Category Archives: internet

stop the EU from destroying your internet freedom

On 12 September 2018 the EU Parliament will debate and vote on Article 13. Time to fire up your email and social media devices and let yourself be heard again, which is why I’m resurfacing this post about the what and the why.

Yep. They are at it again, those pesky governments. If it ain’t the US trying to destroy net neutrality it’s the EU trying to setup a link tax and an automated content filter/surveillance/censorship machine.

I’m talking about the copyright reform law the EU is trying to get through in a few days.

Article 11 is bad. It tries to setup a link tax, meaning you cant link or post snippets to e.g. news articles on your site. A similar law was passed earlier in Spain and it causes Google news to simply pull back out of Spain. If the same happens to the whole of the EU, that would suck mayor balls.

Article 13 is far worse though. That’s the content filter, which means any site where content can be uploaded e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Imgur etc will be forced to automatically scan your upload and filter it if it isn’t allowed. The claim is that they want to stop terrorists and bad people from spreading illegal content on the internet. The reality will be that those bad guys will find ways around it and the rest of us will be stuck with a filter that’s going to block our uploads because of flawed algorithms and bureaucratic decisions. Internet memes use copyrighted content, but will the filter be able to detect sarcasm? I don’t think so.

Hey look, a meme, with a copyrighted image. I guess we won't be able to do that anymore once Article 13 is in effect.

To quote Tim Berners Lee, the inventor of the WWW:

Article 13 takes an unprecedented step towards the transformation of the Internet, from an open platform for sharing and innovation, into a tool for the automated surveillance and control of its users.

So please help out and email, tweet or call your MEP’s and make it clear Article 11 & 13 have to go. The freedom of the internet depends on you!

Update (25/6): the vote of the 20st was lost as 15 MEPS voted for article 13. Next date is 4-5 July to stop this thing from becoming final!
So let your voice be heard and save your internet!

Update (15/7): Yay!  We won! For now. After the summer break this will surely come back though. They won’t give up this easily.

cure cancer with leftover azure credits

An azure window grid, reflecting clouds. Perfect fit isn't it?Maybe you have some Azure credits lying from a Visual Studio subscription you have from work, waiting to be spent on cool and nifty experiments, but don’t end up actually using them.
How about spending some of those dollars on cancer research? Or help find a cure against Zika? Fighting AIDS maybe?

Enter the World Community Grid, a vast grid computing network running on the Open Source BOINC client software, started as a philanthropic initiative by IBM.
Sounds good right?

All you need to do is create a WCG account, spin up a Linux machine on Azure, install the BOINC headless client on it and link it to your account. In about half an hour you’ll be computing cancer markers, folding genes or fighting some horrible disease. Well, the software will be doing that really, which is even better.

Here we go, step by step.

1. Setup your Azure Linux machine, I chose an Ubuntu 16 LTS machine. I pick the classic VM because its way easier to setup.
Depending on the type of machine you’ll have more compute power and thus turning out more results. Try a few out and see how you can maximize your Azure credits.

2. Once provisioned, log in using PUTTY or your favorite SSH client. Now it’s time to update the Linux packages and then install the BOINC client:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install boinc-client

3. Setup auto startup of the BOINC client, so if your machine reboots, you don’t have to go in and start it up yourself (automate all the things remember):

sudo /etc/init.d/boinc-client restart

4. Get your BOINC authentication key so you can hook up the client to your account:

boinccmd --lookup_account https://www.worldcommunitygrid.org

5. Now use the key to attach your selected projects from WCG:

boinccmd --project_attach https://www.worldcommunitygrid.org

Of course you want to check what’s going on, so you can check the BOINC client’s state like this:

boinccmd --get_state

This should give you a list of the tasks and their state. It might take a while before they start kicking in, but you’ll see results coming in after a day or so on the WGC website under your contribution history.

That’s about it. Your client is all set up. All you need to do is keep those VM’s running in the cloud, which normally takes non effort at all. Neat.

There are more boinccmd command line switches in the documentation if you’d need to troubleshoot or find out more.

