Let’s Encrypt The World

lets-encrypt-logoI have been a big fan of free SSL certificate authority LetsEncrypt.org since it was in Private Beta. Now in Public Beta, and now being a Certificate Authority recognized by every major web browser, it’s time for you to start using it on your website!

The great thing about Let’s Encrypt is that it is free. Why? Because the sponsors behind it believe encryption is for the public good. And they are correct. No more do you need to pay $80/year or more for an SSL certificate through some company like GoDaddy. This all may sound too good to be true, but it isn’t.

Wait, what?

In case you are unfamiliar with what I’m talking about here, LetsEncrypt.org offers you free SSL (Secure Socket Layer) certificates for your website. This make your website secure and encrypted for your visitors, just like your bank does, by changing your site’s address from using http://  to https://.

Being a user of the WHM/CPanel web hosting tools for the handful of websites I run, I found a great set of instructions and scripts you can use to get this set up and running in that environment. Just follow the instructions in the WHM forum here. Be sure to set up the cron job so that your cert(s) get renewed automatically. If you forget, it’s very easy to do it by hand from the command line, but the cron job makes it so that you don’t need to remember.

Encrypt WordPress

If you are a WordPress website owner, you can configure it to use the SSL certificate by editing your site’s URL in Settings > General. I especially recommend this for WordPress admin area logins, but there’s not reason you shouldn’t be using SSL on your whole site anymore. This is especially true considering Google favoring SSL-enabled sites over non-SSL sites.

Redirect Traffic to HTTPS

Using an .htaccess file, you can set it up so that any traffic going to your http:// website is automatically redirected to your https:// version. This is the snippet I use in my .htaccess file for that:

RewriteCond %{HTTPS} off
RewriteRule (.*) https://%{HTTP_HOST}%{REQUEST_URI}

Go forth and encrypt all the things!

Can Cloud Based Applications Empower Your Business?

When businesses speak of the latest modern technology, cloud computing is often something that is brought to the discussion and examined thoroughly. But what exactly is cloud computing and how can it benefit your business? Let’s find out.

Cloud software gives instant updates and feedback

Unlike traditional software development that has to be compiled and distributed to testers, cloud software is deployed instantly thanks to revolutionary services such as Microsoft Azure and Stackify. Azure lets Stackify easily empower fellow developers by offering an ideal foundation for web developers all over the world. In the world of software development, the most critical component that every team should be concerned about is the speed of development and how much time is spent on actually creating and launching the product as opposed to fixing bugs and analysing security problems. This is one of the biggest draws to cloud applications; the ability to get instant feedback and provide quick updates.

Cloud software makes your business accessible from anywhere

Since there are no files to pass around, cloud computing makes it possible for you to access your business remotely. The ability to work from almost any portable device and from anywhere in the world is a massive boon to any business. By offering flexibility with those you hire, you essentially open your doors to the entire world and you can recruit employees that can work around the clock to give you constant progress to your business. This is essential if you want your business to be known around the world as a global powerhouse.

Cloud software reduces the cost of operating a business

When it comes to starting up a business, money is perhaps the biggest thing on our minds. With the introduction of software as a service (SaaS), we’re not able to license industry-grade software and services for a much lower price. This gives many smaller companies the ability to use the same tools as industry professionals, thus evening the playing field and offering everyone the chance to become successful. Money is becoming less of an issue for entrepreneurs and the major defining factor of new businesses nowadays is their ideas and community interaction.

Cloud software opens up the possibility of collaboration

When collaborating using traditional software, it was common for people to pass around old USB flash drives or use an expensive office network to transfer files. Those days are over now with the advent of cloud storage and cloud applications that can be accessed by several people at once, thus creating an environment in which updates are instant and files can be exchanged much faster than traditional methods. For instance, using Google Docs, people are able to collaborate on a single word document or spreadsheet, improving productivity and efficiency among all of the staff. It also helps that you don’t need to be within the same office and there are no hurdles to leap over just to get the system running smoothly. It’s incredibly simple to set up, it’s cheap and it opens up a world of opportunities for your business.

