Monday, December 7, 2015

Finally, an RSA Key Backup Plan: Boxcryptor



I have finally figured out a way to create an easy to setup backup plan for RSA keys.

Here's the short version: use the service Boxcryptor to create an encrypted directory on your dropbox account. Put your RSA keys in there, then create a symlink to an automatically searched .ssh directory in your terminal path. (If you've never done this before, it'll take about an hour. Once you know what you're doing, it takes about 5 minutes.)

Here's a longer version:

So, why does this matter? In 2004, my laptop was stolen. (My own stupidity was involved because I left it unattended in the airport for a little longer than desired. The term stolen, therefore, is a little dramatic, but never the less, all my data was lost.) I had been traveling for 6-months in an internet-poor area, so I lost 6 FULL MONTHS OF DATA. Ouch. I actually cried.

Since then, I have been on a personal quest to keep my data in a constant state of fault-tolerance. My goal: be able to drop my laptop in a lake without losing anything.

Today, some of this is easy: (1) Get a dropbox account (or Box or Drive). (2) Create a virtual drive on your machine. (3) Keep everything in there that you possibly can.

That system takes care of 90% of your data-loss woes. But there is a problem: what about things that are too sensitive to store on Dropbox? Dropbox is only as secure as the fickle internet will allow, afterall.

Until today, I've been relying on manually copying that information onto a physical backup drive. (Translation: that's what I tell myself when I know the actual answer is that I've basically been not backing that stuff up.)

Today, I discovered Boxcryptor. An amazing service. Here's how it works: (1) Boxcryptor sets up a virtual drive on your local machine that is protected by AES-256 and RSA encryption algorithms, (2) you store anything sensitive in that drive (financials, login credentials, secret plots, etc.), (3) Boxcryptor encrypts the data, and stores the encrypted data on your dropbox cloud, where it is backed up and shared with your other machines.

Voila! You're covered.

Boxcryptor was a ..little.. difficult to setup because I didn't understand their mental model of how folders are encrypted. You have to access your files through the boxcryptor virtual drive that it creates, not via your usual dropbox directory. Knowing that, the process is pretty straightforward. This is actually a really helpful reminder for knowing when you're operating encrypted, and when you aren't.

The rest of this is just my personal way of making this setup easier to use. It's optional, but makes the change transparent when working with RSA keys on the terminal (which I do all the time.)

Now, for authentication credentials, it takes a little bit more hacking to get this to work seamlessly. For example, when you log into something using the terminal, your boxcryptor encrypted drive is probably not in you path for ssh public keys. There are two fixes for this:

(1) Add your Boxcryptor virtual drive to your public key search path. (I don't like this because I don't like dirty search paths)

(2) Create a symbolic link from your Boxcryptor virtual drive to your usual public key storage location. (This is what I did)

Here's how I did that. Disclaimer: If you can't understand this code, you probably don't want to be using this.


Go to the right place:

> cd ~

Make a backup incase you screw up 

> cp -r .ssh .sshbak

Move your keys into your new encrypted drive 

> mv .ssh /Volumes/Boxcryptor/Dropbox/Encrypted/ssh

Create a symbolic link so that you can still reference your keys from their old location 

> ln -s /Volumes/Boxcryptor/Dropbox/Encrypted/ssh/ ~/.ssh

 Now, you can access your keys like they were in their old home: 

> ssh -i ~/.ssh/superkey.pem ubuntu@ec2-54-198-256-097.compute-1.amazonaws.com

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Pain is Memory



I am my memories. They define me. The make me who I am.

When I hunt back over my memories, they wash over me. They come quickly in jerks and jitters. My mind skips from one to the next.

Sometimes, I pause and linger over a single experience. Something punctuated by an intense physical moment.

The pain of a needle in my ear. The quick escalation of pain that plateaus. I find relief not because the pain has stopped, but because it is not getting worse and I am strong enough to bear it.

