Archive for November, 2011

How to backup and restore Windows NTFS EFS certificates

Starting with Windows XP, the Encrypting File System (EFS) allowed for transparent, in-place encryption of files on your computer using automatically-generated certificates tied to your user profile. This would prevent access to encrypted files in case the data on the hard drive became compromised. However, if the user profile became corrupted or you were unable to log in normally, the encrypted files would become inaccessible.

You can prevent this from happening by backing up your certificates while the system is in a working state, so that you are able them to restore them later if the need arises.

In Windows XP, you can backup the certificate by doing the following:

  1. Log into the computer
  2. Click Start > Run and type mmc, then press enter.
  3. From the menu, choose File > Add/Remove Snap-in.
  4. Click Add, select Certificates, click Add, select My user account.
  5. Click Finish, click Close, click OK.
  6. Browse to Certificates – Current userPersonalCertificates.
  7. Right-click the certificate that you want to export.
  8. Click All Tasks then click Export.
  9. Follow the steps in the Certificate Export Wizard. Make sure to select that you want to export the private key along with the certificate.

In Windows XP, you can import the certificate by doing the following:

  1. Log into the computer
  2. Click Start > Run and type mmc, then press enter.
  3. From the menu, choose File > Add/Remove Snap-in.
  4. Click Add, select Certificates, click Add, select My user account.
  5. Click Finish, click Close, click OK.
  6. Browse to Certificates – Current userPersonal.
  7. Right-click Personal.
  8. Click All Tasks, click Import.
  9. Follow the steps in the Certificate Import Wizard. When browsing for the certificate, you should select Personal Information Exchange (*.pfx; *.p12) from the Files of type dropdown list box. You will need to enter the password you supplied when you exported the certificate from the destination computer.

In Windows Vista and Windows 7, you can manage your EFS certificates by going to Control Panel > User Accounts > Manage your file encryption certificates. From here, you can backup and restore your EFS certificates.

Do you have a method of backing up or restoring the EFS certificates not mentioned above, or have other feedback related to Windows EFS? Please feel free to share it in the comments below. Thank you!

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My list of must-have iPhone apps

I’ve been delaying this post while I search for the real must-haves of the iPhone world, and after putting together this list, I went back and updated my must-have list for Android where some of these exist in the Android app store.

So here is my list of must-have apps for iPhone. Note that some of these application descriptions have been taken directly from the App Store where I feel the author has explained it better than I could.

Google Authenticator
With Google support for 2-factor authentication for both Google and Google Apps accounts, and now LastPass support for 2-factor authentication, this is an app that I keep on my phone always. The security it adds to my accounts is invaluable.

Bar-Code
This app allows you to scan a number of barcode formats and then email or copy/paste them for use later.

Z-Bar Barcode Reader
A good, featureful alternative to Bar-Code. Allows you to email as text and csv.

Evernote
This is one of those apps that once you have it you’re not sure ow you got along without it. Evernote is an easy-to-use, free app that helps you remember everything across all of the devices you use. Stay organized, save your ideas and improve productivity. Evernote lets you take notes, capture photos, create to-do lists, record voice reminders–and makes these notes completely searchable, whether you are at home, at work, or on the go. Since Evernote’s notes are synced to all of your devices via the cloud, you don’t have to worry about losing them. iPhone users have access to Evernote’s two new apps: Evernote Hello and Evernote Food.

Flashlight
No specific app to mention or link to here, just anything that offers to turn on the camera flash to function as a flashlight. You never know when it will come in handy.

Google Maps
Okay, yeah, it’s been said a dozen ways that the Maps app in iOS 6 is pretty lacking. Google Maps is an excellent alternative — when it’s on the App Store. It’s been pulled a handful of times as well. Waze (below) is also an excellent program, but suffers from some rather glaring bugs that I’ve noticed.

LastPass
With fast and easy access to your LastPass password vault, the LastPass mobile app is a must-have. (Note: Requires a LastPass premium subscription – $12/year) For more information about LastPass, see the LastPass web site.

MyWeather
MyWeather seems to be the only app on the App Store that features push alerts for NWS severe weather alerts. This makes it the go-to weather app for me. Granted, registration is required, but it’s free and worth it.

