What nobody is telling you about the cyberattack

By Wayne Boyd May 14, 2017: There are many aspects to this ransomware attack that have yet to be mentioned.

All of the systems attacked, it seems, are running older, unpatched, sometimes even illegally cloned versions of Microsoft Windows. The cyber attackers are using ransomware that exploits these older versions of Windows. Essentially they tell their victims that if they don’t pay their files will be deleted. If their system had been updated, then the attack would not have been successful. Everybody knows this.

Issue number one:

  • Microsoft demanded money for an upgrade.
  • When people didn’t pay up, cyber terrorists demanded money through ransomware.
  • Microsoft did not orchestrate the attack, but essentially they did demand money for already functioning operating systems. People were sandwiched between two parties, both demanding money to keep their system safe.
  • Microsoft did, after the fact, cave and provide upgrades for free.

Issue number two:

  • There are alternate secure operating systems that do not cost money to purchase, install and keep upgraded.
  • Save money, drop Windows, install Linux, run your hospital, package delivery company or government on open-source software.

Issue number three:

  • Bitcoins. The alternative currency. It’s legal. It is so secure, in fact, that the cyber attackers are demanding they be paid in Bitcoins. This is the currency of the future. I read in an article that Bitcoins was a form of cyber currency used by criminals. Well, guess what? Criminals use paper money too, and non-criminals use Bitcoins too..

Xubuntu

Members of the Arch, Antergos and (especially) Manjaro communities will probably be happy to learn that I’m over here now. Xubuntu.

I was at a point where I thought to experiment and I reformatted with Sabayon Linux. What I learned is that Gentoo based distributions take forever to compile and use simple software downloads.

Alas, after a few days I thought to go back to the safety net of Antergos OS. At the time, I didn’t know, Cnchi, the Antergos installer, was broken. To have broken software on a rolling distribution of Linux is normal. To have that happen to the installer was unfortunate to me.

I had no computer! This wasn’t a VM box install. This was the real deal. I needed something to use until Cnchi repaired itself.

Even though some people in the Manjaro forum have been very “good riddance” to me when I suggested an April Fools prank they did was not funny, I reinstalled Manjaro.

It turns out my ISP was having problems at the time. I didn’t know. No fault to Manjaro. I could not update the system once it was installed.

My wife suggested, “Go back to Ubuntu.”

Well, not exactly. I hate Unity and even though Unity is out the door it’s still here for now. I did, however, have a DVD install of Xubuntu, the Xfce version of Ubuntu.

That’s where I am.

It’s not a rolling distribution, but it is solid and I don’t have to reinstall because I can keep the system up to date, apparently, with the click of a mouse.

I loved Arch/Antergos/Manjaro and the now discontinued Apricity. I still belong to their forums. I am now back with Ubuntu.

Everything works. Codecs, YouTube, Netflix, all functional out of the box. That helps a lot!

Sabayon Linux Deal Breaker?

Install a System. It worked great in a Virtual Box window. Time to install it on a real system, not a virtual one. I downloaded the ISO file from the Sabayon Linux Website. Burned the ISO file to a DVD and installed, since my older system requires I install from DVD.

Follow the Wiki: I followed the steps which took a whole day to upgrade the system in the Sabayon New Install Wiki. That just took forever. In any case I wound up with a fresh install of Sabayon Linux, based on Gentoo, running on my computer.

Printer Can’t Be Found: Well, obviously if I can’t set up the printer with at least CUPS if not the HP Printer utility that would be a deal breaker. One must be able to print out stuff on the printer, right?

Still looking into it. Not happy that it’s not as “out of the box” as it seemed in a virtual box, especially after investing two days in the install, update process. Not many people would be impressed, although when you have a working, updated system they say stuff like “Your system is up to date! Cool!”

The best computer program

It’s the greatest program.

Ever.

It’s free, and it’s available for Windows and Mac. Oh. And Linux. Oh. And Unix. Oh. And BSD which you may not have ever heard of, but there you have it. TrueOS, Linux, Windows 10, Mac computers whatever they call their OS. You can find it. It’s free. You can download it. It’s free. It doesn’t cost you anything, nobody’s making money because. It’s free.

Microsoft and Adobe don’t want you to know about the program that makes Photoshop obsolete.

The program is called “GIMP”

Notice I didn’t put a period there. Not sure if I should or not. Notice, finally, “GIMP” is all in capital letters. That was on purpose.

GIMP, or the GNU Image Manipulation Program, is the greatest computer program unless you’re into sound and video editing, in which case there are other great programs.

