Staying secure on my Ubuntu installation, part 1

Since my last post, I’ve since reinstalled Ubuntu “Intrepid Ibex” on my laptop. Right now, my ardor has cooled off i.e. if a package does not have a GUI, I don’t bother installing it. A lot of it has to do with my poor fingers and my current un-ergonomical setup. 🙂 At least, that’s what I’m telling myself. With my fresh install of Ubuntu, my old security fears arose, but I’m going to highlight a few things (more like neuroses) that have eased my security fears:

  1. If it is not in the Ubuntu official repositories and supported by Ubuntu, I’m more leery of installing the program. If I do install the package, I make sure to do my research i.e. Google & make sure that the owner is still actively maintaining the package.
  2. Situations will arise when you need to add additional repositories in order to more software and you have to make sure you are adding a repository from a trusted source. Cases in point: I’ve got Google Picasa for Linux and Google Desktop Search (Linux) on my laptop. I already trust Google with my credit card information so I feel reasonably secure about adding the Google Linux repositories. The other example is with the Medibuntu packages which contain non-free items like Adobe Acrobat Reader for Linux and a bunch of Gstreamer plugins that can play MP3, etc. By default, Ubuntu does not support such formats (mp3, aac, etc).
  3. In a lot of cases, you will need to download the equivalent of a .exe file for the Linux system which is a .deb file. Cases in point: I needed an on-demand antivirus scanner that I could trust and in the past, I’ve used Bitdefender on Windows. My experience with Bitdefender turned sour after several failed reinstallations of Bitdefender and the lacklustre customer service. However, I learned of their Bitdefender Antivirus Scanner for Unices and in order to get it, I had to sign up for a personal license which is very generous on Bitdefender’s part. Then, I was sent a link to download the Debian package (.deb) and all you do is double-click to install and you are on your way! Thus far, my experience with the Bitdefender Scanner for Unices has been: it’s blazing fast, the GUI is user-friendly and thankfully, I haven’t had any viruses yet, but I downloaded a test virus and it was detected. lol.
  4. I’ve installed the chkrootkit package which is supported by Ubuntu and (duh) checks for rootkits which are nasty infections of the computer a.k.a. the complete ownage of a computer. 🙂 I’ve got installed the rkhunter package and as you would expect, both packages are commandline utilities so I’m slowly getting over my commandline phobia.

That’s all for now! Feel free to place suggestions about best practices for security also.

My Workarounds in Ubuntu and Getting Weaned Off Windows.

However, there are alternatives to the key programs I’m missing such as Microsoft Office Outlook which is being replaced by Evolution Mail. I’m getting used to Evolution‘s email interface and finding out that it’s not so bad. I imported my contacts and while it wasn’t smooth (i.e. mis-identifying imported items), it’s doing the job of checking my email for me. 🙂 So here goes (it’s an evolving list):

1. On my Vista laptop, I found 7zip indispensable because it was fast and integrated itself into the Windows explorer environment. On Ubuntu, my alternative to 7zip is the built-in Archive Manager, which can also be accessed by typing “file-roller” into a terminal window. In fact, after a couple of uses, I’m growing to appreciate the speed of this utility. I’m sure there is a way make an entry into the context-menu, but until then, I’m settling for managing file archives via Archive Manager.

2. When I was using Windows, Cyberlink Youcam was rather terrific for making silly videos as well as for video chat because it had a wealth of fun additions like the whiteboard, effects, etc The closest I have come to on Ubuntu is the Cheese Webcam booth. Currently, the videos it takes are just as high-quality as Cyberlink Youcam’s, to my uneducated eyes. 🙂 The effects are cheesy and there’s really not much to it beyond taking webcam snapshots and videos. Editing the webcam and videos will have to happen a different program, but Cheese Webcam Booth is free and demonstrably works. Check out the two items under “Preferences”.
Ubuntu Cheese Webcam preferences

3) Microsoft Office 2007 is a thing of beauty and I particularly enjoyed creating documents with it. Now, being on Ubuntu has forced me to consider alternatives such as AbiWord and the Open Office suite of products. The user interface for Open Office is really archaic (in my view) and a little confusing for me. However, I’ve gotten the basic commands I need to survive and I’ll keep adding more skills to my repertoire. The preferences menu in Open Office is really scatterbrained and I hope Open Office 3.0 will bring some sort of order/sense into it. Maybe I’m severely biased (after 7 years of Microsoft Office), but I am willing to put Open Office through its paces and make sense out of it. 🙂 Wish me luck!

4. Security on Linux: This is the biggest scare for me because I was reasonably adept at staying secure on my laptop when it had Vista on it. Now, I’m learning things like the Linux filesystem does not need defragmentation, there aren’t very many dedicated security suites for Ubuntu/Linux or those available are for server-grade protection, etc. Frankly, I’m a little frustrated, but I’m doing my due diligence by reading up on ways to keep my computer protected from intruders. For instance, I’ve enabled the built-in Ubuntu firewall (ufw) and I currently use Firestarter to observe the kind of traffic that’s leaving and entering my computer. I haven’t created any custom rules because I dread accidentally locking myself out one of these days.

5. Secure remote access: This is the downside (for now) of switching to Linux. On my Vista installation, I had installed Logmein Pro and I had a dooms-day plan hatched out whereby I would be able to take pictures of any criminal using my laptop to get online or even wipe my data. Now, I’m kinda stuck with messing around with finicky VNC clients, etc. Hopefully, my online scourings will turn up a useful utility like Logmein that I can use to remotely access my computer. A name that keeps popping up as a robust remote access solution is NoMachine’s NX Free Edition. I gave it a whirl, but was unable to get it to work on my Linux laptop. There are other Virtual Network Computing solutions out there (RealVNC, UltraVNC, TightVNC, etc), but they are all way over my head at this point. I’m settling for doing a whole lot of reading and simply learning to fortify my computer against computer varmints. 🙂 In that respect, I’ve enabled OpenSSH server on my laptop and changed the default port (22) to something else. That action probably threw a monkey wrench in to my NXServer configuration, but I’m a little tired. lol.

6. Secure online surfing: My method of staying under the radar while surfing was through SSH tunneling. To be able to perform “SSH tunneling”, you need access to an SSH server and there are a few free SSH servers out there. On Ubuntu/Linux, I installed the Gnome SSH tunnel manager (search for ‘gstm’ using the Synaptic Package Manager which is like the Windows “add and remove” programs feature with awesomeness added. lol) and because I have Firefox, I’ve got the Foxyproxy plugin to toggle the tunneling session on or off!

That’s about it for now. More to come! Cheers.