Waze
Android has one thing over iOS devices — integrated turn-by-turn directions. Waze fills that need quite nicely, and goes way beyond, for free. Waze uses your devices GPS to not only provide turn-by-turn navigation, but also provides crowd-sourced traffic data to other Waze users  about traffic, delays, police presence, accidents, and other road incidents. Waze allows you to report a road incident with just a few taps on the screen, and Waze works well in both portrait and landscape orientation. (Thanks Jeff T. for the recommendation!)

I know this is a rather short list, but I deliberately excluded the usual social media apps.

Do you have any iPhone apps that you consider must-haves? Please feel free to share them in the comments below. Thank you!

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Keep your data and identify safe. Learn how to protect the data you store on your drives.

Just bought a shiny new laptop? Don’t let a would-be data- or identity-thief cause you major heartburn if your laptop is lost or stolen. Read the following to learn about various ways to protect the data you store on your laptop, desktop, or other removable drive.

Data security should be one of the top concerns for laptop users. If your laptop is stolen, often the impact of confidential or proprietary data being lost or compromised can be much higher than the cost of replacing the physical machine. But it doesn’t have to be.

There are many easy-to-use ways of keeping your hard drive’s data out of the hands of laptop thieves. I’ll explain and compare some of the pros and cons of different methods, and I’ll try to do it in an OS-agnostic way as possible.

Login Password

A login password (or account password) is the most basic security credential. It does very little other than keeping your kids, house guest, the-guy-one-cube-over, or anyone else log in as you. It barely does that — On Windows XP for example, someone could simply log in as the administrator account (which by default has no password) and reset your password. Access granted.

A login password doesn’t protect the data on your hard drive at all. Someone can still pull the hard drive out of your computer and hook it up via a USB cable and read everything off your drive.

Pros: Easy to set up; available on any modern operating system

Cons: Has to be set up on each account; Easy to defeat; doesn’t protect the actual data on the hard drive

BIOS System Password

A BIOS system password prevents the system from booting ANY device without the correct password. It protects the physical system from being used, and goes a step beyond the login password above, by preventing the system from booting any attached drive (including removable ones). However, it’s still easy to defeat on desktop systems — a motherboard jumper can clear the password. Again, a BIOS password doesn’t protect the physical data on the hard drive — the drive can be put in a different machine and accessed.

Pros: Protects the physical system from use; Easy to set up; Available on most (if not all) modern BIOSes

Cons: Easy to defeat on desktop systems; Does not protect the hard drive data; Forgotten laptop password can render the system unusable.

Hard Drive Password

A hard drive password or “hard drive lock” will cause the drive to not work until the correct password is entered. This follows the drive even if it’s removed from the system, and provides a level of security against a good number of would-be data thieves. Until the correct drive password is entered, the drive can’t be used or reformatted. However, forget your password and you’ll most likely have to replace your hard drive. However, its not encryption — it’s read/write protection, and tools exist to remove it.

Pros: Easy to set up; Supported by most (if not all) motherboard BIOSes; Protects the drive even when removed from the system; Provides a good level of security

Cons: Drive can’t be accessed using USB with a password set; Can be removed using specialized tools; can be cracked; doesn’t encrypt the actual data

Software Encryption

Encrypting the underlying data itself is one of the best ways to protect your data against compromise. With modern algorythms, it really doesn’t matter if a would-be data thief gets his hands on your drive — cracking the underlying encryption isn’t as easy as the movies make it out to be. AES encryption is practically unbreakable. (Emphasis on practically, follow the previous link for why.) However, it comes at a hit to system performance. TrueCrypt and Windows BitLocker are both great implementations of full-disk software encryption.

Further Reading: Whole-disk Encryption.

Pros: Requires software and the knowledge to use it; Excellent protection to the underlying data

Cons: Significant hit to system performance; Takes time to encrypt/decrypt hard drive

Self-Encrypting Hard Drives

These relatively-new-to-the-market drives, such as Seagate’s Secure, actually encrypt your data before it’s actually written to the drive, and you have to authenticate to the drive using a key. However, if the drive is placed in a different computer, or tried to access over USB, a would-be data thief retrieving the underlying data is just as difficult as a software-encrypted drive. These drives also have the added benefit that the drives encryption key can be wiped by an administrator or anti-theft software and render the entire drive unrecoverable.

Pros: Easy to use; quick set-up; lower hit to system performance than software; OS agnostic; Data is stored in an encrypted form

Cons: Relatively few drives on the market to choose from; may be a poor choice for an external enclosed drive; Expensive

As you can see, there are quite a few ways to secure your system and data to varying degrees. Do you have any preference on these methods? Do you have any experience or stories to share about how one or more of these have helped you? Do you have any advice or recommendations, including anything I may not have mentioned above? Please feel free to share in the comments below!