Remote Control: How To Run An Office From Anywhere

Advancements in technology and society are placing less focus and demand on the need for a centralised workplace. With laptops, tablets, smartphones and the quality of modern software, there’s less need for a workplace anymore.

It has to be said that remote working isn’t a policy that needs to be avoided. We might seem wary of working remotely as it could be seen to have adverse effects on company culture, we might not be able to build rapport or trust with employees or freelancers that we cannot see. That’s not true though.

The massive ace in the hole for remote working is technology. There’s simply no end to the use of technology and it has enabled us the ability to run an office or workplace from anywhere in the world. That’s incredible!

We can video conference using the video communication tools provided by Skype. We can project manage with Trello and Basecamp. Apps like Slack enable us to build a virtual office where we can communicate. There’s simply so much that can be done right now to establish a remote working policy that works. You can even forward your physical mail with mail forwarding which is better than a po box. Cloud storage will also ensure that crucial files are stored online, which means your work can not only be completed from anywhere, it can be accessed from anywhere.

Working remotely isn’t going to be the most amazing thing right away and it certainly isn’t going to work from day one of its implementation in your business. It does require a trained eye and careful, controlled management to work though.

For yourself, you need to ensure there is discipline. When not in the workplace it can be far too easy to procrastinate and not complete tasks. Work remotely in the same manner you would at the workplace for the best success possible. Enforce deadlines for your tasks and treat breaks as just that – a break from work. Working life doesn’t need to fit to the strict nine to five and it should be flexible. Remote working accompanied by discipline is a great way to add flexibility to your workplace.

A good working knowledge of technology can certainly save the day when remote working and knowing what apps to use is crucial to remote working as the majority of your communication will be stunted if you cannot figure out what app is right. Simply put, you’ll need cloud storage capabilities, a word processor, emails and video conferencing tools to do remote working well. You should always be able to communicate with your staff and should always be able to type up your work!

Having reliable equipment is also key. If your computer can’t handle basic tasks, change it out and if your internet connection is spotty, upgrade it or find a 4G workaround. A good laptop will save your day and is completely portable and comes with all the tools and hardware you need to excel at working remotely.

You don’t have to be in an office to run your business!

We Cut The Cord!

cable tv photoAbout 3 weeks ago, we decided we were done paying Charter $120/month for the highest level TV package they had. When Rachael and I sat down to think about it, we realized that we really only care about a few things:

  1. College basketball (well, for me, anyway).
  2. HBO shows we like
  3. Jeopardy!

Everything else was peripheral, and we felt like we could live without it. We imagined more free time, more book reading, and more chances to talk to each other and interact amongst the family.

The New Way

I set out to find out the best way to go about this. After quickly discovering the Cord Cutters sub-Reddit, I was pretty well set. Here’s what we ended up with:

  • SlingTV account for $25/month (base package + extra sports channels). This covered most all of my college basketball needs, live CNN, and some other channels we don’t really care about.
  • HBONow through SlingTV for $15/month. While I signed up for this for one month, I think we may go to the HBONow version available through iTunes. That way, we can watch it on either of our AppleTV’s, of which we have two: one in the living room and one in the bedroom. The SlingTV app doesn’t provide for this. Either way, it’s $15/mo., and we can cancel it during the dry months when our favorite shows aren’t on.

That’s it for paid TV. We are at $40/month, and we will cancel Sling once college basketball season is over. That puts us at $15/mo for HBO.

What Else We Are Using

In order to use SlingTV decently, I hooked up my old Mac Mini to our main TV in the living room. I just launch the SlingTV app and we can browse through it with a wireless keyboard and mouse. This comes with the added bonus of doing whatever else we might do on a computer with the TV as the monitor.

