no need buy any operating system or applications leave alone the compulsion to break any law of the land to procure one. This last category of users, to begin with were hard core geeks, but over a period of time even not so tech savvy users have also joined this fold. There are children who have grown up using open source software and don’t use any other unless forced to do so by their schools. If some users can benefit from OSS, then why not the whole world benefit.
PART – II WHY WE NEED TO MIGRATE TO LINUX.
Why Migrate to Linux
10. Some of the compelling reasons for switching to Linux are as follows:-
  1. Freedom to Use .The software is completely free as in Mukt and completely free as in Muft.
  1. Stability The OS is rock solid and absolutely stable. Of course there are beta versions, on the leading edge, available to all for download; and one needs to ensure that he uses only a stable version.
  1. Choice of Applications. Entire set of productivity applications are available for Linux and there is really no need to go for an OS if only to load a specific application software.
  1. Security Security is better in OSS as the source code is available for any one. So any organization wishing to make their computing environment absolutely secure does not need to look to Redmond for assistance but can do it in their own laboratories. It is in this context that our former President and an eminent scientist Dr APJ Abdul Kalam called up on Indians to use OSS.
Some Myths About Linux
11. There are many myths about Linux which we shall analyze one by one as follows:-
(a) Linux is not user friendly. There is not a single step in installation, configuration and use of the OS that does not have a user friendly, graphical User Interface in Ubuntu, Red Hat, Open Suse or Linux Mint. Of course there are provisions to get anything done through Command line Interface , which is only an added advantage and definitely not a disadvantage. A Class VIII student can comfortably install Ubuntu from an Installation CD or an USB Drive. Of course any child who can handle a mouse or a touch pad can use an Ubuntu machine.
(b) No applications are available for Linux. There are users of the view that it is okay to have Linux as OS, but for running specific applications, one needs Windows. This may have been correct about 10 years back. Today we have open source applications in every area of computing like Office Software, web browsing, IDE for Programming, graphics , video and audio editing, database management systems.
(c) Installation of applications is difficult. Nothing could be far from truth. While Software like MS office, Adobe Photo-shop, need registration and dedicated efforts to get regular updates, anyone using open source software like Ubuntu or Libre office gets regular updates automatically. It is easier as there is no need to guard against piracy issues. The repository system for installation or upgrading of software is akin to the istore of Apple devices or Google Play of Android phones. You just need to pick the applications and click ‘install’.
(d) Version compatibility Issues Ubuntu has the best organized system for storing of libraries. Canonical, the company supporting Ubuntu has dedicated servers to keep track of all the software and the compiler libraries used by these software applications. Ubuntu brings out a version every two years with Long term support. Then there are six monthly update versions of the OS. The security updates is on a daily basis.
  1. Inter OS Interoperability is difficult. A Linux server can easily handle any Windows client, though the converse may not be true.
  1. Lack Of Commercial Support In the past, businesses used the lack of commercial support as the main reason for staying with Windows. Red Hat, Novell and Canonical, the “big three” commercial Linux providers, have put this fear to rest. Each of these companies offers 24x7x365 support for your mission-critical applications and business services.
  1. Lack of .Net Support Businesses that have standardized on Microsoft technology, specifically their .NET web technology, can rely on Linux for support of those same .NET applications. Novell owns and supports the Mono project that maintains .NET compatibility. One of the Mono project’s goals is to provide businesses the ability to make a choice and to resist vendor lock-in. Additionally, the Mono project offers Visual Studio plug-ins so that .NET developers can easily transfer Windows-based .NET applications without changing their familiar development tools. Why would Novell and others put forth the effort to create a .NET environment for Linux? For real .NET application stability, Linux is a better choice than Windows.
Organizations That Have Migrated Or In The Process Of Migrating To Linux
12. If Linux is so good why are people not using it ? The answer is that most computer users are not fully aware of the possibilities. Let us see some informed organizations that migrated from Windows to Linux :-
(a) The White house
(b) US Navy in the US Submarine Fleet

(c) NASA , USA

(d) Amazon Inc , USA

(e) City Govt of Munich (Germany)

