OpenVPN, easy configuration, and that damned ta.key file.

Apr 15, 2017

Now that ISPs not selling information about what you do and what you browse on the Net is pretty much gone, a lot of people are looking into using VPNs - virtual private networks - to add a layer of protection to their everyday activities.  Most of the time there are two big use cases for VPNs: Needing to use them for work, and using them to gain access to Netflix content that isn't licensed where you live.  Now they may as well be a part of everyday carry.

So: Brass tacks.  Here's a quick way to set up your own VPN server, as well as a solution to a problem that frustrated me until very recently.  For starters, unless you're an experienced sysadmin don't try to freestyle the setup.  There is an excellent script on Github called openvpn-install that will do all of the work for you (including adding and deleting users) in less than a minute.  Use it to do the work for you.  Please.  Also, if you build an OpenVPN server, consider going in with a couple of friends on the cost.

Chances are you're running either Windows or Mac OSX (Linux and BSD users, you know what to do) so you'll need an OpenVPN client on the users' end.  This means that you want to run either the Windows version of the OpenVPN client or an OSX client like Tunnelblick.  However, these clients assume that you're just loading an all-in-one configuration file, called an .ovpn file.  If you've never done it before they're remarkably tricky to build but they're basically a copy of the OpenVPN client.conf with all of the crypto keys embedded in special stanzas.  It took me a lot of fumbling and searching but I eventually figured out how to reliably make them.  To save you some time here's a copy of the one I use with all the unique stuff removed from it.  If you open it in a text editor you'll notice a couple of things: First, the very first non-commented line says that it's for the client and not the server.  Second, I have it configured to use TCP and not UDP.  This is so that you don't have to reconfigure the firewall you're behind to get your traffic through.  Keep it simple, trust me on this.  Third, the ca, cert, and key directives are commented out because those keys are embedded at the end of the file.  Fourth, I have tls-auth enabled so that all traffic your server will handle is authenticated for better security.

If you freestyle (that is, build by hand) your OpenVPN server, you'll need to keep in mind the following things:

Fixing the clock in Kodi.

Feb 25, 2017

I've mentioned once or twice that I have a media box at home running Kodi on top of Arch Linux.  Once you've got your media drives registered and indexed, it's pretty easy to use.  Save for the clock in the upper right-hand corner of the display, which almost never seems to coincide with the timezone set when you install Arch.  So I don't forget again, and to try to fix the problem of skillions of worthless threads on the Kodi forums, here's how you fix it from inside of Kodi when it's running:

  • System -> Settings
  • Appearance menu
  • International tab
  • Timezone Country
  • Pick the country you live in
  • Timezone
  • Pick the timezone you're in
  • You're done.

Boot loaders and securing dual-booting portable systems.

May 29, 2008

UPDATE - 20170327 - Truecrypt was disconnected in 2014.ev when Microsoft stopped supporting Windows XP.  DO NOT USE IT.  This blog post must be considered historical in nature.

If you've been following the news media for the past year or so, stores have been cropping up with frightening regularity about travelers who are detained at the border while customs agents demand the login credentials for their notebook computers so that they can be examined for gods-know-what kind of information. From time to time, the hard drives of computers are actually imaged for later analysis. As if that weren't enough, the United States Supreme Court has stated the opinion that this is permissible and a legally defensible thing to do, regardless of whether or not you are an American citizens, regardless of whether or not you're actually up to no good. Just a few days ago, it came out that Canada is trying to push through the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, which would make it legal for Canadian border authorities to search not only portable computers, but USB keys, cellular phones, and MP3 players for information (specifically, pirated MP3 files)... the very act of searching one's personal and corporate storage media constitutes a potential information spillage situation because it may not be possible to prove in a court of law that data wasn't copied during the search. You can't necessarily prove a negative when you're dealing with file systems.