Reviews

Boxcryptor Review – safer cloud storage?

With the demise of Safe Harbour rulings, your online life has become a little less secure – is Boxcryptor the answer to the security needs of Cloud based storage?

With cloud storage, files are easily available to you where ever you may be and at any time of day.  They are backed up, replicated and made highly available by servers and services all around the world.  But in this one of the key problems of ownership of information is surfaced.  If the US has your data, it can see read and profile it.

Of course, many other countries do this too, but the vast investment from the US government in profiling and the location of many of the technology companies within the US puts the conspiracy theorists on high alert.

I much prefer a world where information has little value, shared to the point of openness and respected for the betterment of us all.  But this is not a shared view at the moment and for those on that journey, they want to keep parts of their digital lives as secure as they can.  For business too, information may be critical to the money needed to fund and sustain the business.

So for this group there is technology that helps to keep personal information secure.  In this review, I am looking at how to secure files stored in the cloud.  This could be as simple as payslips or as personal as a journal, either way putting them into the could opens them to a higher risk of compromise or personal profiling.

boxcryptor review

Of the cloud storage providers, some say they are more secure (such as Box) and others security at rest and in transit; none of which protects you from the loss of Safe Harbour and the potential for the US to just take your data.

So if the cloud storage providers can’t help, where else can you turn?  There are a newer generation of ‘on disk’ encryption products that aim to provide an additional level of security on-top of the files shared in the cloud.  Boxcryptor is one of these and thankfully is based within the EU.

Quite simply, the product takes files stored in cloud locations and encrypts them (and optionally their file name) to stop general snooping of sensitive files.  It uses AES-256 and RSA encryption algorithms and offers ‘personal’ and ‘enterprise’ versions.

Term Description
File key AES encryption key used to encrypt or decrypt a file. Every file has its own unique and random file key.
User keys Every user has its own pair of RSA-4096 keys (private and public) and additional AES-256 keys.
Password key An AES encryption key derived from a password using the key stretching and strengthening function PBKDF2 with HMACSHA512, 10.000 iterations and a 24 byte salt.
Group key Similar to users, every group has also its own pair of RSA-4096 keys (private and public) and additional AES-256 keys. Furthermore every group has its own unique and randomly generated membership key.
Company keys A company can have its own pair of RSA-4096 keys (private and public) in case the master key policy is used.

For the enterprise version there is centralised master key and password change facilities, for personal and company versions there are no routes to recover lost keys and passwords (which is a very good thing).  Impressive is what Boxcryptor claim to keep on their key server:

  • General information (email, first name, last name, country, etc.)
  • Private RSA key (encrypted with the user’s password)
  • Public RSA key
  • AES keys (encrypted with the user’s password / wrapping key)
  • Hash of the password hash
  • Number of KDF iterations used in the key derivation functions
  • Salt
  • If a company uses the master key: Password Key (encrypted with the company’s public RSA key)

There are client apps for just about every platform, starting from Windows and Mac OSX, to iOS, Android, Chrome, Blackberry and even Windows Mobile (now that is showing commitment).  I’ve tried all but the Blackberry client and they all offer the same, simple interface with little fuss and little complexity.

First time set up is simple, install, select the cloud platforms to encrypt and depending on the version turn on filename encryption (something not available to the free version). New files stored on the Boxcryptor drive are automatically encrypted and existing files can be encrypted by right clicking on the files in Explorer or Finder.

boxcryptor review - encrypt filenames

Boxcryptor supports just about every cloud storage provider I can think of:  Google Drive, One Drive, One Drive Business, Dropbox, Box, Amazon S3, CloudMe, iCloud, SugarSync, Yandex to mention just the obvious names.

Whilst the standard encryption makes the contents more secure, the additional filename encryption scrambles the file names making it impossible to see the original names.  Viewing through a normal finder window shows the following:

boxcryptor review - encrypted filenames

Viewing through the Boxcryptor drive or app however looks completely normal.

This is perhaps the easiest and most convenient security app I have ever used.  If there is a single thing you do to secure your digital world, it should be to buy this app or use the free version and see how easy it is to provide a good level of security for your personal or sensitive files.

My recommendation:  this is the must have security app for cloud storage.  If you have not tried it download Boxcryptor (affiliate link) now.

Long term review of Tea Pigs

teapigs-logo-300x67

It’s been quite some time now since I wrote my original review on Tea Pigs, so it’s about time I revisited that review.    So I’m still a big fan of the Redbush tea – the Rooibos crème caramel is still part my daily routine, especially when working late into the night.

