It took me all of 2 weeks to weigh up my options and bite the bullet. I’ve put the cash down for a new Mac mini M1 – with 16Gb memory and a 1TB HDD.
The biggest annoyance over it all is the cost associated with storage. I know I can add additional storage via USB and Thunderbolt (and I plan on doing so) but I wouldn’t mind having it all together for ease, but the pricing just wasn’t there. The base model, 8GB Memory and a 256GB HDD costs £699. Each upgrade is around £200, so £200 to bump the memory up to its max, 16GB – not brilliant by any stretch of the imagination, but not terrible when it comes to Apple pricing. To take the HDD up to 512Gb is another £200. Then to 1Tb adds an additional £200. To get the top of the line storage is another £400 on top of that, and I just can’t justify an extra £400 for 1Tb of storage when I’ve already paid an additional £400 for 3/4 of that.
Im clearly drinking the kool-aid if I’m moaning about this cost but still paying it. My late 2012 Mac mini no longer gets OS Updates. I now have an annoying red badge letting me know some apps need updating, but they won’t update because I don’t have the latest OS. I’ve manager 8 years with this one computer, and it still runs fairly well. But it’s time to upgrade. Because I like to average out the cost of things, my current mini has cost me a total of:
I had a bit of an idea, and the PiAlert was the result. A video is the best demonstration but in short, different coloured lights light up when certain things are triggered, and a counter is kept for each light. My primary trigger is access attempts on port 22 (SSH) on my servers. Its usually all automated attempts, but after 24 Hours one of my VPS’s where I have normal login enabled recorded 1633 attempts, and another where I have SSH set to only allow password-less logins via SSH Keys recorded 9 attempts. Similarly, automated WordPress logins were detected once. The video shows it being manually triggered prior to it being exposed to the outside world.
And some photos of it in action
I won’t lie. This is at best an alpha level item. I’ve uploaded all the code and design files in the hope that someone finds it interesting and possible wants to help improve it for others.
I haven’t been able to share this post in the Raspberry_Pi subreddit as I was banned over 4 months ago for asking about the Pi HQ Camera (boring story). I’ve tried for the last 4 months to at least appeal the ban but no one replies to the mod mail. If anyone wants to help rectify that by speaking to the mods I’d be over the moon so I can get my project posted there!
I’m a bit late for the whole “lockdown project movement”, and seeing as I worked through any lock downs that happened I didn’t get the time to sit and tinker like I would have. That changed recently thanks to surgery where I’m now sat up in the house with very little to do.
and it’s interesting seeing what pages random bots are trying to access, or what accounts they attempt to login to SSH via. It’s also got that same look as hacker movies do. I figured I could create a more visually appealing system and thats where this project came from.
Watching SSH logins have changed recently for me since I implemented a more strict login procedure – the number of failed attempts have dropped dramatically and this is evident after running this for 24 hours – as detailed above.
This post will be split into three sections, Hardware, Server Software Configuration and Pi Software.
The Blinkt! has been attached using DuPont wires which have been cut at one end and soldered direct onto the same 40-PIN GPIO connector on the Blinkt!, because I had to use the Pi’s GPIO pins to also hook up the 4 digit display.
Getting the Blinkt! to work this way turned out to be a bit tricker than I first thought. I thought my Blinkt! just had some poor mechanical connections in the connector and the amount of trial and error it took to get it working was more than I want to admit to. It turns out, after reaching out to Pimoroni on twitter that early versions of the Blinkt! used Pin 2 for 5V, instead of Pin 4, as shown on pinout.xyz. In my haste I ordered a second Blinkt! in case my one was faulty – but now I have to think of another project to use the second one for!
All these components were then put into a case I designed in Tinkercad and 3D Printed on my Ender 3 Pro, which to an extent worked, but I could not get my head around how to create a case that clips together for a friction/clip fit. I ended up throwing two large columns that an M5 Screw would fit into to hold it all together. These columns are off centre to all room for the Pi to fit.
