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.

Wiping off Windows and installing Ubuntu

Welcome back to part 3 of my foray into the Ubuntu/Linux system. To recap:

  1. I installed Ubuntu/Linux as a virtual machine on my Windows Vista Ultimate Laptop using Microsoft Virtual PC 2007. Things worked really well on it that I decided to give the Ubuntu/Linux operating system a more thorough look.
  2. I decided to partition my hard disk (cue pain and suffering) and I fell even more in love with the Ubuntu/Linux operating system’s ease of use and ‘quickness’, for lack of a better word.
  3. Now, I decided it was time for a complete switch-over to Ubuntu.

This was actually the easiest thing to do. I popped in the Ubuntu Live CD and restarted my laptop. Your computer’s BIOS should (by default) boot from a  CD/DVD if present and that is what my laptop did. I booted into the operating system and once I had an internet connection going, I began the installation process by clicking the “Install” icon which was on the desktop (default behaviour).

After answering standard questions about the user name, time zone, etc, the time came to select what partition to install Ubuntu to and this time, I selected “Guided partion – use the entire disk”. Again, be very aware that this will wipe off everything that was on the disk before. As I’ve said so many times:

  1. I have, at least, 2 current disk images of my previous Windows Vista installation, thanks to Acronis Disk Image. I also created an Acronis Recovery Media Disk which I can use to restore my disk images (this is part of the Acronis True Image home product).
  2. I have copies of the actual exe or msi files that I can use to reinstall all my prized Windows programs so that I don’t have to cough up any more money.
  3. If my Disk Image restore failed or got corrupted, I’ve got file backups of my documents so that I can simply restore Windows via my computer’s recovery CD/DVDs and then, copy over my files.
  4. I did all of this before I started tinkering with my windows partition, etc so I’m reasonably assured that the files aren’t corrupt.
  5. That out of the way, i confidently hit “Start” and in less than 2 hrs (could be less), I had a working installation of Ubuntu.

Ubuntu Wireless connection

The first thing I did was to install all security updates that were presented to me. Clearly, to do this, I had to get my internet connection going and it was as simple as clicking (left click) on the network connection sign (a series of bars) by the clock (top-right corner of the screen). I identified my home network’s SSID and clicked on it. Bam! I was live on the intarwebs. 🙂 Installing the updates was a breeze and I simply restarted the computer when it was done.

Next, I set up the bluetooth pair between my laptop and my hp bluetooth mouse. The key to this was performing the pairing operation after all updates had been installed on the laptop so that the system had the most up-to-date information. Thus, when I hit “setup a new device” after right-clicking the bluetooth icon, my mouse was detected and I set it to be always visible.

I’m still working on trying to get some sort of functionality out of pairing my Palm Treo 750 with Ubuntu. I already have my contacts pulled off the phone, but I would like to be able to access my palm treo as a virtual filesystem, perhaps. It’s confusing, but I’m willing to learn. 🙂 I’m still working on not missing a bunch of my prized Windows utilities like TechSmith‘s products (Camtasia Studio 6 which I used for producing short videos and Snagit for screen captures), Acronis True Image (for set-it-and-forget-it file and whole disk backups), Microsoft Office Outlook (for managing my email, appointments and my phone contacts), etc.

Up next, an overview of programs I’m getting used to in Ubuntu as replacements for my Microsoft Windows staples and difficulties I have encountered with the Ubuntu system. 🙂 Cheers!

Dualbooting Ubuntu and Vista … the installation blues.:)

Well, well. It has been a very interesting week, to say the least, for me. On Monday, I got this bee in my bonnet that I would like to give the Linux operating system a really good shake. Earlier this month, I had installed UbuntuIntrepid Ibex” on my 64-bit Vista laptop via Virtual PC 2007. I fell in love with the operating system, but there were niggling problems like my screen resolution and speed that truly prevented me from observing how powerful this system was. So, I decided to dive into the world of dual-booting. It was simple in theory until I embarked on the process. I popped the Ubuntu desktop cd (the “live cd”) into my CD/DVD drive and restarted my computer.

Note: before I started any of this, I fired up Acronis True Image and made a whole disk backup of my laptop and I also copied all my important files to an external hard drive. Additionally, I had all the programs that I’d purchased for my Vista Ultimate laptop so that if I needed to, I could simply use my computer’s recovery disks and not have to pay extra to get my installation files. So to recap, before embarking on any ‘dangerous’ operations like partitioning your hard drive, please do the following:
1) Make sure you have lots of time to troubleshoot any missteps. This is vital.
2) Have at least 2 backups of your important documents (I had a complete PC backup through Acronis True Image as well as copies of my important files on my external hard drive).
3) Ensure your hard disk has been defragmented and it would not hurt to run a disk check (rightclick your C: drive and go to “Tools”). There should be  a section to schedule or start a disk check; You should also allow the disk check to scan and fix any errors it finds.
4) Have access to another computer for getting online and troubleshooting when things go wrong or have a printout of relevant answers to questions you are anticipating.

The first mistake I made when attempting to install Ubuntu on my laptop (along side Vista) was selecting the “Install” option right after the Live CD menu came up, upon restarting my laptop. The fallout (from not selecting “Try Ubuntu first”) was that the partitioning of my hard disk stalled at about 1%. Actually, I’m not so sure if it stalled as much as I panicked that it was still at 1% after 15 minutes. In any case, I restarted my computer (this was a huge risk!) and I was able to get back into Vista. This is the reason that I recommend you be a very patient person when it comes to these things. 🙂

So, I was back in the Windows operating system without Ubuntu installed. I tried using Vista’s inbuilt partitioning feature, but I kept getting a “logical disk access denied” error. Now, I started getting frustrated, but I quickly remembered that I’d purchased the excellent Acronis Disk Director Suite!! I quickly fired the Acronis Disk Director suite up, but I was alerted to the fact that my C: drive had been marked “dirty”. This alert came about because I wanted to defragment my C: drive after the botched Ubuntu partitioning. That was when I ran the disk check tool on my C: drive and then, used Acronis Disk Director to carve out a partition for Ubuntu (~ 25 GBs). I left the partition unformatted because I wasn’t sure what file format to select) and the Disk Director program did its thing.

After the disk check and the disk partitioning (w/o the installation of Ubuntu yet), I restarted my computer with the Ubuntu Live CD in my CD/DVD drive. This time, I selected “Try Ubuntu” and after the Live CD loaded up, I clicked the “Install” icon on the Ubuntu desktop.

Note:
1) It helps to have an internet connection while you are using the Live CD for troubleshooting purposes as well.
2)  After answering some preliminary questions, the time came for me to select a partition to install Ubuntu to and I selected the 25GB partition and allowed the Live CD to format the partition as “ext3”. I got thrown a curveball when I was told that there needed to be a “swap” area for Ubuntu (analogous to the paging/hibernation files in Windows). So, I fired up GParted (a partitioning utility for Ubuntu/Linux) and further carved out 1GB of space from the 25GB partition. In the GParted dialog, you will have the option to format any partitions you create and for the new 1GB partition, I selected “swap area” and formatted the 1GB partition.

After creating my partitions, I started up the installation program again and this time, I selected my now-24GB partition to install Ubuntu to and the 1GB partition as the “linux swap” area. In hindsight, I suspect that Ubuntu may have carved out its own swap area from the partition it was installed to, but nothing was harmed by manually creating my swap area out of the original 25GB partition. The installation progressed seamlessly after this and I was instructed to restart the laptop and my face lit up when I saw the GRUB bootloader. 🙂

To be continued (I’m such a tease. :P)