A guide for safe and private web browsing

Continuing in the theme I’ve been following for the last couple of days, here’s a guide to security and privacy with web browsers. Like the guide I linked to yesterday, I’m not sure I agree with it 100%–I think saying never use Internet Explorer is too absolute–but I do agree with the overwhelming majority of it, and if everyone did all of this instead of what they’re doing now, we’d be in a much better state.

And, on a somewhat related note, here’s a rundown of what Windows 10 changes in the way of privacy, and some recommendations, but here’s a hint: You’re going to want to type privacy into your Windows search bar, pull up everything related, and start shutting stuff off. Use your discretion, but chances are there will be several things. If nothing else, there are things that are appropriate for a Windows tablet that aren’t appropriate for a desktop PC.

Let’s get back to privacy and safety in general, whatever OS you’re running. Here are some highlights.

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How to make your online banking more secure

If you want to make your online banking more secure, I have a tip for you.

Due to the increasing amount of malware targeting bank accounts, it’s not a bad idea to dedicate a computer to online banking and only online banking. Of course, who wants to dedicate an expensive computer to that task?

You don’t have to. You can buy a $120 refurbished Chromebook to use. If you don’t want to spend any money but have a seldom-used computer still hanging around that isn’t good for much, load Linux Mint on it and use it exclusively for banking. My experience with Mint on an old netbook has been rather good. Linux Mint is, if anything, easier to get up and running than Windows.

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How to roll your own mini PC and potentially save

I’ve talked at length about HP’s new mini PCs, but there are some alternatives in the DIY space. For example, Asrock offers the D1800B-ITX, which sells for around $53. Going the DIY route, you won’t get a discounted copy of Windows, but you also won’t spend money on RAM and an SSD that you’re going to end up replacing and you can get exactly as much CPU as you want.

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Upgrading an HP Mini 110 to Linux Mint 17

Upgrading an HP Mini 110 to Linux Mint 17

Over the Labor Day weekend I decided to upgrade my HP Mini 110 netbook to Linux Mint 17. The Mini 110 can handle Windows 7, but Linux Mint doesn’t cost any money and I figure a Linux box is more useful to me than yet another Windows box. There are some things I do that are easier to accomplish in Linux than in Windows. Plus, I’m curious how my two young sons will react to Linux.

Linux Mint, if you’re not familiar with it, is a Ubuntu derivative that includes a lot of consumer-friendly features, like including drivers and codecs and other common software that aren’t completely open source. It’s not a Linux distribution for the Free Software purist, but having options is one of the nice things about Linux in 2014.

Linux Mint includes a lot of useful software, so once you get it installed, you’re up and running with a useful computer with minimal effort.

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Living with a past-its-prime computer

I’m playing catch-up a bit. This weekend, Lifehacker ran a guide about living with a computer that’s past its prime.

I’ve made a career of that. One of my desktop PCs at work (arguably the more important one) is old enough that I ought to be preparing to send it off to second grade. And for a few years I administered a server farm that was in a similar state. They finally started upgrading the hardware as I was walking out the door. (I might have stayed longer if they’d done that sooner.) And at home, I ran with out-of-date computer equipment for about a decade, just this summer buying something current. Buying something current is very nice, but not always practical.

So of course I’ll comment on a few of Lifehacker’s points.

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Speeding up a sluggish HP Mini 110

My mom’s HP Mini 110 Atom-based netbook (with the factory 16GB SSD) was hesitating, a lot. Frankly it was really frustrating to use–it would freeze up for minutes on end, for no good reason. It was so slow, calling it “sluggish” was being kind. But it’s fixed now. I did six five things to it. Here’s how to speed up an HP Mini 110.

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Setting the MTU automatically in Debian

I run this website off a server running on an ADSL line in a spare bedroom of my home. That causes some weird issues from time to time, like the time I had to figure out setting the MTU automatically in Debian.

Why Debian?

My server of choice is Debian, because it’s Linux which makes it fast, reliable, and cheap, and Debian makes it pretty easy to install only what you want and need, so I can have a server OS that’s only using 125 megabytes of disk space, leaving most of my drive available for content. I like having space for content.

This will work in Debian-derived systems like Ubuntu and Linux Mint too.

PPPoE issues

Now, the downside of modern DSL: Southwestern Bell, like most ISPs these days, uses PPPoE. So not only can your IP address change with no notice whatsoever, you also have the hassles of PPPoE. With the default settings, some unknown but noticeably large percentage of web users won’t be able to access a web server running on a DSL connection using PPPoE.

The reason is MTU and fragmentation.Yes, you remember MTU if you used Windows 9x back in the bad old days of dialup. Tweakers would play around with the MTU settings in hopes of squeezing just a little more performance out of their 56K modems, and they would swear that one utility did a better job than any others, or that this MTU setting was optimal and the conventional wisdom of 576 stank… Remember those flamewars?

Well, with broadband, theoretically the right setting to use is 1500. Trouble is, PPPoE steals some of that packet space, and the result is something worse than slow speeds. In some scenarios, you completely vanish.

Setting the MTU

The way to make my website reappear is to issue the command ifconfig eth0 mtu 1472. The exact number doesn’t seem to matter much. It appears for me that 1472 is the maximum I can use. (It can vary from ISP to ISP, in case you’re wondering.)

Excellent. Problem solved.

Not so fast. Problem solved until my server reboots. Linux doesn’t need to reboot, right? Right you are. But here in St. Louis, the power likes to hiccup a lot, especially in the summertime. My server is on a UPS, but every once in a while, in the middle of the night, there must be a long enough power failure that my UPS dies, because every once in a while I fall off the ‘net again.

To set the default MTU permanently–that is, to change it automatically on bootup–one normally would change the ifup script or the rc.startup script. Except Debian doesn’t have either of those.

My kludgy solution: cron. Log in as root, issue the command crontab -e, and add the following line:

*/2 * * * * ifconfig eth0 mtu 1472

With this in place, only seconds will elapse between the time my power comes back on for good and I reappear on the ‘net. I can live with that.

More Debian tricks

If you change your network card or motherboard, you don’t have to reinstall Debian but you may lose eth0. Here’s how to get eth0 back. And here’s how to get a list of the installed packages in Debian.

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