It was printed in some cheap no-brand PLA at 217°C, 10% infill, and regular settings that I’ve tweaked over time watchingvarious YouTube channels.
This took 9 iterations of printing, measuring and tweaking before I got the front part of the case looking pretty decent. Each time I printed it something else could just be moved a bit over, or it could just be adjusted ever so slightly, and because I’m using Tinkercad a few times I ended up moving a key part or two and had to almost start over again. During my iterations I ended up getting rid of my attempt at clamps to keep the Blinkt! in place, and resorted to a hot glue gun (a first for me!). I ended up using that on the 4 digit display, and to keep the Pi Zero set. One of the last iterations was the mounting for the Pi Zero itself. I had initially left it floating in the case but plugging the usb cable was a bit of an adventure with it moving about so much. My final revision, if there ever is one, is to remove the screw posts and holes for M5 screws, and figure out how to get the case to snap-fit together. If anyone wants to take a bash at remixing it, please, feel free! My only other issue is I wouldn’t mind a piece of opaque glass or acrylic to sit over the front. On the one hand it hides the obvious parts that look very tech-y, and two, it should diffuse the light somewhat.
The Pi Zero W I used was used previously in another project that needed the 40 Pin GPIO connecter mounted backwards. This actually turned out to be a bonus, and as it was being popped in a case and this will more than likely be its final project, I decided to bend some of the pins to help it fit a bit better.
A final design idea is that I really should have included a button or two, even just hidden around the case somewhere. One for cycling through the detected hits so I don’t have to wait on a specific hit to see that number, and one to switch off the display with a short press, and gracefully shut the Pi down with a long press. If needed, its always accessible via SSH and if absolutely needed I could write a URL route that calls
Server Software Configuration
As part of the process of securing and monitoring my servers after my last incident I verified that fail2ban was actually installed on them. fail2ban is an amazing piece of FOSS software that, in summary, watches logs on your sever, takes a note if anything is happening that shouldn’t be like multiple failed login attempts to the SSH Service, and bans that IP Address from reaching your server if the issue is severe or repeated for a predetermined time. By default it watches SSH traffic, but it can also be extended to monitor other things like the amount of 404 errors, or incorrect login attempts to WordPress etc.
Part of fail2ban allows you to create custom actions when various triggers happen. This ended up being more difficult than just plonking a curl request in and I ended up reaching out and asking on GitHub because no matter what I tried it wasn’t working. For ease of reference – this is how I made custom actions for fail2ban on a debian based server –
Create a jail.local file and add the following
enabled = true
port = ssh
banaction = pinotifyred[myhost="SCRIPTHOSTSERVER"]
Replacing SCRIPTHOSTSERVER with a suitable URL (i.e dev.testing:8080) - no protocol at the start, no path at the end, and no trailing slash.
This inherits all the actions for SSHD, so it will continue to ban as normal, but it allows us to define additional actions. Unfortunately, you can’t just define a command to run here (and this was my issue), but instead tell it what action you would like to run, which gets called from the action.d folder. In the action.d folder create a file named after the ban action, in this case pinotifyred.conf, and have the following code in there
# sends get request like "http://example.com/red"
actionban = curl --fail "http://<my-host>/red" >> /dev/null
# overwrite this in jail as action parameter:
my-host = SCRIPTHOSTSERVER
Again, replacing SCRIPTHOSTSERVER with a suitable URL (i.e dev.testing:8080) - no protocol at the start, no path at the end, and no trailing slash. You can see that the actual address and protocol are set here in the actionban section.
This code calls the action ban, and replaces the <my-host> variable with what it has been defined as. I couldn’t get it to work without having that as a variable.