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Keeping your iTunes library synced to a Synology iTunes Server

I have a both Synology DiskStation with an iTunes Server and my own iTunes library on my PC.  Since it’s too much of a pain to keep the files organized between the two, here’s a way I’ve found to have them kept in sync automatically. Note that once the music files are saved or updated on the DiskStation, the iTunes Server updates its lists automatically.

Microsoft SyncToy is a freeware utility that will keep pairs of folders synchronized across locations, even network drives and UNC paths. I’m going to show how to use Microsoft SyncToy to keep my iTunes library folder synchronized on my Synology DiskStation’s music folder.

First, download and install Microsoft SyncToy from here. SyncToy supports Windows XP, Vista, and 7, both 32 and 64-bit environments.

Assuming this is the first time you’ve run SyncToy, you’ll be greeted with the following screen.

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Click Create new folder pair.

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Next, on the Left Folder side, click Browse then select your My Music > iTunes > iTunes Media > Music folder.

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Next, on the Right Folder side, browse Network and select your Synology NAS music folder.

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Once that’s done, your setup should be similiar to the following:

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Because iTunes can keep music organized on its own, and doesn’t like when changes are made to the library, we only want to reflect changes made from iTunes library to the external location, not a full sync. Choose Echo to get this behavior.

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After clicking Next, you’ll be prompted to give your sync job a name. After that, you can run the task.

By default, SyncToy requires manual runs to keep things up-to-date. If you’re interested in scheduling SyncToy to run automatically, see this link for instructions on how to set it up.

Do you have other ways of keeping your iTunes library synced externally, or another program that you use instead to accomplish something similar to this? Please feel free to share in the comments below. Thanks!

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Google Music vs iTunes Match

Google and Apple each brought their own services which allow users to upload their music library and stream it to their devices in the form of Google Music and iTunes Match, respectively. But how do those services compare?

Let’s take a side-by-side comparative look at some of the features:

Feature Google Music iTunes Match
Number of songs 20,000 songs not purchased from Android Market 25,000 songs not purchased from iTunes
Price Free $25/yr
Supported devices Works on common browsers on Win / Mac / Linux / Android / iOS (1) Works on Win / Mac running iTunes; iOS devices supporting iCloud
Sync Automatically sync music to Google Music using Win / Mac / Linux client Automatically sync music to iTunes Match using iTunes
Sync Selection Select which songs to upload using sync client All songs from iTunes library are synchronized.
Local Storage Save music to your Win / Mac / Linux / Android device for offline playback Save music to your Win / Mac / iOS device for offline playback
Uploading Every song must be uploaded Matching is performed prior to upload; Only unmatched songs are uploaded
Supported file formats Mp3, AAC (m4a), wma, flac, ogg (source) Same as iTunes
Excluded formats None 24-bit audio; Bitrates under 96 kbps; File over 200MB (source)

(1) Although Google Music is reported to work on iOS devices, I wasn’t able to get it to display any of the songs in my library — (screenshot). UPDATE: I can confirm it does work on iOS (iPhone), but only as the desktop site (which is clunky and requires zooming on an iPhone screen). Screenshots one, two, and three. The mobile site still shows I have no music in my library.

As you can see, Google Music is aimed at the Android crowd, while iTunes Match is aimed at the iOS crowd. However, a few of the major points in Google Music’s favor that I see are that it supports playback from a web browser, has a Linux client, and is free.

I’m interested in everyone else’s opinion as well. Which streaming music service do you prefer, and why? Please feel free to share your opinion in the comments below. Thank you!

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The hunt for the perfect iPhone 4S case…

The iPhone 4S follows the previous iPhone 4 design of having a glass front and back surrounded by a steel band. I didn’t want to get a nice shiny new phone only to have it lose a battle with the concrete like my previous phone did, so I knew I needed a good… no, great case to protect it. But which?

I really like Seidio cases… I’ve used their cases before for a number of my previous phones and I’ve always been happy. I figured I would try the Surface for my iPhone 4S, which I ordered at the same time as I ordered the phone. (If you haven’t figured it out yet, almost any case which fit the iPhone 4 will fit the 4S, as long as it is marked either “any model” or “Verizon” or “CDMA” — read why here.)

