Monthly Archives: May 2013

Happiness is having a good backup

I’ve my share of hard drive failures and software accidents, and more often than not I’ve been able to recover.  Here are my current back-up provisions:

  • Daily backups using Acronis
  • Windows 7 “Previous Versions” feature
  • Backup copies of important files on different drives
  • Backup copies of important files on different machines at home
  • Annual off-site backup of entire machine
  • Important files stored using RAID-5

The technology of back-up media has changed over the years.  Once upon a time I used a stack of 50–100 5¼″ floppy disks!  I also remember when I went to DAT tape, which could hold a full backup and incremental backups every day for a month on one 400 MB cartridge.  Eventually came recordable CDs, and later DVD-RAM.  Along the way were 20MB “floptical” disks, Jaz drives, and Zip discs.

Today, the best backup medium is another hard drive.  A cheap on-sale hard drive has a better price per gigabyte than optical media of reputable quality, and nothing else is even close.  Desktop HDDs are also quite robust—I’ve heard of data recovery companies reading a hard drive after a house fire had destroyed the computer.  Plastic optical media would be toast!

Partition vs File

There are two fundamentally different kinds of backup.  For typical data applications, “documents” are files and can be easily copied elsewhere for safe keeping.  Any manner of copying a file (and copying it back where it came from) will serve to back up a word processing or any kind of office document, photo, video, etc.

But the “system” is different.  The operating system and the arrangement of installed programs has files you don’t understand, and even special things in special places on the hard drive.  The way to back that up is to make an exact sector-by-sector image of the partition.  This requires specialized software both to make and restore.

That is also one reason why I still keep my data separate from the system.  My C: drive is for the operating system and installed programs, and my files are on a different partition (say, E: and G:).  On Windows this means ignoring the prepared My Documents locations or taking steps to point that to another partition.

It has definite advantages, and I’ve made good use of it recently.  When updating some program caused problems, I simply restored to the previous day’s system backup of the entire C: drive.  My work, which was on E:, was not affected.  Had my work been on C: also, this step would have erased my efforts that were performed since that backup point.

Multiple Methods

Besides using different tools for the System backup and your day-to-day work files, you can use a variety of different overlapping techniques all at the same time.  You don’t have to use one tool or another.  You can use a 3rd party backup suite and casually replicate your work to your spouse’s computer.  Even with a single too, you can have automated daily incremental backups to another drive and make monthly full backups to Blu-ray to store off-site.

Automatically and Frequent

I used to boot the computer specially in order to do a complete partition back up of the normal C: drive.  I would do so before making significant changes, and was supposed to do so once a month regardless.  But it was a chore and a bother.

Now, Windows can reliably back up the running C: drive using an operating system called Volume Shadowing.  Being able to perform the backup while running the regular system is liberating, because it can be done automatically on a timer, and it can be done in the background.  So I have Acronis True Image perform daily backups of the C: drive.

Likewise, the same technology applies to data files.  Even if I happened to be still working at the odd hour at which I scheduled the daily file backup, using the files would not conflict with the backing up.

Windows Previous Versions feature

Windows 7 has a feature called Previous Versions that can be handy.  You can turn on System Protection and also enable it for your data drive.  Use the System control panel applet, and there is a tab for System Protection.

Windows 8 File History

This is deprecated but still available on Windows 8.  Windows 8 revamps the general idea with something that’s said to be more like Mac’s Time Machine.  It backs up to an external drive or network location, and it is hourly (or customizable interval).

Search for file history on the Windows 8 Start screen to get to the applet.  However, there seems no way to specify which files are being backed up!  It only and always applies to places that are part of a Library.  So I worked-around it by adding the directories of interest to a Library in File Explorer.

Windows Restore

I tried (on Windows 7) using its supplied System Backup feature, and was less than trilled with it.  It backs up to a hidden directory on the same drive, I don’t know what it does about having multiple versions stored there.  And I can’t simply copy the backup file elsewhere.  It’s actually the same feature that the Previous Versions uses, so I imagine it’s also better on Windows 8.

Drill!  Be confidant

Make sure you know how to restore files, and that it actually works.  When an urgent deadline coincides with a messed up file, that is not the time to be figuring out an unfamiliar system.

So, after you initiate your automated backup system for work files, also create one or more scratch files of the same kind you normally work with.  A silly word processor document containing a stupid joke, perhaps.  After a couple days, when the automated system has had time to do its thing, delete the file.