This code performs the command required, and also defines some variables that are needed for fail2ban to work. As a bonus feature, the way this is set up means that you can send a curl or wget request with various parameters including what IP has been banned, time and date it was banned etc, so if you’re after a more data-rich solution this could also be used. To do that, you could have a file in your action.d folder containing something similar to
#sends get request like "http://example.com/ban.php?jail=sshd&ip=192.0.2.100":
actionban = curl -G --data-urlencode "jail=%(name)s" --data-urlencode "ip=" --fail "http://<my-host>/ban.php"
overwrite this in jail as action parameter:
my-host = SCRIPTHOSTSERVER
As a small side note – I think theres a bug here in that the ban action is being called when an IP is unbanned. It’s something I’ll look into later as it’s possibly double counting.
I’ll be completely honest. The code is an absolute mess. It’s written in Python 3 by someone (me) who doesn’t know python, but knows how to search for and get answers on Stack Exchange, and with a grasp of basic programming fundamentals, managed to create the python program.
I’m not going to go over the process for formatting and getting you Pi to a headless and login-able state via SSH as that been done a thousand times before. The code below is hosted at GitHub, with only two files, the main
You can see the code in its entirety at my GitHub page.
This Python program just simply sets itself up to act as a HTTP server (and I know its not meant for production, but this is one of those “quick and easy” projects) and listen for any requests. Its single threaded, so if it gets a lot of attention it’ll more than likely fall down. It simply waits for a URL, if its defined, it runs an action. The action is to light up the Blinkt! in a Larson style scanner and then increment the counter. Depending on the URL means different colours LED’s illuminate. Theres no real error checking, theres no check to make sure the counter won’t overflow, and the program has the added benefit of showing me that even my home network is constantly under attack by malformed URL’s looking to gain access via any vulnerability they can find (which also throws up an exception error but doesn’t crash the program).
The penultimate piece of the puzzle is setting up the Pi so that as soon as it boots, it loads this script, and then just sits and runs. This is accomplished by editing
in vi by adding the command thats usually used to run the program –
python3 /home/pi/PiAlert/pialert.py &
The last piece of this whole puzzle is making sure the Pi, which is sitting behind a firewall on a home network with a Dynamic IP, will always be able to be reached by my VPS’s. I could use Dynamic DNS or any of the other myriad of services out there, however someone on the self hosted subreddit created a free service called freemyip.com which does exactly what I need it to do, and does it well. The service doesn’t seem popular yet and with the phenomenal price of free I’m sure that won’t be the same for long — but given how simple it is I would gladly kick a few quid their way. I also noticed that a second service has been set up by someone else on the sub, sliceport.com which I’ll have to give a bash at some point.
My code has 4 coloured lights set, and I have them set up as follows:
Blue for failed WordPress attempts on this site
Red for failed SSH attempts on Server A
Purple for failed SSH attempts on Server B
Green for failed URL’s from Server C
I’ll probably extend and change this as time goes on but this is a good indicator of what’s happening without having to log in to any server.
The best part? The design is somewhat neutral and is very, very flexible. If I decide I don’t want this anymore I can rewrite the code and turn it into a clock, or a counter for page hits, or any other number of things. Theres 8 RGB Leds and 4 7-Segment displays. Its also very portable. I have it sitting at my desk where I write my code, and its a nice reminder that bad people are trying bad things. But because of the low power requirements it can be ran from a battery pack – I could plug it in anywhere in the house where it will get a WiFi signal and it’ll happily run the code, and if a different network is needed all I have to do is SSH in, or create a new
file on the
So in summary — the codes a mess and could really be refactored. If I ever learn python it’ll be one of the first things I do. The enclosure could do with some love, and again, if I ever learn a 3D Modelling program I’ll get to that as well. But apart from that? I’m happy.
I’ve said before about how much I enjoy playing the game Destiny, and, to a much smaller extent, its successor Destiny 2. I used to be an avid player — jumping on for a few hours a night, playing with a clan, running strikes, missions and raids.
I was a late start into Destiny. I remember buying the base game just before House of Wolves launched. That meant I missed out on the real experience of running Vault of Glass first.