That smell of the caramel with the Redbush is just amazing.  There are quite a few others now jumping onto this band waggon now – with Redbush flavours popping up all over.  Even the big brands are starting to introduce options.  But even their vanilla flavours have nothing on the Tea Pigs crème caramel.  So if you like your Redbush tea’s, give it a try.

On the run up to Christmas they have introduced a couple of new tea varieties.  I’ve tried out many of them, but my favourite two are the Apple and Cinnamon and the sweet ginger.   Clearly the Apple and Cinnamon has apple pie and christmas written all over it.  The smell and taste put you in a right spirit; and there is a genuine and wonderful apple taste with a good lingering hint of the cinnamon.   It’s just one of those drinks that seems to evoke memories of warm evenings and the festive season.

Sweet Ginger is not something I would have traditionally looked to try.  Ginger can be too strong a flavour and not something I would instantly think of for a tea; but this is not harsh at all.  It’s wonderfully warming and calming.  Perfect for the festive season, it makes you want to sit around a warm fire looking out at snow falling.  I take this in my flask on the way to work and the number of people on the train sniffing the air to gulp in a little more of the smell is amazing.

Tea Pigs have now launched a ‘subscribe and save’ option that allows you to put in a regular order for a little bit of discount off your third shop.  I’ve given this a try for the regular stuff and will report on how well it goes later.

It’s great to see the numbers of boutique tea shops growing and I certainly won’t stop trying the competition, but for my day-to-day tea requirements, I’m still shopping at Tea Pigs.

Saving energy with LED replacement MR16 Bulbs

LED lighting is moving forward at a pace at the moment and prices are dropping quickly.  7dayshop have started stocking ‘Ecolight’ branded MR16 bulbs running at 5W.  These are produced in China but are made by the Daewoo group, so at least they meet EU standards.

MR16 24 LED 5W 12V Bulb

 

So, from first looks, they are the typical multi LED configuration and as the ones I’m testing are ‘warm white’ the LED’s are the typical yellow colour when not turned on.   It’s also good to see that the packaging in minimal with no plastics, just recyclable card/paper. The specification of the bulb is good on paper too.  They are 12V MR16 bulbs consuming 5W putting out 370lm of light (about the same as a 40W halogen).  They have a 120 degree projection angle, so are good all round lights.

In line with most LED based bulbs, they are IP44 rated and A rated for energy consumption.  At a hefty 50,000 hours of lifetime, they put all but the most expensive halogens into the shade.  Perhaps one downside is that they are not dimmable.  Not too much of a problem for me, but if you like to change the intensity of your lighting then you will need to look elsewhere.

Installation is a simple as removing the old bulb and installing a new one.  Retrofitting these into an existing installation may cause you problems though.  Some traditional 12V inverters don’t work at such low power consumption levels and you may need to replace them with an LED driver.

So if your MR16 LED bulbs are flickering, you will need to find a lower power constant current driver.  I’ve switched to a Halolite unit, but there are plenty out there to be found.  This will impact your total price as these units are not cheap, so if immediate cost saving is your goal, you may need to look to alternative forms of lighting.

ecolight led mr16 light pattern

The light pattern is good and unless filtered, it’s difficult to see the LED’s.  The Ecolight MR16’s are bright with a warm light – something of a departure from standard halogens that seem quite cold.  I’ve replaced 6 35W halogen bulbs with 6 5W LED bulbs, so my consumption levels have dropped from 210W at 12V to 30W at 12V.  Quite a substantial reduction.  The light levels are higher and with the new drivers installed, flicker free.

Overall, these are an excellent way to reduce the total power consumption, increase the general light levels (compared to 35W MR16 bulbs) and offer a warm light alternative to cold halogens.   If your goal is to save money though – the additional cost of constant current drivers may push this to a long term cost saving measure only.

Review of TP-Link TD-W8968 ADSL2+ Wireless Router

If you don’t have a problem with a crowded 2.4GHz spectrum in your area, then a very low cost ADSL2+ wireless router may be your answer. The TP-Link TD-W8968 is almost too cheap – at around the £30 mark from the likes of Argos, this device is clearly aimed at the lower cost bracket and the consumer market.

So in a house full of Internet addicts, how does this device perform? Well, much better than expected. For comparison here, it’s replacing the BT Home Hub 3.0 a very common device out there and for such a low price a much more viable option that the replacement cost of a BT Home Hub.