So I got my Surface case and I was really happy… for a bit. The case itself seemed to start warping ever-so-slightly after the first few removals. (People keep asking to see the phone with the case off!) I didn’t care too much for this and decided to try something else.

I had read a few reviews encouraging the use of two-part cases — those with rubber or silicone wraps with a hard case that goes over the top — and decided to try the Otterbox Commuter. I can honestly say I didn’t care much for it. It never seemed to fit “right” and the rubber flaps which covered the dock port and the headphone jack were just downright annoying.

I went back to Seidio and found their equivilent — the Active X. It’s an awesome case! Everything seems to fit snugly and it tolerates being removed and replaced just fine.

If you’re looking for an iPhone 4 or 4S case that will handle a busy lifestyle, check it out!

Readers, what are your preferences or experiences with iPhone cases, or any other cases? Please feel free to share in the comments below. Thank you!

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How to display ICE (In Case of Emergency) contact on your iPhone, Android, or BlackBerry lock screen

If you  have stored ICE (In Case of Emergency) contacts in your phone, you probably noticed that your phone treats them like any other contact. This means that emergency responders won’t be able to access your contacts if your phone is locked. Also, if you’re an Android user using a custom ROM, there’s a chance an emergency responder won’t even know how to access your contacts. In an emergency, every moment is important.

You can, through a few easy steps, display emergency contact information, along with any other information you select, on your phone’s lock screen. This means that it will be available just by turning on the screen, making it quickly and easily available in the case of a real emergency. Who knows, this might actually help you get your device back in case it’s lost or stolen.

You might also be interested in reading about how to streamline your emergency contacts with an emergency email address.

So how to do it?

Select a wallpaper (dimensions)

Start by selecting what will be your new wallpaper (either an existing photo or graphic) with a resolution close to your phone’s display, to prevent the text from being stretched or scaled. Here’s the resolution of many popular smartphone displays:

  • BlackBerry: Varies by model, but the most common sizes are:
    • BlackBerry Bold: 480×320
    • BlackBerry Curve: 320×240
    • BlackBerry Pearl: 240×260
    • For other devices, or to verify the above, see BlackBerry forums for your device’s exact resolution.
  • Android: Android also supports a wide variety of screen resolutions. You will likely find your device and its resolution listed at Comparison of Android devices – Wikipedia.
  • iPhone 2G through 3GS: 320×480
  • iPhone 4 and 4S (retina display): 640×960

Edit it to add your contact information

Open your soon-to-be wallpaper in your favorite image editor, or use one of the following utilities:

You’ll want to place your text and/or information where the UI isn’t going to cover it. Here’s some pointers:

  • BlackBerry: Avoid the top 1/4 and bottom 1/4 of the image, as well as the direct center (where the unlock/password prompt appears).
  • Android: Avoid the top 1/4 and bottom 1/4 of the image, as well as any other UI elements (such as the unlock slider). You may have to experiment somewhat, since different Android versions have different slide-to-unlock methods.
  • iPhones: avoid the top 1/4 and bottom 1/4 of the image.
You may want to consider creating text over a solid color of text, so it stands out and it easy to read. If you’re not handy with the above programs, consider asking a friend to make the edits for you.

Save it to your phone

  • BlackBerry: Either insert your microSD card to your computer, or connect your phone and mount it as USB storage. Copy your picture to your card in any location, but remember where you put it for the next step.
  • Android: Either insert your microSD card to your computer, or connect your phone and mount it as USB storage. Copy your picture to your card in any location, but remember where you put it for the next step.
  • iPhone: The easiest way to get your picture onto your device is to email it to an account you have set up on your phone. Then, from your phone, save the attachment from your email.

Set it as your wallpaper

  • BlackBerry: open your pictures (via Media, may vary by OS version), display the image you want, hit menu > Set as Home Screen image.
  • Android: From your home screen, press menu  button > Wallpapers > Gallery > (select folder and file).
  • iPhone: Go to Settings > Wallpaper > (touch screen) > Camera Roll > (Select your picture) > Set.

There you have it. Your emergency contact information is now displayed on your phone’s display, even when it is locked, making it available to emergency personnel quickly and easily.

What do you think of this tip? Was this useful to you? Do you have any other tips or suggestions to share related to this? Please share in the comments section below! Thank you!