I was never a PvP person. I enjoyed the stories, the character building, the worlds, the music and the exploitability the PvE experience had to offer. After playing by myself a bit I got into a clan – Legion of Morn (Which sadly is no more) after watching Brendan on Twitch. LoM were great with a few really active players and I was always able to jump on and have a run at some PvE activity. The whole community surround Destiny at the time was phenomenal. Bungie had a pretty open API that allowed people to build incredible applications. Ones that transferred gear to your characters or gave you insights into how you or other people played, and even how much time you spent on Destiny in various activities.
I ran my first raid, Vault of Glass, away back 03/03/2016, and then various raids since then. My favourite of all was Kings Fall. A proper, behemoth of an activity that replied on multiple people doing multiple things, with everyone having to take their turn – so you could always be the one who did certain things thanks to the mechanics. I only ever completed Kings Fall 4 times but man, I still reminisce on it fondly.
Destiny 2 then came out and despite being better looking, with better playability, something just didn’t strike the same feelings as Destiny 1 did. I went with my clan into Destiny 2 full of wonder, but very quickly it was apparent that some decisions had been made by Bungie that put the whole game in jeopardy — not from a “this game is going to crash” type thing, more of a “this game is about to lose all its player base”.
Destiny 2 has always had 2 sides. PvE (Player vs Everything – where you normally fight or battle computer based opponents) and PvP (Player vs Player, where you would fight against other Destiny players from around the world), and for a while, it seemed as though PvP wash the driving force behind the decisions Bungie was making, and it affected a large portion of the player base — me included.
Destiny 2 was the start of me realising that it’s not the game I started playing. It’s not the game I enjoyed playing. I’ve forced myself time and time again to play Destiny 2, having now clocked more hours in it vs Destiny, and I still just don’t feel the same about it. Some missions are brilliant. The opening story and subsequent story missions have been phenomenal, but more recently the stories just don’t feel like they have the same depth or planning as they used to.
Its a shame. I still love the stories. I still love the lore. I love the background, almost everything about it apart from playing the game. I’ll happily read the lore entries, and watch other people play – anything to do with Destiny. Apart from play it.
During a conversation the other week I was lamenting about how much of a pain it is to have to explain my domain when giving it out —
Yeah, its hyphen web — the take-away sign then the word web. W for Whisky, E for Echo, B for Bravo.
A typical reply when asked for my email address
I was asked — why don’t you just buy it without the hyphen? Good advice I suppose. Except that it had already been purchased. I checked on it previously and had done so at random intervals since registering nick-web.co.uk. The last update the wayback machine was on the 10th January 2018 – where it simply proclaimed
I love that about the Wayback Machine — pop in a domain and see how its changed over the years. I’m a bit annoyed at myself as a number of years ago I requested that I be excluded from it and I can’t figure out how to re-enable it, but I digress.
Checking the domain I seen that it was now available for purchase! So I jumped on it, meaning nick-web.co.uk is now improved, with one character less! 14 to 13 characters – a whopping 7.1% decrease!
A bit of a disappointing one this. Theres nothing worse (well, I’m sure there is but in this context lets leave it as is) than receiving that dreaded e-mail from your host. It starts with a subject line similar to
Security Incident Concerning
and a body of text along the lines of
A security risk has been detected on your server.
We have been informed that your server contains or redirects to harmful or malicious content, such as malware or phishing sites.
Not at all ideal. In summary — the server in question began to host malicious content. It was from a domain that I don’t use and have a holding page only up, and a user at some point has reported the URL as a malware/phishing attempt. This then gets reported to my host, who then reports it to me.
