• Technology
  • Feb3


    After watching D. Joshua Taylor’s Rootstech session “Do I Trust the Cloud?” earlier today, I thought it might be a good idea to finish a blog post I’ve had in limbo for quite awhile now – how to encrypt your data to protect it if you use a cloud-based sharing or storage service.

    But, that post  of mine is mainly “How To” and not “Why To.” Here I’ll address some of the Why first.

    First, I liked D. Joshua Taylor’s presentation. It had very many good points on the value of using cloud services, both from a data preservation and a collaboration standpoint. I’m all in – I use cloud services all the time and I’m with him on the potential of using these tools.

    Cloud Lock CylinderBut, we need to remember that these cloud services are just that – tools. They are not a panacea for your security nor your data storage and backup concerns.

    At the start of the talk I felt he was overselling the “trust the cloud” part of his argument for using such services. He then followed up with a discussion of the pitfalls of cloud services and things one might want to verify with a service provider to insure their data was safe and available.

    That was great – but as a security professional, I still think it felt a bit too much like the ultimate takeaway was “they’ll take care of your stuff and they’ll figure out how to make it secure, since it is in their best interest as a business to do a good job.”

    Well, maybe. If you think cloud services (or any company) have it all figured out or are close to it, then you might want to leave your happy place for a minute and take a look at any day’s conversation on my Security & Privacy Twitter list of infosec professionals. Then, you might meander over to the DataLoss Database and check out the latest reports. It ain’t pretty

    Dilbert DR Plan: HELP HELPWhile I’m a fairly heavy user of cloud services, I make sure that I have a definite plan for knowing what data I have, keeping multiple copies both in the cloud and locally, as well as maintaining a system of managing a string of backups over time.

    I mean, who hasn’t overwritten a file by mistake? Raise your hand? Higher! I thought so.

    Well, that can still happen with cloud-based services. Or, someone might breach the cloud service. Or, your local system might get infected, leading to easy access to your cloud data. Or, a service might change their privacy policy regarding your data – and once your data is out there, between backups and cached copies, there’s (almost) no un-ringing that bell.

    Your data is still your data, no matter how you store it and to protect it you need to plan for the worst-case scenario. Because the funny thing about worst-case scenarios is when you expect them and plan for them, they don’t show up as often. Remember:

    “Chance favors the prepared mind.” – Louis Pasteur

    OK, so I’m done with building  the bleak house. But, let’s just move forward with the following tenets in place:

    1. You need to decide how important each type of data is to you, and what might happen if it fell in the wrong hands.
    2. You can’t know for sure how secure any online service is, so act as if they are insecure. No matter what they tell you.

    Realize now that I’m not saying you should consider these cloud services as evil, incompetent entities. Use them. Love them. Send them Christmas cards and name your children after them. But we all need to be realistic about both the opportunities they present and the risk you take when putting your stuff “out there.”

    For me: Putting my open research and photos in the cloud? Great! Cousin Bait! Research help! Collaboration! Putting my taxes and medical records in the cloud? No thanks; the risk outweighs the benefit.

    Here’s a simple way to harness the goodness of something like Dropbox without exposing your bits to the elements: Encrypt your data before you put it in the cloud.

    TrueCrypt is a free open-source encryption software and is available for all major operating systems. You can encrypt an entire disk, or for our purposes here: create a virtual encrypted volume to put your data in. From your operating system’s perspective, this volume is simply another file.

    Cloud Dropbox ExmampleAt right is a simple diagram of using Dropbox and Truecrypt together to protect your data over and above the protections in place by the cloud provider.

    For example, I have Dropbox installed on my desktop, laptop and mobile devices. I have regular folders and files in it and a public folder for sharing with others. I also have an encrypted Truecrypt volume (read: file) that gets synced along with those other files.

    How a Truecrypt Volume Looks in Dropbox A Truecrypt volume contains a file system within it – so you mount the volume using the Truecrypt software, enter the correct password and it will look just like any other drive on your system. You can work with the files there just as you would any other.

    When you are done working with the files, simply dismount the Truecrypt volume and Dropbox will sync it as usual. So you can have it all: availability, security and convenience.

    I hope that wasn’t too long a post and that my soapbox wasn’t too high. It is an exciting time to research family history and to work online. But, sometimes we need to work to try not to get *too* excited.