What’s next? Well, you can set up more than 1 machine if you like, or a heavier one and see what gives you more bang for your buck.  You can also join my World Computing Grid team called “Team Azure” and see how many cloud bucks we can burn. It’ll be effortless fun, I promise! ;)

Credit goes to Joel Christian’s headless Ubuntu installation guide. His guide made my quest to setup BOINC on an Azure Ubuntu box a lot easier.

Photo by Dan, cc-licensed.

disable flash and silverlight for safer surfing

Flash, Silverlight and (*gasp*) QuickTime plugins in your browser with the modern web are about as necessary as a horse whip is on a Tesla. Well I might be exaggerating a bit. There are still some useful sites out there that actually use these things. Intranet sites that run on IE only for example, or flaky game sites. But any self-respecting web developer has long ditched them in favor of fancy new HTML5 features.

So why would you still run these things in your favorite browser (Firefox right?) where they only take up extra memory and have a bunch of security problems that might end up causing you trouble. There have been enough exploits for the Flash plugin out there to be sure to actually update those plugins every time they ask for it. Which is about every week if I recall correctly.

Anyway, it’s better to turns those damn things off completely and only turn them on when you hit one of those web sites maintained by a dinosaur. That way you’re stopping that evil hacker from taking over your machine with his Flash exploit and you’re gaining some free performance along the way.

In Firefox you can turn those plugins off in your Tools menu, under Add-ons. Just select “Never activate” and you’ll be fine.
Switch it back to “Ask to Activate” if you’d need them again. That way they’ll never activate by accident either, if you forget to turn it back off.
On Chrome it’s a bit more elaborate, but the option “Let me choose when to run plugin content” sounds like a safe bet instead of having plugin code be ran willy-nilly.
IE? Ha! Who cares right?! For anything else, a properly aimed search query should find you the answer in no time.

Oh, and don’t forget to tweak your Flash security settings if you decide to keep it on after all.

The Firefox add-in screen with all plugins disabled. Just like it should be.

join the EFF summer security reboot and get some cool dice

DSC01217The Electronic Frontier Foundation is on the fore-front when it comes to defending our digital rights. Even as a European I think they are doing important work even though they are mostly US centric. This because whatever happens in the US ripples over the pond and affects Europe and the rest of the world anyway. That means that next to larger fast-food portions increased digital surveillance is on its way to the EU as well.
Next to protecting our digital rights they are the author of a number of awesome security plugins and tools like the HTTPS Everywhere and Privacy Badger browser plugins and a driving force behind the Let’s Encrypt free web site certificate tool set.

Next to a lot of security tools and tips (see the site & newsletter) they now have a Summer Security Reboot fund drive where you can get a cool geeky secure-password generating dice set for a mere $20 membership until the 20th of July.

So if you like what they are doing for a secure and free internet in the future, go check them out and get yourself some cool dice in the process.

If you feel more like donating to a EU centric counterpart of EFF, you can check out EDRI.org instead (no dice there though).

Photo by Violet Blue, cc-licensed.

disable javascript in firefox without plugins

This is one for the “it’s easy once you know” category.
In recent versions of Firefox the option to turn off JavaScript had apparently disappeared from the options. Recently I found out where those sneaky Mozilla devs have hidden this handy feature.

In the Firefox menu, go to Tools > Web Developer > Toggle Tools, or use the CTRL-I shortcut key to activate the developer tools side-panel. Once active you see one of those typical cog-wheel icons in the upper right corner showing the settings when you click it.
In those settings, scroll down to the Advanced Settings and flick the “Disable Javascript” check-box. Voila. JS is now disabled for your debugging purposes.

The “Disable Cache” option right above it is also a handy one if you are working on a page. It beats having to hit CTRL-F5 all the time anyway.

The disable JavaScript option in the developer tools settings.

If you want an easier way to control this, store settings per site and things like that, you’re better off installing the NoScript plugin. There’s a reason this option is hidden in the developer tools after all.

reset the net

On´n´Off - Going into standby mode

It’s on!

If you want to kick some NSA buttocks and claim your privacy then get yourself this reset the net pack and install some super-duper encryption for your PC, Mac and phone(s).

There ain’t that much on there really, but if you scroll down to the Other Resources section there’s links there like the Prism Break one I mentioned before, which contain tons of (more techy) tools and software for all your stealthy encryption needs.

Photo by Sven Seiler, cc-licensed.