I also found a website called USTVNOW.com that gives you all the broadcast networks for free. The local news is based in Philadelphia, but you get all the programming of ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and a few others. So we get Jeopardy!

USTVNOW.com does require you to be in another country, as it was geared towards US military and government people overseas to be able to get TV from the States. All I had to do was log in once from another country (thank you Tunnel Bear) and now it lets me in every time, at least until the browser cookie expires, but that is easily resolved.

We also have a Chromecast and the two AppleTV’s I mentioned before. The Chromecast makes it easy to watch Youtube or whatever we might have from another computer or a phone. The AppleTV’s let us watch Netflix ($9/mo) and we might sign up for Hulu ($8/mo).

Lastly, I found an AppleTV remote app, a remote mouse app, and a custom remote app for my phone that let me control my TV, AppleTV, and the Mac Mini, all from my phone.

Getting Used To It

The only qualms about all this have been some moments where the streams were jittery (especially USTVNOW during NFL playoffs), and not being able to channel surf the way we used to. However, we still get to watch the shows we like, I have yet to miss a Louisville basketball game, and the other benefits I mentioned have been working their way into our lives.

There have been some moments of frustration while we try to get used to this new way of life, especially during those “just want to veg out and channel surf” moments, but we are adapting, and realizing that there are better uses of our time.

Summary

We reduced our Charter bill significantly by going down to internet-only and ditching cable TV. It is 2/3 cheaper now!

Even if we pay for SlingTV, Hulu, Netflix. and HBONow all at the same time, we are still looking at less than half the cost of what we were paying to Charter.

This is an endeavor I highly recommend!

Photo by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

The Slippery Slope of Encryption and Terrorism

encryption photoThis is really bugging me: Two nights in a row, on major news outlets reporting on the horrific attack on Paris, I have heard the reporters say things like, “the terrorists used encryption technology to ‘go dark’.”

I heard that on CBS evening news tonight (slightly paraphrased).

Last night on CNN, Poppy Sanchez (or whatever her name is) said that encryption was used to hide all of their communications, and that it was very concerning.

They are alluding to encryption as a bad thing because the terrorists used it to coordinate their attacks. They may have used automobiles too, but they didn’t seem concerned about that.

Why this attention to encryption irks me is because there has been a concerted effort by governments of the world (ours in the forefront) to get major tech companies (Google, Amazon, Facebook, more) to build so-called “backdoors” into encryption technology.

That means that if you send an encrypted message to someone, otherwise unreadable by anyone except the person you sent it to, it can still be read through this “backdoor” by the governments who are in cahoots with the tech companies, allegedly to be able to monitor communications amongst the bad guys.

You’d think that’s a good idea, right? Well, it’s been proven over and over again that backdoors get found and exploited by people who are not supposed to find them.

That is what hackers do, for better or for worse, and it’s usually for the better. You heard me correctly. Hackers find exploits and tell people about them so that they get fixed, and make everyone safer.

That is what my day job involves, actually. Sure, there are evil hackers who like to exploit these things for nefarious purposes, but that’s why we continue to find vulnerabilities and fix them.

The news outlets are pushing this idea that encryption is some dark arts majik that terrorists are using, while no one else would ever dare need such a thing. I worry that this will give the general public the wrong idea: that encryption = terrorism, so we need to do something about it.

What better time to push this idea than after a terrible tragedy?

I will link to my favorite article about encryption. It’s short, and it makes sense, and you should read it. For now, a quote:

Today, we are seeing government pushback against encryption. Many countries, from States like China and Russia to more democratic governments like the United States and the United Kingdom, are either talking about or implementing policies that limit strong encryption. This is dangerous, because it’s technically impossible, and the attempt will cause incredible damage to the security of the Internet.

–Bruce Schneier, in Why We Encrypt

 

Edit (9:4pm): I missed the story circulating about this exact topic, confirming everything above.

Photos by Encryptomatic,