    In my next blog post I’ll provide some details and screen shots on how to create a secure Truecrypt volume.

  • Jan31

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    I have been toying with mapping some one-name study data sets I have been creating and would like to get a better feel for. This post is a simple quick test of using Google Fusion Tables to map out the McKinnon Births by Nova Scotia County as reported at the NovaScotiaGenealogy.com web site.

    So, below are the number of children born with a McKinnon parent for the years 1864-1877, 1908-1910 and delayed registrations 1830-1910. Note that I have found a few name typos in the database that need to be looked into further, and this does not yet cover the “MacKinnon” spelling of the surname. (A work in progress.)

    Since the Fusion Table map does not add a legend on its own and I have not had time to fiddle with the script to add it here, I’ve supplied a screen capture of the settings to provide a better reference for the icon colors.

    You can, of course, click on any icon in the map to see the county name and actual count of births.

    Legend - McKinnon Births in Nova Scotia by County

    My ultimate goal is to create an easy to use mapping system that will allow users to visualize the data by years, names and locations with simple clicks. When I get all of my trials and tribulations sorted out, I will post some how-to’s on my process to compile and present the data.

  • Nov15


    While watching today’s Ancestry.com webinar and seeing Crista Cowan‘s census table, I noodled around on the Google and created a quick version for download. Just enter names, birth and death years and it will calculate the persons age during each census from 1850 to 1940.

    Act now and it will also gray out cells for censuses in which the person was not around!

    Below is a static version – apparently you can embed Google spreadsheets, but they aren’t editable. Visit this link to use a live version of it.

    (Update December 16, 2014): I tried the cell protection in Google Sheets again after having trouble getting it working in previous years. Looks like it does work now – with lots of opening and closing of the sheet after making every sharing change, named range creation, and range protection change. I also had to sacrifice a chicken. So, only the GREEN cells are now editable in the sheet.

    I found someone had mistakenly overwritten the formula in at least one cell with a number, which I’ve fixed. This new cell protection should avoid that problem in the future.

    One thing to note: Google Sheets seems to show protected cells by default with a cross-hatch background that makes it hard to read the cell info. You can click on the View menu at the top of the sheet, then de-select the Protected Cells option to get rid of that cross-hatch. (The non-green cells will still be protected, of course.)

    (Don’t worry, I’ve got copies in case the sheet gets borked. And hey you – YES YOU, we all know you don’t have any Walter Melons in you tree so no funny names, Mister Smartypants.)

    You can also download a copy to use in your own Excel or Open Office software by clicking File… Download As… and saving it to your computer.

    Makes a great stocking stuffer!

  • Nov7

    1 Comment

    Ancestry Android App ScreenshotFor those that haven’t heard yet, Ancestry has released an Android app into the Beta-sphere. I’ve played around with it for a few days now, and it is absolutely a nice handy app to have.

    It is still in testing mode and their posting on the Android Market clearly says:

    This is a pre-release product intended for testing only. The ability to add and edit people, search for people in your tree, and more will be available in the final release.

    But, even with some quirks and functionality I think should be added, I am fairly sure that I will be using this app regularly in the future. For posterity, I am recording my first comments back to the Ancestry Beta contact, edited slightly for clarity and to use the screen captures: Read More | Comments

  • Nov1

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    And now for a third post in my trifecta of tools for information viewing and copying – the free HTTrack Website Copier allows you to download the entire Internet to your local drive.

    No, not really – but their web site does a nice job of explaining what it does:

    It allows you to download a World Wide Web site from the Internet to a local directory, building recursively all directories, getting HTML, images, and other files from the server to your computer. HTTrack arranges the original site’s relative link-structure.

    Simply open a page of the “mirrored” website in your browser, and you can browse the site from link to link, as if you were viewing it online. HTTrack can also update an existing mirrored site, and resume interrupted downloads. HTTrack is fully configurable, and has an integrated help system.

    Last year I was working my way through reading a fairly large set of local history interviews and photos from the town near where my grandmother was born. These interviews contained interesting stories and I believe more than a few clues to the relationships of various families in the area.

    Then, one day I noticed a new post on the home page of the website: due to lack of local interest, it was to be taken down within several weeks. To avoid losing access to this resource, I broke out my trusty HTTrack, pointed it at the web site in question, set a local directory on my PC to save it in and let it rip. Read More | Comments