I will not bother to tell you what GNU means because that will make you not want to know and it’s recursive and really cancels itself out with it’s own name. Okay. I give in. It’s pronounced “Gah nu is not Unix.”

There. Got it out of my system.

It’s originally a “not Unix.” So here we have “GIMP” which translates as “Gah nu is not Unix Image Manipulation Program.”

Just call it GIMP and get over it. It’s a great program. You can go to Barnes and Noble and buy a huge fat book how to use this computer program. I did that until I figured out an essential truth. GIMP is NOT PHOTOSHOP. It can do everything you can do in Photoshop, but it’s not Photoshop so you have to do it in a different way. A completely different way. GIMP really means Gnu Image Manipulation (is not) Photoshop.

Disappointment in Manjaro Linux

I’m really disappointed by Manjaro Linux. Not the distro, but the people. The forums.

The problem with rolling distributions of Linux is they can break. The cool thing about rolling distributions of Linux is you always have the latest greatest software, even if it doesn’t work.

Let’s take a look at Arch and the Arch derivative Manjaro. Manjaro is steady.

Take another look. Manjaro Linux forums are as unfriendly as the Arch forums. The entire line suffers from antagonistic people who, if they look at other derivatives they are scorned.

You may think a distro, or derivative, community is not important, but eventually, if you settle somewhere, you’ll need to talk to people who run that derivative.

Look away.

Arch people hate non-Arch people. Manjaro people hate non-Manjaro people.

Go with Antergos.

It’s a derivative. It’s solid. It works. The forums are small, but non-critical.

A Window Into the Linux Desktop

linux-desktop

“What can it do that Windows can’t?”
That is the first question many people ask when considering Linux for their desktop. While the open source philosophy that underpins Linux is a good enough draw for some, others want to know just how different its look, feel and functionality can get. To a degree, that depends on whether you choose a desktop environment or a window manager.

 

If you want a desktop experience that is lightning fast and uncompromisingly efficient, foregoing the classic desktop environment for a window manager might be for you.

“Desktop environment” is the technical term for a typical, full-featured desktop — that is, the complete graphical layout of your system. Besides displaying your programs, the desktop environment includes accoutrements such as app launchers, menu panels and widgets.

In Microsoft Windows, the desktop environment consists of, among other things, the Start menu, the taskbar of open applications and notification center, all the Windows programs that come bundled with the OS, and the frames enclosing open applications (with a dash, square and X in the upper right corner).

There are many similarities in Linux.

The Linux Gnome desktop environment, for instance, has a slightly different design, but it shares all of the Microsoft Windows basics — from an app menu to a panel showing open applications, to a notification bar, to the windows framing programs.

Window program frames rely on a component for drawing them and letting you move and resize them: It’s called the “window manager.” So, as they all have windows, every desktop environment includes a window manager.

However, not every window manager is part of a desktop environment. You can run window managers by themselves, and there are reasons to consider doing just that.

Out of Your Environment

For the purpose of this column, references to “window manager” refer to those that can stand alone. If you install a window manager on an existing Linux system, you can log out without shutting down, choose the new window manager on your login screen, and log back in.

You might not want to do this without researching your window manager first, though, because you will be greeted by a blank screen and sparse status bar that may or may not be clickable.

There typically is a straightforward way to bring up a terminal in a window manager, because that’s how you edit its configuration file. There you will find key- and mouse-bindings to launch programs, at which point you actually can use your new setup.

In the popular i3 window manager, for instance, you can launch a terminal by hitting the Super (i.e., Windows) key plus Enter — or press Super plus D to bring up the app launcher. There you can type an app name and hit Enter to open it. All the existing apps can be found that way, and they will open to full screen once selected.

i3 window manager

(Click Image to Enlarge)

i3 is also a tiling window manager, meaning it ensures that all windows expand to evenly fit the screen, neither overlapping nor wasting space. When a new window pops up, it reduces the existing windows, nudging them aside to make room. Users can toggle to open the next window either vertically or horizontally adjacent.

Features Can Be Friends or Foes

Desktop environments have their advantages, of course. First and foremost, they provide a feature-rich, recognizable interface. Each has its signature style, but overall they provide unobtrusive default settings out of the box, which makes desktop environments ready to use right from the start.

Another strong point is that desktop environments come with a constellation of programs and media codecs, allowing users to accomplish simple tasks immediately. Further, they include handy features like battery monitors, wireless widgets and system notifications.