After getting the email I was a bit perplexed as to how this site had been flagged as a security risk. I checked the URL given and sure enough, a redirect was in place taking it away from my server to some other (compromised) server. I thought it might have been a coding issue that allowed my domain to freely redirect pages (meaning any attacker could mask their own server with mine). I logged in and checked a few things. It wasn’t my code that was doing anything. I checked and seen a few other files that shouldn’t have been there, all with recent creation dates. A quick
find . -maxdepth 20 -mtime -20
netted me a few files that had been created 2 days prior. These were in a variety of directories, and as I spread my domains across a couple of servers these files also appeared in those directories. The suspect files all were all Base 64 encoded, and executed php scripts – given that they all started with
These files either redirected pages, contained a mass emailer (LeafPHPMailer) or opened up a (pretty feature rich but visually poor) file manager. I’m not going to go into too much detail but the reason for the infection came from one WordPress installation that I had completely forgot about after transferring to the new host. Its a site thats very seldom accessed, and to be honest, doesn’t require a WordPress Installation, but it was an easy CMS solution for someone.
Using an out-of-date plugin the attacker managed to place obfuscated PHP file on the server. This file was then accessed via a web browser which ran the PHP code, and allowed other files to be placed in different locations on the server.
When I deployed these servers I began hardening them against attacks like this. Unfortunately, I didn’t finish it. Some of my actions stopped the potential full-scale destruction of the server which I’m thankful for, but I’m a bit annoyed I didn’t finish my hardening steps.
Having separate users for different tasks on the server helped. This meant that any file modifications were only able to be done at the root web-directory level. Config files, where appropriate were hosted out-with the directory, and permissions meant that other files could not be modified. There were a few other steps that I’m not going to go into detail about however cashing up on a couple of guides on how to harden or secure your server should help.
After figuring out what happened, and how it happened, I stopped any public access – essentially shutting down the HTTP Daemon, removed any newly created files matching the time scales above, pretty deleted any WordPress installations and re-downloaded fresh copies of the MD5-checked files from wordpress.org, then manually checked all the database tables for Indicators of Compromise (IoC’s) line by line, entry by entry, and slowly reloaded everything.
I then finished my hardening that I should have done before.
I think it’s important to vent that “hacking” isn’t hacking any more. It’s what used to be known as “Script Kiddies” who are now essentially Serious and Organised Crime Groups that use these phishing and malware scams to extract money. Theres no hacking in the traditional sense – just the unauthorised access to computers that wreck havoc on people who are caught by it. It’s the same as a teenager using a Low Orbit Ion Cannon.
Am I embarrassed this happened to me? Of course. Annoyed? Yep. But I’m also relieved that it did — it means I was able to stop it before it became much, much worse.
I love this song by The Weeknd – it’s called Blinding Lights and this is one of my favourite covers. I really like Teddy Swims voice – I’m not a fan of all his covers, or even his original songs, but man. This song just hits the mark.
Thats all my domains now moved over to the new host.
7 years ago I started hosting with Digital Ocean. At exactly 0218Hrs on Friday 23/08/2013 I made my first $5 droplet – and that $5 droplet worked exceptionally well. I had automated backups and with VAT it came to around $7.20 every month. Not a lot by any stretch of the imagination.
The existing VPS was destroyed at 1655Hrs, Monday 30/03/2020 – meaning that droplet ran for exactly 2411 days, 14 hours and 37 minutes. Or 6 years, 7 months, 7 days, 14 hours and 37 minutes – give or take a few seconds. Its a good thing I waited until today to destroy the droplet otherwise there would be an extra calculation due to the DST difference!
But anyway. Onwards and upwards. My new host is £1.20 per month for each server, with a £10 setup fee. I currently have 2 separate servers running – for both reliability and to ease strain as a new customer. So far I’ve spent £16.80 per server for 3 months. Thats £5.60 per month each, so £11.20 per month. Making it a tad more expensive.
Just for information. I just spent the last hour dealing with Digital Ocean’s Billing API to obtain all the following figures – then attempting to use jq to parse this data – and finally excel to do some quick calculations. I also used , and  in my quest to save time.