TP-Link W8968

A quick look at the specification and both devices are very similar, both run only on the 2.4GHz spectrum with 300Mbit wireless n support, both have four ethernet ports, USB and ADSL2+ modems built in. Ascetically, the TP-Link TD-W8968 does look cleaner and more professional, but the Home Hubs are so common I would suspect that no one notices them any more. The TP-Link TD-W8968 could also be wall mounted and has directional aerials, so there is a touch more flexibility.

At look at power consumption puts them level pegging and on packaging both have minimised the non-recyclable elements and clearly don’t waste packaging materials. Here though you can clearly see BT’s commitment – no fancy colour printed boxes, everything marked with the material type and everything is colour co-ordinated. So wot? well this stops waste, shows people what each item is for and where it’s connected. I wonder how many generic grey cables have been binned before they true need has been recognised.

TD-W8968 Status Screen

So how does the ADSL connection compare between the two devices? Our BT Home Hub 3.0 connected to the Internet with a reasonable error rate at 1124Kbps downstream and 448Kbps upstream. Given our distance from the exchange, this is nothing but a miracle. How does the TP-Link TD-W8968 compare? With almost no error rate, the TP-Link is getting 2528Kbps downstream and 448Kbps upstream. I’ve left the TP-Link TD-W8968 two weeks to settle on this speed and the performance improvement is very noticeable – double the speed previously achieved and with few errors.

I’m guessing that the BT Home Hub 3.0 is configured with some very conservative settings, on the other hand, the latest firmware for the TP-Link is almost a year newer, so this may be down to highly tuned software settings and hardware capabilities.

But what use is the Internet if you cannot get to it? Just about everything these days requires wireless. Wired is dead. So performance is all. There are going to be no records set with only 300Mbit Wireless N available, but range, especially through walls and bleed into outside spaces becomes more important (last thing I need is daughters complaining at the lack of Internet whilst sunning themselves in the garden). The BT Home Hub 3.0 always seems to lack some get up and go. Wall penetration is limited and it does seem very directional – point the hub in the right way and you get a good signal in one direction.

The TP-Link TD-W8968 is not like this at all. Penetrating through my 1m thick stone walls, the signal bleeds into external areas well and provides good coverage. Nothing is lightning quick here, but good enough for basic browsing, email and limited youtube action.

TP-W8968 Guest Configuration

So far, the TP-Link TD-W8968, has owned the BT Home Hub 3.0 for ADSL and Wireless performance. It’s a draw on environmental issues and ascetics. But whilst the BT Home Hub 3.0 is very simple to set up and get working, it’s biggest let down is the lack of useful features and any real configuration.  The TP-Link TD-W8968 scores highly here with features like:

  • Guest WiFi
  • Customisable settings (such as DNS, QoS, Parental Controls, SPI Firewall etc)
  • Support for USB 3G modems

In conclusion, it’s clear that TP-Link have done a great job with the TD-W8968.  The Home Hub 3.0 wins only on ease of configuration, in every other respect, the TP-Link TD-W8968 is head and shoulders above the BT offering.  My recommendation:  if you need a replacement or new ADSL2+ Wireless Router, then look no further than the TP-Link offering.

Review of TP-Link TL-WA730RE Wireless N Range Extender

If, like me, you have poor reception in certain areas of your home, you could look to the so called Range Extender’s to boost your existing network coverage. But my problem is not always boosting my own signal, but boosting local BTWiFi networks. I often work away from home and I am always disappointed with the range and reception of the BT Wireless offering that is often bundled free with BT broadband and other packages. I end up squeezing my laptop or iPad onto window sills that give me the best reception. What a nightmare.

Step in the range extender’s. They are simple wireless hubs that exclude some of the features required by your main hub – dhcp, firewall, etc. Some are so simple to set up and use, they need no manual, just a bit of common sense and a power socket. The TP-Link TL-WA730RE is one of the easiest wireless hubs that I have ever touched. Maplin are selling these hubs for about £30 quid, but they are cheaper on amazon and other on-line retailers if you can wait for delivery. So they are cheap, easy to get hold of and easy to use, but just how easy?

Set up of the TP-Link device for unsecured wireless networks (such as BTWiFi or BTWiFi-with-FON) is as follows:

  1. Plug in power
  2. Wait for lights to show the device is ready
  3. Push the ‘Range Extender’ button on the back
  4. Job done

Ok, you do need to put it in a place where it can receive signals from the network your interested in, but as it’s repeating the wireless network you don’t need to be too fussy with this (window sills are a good place from my experience). There is a wired port Ethernet in the back too if you want to use a cable, but I’m going for convenience.