As comprehensive as desktop environments are, the large software base and user experience philosophy unique to each means there are limits on how far they can go. That means they are not always very configurable. With desktop environments that emphasize flashy looks, oftentimes what you see is what you get.

Many desktop environments are notoriously heavy on system resources, so they’re not friendly to lower-end hardware. Because of the visual effects running on them, there are more things that can go wrong, too. I once tried tweaking networking settings that were unrelated to the desktop environment I was running, and the whole thing crashed. When I started a window manager, I was able to change the settings.

Those prioritizing security may want to avoid desktop environments, since more programs means greater attack surface — that is, entry points where malicious actors can break in.

However, if you want to give a desktop environment a try, XFCE is a good place to start, as its smaller software base trims some bloat, leaving less clutter behind if you don’t stick with it.

It’s not the prettiest at first sight, but after downloading some GTK theme packs (every desktop environment serves up either these or Qt themes, and XFCE is in the GTK camp) and enabling them in the Appearance section of settings, you easily can touch it up. You can even shop around at thiscentralized gallery to find the theme you like best.

You Can Save a Lot of Time… if You Take the Time First

If you’d like to see what you can do outside of a desktop environment, you’ll find a window manager allows plenty of room to maneuver.

More than anything, window managers are about customization. In fact, their customizability has spawned numerous galleries hosting a vibrant community of users whose palette of choice is a window manager.

The modest resource needs of window managers make them ideal for lower specs, and since most window managers don’t come with any programs, they allow users who appreciate modularity to add only those they want.

Perhaps the most noticeable distinction from desktop environments is that window managers generally focus on efficiency by emphasizing mouse movements and keyboard hotkeys to open programs or launchers.

Keyboard-driven window managers are especially streamlined, since you can bring up new windows, enter text or more keyboard commands, move them around, and close them again — all without moving your hands from the home row. Once you acculturate to the design logic, you will be amazed at how quickly you can blaze through your tasks.

In spite of the freedom they provide, window managers have their drawbacks. Most significantly, they are extremely bare-bones out of the box. Before you can make much use of one, you’ll have to spend time reading your window manager’s documentation for configuration syntax, and probably some more time getting the hang of said syntax.

Although you will have some user programs if you switched from a desktop environment (the likeliest scenario), you also will start out missing familiar things like battery indicators and network widgets, and it will take some time to set up new ones.

If you want to dive into window managers, i3 has thorough documentation and straightforward configuration syntax. The configuration file doesn’t use any programming language — it simply defines a variable-value pair on each line. Creating a hotkey is as easy as writing “bindsym”, the key combination, and the action for that combination to launch.

While window managers aren’t for everyone, they offer a distinctive computing experience, and Linux is one of the few OSes that allows them. No matter which paradigm you ultimately go with, I hope this overview gives you enough information to feel confident about the choice you’ve made — or confident enough to venture out of your familiar zone and see what else is available.

System76 wants to build its own hardware for its Linux-based computers

System76_Galago_Pro

System76 is building up quite a name for itself, being one of a very limited number of companies selling only computers running Linux-based operating systems. Now the aim is to branch out; System76 wants to design and build its own hardware, while representing the open source community as it does so.

At the moment, the hardware used in System76 systems is outsourced, but in the future this will change. The company says that it is moving into phase three of its development cycle, and this “moves product design and manufacturing in house.” And you should set your expectations high: “We’re about to build the Model S of computers. Something so brilliant and beautiful that reviewers will have to add an 11 to their scores.”

This is a bold claim, and System76 has something of a reputation to protect. With this in mind, the company is sure to spend time making sure that it gets everything as close to perfect as possible — and this is something that it makes clear in a recent blog post.

It’s going to take some years, but by the end of phase three, we’ll be able to create anything. We’ll apply our unique computers for creators perspective to every aspect of our products.

So the vision is a way off at the moment, but System76 says that it wants to create hardware that reflect the warm, friendly, open and high-quality image it feels it has built up. The company is ready to embrace automation to improve manufacturing efficiency, and while the ultimate aim is to have laptops flying off the production line, this will not be happening just yet.

We’re starting with desktops. There’s a lot to learn and the form factor is easiest to work with. Both design and CAD work are well along their way. We’re prototyping with acrylic and moving to metal soon. Our first in-house designed and manufactured desktops will ship next year. Laptops are more complex and will follow much later.

So there are exciting things afoot. There may be a bit of a wait, but System76 fans have a lot to look forward to in the coming years.