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I put down my Android and picked up an iPhone… here’s what I noticed

I’ve been getting more than a few expressions of “You? Got an iPhone?” from friends and family lately, after they see my iPhone 4S. While I’ve been known not to be the biggest fan of Apple up until now, I’m starting to realize why the device has gotten to be so popular — it’s an easy-to-use, reliable device that doesn’t frustrate.

Although learning a new smartphone OS hasn’t been terribly difficult, here’s some of the major points between the two that I’ve found myself having to adjust to.

The Home Screen

The home screen on an Android phone is more-or-less a “blank slate”, waiting for you to fill it to your liking with widgets and shortcuts, to make it just the way you want it. If you want to access all your installed apps you open what’s typically referred to as the “app drawer.”

On an iPhone, that “app drawer” is your home screen. No widgets here, though apps do have what’s called “badges” that can show an indicator on the icon if the app has something that wants your attention, such as a number of missed calls over the phone icon, unread texts over the messages icon, and so on.

Removable Storage

Android-based phones feature a microSD card slot for removable storage. It’s an optional — but highly recommended — additional storage space that you can use for media, and on some versions of Android, even apps. You can upgrade this by simply popping out the card, copying the contents to a new, presumably larger card, and putting that card in your phone.

On an iPhone on the other hand, what you buy is what you get — buy a 16GB iPhone, get a gross total of 16GB. Likewise for the other sizes, such as 32GB.

However, there’s some distinct differences:

Android phones by default have their apps installed on the phone’s lower-capacity internal memory. Since the internal memory is smaller than the microSD card, (Sprint’s Epic 4G for example, only has 1GB internal memory), you are sharply limited for the space your apps have to share with everything else. Starting with Android version 2.2 (Froyo) and up you had the ability to move apps to the SD card. This frees up internal memory. However, its up to the app developer to support this feature, and if they did, most apps still required that you move it yourself from within the phone’s settings. Remember those widgets? Don’t plan on them working if you move your app to the SD card.

iPhones on the other hand have a single unified storage area for everything. Assuming you get a 16GB iPhone, that storage space is used for everything — there’s no need to move anything. Apps, media, and the OS all share a single storage space. You might say “this is less overall than an Android phone”, and you would be right. But — you aren’t going to have to try to balance what apps are stored on SD card versus the phone’s internal memory.

When you plug your Android-based smartphone into your computer’s USB port, you’ll likely get a message asking if you want to charge-only, or mount as removable storage. If you select to mount as removable storage you have full access to the SD card in the phone. This is handy if you want to use your phone’s memory card as a makeshift USB flash drive. However, once you mount it to the PC, you don’t have access to it from the phone. Apps that are installed on the SD card cannot be run, and you won’t have access to any media on the card until you unmount it from the PC.

Media

Installing media on an Android phone isn’t difficult. Simply mount the phone to your PC as USB storage (or insert the microSD card into your computer), and copy music, pictures, or anything else you like to it. When you unmount (or insert the card back into the phone) the media scanner will automatically detect your media and propagate the media libraries. But — it’s up to you to get your own music.

With an iPhone and a Windows or Mac computer running iTunes you simply connect your phone to your PC, select what media — such as music, movies, or other — you want to sync, and iTunes adds it to your device. You can purchase your music through iTunes as well. However, you have to use iTunes. Don’t expect your iPhone and Linux-based PC to get along very well.

Backup and Restore

With an iPhone, completely backing up your device is as quick and easy as plugging it into iTunes and right-clicking on it and choosing “Backup.” iTunes takes care of it, and makes restoring it just as painless.

With an stock Android, you don’t have any options to make a “full” backup. You can sync your contacts, calendar, etc to your Google (or other) account, and there they will sit in case you need them. In case of a serious issue, you can boot your phone to recovery mode and wipe it from there, restoring it to stock configuration, after which, prepare to spend some time reinstalling and reconfiguring your apps and account. Rooted users have a few additional options, such as ClockworkMod’s Nandroid backup and restore, and the third party app Titanium Backup.

There’s a lot more differences between the two that I didn’t cover above. But I will say this: When people ask me why I got an iPhone, my typical response is something along the lines of “it’s easy to use without having to think about.” I really enjoy my iPhone, and I don’t think I’ll be picking up an Android phone again anytime soon.

What about you, reader? What are you experiences with Android and iPhones? Do you have anything to share or compare that I didn’t cover in the above? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below!

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