Convert VMDK to VirtualBox VDI  and compact disk

Convert VMDK to VirtualBox VDI and compact disk

I have been testing out  Solarwinds MSP backup, and one of the features this has is that you can restore the backup to a virtual disk, which is in VMware vmdk format.

I use this locally on Oracle VirtualBox, which I  for my virtual machines.

While the vmdk file does work with VirtualBox natively,  I discovered that it does require some work to get it to boot and you cannot do much else with it, which includes shrinking it. This is one thing I needed to do in order to reduce the amount of space used by my restored virtual disk image.

Firstly in order to get the vmdk to boot I had to enable EFI mode in virtualbox settings.
I then had to run bootrec/rebuildbcd

To compact the disk, I discovered I have to convert the vmdk to a VDI file. thankfully this turned out to be quite simple.

If you will not be using a dynamic disk, and do not need to shrink it, then you can skip these first 3 steps obviously.

 1. Delete Unnecessary Files from the VM

  • The best way to do this is to run the Windows disk cleanup tool, including the option to “clean up system files”

2. Defragment the Disk

  • If you want to also shrink the disk, then Using the Windows defrag tool will help with the shrink process.

3. Clean any free disk space

After the disk has been defragmented, the virtual Windows drive will still have unused space containing garbage bits and bytes. These garbage bits and bytes are from the contents of files that used to occupy that space but that are no longer there.

The most effective way to clean free disk space on a Windows drive is to overwrite the unused space with a bitstream of zeros or to zero-fill any free space.

Windows does not come with a native utility to zero-fill unused space but you can find the excellent SDelete tool at Microsoft’s TechNet: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/sysinternals/bb897443.aspx

4. Convert the disk

If your vmdk image file is already connected to a guest VM, then you need to remove it, otherwise, the process will not work.

  • shutdown the VM
  • go into the virtual media manager and remove the vmdk file from the guest VM

Open CMD prompt, and navigate to your  VirtualBox folder, from here you will execute VBoxManage, using the coneMEdium command to clone the VHD and convert to VDI.

Obviously, replace the [drive]:[\path_to_file\myserver.vmdk] with your source and destination paths.

This conversion process will actually shrink  down the VHD by default if you are using a dynamic disk,  and should get it down the minimum required. If it hasn’t sufficiently reduced it, then you can try to run this command.

 

WIFI problems caused by windows update

WIFI problems caused by windows update

I have been having some WIFI problems the last couple of months where devices would randomly lose access to the internet, some devices couldn’t even connect to the WIFI access point, others could connect but were just slow as hell. Even wired devices seemed to be having problems. After trying everything possible, I finally thought that maybe something on the network was sucking all the bandwidth, as some devices did still have a connection.

So I logged into my router and checked the connected devices bandwidth usage and saw that PC which was showing high usage. Lo and behold windows update was running, which was sucking all the bandwidth and killing the network for everyone else.

P2P Updates

After further investigation, I discovered that one of the new features introduced in windows 10 is the ability to get updates through P2P (like how torrents work) to improve download speed. This can be a major network bottleneck due to the number of p2p connections that get opened up. So disabling this was the first step.

go to Windows Update -> Advanced Options -> Choose how updates are delivered

and chose PCs on my local network, this will still allow you to get updates from other computers in your local network only, and not external computers, which will save your available bandwidth.

Although making this change while updates are already downloading doesn’t seem to have any effect, so you would have to stop the downloads for the setting to take effect. This also did not solve the issue by itself, it improved things, but everything was still slow.

My next step was to go into my router admin and set some throttling so that individual computers had a limit on how much bandwidth they could consume. Although if you have a basic/cheap router from your ISP then you may not have such an option available. In which case you can try setting thr throttle on the individual pc’s using BITS.

BITS

The updates happen through 2 main windows components: WUDO and BITS.

WUDO is the Windows Update Delivery Optimization is part of the Windows Update for Business and is used for the P2P installation that I  disabled already.

The Background Intelligent Transfer Service (BITS) is commonly used by Windows to download updates, so this can also be tweaked using group policy.

To open the Local Group Policy Editor from the command line:

  • Click Start , type gpedit.msc in the Start Search box, and then press ENTER.

To set a bandwidth rule on the BITS:

  • Navigate to Administrative Templates -> Network -> Background Intelligent Transfer Service (BITS)
  • Open Limit the maximum network bandwidth for BITS background transfers
  • Set it to Enabled
  • Set the time range and maximum transfer rate
  • OK

Problem solved!

Cyber Security: How to protect your kids online

Cyber Security: How to protect your kids online

To be blunt  (no insult intended),  most parents are not very computer literate and as a result are also oblivious the dangers of letting their kids loose on the Internet. This is not specifically because you are parents but simply a statistic based on research that shows that 69% of the population are not very computer literate and 26% cannot use a computer at all. In most cases, your kids are probably more computer literate than you are.

But while your kids might be better with technology, they have ZERO knowledge or experience of staying safe online, and will probably happily look at much of the stuff you would rather they didn’t.

Are you aware of the most common dangers that the Internet and social media (Facebook, twitter etc) present?  children are regularly bullied online, your little darling could even be the one doing the bullying and this cyber-bullying has led to many children committing suicide. They can be easily manipulated into performing any number of dangerous or perverted acts, or groomed into meeting a sexual predator.

Using the internet without protection can also cause you a lot of damage, and if you are allowing your child to use your computer or tablet, then you could end up being the target of cyber-crime. Everything from malware and ransomware attacks, trojans and bots using your computer to attack other people to identity theft, and emptying your bank account.

Just as you do in the real world, you need to offer guidance, set boundaries, and, depending on your child’s age and maturity level, carry out some safeguards.

You also need to be aware of where the threats are coming from, so it is your responsibility as a parent to educate yourself about online security.

I do of course lock down my home internet connection and my kids phones, but if the parents of your kids friends do not do the same, then they can simply go to their friend’s houses to use their insecure internet connection to look at porn and whatever else unencumbered, thus bypassing your efforts. So these are practices you not only need to put into place yourself but ideally encourage your school to promote them as well, post them on social media for other parents to see as well.

If you need help in getting your home network and devices secure, then I can provide this as a service, which in most cases I can do remotely, but can also offer on site support if you are based in Thanet.

 

10 Things You Can Do Right Away to Protect Your Children


1.  Make YouTube safe for your kids

YouTube is the new children’s TV.

It is one of the most popular sites out there, but not all of those videos might be appropriate for your children. even those innocent-seeming Minecraft videos are sometimes full of swearing.

But the site does have some safety features, and you should take advantage of them, although be warned that there is nothing to stop a savvy child from turning this setting off again.

On the desktop site, if you scroll down to the bottom of the screen, there’s a “Restricted Mode” setting that hides videos that have been flagged as containing inappropriate content.

In the mobile apps, click on the three dots at the top right and click on Settings > General and scroll down until you see the “Restricted Mode” option.

2.  Help your kids set the privacy controls on their social media accounts

Most social media sites have an age limit of 13, but kids sign up regardless and lie about their age, and frankly, if they have the ability to do this behind your back anyway, then you are better off at least letting them do it so you can monitor their activity.

If your children share messages, pictures or videos on Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms, they might not be aware of who can see their posts, in fact, many adults do not realise that everything they post/share is public by default.

Most apps do have privacy settings, however, letting your children control who they let into theirrealize

Here are the links to information about the privacy settings on the most popular apps:

 

3.  Install anti-virus on your computers and mobile devices

Children are just as vulnerable as the rest of us, if not more so, to clicking on bad links and downloading malicious software. Every device that is connected to the internet needs to be protected from malware.

There are some of the most popular free products available from trustworthy brands. Bear in mind that the FREE versions are limited.

If you are happy to pay for your protection and security product, then I recommend the premium edition of BitDefender, which has consistently been the #1 in the industry. If you have multiple devices in your household, then the BitDefender family pack is a great deal to protect them all.

4.  Set up separate accounts for your kids on your computers

If you share a device with your children, then you need to setup a separate account/user for them. Each account would have its own home screen and, depending on the device and platform, a different selection of features, apps, and permissions.

Not only does this help you protect your own data — or video recommendations — but you can also set up customized security and privacy settings for each child.

On Windows computers, you can set up a new user account for you children. Go to Settings > Accounts > Add a family member > Add a child.

Windows 10 Kids Account

You can blog specific apps, games, or websites, or set screen time limits. Visit https://account.microsoft.com/family for more information. Although I would not rely on this alone, as Microsoft family safety has proved to be notoriously unreliable and randomly breaks.

On Apple computers, you can set up Parental Controls for some user accounts, where you can, for example, restrict access to adult websites. Learn more here: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT201813

5.  Set up separate accounts for your kids on your mobile devices

Android parental controlTablets and smartphones also allow multiple user accounts on the same device.

On Android tablets, you can create a restricted account for your child, with limits on which apps they can use.

On Android phones, you can create a new user account for your child, but the only account restriction currently available is to turn off the ability to make phone calls and send text messages. However, you can restrict their Google Play account. Go to Settings > Parental controls and turn them on. You will able to set specific content restrictions on apps and games, movies, TV, books, and music.

On the Apple side, iPhones and iPads have controls for apps and features, content, and private settings. Launch the Settings app and go to General > Restrictions and tap on “Enable Restrictions.”

6.  Secure your gaming systems

Don’t forget that your gaming console is also an Internet device these days. Children can download games and make in-game purchases, and even surf the Web.

Most devices have parental control features that allow you to restrict the kind of content your children can get, limit their purchases, and restrict or turn off their Web browsing.

7.  Consider using kid-safe browsers and search engines

For added control, you can install a kid-safe web browser for your children to use.

Zoodles, for example, offers a child-safe environment, and there’s a free version for Windows PCs and Macs, and for Android and iOS tablets and smartphones. The premium version, which costs $8 a month, includes ad blocking, time limits, and other features.

Another alternative kid-safe browser is Maxthon.

There are also some built-in tools in the browsers you’re already using.

If you use the Chrome browser, you can set up a “supervised profile” that will block explicit search results, show you what websites your children visited, and even restrict what websites they can go to. The way the restrictions work is that you can either have a list of approved websites, where your children can only visit the sites on this list, or a list of restricted websites where they can visit any website except for the ones you’ve banned.

More information here: https://support.google.com/chrome/answer/3463947/?hl=en

Also check out these kid-safe search engines:

 

8.  Lock in apps for youngest children

If you want to be able to hand your phone to your child to play with in the back seat of the car without worrying about them messing up your phone or surfing the web for creepy content, what you can do is open up an app for the child and then set it up so that they can’t exit the app.

On phones running Android 5 and higher, it’s called “screen pinning.” First, go to Settings > Security > Screen pinning and turn it on and also enable “Ask for PIN before unpinning.” Then load your app, hit the overview button — the little square on the bottom right — and swipe up until you see a pin icon come up in the lower right corner. Now your child will need your PIN in order to switch apps.

Screen Pinning on Android

On iPhones and iPads, this is called “Guided Access.” First, go to Settings > General > Accessibility > Guided Access to set up Guided Access. Then when you’re in the app you want to lock in, triple-click the home button to bring up the Guided Access settings. You can turn off Guided Access either with a PIN or by setting it up to work with your Touch ID through Settings > General > Accessibility > Guided Access > Passcode Settings.

9.  Consider using an app that limits the time your child spends online

According to the Pew Research Institute, 50 percent of parents have used parental control tools to block, monitor, or filter their child’s online activities.

The ScreenTime app is available for Apple, Android and Amazon devices. The app is free for one child and includes the ability to monitor the device remotely and to see your child’s web and search history. A $4-per-month premium version adds daily time limits, the ability to block apps, and block the use of the device during school hours or after bedtime.

Alternative apps:

There are also some James Bond-type apps out there that will let you track your child’s location, read their emails and text messages, and spy on their Snapchats and other communications.

Be careful with these. Do you want to lose your child’s trust? And do you really want to engage in a cyber war with a teenager, where they escalate to using anti-spyware applications and burner phones?
When dealing with older children, explain to them why you are using these parental control apps, that you are only protecting them, and tracking them in case something happens to them so you can find them. Remember that you would not be happy with this level of control, especially if it was forced on you with no explanations.

10.  Make sure your kids are only using safe chat rooms

Some kid-friendly platforms offer chat rooms where kids can talk to other kids. Vet the sites first, to make sure that the chat rooms are monitored.

In addition, teach your kids not to share their real identities on such platforms, and use anonymous screen names, instead.

Teach, Educate and Talk with Your Children


11.  Teach your children not to respond to messages from strangers

If they get a text message, instant message, email or social media message from someone they don’t know — they should just delete it.

Make sure they know not to open it, not to respond to it, and, of course, not to click on any links or attachments.

If those girls from Pretty Little Liars followed that advice, the show would have been over after one episode.

12.  Educate your children about the risks of “sexting”

Last year, in a report to the U.S. Congress, the Justice Department revealed that the most significantly growing threat to children was something called “sextortion.”

It’s bad enough when minors send nude images of themselves to boyfriends or girlfriends, and those images then get distributed to others.

In addition to the psychological damage, children who both send and receive the “sexts” are breaking the law — and could result in prosecution and even registration as a sex offender.

And it gets worse.

According to the FBI, the “sextortionists” have gone pro, with individual criminals targeting hundreds of children each. They pretend to be the same age as their victims, trick or coerce them into producing child pornography for them — and even get them to recruit friends and siblings.

In a review of 43 such cases, the FBI found that two victims committed suicide, and ten others attempted to kill themselves. Victims also have their grades decline, drop out of school, get depressed, and engage in cutting or other types of self harm.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, reports of sextortion were up 150 percent during the first several months of 2016 compared to the same time period in 2014. 

In 4 percent of the sextortion reports, the children engaged in self-harm, threatened suicide or attempted suicide as a result of the victimization, the Center said.

13.  Warn your kids about file sharing

Uploading illegal files is, of course, illegal.

And so is downloading, though fewer media companies seem to be prosecuting kids these days.

But downloading illegal files also carries other risks, such as viruses.

Fortunately, there are now many free and low-cost services out there where kids and teens can get videos and music.

14.  Warn your kids about online polls and surveys

There are lot of fun, harmless polls out there, like the one that tells you what kind of poodle you are.

Others ask for too much personal information, and could land your kids on spammers’ email lists, or open them up to identity theft.

Many adults have a separate, throw-away email account for when they need to provide an email address in order to register for something. If your child have a legitimate reason to fill in questionnaires that require an email address, consider helping them set up a throw-away email account of their own.

15.  Warn your kids about getting too close to strangers

When you’re meeting someone for the first time after, say, communicating with them via an online dating app, you know to set the meeting in a public location, such as a coffee house, and to let friends know where you are.

This is common sense.

But children and teenagers often lack that basic common sense — or might be tricked into keeping their online relationships secret.

Of course, predators can also communicate with potential targets via traditional mail, or meet them at bus stops. But the Internet allows them to scale up their activities dramatically.

Attackers can use online relationships to lure children to meet them in person. Or, more frequently, they will try to trick children into making unnecessary purchases, or sharing information, photos, or videos.

Know your children’s online friends. And, just as with regular friends, confirm their identities, and talk to those kids’ parents. If those “kids” are, in fact, kids.

16.  Help your children deal with cyberbullying

Cyberbullying affects up to 15 percent of children, according to a report released last year by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

And the rates are even higher for children who are overweight, disabled, or LGBT, or members of a minority group.

Victims have physical problems such as sleeping, upset stomachs, and headaches and also suffer psychological effects, such as depression, anxiety and alcohol and drug use.

Let your kids know that they can turn to you for help, and find out what resources are available from your local schools.

You should save messages and other evidence of the cyberbullying and report the bully to the social media platform, telephone or Internet service provider, school, or local law enforcement authorities. In addition, you should block the bully from your child’s social media, telephone, or email accounts.

More information here:

17.  Set a good example

How many baby pictures and vacation photos have you posted online? Before lecturing your kids about staying safe, make sure that you yourself are a good model. Learn about the privacy settings in the social media apps you use most, then check that you aren’t sharing private, personal moments with the whole Internet.

Also, don’t drive while texting or talking on the phone.

Wait until we all have those self-driving cars, and do your texting then.

18.  Set rules about what your kids can share online

As an adult, you know to be careful about what information you post online. You know not to share your financial information or social security numbers with strangers.

Make sure your kids know the rules and understand the reasons behind them. Even seemingly innocuous information, like vacation pictures, can let criminals know when your house is empty.

Some information, like funny picture of your cat in the snow, can be shared with everyone. Some information, like vacation plans, can be shared with family and close friends. And some things should never be shared online at all.

In addition, the recommended age for children to have their own social media accounts is 13.

The Family Online Safety Institute has a sample family online safety contract here: https://www.fosi.org/good-digital-parenting/family-online-safety-contract/

19.  Add your kids as “Friend”

If your children have their own accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, Instagram, Snapchat or other social media sites, follow or friend them.

Don’t let your kids tell you that other parents don’t do this. According to the Pew Research Center, 83 percent of parents are friends with their teenage child on Facebook.

You’ll be able to see if they are posting inappropriate things online and can step in before problems escalate.

It’s not foolproof — there are ways that children can keep their communications hidden from you. And if you are too heavy-handed in your monitoring, it may cause your children to be more secretive.

20.  Set limits on how much time your children can spend online

According to a recent national survey, tweens spend an average of six hours a day with their devices, and that’s not including the time spent on school or homework. And teens spend an amazing nine hours a day staring at their screens..

Sure, some of that is listening to Spotify while exercising. But the bulk of the time is spent watching videos, playing games, and using social media.

The American Academy of Pediatrics used to recommend that children under two should not have any screen time at all, and had very conservative limits for screen time for older children. In late 2016, the organization re-evaluated current research and loosed its recommendations.

Some screen time, such as video chats with relatives, or educational applications, can be very valuable, even for the youngest children.

Now, the organization suggests that families create a Family Media Plan.

However, the organization recommends that parents limit the use of screens during meals, and for an hour before bedtime. Also, phones and tables shouldn’t be charged overnight in the child’s bedroom, to limit the temptation to check the devices at all hours of the night.

21.  Additional resources

Internet Matters: Resources for parents looking to keep children safe online, with age-specific how-to guides, free apps, and device safety checklists. https://www.internetmatters.org/

Family Online Safety Institute: Parenting guides and news and reports about online safety issues. https://www.fosi.org/

Safe, Smart & Social: Social media training guides and safety tips for parents and educators. https://safesmartsocial.com/

Thanks go to John Mason for most of this content, who conveniently emailed me which reminded me I had this article in draft, so saved me a lot of typing.

Add MariaDB support to MSP Control

Add MariaDB support to MSP Control

I have recently been setting up MSP Control (formerly WebsitePanel) on my new CFML Developer server. Unfortunately, it doesn’t support MariaDB out of the box and so won’t detect if you have it installed. Fortunately, this is an easy hack.

  1. Open up your MSPControl database in SSMS, and open the providers table.
  2. Now find the MySQL providerID that matches your MariaDB install
    i.e. MySQL 5.7 for MariaDB 10.1
  3. Now add a new entry into the SERVICES table, using the providerID you got from the last step and the appropriate serverID for the server you want to add it to. You get he ServerID from the servers table, or just edit the server in the control panel and get it from the URL.
  4. Now just edit this server in MSP Control, and you should see MySQL listed, just edit and setup as you would MySQL.
  5. Now you just enable MySQL on your hosting plans.

 

Review: Uhans U200

Review: Uhans U200

20151023150914431443

A couple of months ago I decided to bite the bullet and get rid of my Windows Phone and switch back to Android, I donated my Nokia Lumia 930 to my son.  While I liked Windows Phone, and I do prefer the GUI, there were just too many niggling issues and bugs and those few “must have” apps that either did not exist or the WP version sucked, and this is not going to change due to the tiny user base.

Now my requirements are pretty simple, I do not need a phone to play 4k video or play 3D games which will drain my battery within 2 hours, so spending hundreds on a phone seemed like a pointless waste of money. I did get myself a Galaxy S7 edge, but frankly I found the EDGE quite annoying as I could not pick it up or put it down without touching the edge and causing some action to occur, and frankly it felt so flimsy I was scared  of breaking it, so I sent it back as I am not prepared to spend that much on a phone if it annoys me in any way.

I do not understand this whole concept of making phones more powerful with more battery draining features, yet thinner so the battery cannot even last a day if you actually use it for anything other than checking your email. Surely if you want to use your phone to watch a video and play games you need a phone that has a big fat battery in it, I think the phone makers are really missing a trick here. Phones are not primarily phones anymore, that functionality is likely the least important feature for most people, what they really want is a pocket tablet/gaming device.

So I decided to start looking at budget phones, and specifically the Chinese alternatives which seem to be getting more popular. My first choice was a Doogee X6, which despite having good reviews turned out to be a mistake. It felt very cheap and the screen was very unresponsive, either it did not even detect my taps or detected them in the wrong place, I found the device totally unusable and frustrating, so that was returned after a couple of weeks.

My second choice was the Uhans U200, which is an unusual looking phone, but it seemed chunky and solid with a bigger battery than most, a proper mans phone, which was exactly what I was looking for. So far I am glad to say it has delivered everything I had hoped and is absolutely worth the £85 I paid for it and I would not hesitate to buy this phone again. There is also a smaller model called the Uhans U100, which I have bought for my son, and he loves it also.

Despite being a Chinese phone, there are no issues setting it up, it is as easy to setup as any UK phone, and the Uhans packaging is as slick as any top of the range phone.

I have also installed a Windows Phone style launcher, so I still get the benefits of the GUI that I preferred on the Windows Phone but with an Android.

 

Look and Feel

The Uhans U200 I think is squarely aimed at men, it has a real leather back with a crocodile skin pattern, and I must say I like it, sadly it only comes in black, there are no other colors which is a shame, as I would have quite liked one in actual snake skin style. The other big advantage with the leather is that it is immune to greasy finger prints, which is something that affects just about every phone. As soon as you touch them, they are covered in them. It is chunky too, it has a 5 inch screen and I can hold this phone comfortably without fear of dropping it, and it feels solid, the buttons are easy to use with my big fat man fingers, and with the metal frame I do not feel the need to actually purchase a case to protect it. I carry a man bag so not really an issue for me, otherwise it sits quite happily in my jacket pocket or the leg pocket of my combat trousers.

Performance and Usage

The Uhans U200 has a 5.0 inch screen, 4G Smartphone,  Android 5.1 MTK6735 64bit Quad Core 1.0GHz 2GB RAM 16GB ROM, 13.0MP Main Camera OTG

So far I have no complaints with regards performance. The screen is responsive in all applications including games. It has had no issues with running any of the apps I use regularly, playing video etc and the only time it has struggled is when I tried to play some resource intensive 3D games, although it still managed to run them at an acceptable speed to make them playable, but this is not an issue for me as this is not what I use my phone for anyway, but when I do play games, it does the job.

Sadly you do not get fast charging, but hey it is a budget phone, so I am not complaining, and I suspect that in the near future that this will become a standard feature for all phones, budget or not.

The battery easily lasts all day for me, sometimes I have forgot to charge it and it has lasted 2 days, but that is with me barely using it.

Accessories

This is one area where the phone is let down, when I went looking for a case, I found only one, and not a lot else accessory wise. However this is a compromise I find acceptable, being as the phone feels so chunky and solid anyway, I am not feeling the need to buy a case, although I did order the only one available just so that I do have something to put it in when I don’t take my main wallet, and the case does match the style of the phone and it is wallet style case itself, so fits in well with the whole MANLY concept of the phone. Other than this there is actually no other accessories I actually need, so again I have no real complaints.

Camera

After several months using this phone, I can say that the camera is a bit of a let down. As long as you have good lighting then it takes great pictures which I have been happy with, but as soon as lighting is less than adequate then it struggles to get focus, and the flash often seems to go off BEFORE the shutter, which means it does nothing to illuminate the target. The rest of the time the flash seems to add a blue hue to the picture, which is also not great.

Customer Support

This has been the biggest let down of all, support from UHANS is virtually nonexistent. I contacted them about an issue I was having with the SDCARD reporting wrong size, and each reply took several weeks, the last response took them 2 months, so I gave up as they simply did not care and were unhelpful.

I then had cause to contact them about connecting the phone to the PC as this also would not work. They told me that Windows 10 is not supported and I had to install Windows XP or Windows 7 to do this. This is absolutely shocking and incompetent that they are suggesting I install an end of life, no longer supported OS with serious security vulnerabilities. Even Windows 7 is no longer secure to use.