Thursday, March 10, 2016

Network Level Threat Protection For Home Networks

Not too long ago an elderly relative asked me about an email message she received. Even though the message purported to be from Apple, she was leery about clicking on the link and reluctant to supply whatever information the sender sought.  She said she had forwarded the message to me for my review. I hadn’t received anything at all.  She attempted to send it again.  I received nothing.

While that email message purported to be from Apple, it was not.  It was a thinly veiled phishing attempt.  Kudos to my relative for not falling for the trick.
We’ve had “that talk” more than once.

So why didn't the forwarded message make its way to me?  It's because I have deployed a variety of network level threat management tools – and one of them blocked it.  In this case, one that leverages technology to identify likely phishing attempts.

I realized a long time ago that there was no way I'd be able to take precautions to protect each device that might connect to my network.  So I supplement reasonable device-specific antivirus tools and firewalls with network level intrusion prevention, phish blocking, antivirus and content filtering tools.

I’ve used these so-called "unified threat management systems" on my home network for many years – starting with when my children were very young. While they are not typically deployed in home systems, there’s no reason why that needs to be the case.  There are good choices for home use.

My current favorite is Untangle.  Untangle can be deployed on a small, silent, inexpensive appliance with a variety of free and licensed modules.  You can put the software on your own hardware or purchase a purpose built appliance from Untangle or other vendors.  I bought mine from Nexgen Appliances.  Right now both Untangle and Nexgen offer appliances that are ideal for home networks.  I will not hesitate to do business with Untangle or Nexgen.  It all comes down to what offering makes the most sense at the time of purchase.  Untangle employees actively participate in online forums and the user community is very supportive. And I can't say enough great things about my experience as a Nexgen Appliances customer.  When I've had questions, Nexgen has responded in the most helpful way I can think of.  It's an embarrassment of riches.

The Untangle free configuration is very nice.  Nevertheless, the licensed modules are a step up.  Untangle recently started to offer a home use license for $5 a month, with discounts for longer subscriptions.  Home users can get the benefit of the full suite of modules offered by Untangle for that very low fee.
So now, my elderly relative will be getting an Untangle.  And with any luck, so will other members of my family.

Is this overkill for a home network?  Not in my book.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

How To Geo-Tag All Your Digital Photos

Last year I discovered how nice it is to have digital pictures tagged with GPS coordinates.  I was experimenting with an iPhone camera and realized that the images were tagged with locations – something I was aware of but had never really thought about.  I liked it.  

If you have an iPhone and want to learn more, just read up on Apple’s geo-tagging feature -- and if this sort of thing bothers you, learn how to disable geo-tagging.

Following the iPhone camera experiments I wanted to be able to get GPS coordinates added to digital pictures shot with cameras that don’t do so automatically.  

While I am happy to use a smart phone for a quick snapshot, when I’m serious about my photos I’m more likely to reach for one of my digital SLRs or perhaps a smaller enthusiast oriented digital camera.  Don’t get me wrong, you can produce wonderful images with smartphone cameras, but with fast moving subjects, or in low light, or when you really want to fiddle with exposure or focus settings to get a particular image with just the right depth of field, you need better tools.

It turns out that the relatively few cameras offer the ability to capture GPS coordinates automatically.  In some cases, you can tack on that feature with an accessory built for your camera.  There are also some really cool Bluetooth add-ons for a few higher end DSLRs that let you tether your camera to a GPS tracking device so that a stream of GPS information is fed to your camera as you shoot and the images get tagged that way.  Even though either of those approaches would work for my DSLRs, it was not going to help me with my other digital cameras. Moreover, I wanted a cheap way to experiment and wasn't inclined to spend what either of these alternatives would cost.

Then I discovered a very inexpensive and flexible way to solve the problem for any digital camera, it’s called gps4cam.  I’m hooked.

While you are shooting pictures you also run a gps tracking app on your smart phone (iPhone and Android versions are available).  Then, when you are done shooting, you grab the tracking information from the phone and run your pictures through a desktop application that uses the tracking information from your phone to tag your photos.
One really nifty part of their system is the way you synchronize your camera to the gps4cam app.  You take a picture of an image displayed on your phone by the app and their software uses the embedded information to figure out how far off your camera clock is from the clock used to generate the gps information. There are a number of different ways to use app, all are very simple.
For the price of a few dollars to buy a smartphone app you can add GPS tagging to all your digital photos. If this is something you are curious about there’s no reason to avoid experimenting.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

The iTinker Network

I call my home network the iTinker Network.  I will take some time soon to discuss its evolution and future, as well as some of the things I've built with it.  I'm not particularly good at creating network drawings and recently stumbled on a tool (yEd) that allowed me to quickly create a picture without too much of a fuss.  Here's a current snapshot of the network.