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. πŸ™‚ 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. πŸ™‚ 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.

Interesting happenings in Ubuntu-land (aka my laptop)

So, my old nemesis has come back to haunt me: installing all sorts of programs on my laptop and then finding out I didn’t like or really need them, proceeding to uninstall them and finding out said programs have left all sorts of traces on my laptop. It’s rather frustrating to someone like me who will resort to a reformat of her laptop just to keep the pristine nature of things! Right now, I’ve got a bunch of entries in my “Users and Groups” that I know I have no need off. However, a simple deletion of those entries simply restores them on the next reboot. Of course, that tellsΒ  me that somewhere on the laptop lies a file or several files that reference that user group. Thus, said user group cannot be deleted. I’m certain there is a ‘force delete’ command somewhere, but I’m getting cold feet on what file(s) could possibly need said user group.

*sigh* Thankfully, the reinstall/reformat process takes less than 1 hr (I’m dead serious) and I do believe that will be my next option. Before this next reformat, I will make a list of programs I absolutely need and I will find a way to institute a Question-and-Answer session before I install that next shiny program. lol. Heck, I’ve burnt other Linux distros (Fedora‘s looking pretty good) and I’m rather curious to see what those other distros look/feel like. Quick tip: DistroWatch is the place to check out scores of Linux distributions. Something tells me to let sleeping dogs lie, but I’m feeling frisky. What can I tell ya? πŸ™‚

Since that is my consensus, here’s the main thing I need to do to ensure a smooth transition:

1) Rsync: This is Ubuntu’s sync utility that is really self-explanatory. I’m currently using Grsync to backup my /home directory which has the files I need most (documents, pictures and video). It’s so easy that a caveman could do it (sorry Geico) and that is my solution of choice after giving up on the ‘professional’ backup solutions like backuppc and sbackup which, I’m ashamed to confess, confused me. Given that the installation of Ubuntu/Linux is a breeze, I’m content with having just copies of my files and simply coping things over.

2) Burn a copy of my essential files and hard-to-find programs. Make a list of must-have programs and be more judicious when it comes to installing programs.

3) Get a beer before starting the process. πŸ™‚

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 aΒ  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. πŸ™‚ 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. πŸ™‚ 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. πŸ™‚ Cheers!