Now, get it back.

Make notes, and keep them on actual paper, to refer to when this is not a drill.

Then, you can be happy.  Be smug even, especially when someone else has “an incident”.

 

Jehovah’s Witnesses at the door, again

Late this Saturday morning I eagerly answered the door, expecting a visit from a landscaper.  Instead, I met two religious evangelists.

Although they did not identify themselves until I asked for details, they turned out to be Jahovah’s Witnesses.  Not too long ago I had a similar visit, and was not very prepared.  I wanted to know more about them, so later I checked on the Internet. The Wikipedia article has a section on beliefs but wasn’t really the kind of practical details I was interested in.  I also tried You-Tube, since I knew there was a lot posted in reaction to other evangelists.  Perhaps if Jahovah’s Witnesses themselves posted some videos instead of just going door to door, there would be ten times as many posted in response, dissecting every statement and analyzing every point made.  But all I found were a few odd cartoons to expound on what JW’s believed and how they acted.

I’m still interested in a definitive (yet brief!) summary.  But here are some things I’ve learned about them:

  • The world is ending!  This time for sure!
  • No blood transfusions allowed!
  • Probably no modern medicine, but strictness varies.
  • Against education.  Instead of college, young people go door knocking, and don’t get paid for it.
  • No holidays or celebrations at all, not even birthdays.
  • Creationists.
  • Hostile toward homosexuals.

So this time, I at least knew what their group stood for.  I could probably argue over several points of their doctrine, if the matter came up.  But, what did he want?

The implicit assumption is that the real goal, in the long term, is “Join our cult; believe the same things we do; do exactly as we do.”  But that’s not what they come out and say.

This one (the talkative of the pair) seemed to be saying that he wanted to “spread the good news”, and had some thesis about making the world a better place and Man alone can’t manage it.  In the half hour that I talked with him, I learned that they feel compelled to do their characteristic door-to-door stuff because of some passage in the Bible.

He also thinks that the Holy Bible is the first and oldest Holy book, even older than the Torah!  That the Old Testament is, in fact, older than the Christian collection is not something he was willing to accept.

But it still leaves me wondering what I should have said.  Any (serious) pointers or suggestions?

 

How do Phishing scammers get your personal information?

Today I got email that pretended to come from Ebay, in the form of a fake invoice that is actually bait to get you to click on one of the links in the message.  This is known as “phishing”, as explained on Wikipedia.

Now this particular message was sent to the wrong email address.  I use a unique email address for each online merchant or other purpose such as forums and any other kind of sign-up.  The particular service I use, and have been happy with for many years, is https://www.sneakemail.com.  It is handy for me to keep track of order information and forum sign-up data too, for low-to-medium security purposes (I keep passwords for banking sites and such in a password vault).

So, when I got this scam email, I knew that it was not really sent from PayPal.  It was sent to the address I used for Things From Another World, “best online store to buy comics, graphic novels, manga, and pop-culture collectibles!” and apparently to have your customer information stolen, too.  I used this email address on an order made January 3, 2006, for the Serenity comics, in case you’re interested.  That’s just to point out how Sneakemail helps me track these things.

So now their customer database winds up in the hands of criminals.

This is not the first time it has happened.  Other companies have been caught at supplying email address and perhaps first/last name (and who knows what else?) to those who then send spam or phishing email.  Most of the time they totally ignore repeated inquiries to their customer service, support, help, or other email addresses.

But when I have gotten an answer (e.g. from dyndns), it usually turns out to be blamed on the company they use for their newsletters, and they promise that it only included non-sensitive information.  So, that’s another reason to be sure to un-check any kind of newsletter subscription that they usually have on the check-out page.

Now, with Sneakemail, I can activate greylisting on an individual address, set up filtering (which is handy for addresses used for mailing lists and forums) to only allow through the intended correspondent, and, when necessary, disable or delete that individual address.  Deleting the address I used to place orders with TFAW or Oratec, does not affect any other address so all my other correspondence is not bothered.

Update May 11

I received a reply from someone at TFAW.com dated Friday afternoon.  That’s about a 24-hour turn-around, which is remarkable in these cases.

