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TrueCrypt – File Encryption

If you have personal or sensitive business information, especially on a portable device such as a laptop, USB stick or portable hard drive, you should consider encrypting this data. If you lose any of these devices, any un-encrypted data on them can quickly and easily fall into the wrong hands. One solution is a free and relatively easy to use encryption utility called TrueCrypt which can encrypt to some of the most secure levels of encryption available.

You have a couple of encryption options from complete system encrytion (fully secured laptop), an entire physical drive or the more simple and user friendly encrypted virtual hard drive which is simply a file on your device that appears as a hard drive when you put in your password. You decide what data will be stored in the encrypted file. It is not as secure as a fully encrypted system but is a far better option than nothing at all and will take an enormous amount of effort to decrypt without the right password. I generally have an encrypted volume on any portable device and any personal or important information sits in that. I also keep the TrueCrypt installer on an unencrypted part of the drive so I can install it if required (I also use a portable version that does not need to be installed)

Windows Vista and Windows 7 high end versions (Ultimate) have BitLocker encryption built in if you want to encrypt your laptop. While this is built in, you have to have bought the expensive OS’s and the encrypted data is not as flexible. With a TrueCrypt “Volume”, it can be mounted on pretty much any operating system (Including Linux and Mac) and can be put on a USB stick or portable hard drive which makes it portable. It cannot be read unless the right password is used.

With encryption though, the end user is the most likely weak point.

TrueCrypt can be downloaded from http://www.truecrypt.org/

Posted in: Free Software, Security
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Domain Names

What you need to know

Your domain name is the online identity for your whole business, most importantly your email and website. For example, I currently use this one, abitofit.com.au, a variation on it to stop anyone else taking it, abitofit.net.au, and my personal name benchapman.com, which I registered many years ago (late 1990’s – you would be lucky to get your name these days, especially the .com).

You probably have a domain name already but if not and you want to register one, there are a few things you need to do.

  1. Decide what domain name you want and see if it is available.

    To check if a domain name is taken, the first thing to do is try www.domainname.com (or .com.au or .net etc) in your web browser. This will tell you pretty quickly if it is in use. It won’t always show you if it is taken though, as many names are registered and never used. Reasons for this include stopping someone else using it, or hoping to sell it later to someone who really wants the name (as they can be bought and sold like any other asset. One of the highest, if not the highest price paid was $12M USD for sex.com. Australian domain names are not worth anywhere near that.).

    To do a search for an inactive registered domain name, you need to do a WHOIS Search. There are plenty of options to choose from (eg www.whois.com.au or mywebname.com.au). If the search does not return a match then there is a good chance it can be registered. You may also like to review the list of names soon to be purged from the registry, at the official domain drop list. Before you do, think about what you want the name to mean to web users. Make it relevant to your business or name (.com.au require an ABN to register), make it easy to type and remember if possible (most three letter acronyms are already taken, don’t make it too long if possible). Try to avoid unwanted words when you join words together (eg a couple of famous joined word domain name blunders are Pen Island, Experts Exchange which has since been hyphenated, Powergen Italia, Therapist Finder, the list goes on. For a laugh, you might like to read). Check for conflicts with other registered business names and trademarks as well (for Australian businesses you could begin by checking the Australian Business Register.

  2. Register your new domain name.

    To register a domain name, you need to find a domain registrar. There are plenty to choose from. Don’t be too concerned about which registrar you use in Australia, only accredited registrars may sell a .com.au. The list of accredited registrars can be found on the auda.org.au website and they can also (usually) register other domains as well such as .com, .co.nz etc. You can change your registrar later if you really want to but it is much more difficult than registering the name in the first place. You will receive a domain name password or key when you register your domain name, KEEP THIS SAFE! It is the key – if you lose control of it, you can lose your domain name. Without it, you will be unable to make changes.

  3. Delegate your domain name to a Domain Name Server (DNS).

    Just registering is only the first step. You then need to decide which name servers are responsible for looking after your domain name on the internet. Often your web site hosts provide this service as part of your hosting package and this is usually easier than managing it yourself as they know what they need to make your web site appear on the internet. After registering, you need to enter the DNS settings of the name servers that will look after your domain name with your registrar. They usually have a web page where you can do this that you will be given details of when you register. The DNS server must be ready to receive your information before you put in the details with your registrar so you will need to find some website hosting first. If you want to look after the domain name yourself you will need to know what you are doing in step 4 below.

  4. Set up your DNS settings for your web site and email and anything else you need it to do.

    If your web site host will look after your domain name for you then you can skip this section. They will set up your web site and email. If you are doing it yourself, you need to know about IP Addresses, MX Records, A Records, CNAME records and subdomains. You also need a DNS host that has a web interface for you to manage the records.

    1. IP Addresses are the numbers which correspond to an address on the internet. DNS Servers point domain names to the IP addresses. The IP address is the location on the internet, but a domain name is easier to remember and use. An IP Address is a sequence of 4 numbers between 0 and 255 (roughly) separated by a period (.), eg this site’s IP address is 65.60.54.210 which is the address of the server hosting the site.
    2. MX Records are the servers that are responsible for your domain’s email. There should always be at least two (primary and secondary MX records) and there are often more (tertiary MX records). These are simply the mail server’s IP addresses and a number called a Metric determining the order that other mail servers should use to try to deliver email (lower comes first). I use Google Apps for business for my email so I have 7 MX records corresponding to different Google servers able to receive email on my behalf.
    3. “A” Records are basically the same as MX Records but are not for email, rather internet addresses. Your website will have an IP Address or a server address that you will want your domain name to point to, that is an A Record. I have the A Record “abitofit.com.au” pointing to 65.60.54.210.
    4. A “CNAME” Record is an alias for an existing A Record, eg I have the A Record “abitofit.com.au” pointing to 65.60.54.210 and a CNAME alias for “www” pointing to “abitofit.com.au” so an end user can type in “abitofit.com.au” or “www.abitofit.com.au” and both will go to exactly the same web site.
    5. A subdomain allows you to use different prefixes for your domain name for different things. Often a subdomain like “mail” or “mx1” (rather than the more familiar “www”) will be set up as an A Record to point your MX records to. I have mail.abitofit.com.au set up to point to Google Apps for business which then redirects me to the webmail interface for my email. You can set up as many as you need for different purposes.

    If your web site host is looking after your DNS for you and you want to change your email host (for example I use Google), then you need to give them the details they need to make the changes on your behalf.

  5. Wait for the changes to propagate then test your domain name.

    The internet is huge and while things happen pretty fast, some things still take time. One of these things is the propagation of your domain name to all DNS servers around the world (there are literally thousands of DNS servers controlled from central core of 13 “Root Servers” ). While the general rule of thumb is to allow up to 48 hours for worldwide propagation (it is not in real time, all servers check for updates periodically), in reality pretty much all servers will be updated within 12 hours and in Australia alone, I would be surprised if it took more than 2-4 hours to spread across the country.

    To test your domain name set up (whether or not you have set up your web site or email yet), you can use a tool built in to all operating systems called “Ping” as a quick check. In Windows, open a command prompt (Start- Run – “cmd” then enter) and type in “ping www.yourdomainname.com” and press enter. If you receive a message “ping request could not find host www.yourdomainname.com” then it is either incorrectly configured or has not propagated yet. The name should resolve to an IP address eg “pinging abitofit.com.au [65.60.54.210] with 32 bytes of data”. If you get nothing back (request timed out) don’t worry, it is the name resolution that is important here.

Posted in: The Web