I feel powerful because my best friend sees that I am strong. So strong that I can tell him to stop holding back and push harder.

We laugh. It's the absurdity of the situation that catches us in the light. What are we doing? It seemed like a reasonable idea at the time, but we realize now how little we thought things through.

It's just a pierced ear. Practically everyone has one. But not everyone has a memory to go along with it.

A bottle of vodka on the table. Both to sterilize the skin and also to calm the nerves. Did I need it? I don't think so. He ships off to the army the next day and it's not like I was going to stop halfway through.

The army is death. That's practically it's entire purpose. Bullets are their tradecraft. Blood is their output. Am I foolish to be afraid?

The trickle of blood that rolls down my earlobe is a tiny little piece of reality. We both ignore it as it falls on the floor. An insignificant detail.

The blood will wash free. It always does. I am alive. I have my pain, my friend, my memory.


Edit: Some have asked, so let me clarify that the friend I'm referring to in the story is Travis Sorensen, who is alive and well. This took place circa 2002.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Finally, an entrepreneurship tax! Thank you Massachusetts.

In case you haven't heard. Massachusetts has recently enacted the worst possible legislation I can think of for the local entrepreneurial community: a 6.25% tax on all intra-state revenue for software services. You heard that right, if you have an online business that traffics in data and has an office in Massachusetts, starting July 31st, 2013 you have to pay 6.25% on all revenue in the state. That comes right off the top line. Yikes! Your competitor in Silicon Valley can make the same product, sell to the same customer, and pay 0%.

The first time I read about this, I assumed that it was nonsense that wouldn't affect me. Not true. At Testive we have already spent several hundred dollars talking to our attorney about this. It is real.

The impact on our business is enormous. It no longer makes sense for us to conduct business with any customers in Massacusetts because the 6.25% tax is too big of a cut on our profit margin. We can't easily increase prices for one customer over another because we're an online company and we don't discriminate based on customer location. We probably will continue to take Massacusetts customers just to make things simple, but we may lose money on them, and we'll likely stop advertising inside the state.

Is this the death blow for the Boston entrepreneurial ecosystem? Why would anyone in their right mind open a software services company in a state where their profit will be reduced by 6.25%, right off the bat? It doesn't make any sense. I can't in good conscience advise anyone to start new business here until this law is changed.

At a time when Boston is bleeding good entrepreneurs to Silicon Valley, the last thing we need is an entrepreneurship tax. The short-term revenue gained from this moronic tax will be crushed by the long-term affects of loss of commerce.

Hello! Online businesses can be built anywhere, you can't tax them at the local level. That's crazy.

 

Take action:

Look up your representative in the state legislature here and send them an email telling them how much of a disaster this is for the entrepreneurial eco system.

 

Read more:

Rosenthal: New tax threatens state software ecosystem

In Major Shift, Patrick Backs Tech Tax Repeal

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Friends, I Haven't Appreciated You Enough

I have a major communication weakness. I'm terrible at telling people how important their expertise and experience is. As a result, it damages my ability maintain my personal credibility because people feel that I haven't acknowledged their authority in deserving areas. Ultimately, it becomes a drag on my relationships.

This morning, Miro Kazakoff, one of my closest friends (and also my co-founder at Testive), helped me realize not only my weakness, but also what an enormous potential opportunity for personal growth fixing that weakness might be.

At first, I found it difficult to hear what Miro was saying. My old ways and my ego got in my way. But as the truth started to settle in, I came to the realization that not only was he entirely correct, but that he had been downplaying his delivery to protect my feelings. Like waking up from a nightmare, suddenly I felt terrible. Playing through old conversations, I realize now how many mistakes I have been making lately. So many missed opportunities.

On the way to the Espresso Royale Cafe near Boston University, I decided to make this revelation the topic of my quarterly report. I'm putting myself on a path to recovery, and I want to start right away by thanking Miro for the unique skills he used to help me learn and grow.

Miro is a student of communication. He has worked in business to business sales for several years, he has studied business communication at MIT, he teaches at the Startup Institute about business communication, and he has written a case study in communication that is used in management education at Harvard. Because of these credentials, he is in a unique position to appreciate the impact of superior communication strategies. He is better at business communication than i am. That's why, when Miro makes a communication suggestion, i listen.

So, here's my plan for moving forward with this.  I'm going to write a reminder to myself to "acknowledge expertise" and stick it to my laptop where I'll see it everyday. Also, since I'm a complete novice at this, I invite readers with more experience to leave a comment with techniques or suggestions of things that have worked for them.

Thank you for listening. -Tom

 

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Bloomberg: The MBA Show Must Go On

Ever dream of being the Jay Leno of the MBA crowd? Well, now’s your chance.
Miro Kazakoff and Tom Rose, creators and hosts of The MBA Show, a YouTube program that was part shtick and part news, have graduated and put down their microphones to launch a business. So they’re looking for a couple of funny MBA students to take over. “The only skill you need is to be an MBA student, which is to say that you don’t need any skills,” Kazakoff says.
The duo began looking for new hosts last summer. While a couple... read more

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Testive in TechCrunch: TechStars Grad Testive Raises $500K From HubSpotCo-Founder, Others For Its Test-Prep Platform That Adapts As You Study



Testive, an alum of TechStars’ Boston accelerator, has developed a new line of test-preparation products in partnership with MIT that seek to make old-school testing and test prep obsolete. With 10,000 students already using its customized test prep experiences, the startup is today announcing that it has raised $500,000 in seed funding, led by a group of prominent Boston-based angel investors.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

How to debug python or Django in Heroku

I recently had a problem where I was able to run a python script on my local virtual environment, but not on a heroku server. Doh! How do I debug this?!

(We're running django inside of virtualenv ala heroku's recommendations, which are pretty standard.)

Now, this is a web-app with a heavy js front-end, so debugging to the browser is not easy/convenient enough to be a practical solution.  In my local environment, I usually fix this by using "print" statements all over my code, that I read in a terminal running the "python manage.py runserver" process.

Problem, you can't observe this directly for code running on heroku.

Solution: write the print statements into your code and commit them w/ git. (Do this on a separate branch so you don't pollute your master, or even development branch, with debug garbage).  Deploy that stuff to a heroku server (we use a separate staging server for testing purposes).  Run the script (all our stuff launches from a browser).  Then run the following to see the output:

$ heroku logs -t --app [your-heroku-app-name]

This definitely falls into the category of a dirty-hack, but hey, it gets the job done!

Edudemic: MIT-Developed Testive Raises $500k, Can Predict Your SAT Score



As a Boston guy, I love learning about local teams coming up with audacious and ambitious ideas to help the education world. Testive is one of those companies that just feels like it’s going to cause some big disruptions in the coming years. Angel investors seem to agree as Testive just raised $500,000 in a seed round.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Testive Press Release: Testive Raises 500k

TechStars alum has helped over 10K+ students on their test preparation journey.

Testive (http://www.testive.com), a 2012 TechStars Boston alumnus, announced a $500K seed round lead by prominent Boston angels. Testive builds educational testing and test prep software. Testive's TurboTest™ platform was developed at MIT and can accurately predict students’ scores on the SAT® and other tests 3x faster than traditional practice tests.

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Thursday, November 29, 2012

@Testive in OnStartups: How To Help Startup Ecosystems: Be An EarlyAdopter

I just finished reading Brad Feld’s new book, Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in your City. In it, Brad states that sustainable entrepreneurial communities must have:

  • Active entrepreneurs who will be the leaders to drive the community forward,

  • A long-term view and commitment to build the community,

  • A continual set of activities that engage the entire entrepreneurial stack, and

  • An inherent view of inclusiveness that ensures that anyone is welcome to participate -- not just ...

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Full Story: OnStartups - How To Help Startup Ecosystems_ Be An Early Adopter