She said, (bold mine)

Thank you for contacting us, and notifying us of this matter.  We definitely do not rent or sell out any customer information at all, and any information provided on our site is kept completely confidential.  We do list our privacy policy confirming this in our site’s help pages that you can review at the following location: http://www.tfaw.com/Help/Privacy-Policy___35   We had our technical team look into this matter and have confirmed that there have not been any compromises in security on our end.  We definitely understand your concern on this matter, but rest assured no personal information has been passed along or obtained from our site.  We here at TFAW.com take privacy concerns very seriously, and actively ensure that all information is kept safe and confidential.

And also invited me to forward the message with the headers, for them to keep on file (not to further analyze?)

If I read that correctly, they didn’t give information to anyone such as a mailing list company, and nobody ever accessed their data surreptitiously (meaning their detection would be flawless even if the access control isn’t).  So what’s left? Deliberate access by someone on the inside.  Somehow I don’t think that’s what she meant.  Maybe email was gathered in-flight from their outgoing confirmation mail (the only time that address ever appeared in an email before the spam) only to be held for a couple years before being used for spam.

If some third party is listening in on email transit, I think there would be worse effects than just use of the address much later: such a person would have the receipt, invoice, and whatnot, containing order numbers and account information and could immediately spoof that person at that store, read the mail sent for a password reset, and go nuts.  However, the current state of security on email sent between parties on normal ISPs is far from tight.

July 28, 2014 — The Sock Company

I got another PayPal phishing message, this one sent to the email address I used with Thorlos socks.  I like their socks very much, and my notes indicate that it’s cheaper to order from them directly because of free shipping, unless the order is more than $55 in which case it’s better to by from The Sock Company.  I’m sure prices have changed since I first ordered from them in 2005, but that is an illustration of the kind of records I keep and why I’m confidant that nobody else would know of the email address to which I’m receiving these messages.

September 4, 2014 — Kingwin

Another occurrence, this time from Kingwin.  I emailed their tech support two years ago with questions about their USB SATA Dock products.  At least this time there’s no customer information with them, but only my name and a (unique) email address.

June 18, 2014 — LightRocket

I got an ad promoting something called LightRocket, sent to my historical original email address.  What I mean by that is once upon a time the Web was a nicer place and my email address was published on my web pages and various publications.  I still maintain it, but it’s only used by “cold calls”.

When I wrote back asking how I got on their mailing list, I got a real reply from someone in short order.  That’s nice, and hopefully I’ll find out something.  I’ll revise this report as I learn more.

January 4, 2015 — OEM PC World

I’ve ordered flash media from time to time from OEM PC World, most recently in July 2013.  Now I’m getting dozens of emails for mail order brides.  I’m sure that’s not really in their catalog, so how did these purported women get my contact info from them?  Interesting that a company that’s been “the world’s memory value leader” for over 15 years doesn’t have an email address itself, but can only be reached via a web form.

I received a real reply from someone later that same day.

Ongoing…

 June 2015— Paradigm Speakers tech support

I wrote Paradigm Speakers support email on 23 June 2014, and one year later I started getting PayPal and Apple ID Phishing email.  It wasn’t until November that I noticed some leaking through my normal spam filter, but I see it goes back at least to June 3.

In December 2016, I’m still getting junk from them (56 over the last 30 days), with nothing resolved.

December 4, 2016 — IcyDock

I got a PayPal Phishing email that slipped through my filters, that was sent to an email address used for product registration for Icy Dock, on November 21 2011.  Is this just the first to slip past the filters?  I checked the sneakemail stats and it was the only email to that address in the last 30 days.  So, the security breach of customer info is recent perhaps.

I contacted Icy Dock Sales, and quickly got a serious reply from a representative.  It’s refreshing to see that a company not only reads and responds to their own email, but gives a serious reply rather than some canned blather or blanket denials.  So, Kudos to them!

It would be great to discover if some particular 3rd party service were responsible for many of these incidents.  It would be possible if companies took it seriously and noted who was given customer information and when.  A culprit would show up as being common to many of them.

 

 

How much would you pay for the universe?

This is inspiring.  Neil deGrasse Tyson could run for president.

This goes with it.  I actually found this first and followed the link to Tyson.

Watch in the Home Theater for best experience (or at least full screen 1080p, with headphones).  I liked the music so much that I bought the album it’s from, as a gift for my wife to listen to in the car on her traffic-jammed commute.

As it so happens, today I received a letter from The Planetary Society.  They are campaigning for action on the budget for NASA.  You can sign a petition at http://action.planetary.org.