Wednesday, April 13, 2011

My Little Helpers and a small how to.

I like little programs that run in the background.  I like USEFUL little programs that run in the background. Many Windows users are familiar with the long string of background programs in the right side of the toolbar in Windows XP. Many of these are not useful. Microsoft came to the realization that they should hide these better in XP sp2, Vista and 7, so instead you only have a few and a button to show more. I have moved on from Windows, though, (still have one XP computer for legacy stuff) and gone to Linux years ago. But, I would like to point out three little helpers that I use regularly, two of which are cross platform.

Granola is a power management program that adjusts your CPU voltage according to what it needs. I must reverberate this: it can ONLY adjust your CPU and nothing else. But, the CPU typically uses the most power, unless you have one of those massively powerful video cards*. This little helper runs on Windows and Linux (sorry Mac users), personally my laptop gained an extra 40-45 minutes of battery life. This means that not only do I save money off my electric bill, it didn't cost me anything to do it. That's right, granola is free for up to five computers, I have it on four.

*Before arguing that the power supply or the motherboard takes more energy than the CPU, the power supply is a necessary part and should not be counted. The motherboard is basically a power distribution system where everything is plugged into. Just like any electrical system expect lost power and resistance with every break in connection.

Prey like a free low jack for your computer. This can work in two ways, either you can use their control panel (free is limited, you can pay for the extras), or you can set it up to email you when a file on the internet is missing. I have it set up for the latter, I linked it to a file on the internet, then I renamed the file and it proceded to collect the IP address, a geolocation (according to the IP), a webcam shot, and a screenshot. Then it emailed it all to me. Worked very nicely, and I suggest it for any one who has a laptop. This one works for Windows, Mac, Linux, and Android.

The last little helper is openSSH, an open source Secure SHell server/client. For those of you on Linux, BSD, and even OS-X you may know about ssh, it is just a way to connect to the terminal of another machine. I use this regularly on my home network, not only doing command line stuff but by using "ssh -X" I can run graphical programs on my file server in my basement, but have it displayed on my laptop. SSH is also good for creating secure tunnels if you are on an unsecured (or less secure than you like) network, also in this way getting around pesky content filters at school.

The How-To:
Purpose: To create a secure connection on an insecure network.
Reason: To prevent packet sniffing or man in the middle attacks (people seeing what you do), bypassing filters.
Requirements: A computer with an internet connection with an ssh server running. Another computer with an ssh client that is on a separate network than the server.

1. Set up your ssh server with a username and password other than a superuser or root.
2. Open up your ssh client by using the command "ssh user@server -D 8080" (change user to what you set up and server to the IP address of the server or TLD). What his does is ssh into the server as the user, -D binds the port (8080) to the address.
3. After it connects you should be promoted for a password, fill it in and hit enter. After you get the $ prompt, you are almost there. Leave the client running.
4. Open your favorite browser settings, and find the proxy settings. Set the Socks proxy to "localhost" or "" and set the port to the number you used in step 2. Click Apply, OK, Confirm or whatever your browser has and enjoy your secure connection.

Explanation: Normally your browsing is not secure (unless you are on a secure site), this means that anyone can sniff out of the air what you do online. This is also how content filters work, it looks for keywords or sites and blocks them. If you want to go to, but can't (my school blocks it) then this is how, the filters don't see on port 80 because you aren't using port 80 to get to it. Instead, they see something like "jksdfl;jaionc89wp4ni286v55659+ew" on port 8080. So, what the ssh tunnel does is make a tunnel through the connection you are using (insecure), through the internet to your ssh server (secure), then to where you want to go and back to you. This means if anyone is sniffing out what you do they will only see jumbled characters, it also means that any key words or sites that get blocked can't be because it can't see what you are actually getting to. More details can be found here.

Caveats: Be sure to change your settings back when you close the connection. I remember telling a guy this and then he yelled at me when he didn't change it back, so when he tried to use the browser again he got nowhere. If you are using Putty as a client the command to connect may require a "-d" not "-D".

Good luck. Be smart, Use knowledge wisely.


  1. nice! I use openSSH and it is very useful

  2. Prey sounds useful, especially since it's free :D

  3. Good stuff, I'm going to be downloading these apps!

  4. thanks for this useful info, seriously!

  5. I love when people share there computer setup , it shows so much info that i never new about
    How to Hack Life.

  6. hey, thank you for sharing! really useful stuff