(f) Kerala State Govt
(g) Tamilnadu State Govt
(h) IBM Inc

(j) Indian Navy

13. You can see the wide diversity in the type of organizations using Linux. The next question is, have any of these organizations reverted back to Windows ? There is no evidence of any such moves. Okay, has any organization that started a business with Linux and migrated to any other operating system. A cursory Google search draws a blank. Then why are more individuals not in Linux world ? At least as for as India is considered, the answer may be :-
(a) In India, very few users buy software, at least not for personal ownership. The day, people who use MS office are forced to pay for the software they use at home, Open office downloads will multiply. (This paper is written using Libre Office Version: 4.3.3.2.)
(b) So many applications are available, mostly pirated, and users have attained a certain degree of proficiency in these applications. There is a reluctance to learn any new applications available in the open source arena. How else can you explain anyone be using Internet Explorer ?
(c) Despite the progress made in the IT field, Internet penetration is very low. In India we have only 15 to 20 PCs per 100 and out of that only – only 1.1 use Internet broadband. Most users still load software through CDs and DVDs, pirated of course. Open source means global collaboration and Internet broadband is a pre- requisite. Any expenditure made by a Govt or any private organization or an individual in broadband connection is money well spent. It is an investment to break the shackle of propriety software and propriety education and will prove a great money saver in years to come.
PART – III SEVEN STEPS TO SOFTWARE LIBERATION.
How To Migrate
14. Here is a suggested model for an individual to switch over to Linux over a period of six months to one year. When individuals embrace Linux, it would be a smooth migration for an organization as IT products work on the principle of ‘Winner takes all’.
(a) Step 1 identify the applications you actually use under windows, leaving out the ones that have been preloaded free of cost by the vendor, but never used.
(b) Step 2 Identify the Linux equivalent of these applications.
(c) Step 3 Download windows versions of these applications. Some of them would be very familiar for example, Mozilla Firefox Browser.
A Table Showing These Applications
Application
Propriety application in Windows
Open Source Applicatin in LInux
Browser
Internet Explorer
Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Chromium, Ubuntu Browser.
Office Suite
MS Office (Word, excel and powerpoint)
Open Office or Libre Office (Writer, calc and Impress)
Email Client
MS Outlook
Evolution or Thunderbird
Graphics
Adobe Photoshop
GIMP
Video Player
Windows Media Player
Amarok, Rhythmbox,Yarock
Video editing
Movie maker
Open Shot Video Editor PiTV
Audio Editing
Adobe Audition
Audocity
Database
Oracle, Sybase
Mysql, Postgresql
(d) Step 4 Keep booting into the widows machine, but get used to open source applications like Mozilla Firefox browser, Libre office, GIMP, Kompozer, VLC Media Player, and so on. In case of any problem a simple search on the net for open source application for windows will give a huge choice of apps. As a rule anything available for Linux will be available for Windows , but not vice versa.
(e) Step 5 Use a bootable Linux CD, Ubuntu preferably, and try the OS, without actually installing. No change is made in the Operating System. This is one feature which is new to Windows users, who are used to formatting and re installation at the drop of a hat. There are also Packages available which can be installed under windows just as another software.
(f) Step 6 Once you get used to the Open Source Applications in windows environment, using the same in the native Linux environment can only be smoother.
(g) Step 7 Boot into Linux and work in Open Source Applications. Let Windows be available in the system , particularly to work on an odd document or graphic received from a colleague or from another organization, which requires a specific Windows application. One day, one finds that neither is there a need to boot into windows nor is it a peasant experience to do so , at times when you are forced to do so,.That is the time delete your windows partition and that would be Software Nirwana.
CONCLUSION
15. The Information age has seen so much development in three decades that has not happened in industrial age for three centuries and agricultural age for over three millenniums. Open Source Software has evolved to become a viable alternative to propriety software. The main reason why users have not switched over to Linux is that they are not aware of the developments that have taken place in the Open Source arena in the past decade. We need to spread that awareness, for the benefit of all users, individuals or organizations.
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Booklet printing and The Spirit of Ubuntu – First published in NOv 2014

          These days we tend to do more screen reading than traditional book reading. While it is okay to read blogs, news-feeds etc off the screen, certain materials like tutorials and how-tos need to be studied leisurely.

 

Taking printout on A4 sheets is ok, but it is still not so convenient. To have a good feel of reading, the material should be of book-size, with ample margin for binding and  should be held open with a thumb or thumb and the little finger. I have always been loking for an app which can do booklet printing. The other day I found just that.
You can just right click on a file and generate a booklet in a size of your choice. what’s more , you save a lot of paper.
There are many apps which only a minuscule few may want, and big IT companies don’t care. An open source software enthusiast, who needs such a feature, looks  around, to see if it is available. If not available  he proceeds to develop one, alone or with other like minded people.

And once a facility is developed, the real fun is in freely sharing it with the whole world. That is the spirit of Ubuntu, a far cry from the software giants who toil hard to produce stuff people don’t need and toil harder to sell it to them at exorbitant prices.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment