New WordPress Based LMS

There is a new Learning Management System (LMS) coming out. It is named LearnDash. (http://www.learndash.com) It will be a plugin for the popular WordPress content management system (CMS). There is certainly room in this area for growth. We use Moodle as the primary LMS on http://www.allceus.com right now. Moodle is great, but honestly it is a bit much to manage for a small business wanting to provide online training. Really, if you don’t have your own Moodle Admin on staff… you are forced to pay for a hosted Moodle. This can quickly get really costly. Luckily for us, I am able to manage our Moodle on our own dedicated server.

I haven’t gotten my hands on a Beta of the LearnDash software yet, but I am looking forward to doing a further review. It appears though that they are incorporating the needed features.

Gateway Server and Firewall Options

If you are running a business (or want to protect your home). One of the most important things to do is to secure your network. There are a number of very good and open source (free or low cost) Linux/BSD distributions that can protect your network. These open source servers do require some computer skill to administer. The beauty of it is that you can usually get started for free.

Many of these open source packages have commercial add-ons that you can use to enhance the network security. These paid add-ons are usually enhanced versions of the free/open source elements of the servers. (FYI: Companies in the open source field make their money by providing paid support contracts for the free products)

Regardless of the solution you choose, you will want a local or remote computer support person who can effectively leverage the available solutions in your environment. With the open source solutions available today, you can secure your network with little or no recurring cost. This is true with a home or business. Although, as a business network there are probably some add-ons such as company support and commercial anti-virus that you may want to consider adding to the system. The cost of these add-ons if very reasonable though and will help support your open source solutions so they stay around.

I will quickly run through a few of the options in this field, but first, I will define a few terms for the newbies in the group:

Linux of GNU/Linux is an open source user interface sitting on top of the Linux kernal. Linux has grown to be every bit as user friendly as Windows or Mac. ( I believe it is actually better than them both today.)

BSD- is another open source operating system. It is especially known for having very tight security.

Server- A server is basically a central computer responsible for handling network wide functions in an organization or organization sub-group. (or a home now days)

Firewall- Is an appliance device or an specialized server that is controlling traffic going in and out of the network to the internet as a whole.

GUI- Graphic User Interface. This is all the pretty windows you drag around and click now days. It is what is commonly thought of as an operating system by the average person today. Think what you see when you open a Windows XP desktop.

Untangle Firewall-

Untangle is an open source firewall/gateway solution that has paid add-on’s and support. It is the product that I personally use to protect my business network. It is known for having a very pretty user interface–very “Windows-esque”. Their Graphic User Interface (GUI) resembles a rack of servers like you would see in a server room. ( When I look at the graphic rack, I think about the thousands of dollars I would be spending on a rack of hardware for the same purpose.) Their package of solutions for securing (and accelerating) your network spans almost anything that you can think of needing. It works great for intrusion detection, web filtering, captive portal, virus blocking, and handling DHCP/DNS functions. Each of these individual pieces is configurable through an convienient GUI. All in one excellent easy to use platform.

PFsense-

PFsense is based on BSD. BSD is well known for its security as an operating system. This makes BSD a great platform for a firewall/ gateway solution. PFsense has long had the reputation for being a gateway for the super techy user. PFsense actually does have a very useable GUI. There are not as many easy to use features as untangle, so it would require a more skilled user to administer. There is paid support offered. It is pricey however, starting at $600 dollars for 5 hours.

ClearOS-

ClearOS is an open source distribution that focuses on being an all around server for your network. ClearOS doesn’t just handle the security aspects for your network, but it is designed to handle the duties of file server, web server, and mail server. This package has a network of providers trained in implementing there solution. There is also direct support from the company. This distribution is a great contender to replace a Windows Small Business Server.

Amahi-

Amahi is a Linux server based on Fedora. (Fedora is the open test bed for Red Hat Linux) This server is open source. They have done a great job of pulling together a lot of the features that a small office would need in a server. There product manages files, calendars, backups, disk pooling, wiki’s, database management, and disk monitoring. They also include DHCP, DNS, and VPN capabilities. These later capabilities are probably fine for home user, but for the high security environment I would stick with a firewall speciality distribution.

Amahi is also able to easily plug-in additional functionality. Although, not tons of Apps there is a nice assortment. These are nice one click install of additional functions. Of course being Linux and specifically Fedora based you can add further functionality through RPM packages.

This has been a few ideas to get you started in an affordable and secure fashion. I love open source!

Website and Communication Security through Encryption

A big challenge for a business trying to leverage open source technology for their public website is the security. Like all other industries, doctors and lawyers want to be able to leverage this free technology for appointments, live help, offline contact, sign-up forms, and basically anything with patient data. Despite the need in this arena, there are not a lot of quality/ affordable offerings for the small practice.

For the small practice, cost is no doubt a large factor. Many of the players in the field charge $500 to $1000 dollars per month to secure you data. This is not a reasonable cost for a small practice in my opinion.

In my work with setting up sites for some of these professionals, here are the solutions that I have combined with great effectiveness. I have used LuxSci secure email and forms. In order to maintain HIPAA compliance, I have used Gazzang to encrypt the MySQL databases which allows the data to be encrypted at rest. Of course I am using the tried and true SSL encryption to encrypt the data in transit.

The negative to this approach is it is not a “do-it-yourself” security approach for the average doctor or lawyer. It is going to require you to have a skilled web administrator on board. To be totally effective it is going to require securing computers that you use to access the data.

LuxSci is company that provides a host of services. The two biggest for lawyers and doctors is their email and secure form products. These two pieces are easily (for a skilled web admin) customized for your domain and business needs. Their secure email solution is to the end-user just a different webmail program. All the magic of securing your email happens in the background. LuxSci also has the ability deliver the email securely to mobile devices.

Something that really stood out for me about LuxSci is their customer service. They go above and beyond to make their solution work for you. While securing some very large and complex pdf forms for one counseling practice, I ran into some errors in their form submission environment. This isn’t a negative on them at all, this was some pretty non-standard stuff. They immediately starting working on the issue. It was a problem that required some back end recoding of how the software actually handles data. They were able to very quickly find the bug and fix the code.

If you have done a lot of work around software and hosted web services, you know how unique this ability has become. There are so many platforms out in the market place that are redeploying the code of others and can’t really fix core problems. This company can fix it. I have had other occasions to need their support for issues and I can’t say enough positive things about their customer service.

Gazzang EzNcrypt is the solution I use to encrypt my MySql database. What this solution does is break out specific tables out of your MySQL database that need to be encrypted. These tables are then encrypted utilizing a key on their servers (or yours alternatively). This encryption is transparent to the software needing to access it. The ability to encrypt MySQL databases at rest fills a big piece in being able to use open source software to your needs while still maintaining high security and HIPAA compliance.

While installing the Gazzang solution in my environment, I hit a couple of snags from my own lack of understanding of all the details of the install. (Note that this is a command line install. –that means old fashioned DOS interface like we used in the early 90s. You will need a web admin to do this.) Gazzang was very responsive when I contacted them. In a very brief time I got email responses from one of the design team. He was quickly able to help me though the issues I was having.

I have had follow-up contacts with both of these businesses since I selected them for my needs. I can tell you that both companies are very customer service oriented. Both companies are striving fill a niche with a significant need at an affordable price. I truly wish both companies the best and rapid growth. As a note: I have not been compensated in any way by either company.

Data Recovery Conference for Continued Education

I recently left my full time job in law enforcement doing computer forensics. (Hopefully private work will be less stress and more money!) I am primarily a computer forensic examiner. I do data recovery as a part-time, fill in when computer forensics is slow. As such, since I went to one Scott Moulton’s first data recovery course there has been a lot change in data recovery. It is obvious that there is a HUGE asset of combined knowledge in the data recovery field.

In law enforcement we would periodically have “Computer Forensic Training Days.” This was a quarterly meeting where examiners got together and trained each other. Examiners with a special interest/ expertise in a block would train the others. The only cost to go was small to cover hosting, as the trainers were paid by their agencies.

I think a similar thing would work very well for data recovery. In data recovery though, there would probably be a little higher cost to cover paying the speakers a lesson prep fee, conference room costs, and refreshments. I am thinking it could probably be done for a few hundred dollars for each attendee. ( I may even be able to work my law enforcement contacts to get us free rooms for the training in exchange for letting some of them come.)

I already run allceus.com with my wife. We (mainly she) puts on seminars already. So, I have some experience at it.

I think with the speed that knowledge grows in data recovery and it being so hands on that this would be extremely valuable to everyone. I know I would be willing to contribute training on file systems, X-Ways Forensics, or whatever else that DR folks were interested in.

Not to mention I am in Florida, just north of Orlando. Nice place to come annually for a winter conference maybe?

Let me know your thoughts. The big thing I would like to know is, would you ACTUALLY come. Keep in mind that with your flight, room, and enrollment fee that it will probably cost $1,000 dollars to attend a 2 or three day conference. (If the group is small I can actually host at my in-office training room. But, that would just be like 20 people… ) I will put a survey below for for everyone who is interested to take. I will publish the results later.

Data Recovery Conference Survey

Mini-DVD Data Recovery

I just did a data recovery job that involved a mini-dvd that had been accidentally re-formatted. I got the DVD in with no active files. My usual go to for these recoveries has been ISObuster. I have had many successful recoveries with ISObuster. In this case it did recover movie files that had been on the drive. It incorrectly assembled lots of the MPEG fragments a few large VOD files. This resulted in a jumpy video with a lot of unintelligible audio.

Well I knew my friends from England, CNW recovery, had been working hard on their DVD data recovery routines. I decided to give CNW a try. It has a very user friendly menu that guides your through each step of the process. It recommends at each step the next step in the recovery. I watched as it imaged the disk, carved the MPEGs, then did its best guess at reassembly. The process was very easy to understand and smooth for a low-level data recovery tool.

The resulting MPEGs were much cleaner than the VOB’s produced by ISObuster. There were segments, that by manual review, I could tell needed to be reassembled. There were none that were incorrectly put together though. (A much harder thing to deal with.)

I manually re-assembled the MPEGs together that were really part of one continuous shoot. The resulting product was very good.

I am very impressed with the progress of CNW recovery in this area!!

Phone: (615) 208-6565 1633 W. Main St, Suite 902, Lebanon, TN