It does get a little more complex if you have lots of unencrypted networks in your area, but all you do is put a disk into a Windows machine plug in the Ethernet cable and run a simple set up program. A few next, next, next steps and you can choose the network you would like to connect to. You will also need to use this set up program if you want to connect to a secured / encrypted wireless network where you will need to select the network name and put in the network password.

Light and low power the TP-Link TL-WA730RE has a three year warranty in the UK with 24×7 support available too. The spec is not top end, but with Wireless N 150Mbps and such a simple range extender function (something essential for extending BT free WiFi service BTWiFi), it is amazing value that I would be happy to recommend to anyone.

Review of Rapid Pest Control in Newbury

The super rats seem to have gone bonkers this year, the numbers caught by the dogs in the back garden are large (several a day) and they seem ever more desperate for sources of food and shelter. A couple of weeks ago we heard the tell tale scratching in the loft. In the garden the in the middle of the countryside it’s not unusual to find a fair few rats, but in the house and the loft – no thanks.

A quick call to Rapid Pest Control found their voice mail – not a great start eh – but hang on Graham Chapple called us back within a few minutes and came out the same day. Blimey. After a quick venture up the loft there was evidence of the little pests. He did a thorough job and went around the house to look for signs of entry, recommended a little pruning and identified rat runs under the neighbours sheds.

He put down some poison for the rats in the loft and agreed a weekly visit to clear up any dead and check progress. It’s been a couple of weeks now and all scratching has gone. No more bait has been eaten, so it looks like the problem has been solved.

So would I recommend Rapid Pest Control in Newbury? Too right – very friendly, professional, honest and thorough. If your looking for pest control in the Newbury area you should give Graham a call.

Link: www.rapid-pest-control.co.uk

Review of teapigs (www.teapigs.co.uk)

I put a blog entry on a few days ago discussing the use of plastic in tea bags and an alternative source, teapigs. There are a few suppliers out there with alternatives, but I buy my stuff from Tea Pigs, so I thought it was worthy of a review.

teapigs-logo-300x67

Loose real leaf tea is still slightly specialist and you can’t just go to the local supermarkets any more as most don’t even stock standard brands of leaf tea any more. High quality leaf tea is another matter. It’s highly specialised and generally very expensive. If you love your herbal drinks and even tea you will I’m sure appreciate the variations from the standard sweepings off the tea room floor used in many of the commodity tea bags out there. Tea Pigs have one rather unique selling point – they use these 100% biodegradable tea bags. Not uncommon in the rest of the world, but not something you often find here in the UK. They call them tea temple, but there are various descriptions of them out there on the web if you search. Having a tea bag that I can put into the compost without worrying about the plastic used in standard bags is a good thing.

Anyway back to the tea and the shop. Firstly the shop part. There is an on-line store (www.teapigs.co.uk) which is very simple to use and takes all the usual payment methods. The web site is slick, but I am disappointed that they don’t go into enough details about what’s in their product, where it comes from etc. So what about the tea then? Ok, lets get onto the three tea’s that I’ve tried to date:

Tea Pigs English Breakfast: Standard dark black real leaves in the bags hide what is actually quite a nice traditional blend of tea’s. Nothing is overwhelmed and each leaf used add it’s own distinct character to the brew. This is a very nice tea with strength and body.

Tea Pigs Chai Tea: A surprisingly interesting and very fragrant blend of tea and spices. The tea in the bag is a marvel to look at with real spices in the bag (seemingly no fake flavours here). A good three minute brew later and you have a stunning warming tea that tastes every much as good as it smells. It makes an absolutely wonderful drink with a great depth of spices to tease your nose and mouth.

Tea Pigs Rooibos Creme Caramel Tea: I do like my Rooibos tea. Naturally decaffeinated, very hydrating and a brilliant afternoon tea on a hot day. So why the heck add Crème Caramel to it? I’ve no idea why they thought of it, but what a great idea! I still enjoy mine with milk and keep my caramel red bush tea for the evening as it’s lovely and relaxing and a very comforting drink. The caramel adds a wonderful smell to the drink which at first is not apparent in the taste. Only after swallowing does the crème caramel leave it’s mark in your mouth leaving you licking teeth and the top of your mouth for a bit more yummy crème caramel.

 

For a real tea supplier with great flavour I cannot fault them. Next order I’m going to add the blue tea, expect a review soon. Adrian Hollister’s favourite tea from there…. it has to be the Crème Caramel Rooibos.