Im going use the rounded up value of 6 years and 8 months for the following math – exactly 80 months.
I’ve had a total of $110 in Digital Ocean credit over those 18 months — this includes welcome credit and referrals. Over the 80 months I spent exactly $427.04. Minus that credit brings the total cost to $317.04, so per month that equates to $3.96. Not bad, and still under the $5 cost it should have been! Converting that into UK Pounds equates to roughly £3.15 per month.
As I said my new server is only £1.20 per month, but there’s two of them, so £2.40. A whopping 75p per month saving.
However – I still have to factor in that £10 (each) per server set upon cost – and if I take the average of 80 months £20 becomes £0.25 per month.
All totalled, It looks like i’ll be saving around 50p per month.
Damm. I wish I had done the math before the moves.
Last night I figured I would give the Nvidea GeForce Now service a quick bash. All the details about the service are on its website, however it provides you with a cloud gaming computer for free (with a 1 hour play limit per session), or for £5 a month, up to 6 hours playing (plus some added extras).
I have an old gaming PC. It struggles to play anything modern. I don’t really want to spend any decent amount of money getting the components together and building/upgrading a PC.
I have a 2012 mac mini which is my main computer, and a 2017 Surface Pro that I use for general tasks that require windows, in addition to my other iOS devices. Both the mac and the Surface Pro handle the GeForce Now service like a champ. It’s a shame there’s no iOS app at present, but it is available on Android.
To help illustrate this point I loaded up Destiny 2 and used the free GeForce Now service. I sat with the Surface Pro in the living room perched on my lap, Xbox controller connected (because I really can’t play with a keyboard and mouse on a game that I’ve spent years playing both it and its predecessor on a controller) and it worked almost flawlessly. Given it was a wireless connection (but 5Ghz) I had a couple of streaming hiccups – both of which lasted under 1 second and the game (and I) recovered from. This was while watching the launch of the Antares Rocket Cygnus NG-13 live via NASA TV.
We’re living in the future.
I know this won’t appeal to hard core gamers, and possibly not even to streamers because of the bandwidth that will be required, but for me, a filthy casual, it’s perfect. I can now get Destiny 2 at 60fps that’s buttery smooth (and actually loads the menus exceptionally fast). The 1 hour playtime doesn’t bother me just now – but to honest – this is the kind of service I won’t mind paying £5 per month for.
There comes a time when everyone makes a mistake with computers. Garbage In Garbage Out and all that jazz. I seem to just like shovelling a large amount of Garbage into my servers. Take this evening for example.
I have one domain left to transfer to my new servers. The third last one was this blog and that went almost without a hitch. There were some wordpress-related things I hadn’t accounted for but nothing I couldn’t handle. The penultimate one was another wordpress installation that went much smoother after I transferred this blog.
And then I started preparing the move for the last domain. I’m being careful with this one because I know things will go wrong given half a chance. I’ve been checking and re-checking everything and decided to start to the process this evening.
First up was to update the existing code on that domain so that I could transfer everything fresh. That has a small hiccup which ended with me erasing (thanks to an errant FTP command) almost every folder and leaving but a handful of files behind.
Panicking, I managed to copy a new instance of the software over however in my haste this overwrote the main configuration file. Thank goodness I managed to remember some very old username/password/database combinations.
That ended up being rescued and is now working fine on the old host.
Whilst running about I then tried to login to my new host and managed to type with my ham-fists the incorrect password a few times and put my own IP address in a fail2ban jail.
I managed to get a remote KVM Console running via my hosting provider, and took myself out of the fail2ban jail. Now, I’m not entirely sure why I thought this was a good idea but I seen this button and figured I should click it.
Now I’m no new entrant to linux and its ilk. I’m also not a stranger to Windows – and my organisation requires the use of Ctrl+Alt+Del to initiate a login. Completely forgetting that Ctrl+Alt+Del on Linux restarts the server I click the button. No confirmation. No warning. Just a graceful restart.