The Last Frontier back online

I know it has been quite awhile since I have posted. Moving forward I plan to be more active on this blog and try to find more content to post. I am happy to announce that The Last Frontier forums are now back open. Keeping my promise to never use commercial or closed source code the forums are powered by phpBB. This is entirely open source software. It might lack a few features of commercial solutions like vbulletin or IPBoard but is a solid platform with all of the most important features.

I welcome all that find this to join, it is free and the server will always remain private. No fears of adware, spyware, or selling your data to third parties. The goal of this server is to expand my knowledge and create something useful to others in the process. If you have not already noticed this entire site is being run from my old laptop. Myself I found that amusing, but I hate to let hardware go to waste when it could serve a purpose. Let’s give my old laptop some work and create a fun and even educational community. 

I have also set up my own NextCloud Server. What is NextCloud you might ask? Simply put it is your own “Dropbox” or “OneDrive” that you control entirely. I love Dropbox, but refuse to use it for anything personal since you are handing the data to essentially an unknown third party. With this software that is entirely open source I can create my own and manage it fully. I know exactly where the data is being stored and who has access to it. To me that is huge, I may lack the bandwidth of the major players but they can not give me that level of privacy.

If you are interested in a box of your own on this server let me know. I can not open this to the public, my laptop lacks the disk space to do that. Those that are interested comment on this post or email me directly. You can even get desktop clients and mobile clients for free so you can take your data anywhere you go. I must warn you that bandwidth is limited, so keep the file sizes down or be patient with downloads. Someday I will have the ability to move The Wasteland to a better connection but for now we have to work with what I have.  That is all for now, stay tuned I do plan to make this blog more active with content after the holidays.

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Hardening SSH & using Fail2ban

Sorry about the lack of content, since the storm I have been quite busy with work and other projects. I assure you that I will be more active on this blog in the future. Today I wish to introduce you to Fail2Ban. What is Fail2ban you may ask? Simply put it is software that helps reduce the risk of brute-force attacks. Anyone that has run a server before understands that the risk is real and you must prepare accordingly. Choosing to ignore this risk is unwise and can lead to your server being compromised. 

How exactly does fail2ban work you might ask? It monitors your log files for failed attempts at SSH or any service that requires authentication. Setting it up is easy, I will include two guides here and here. If you have any trouble setting this up you can also comment on this post. If you don’t like that send me an email here. Once configured it will monitor your /var/log/secure file for failed login attempts. You can easily configure the amount of attempts as well as the duration of the ban. The Wasteland is set for 5 failed attempts with a full day ban issued to offenders. Some may go for shorter bans, others may want less failed attempts before the ban. My only suggestion is to avoid setting the failed attempts to just one. 

A good administrator knows this is only the first step in securing SSH on your server. The easiest and most important being using a strong password. I will provide a couple of generator sites here and here. If you are running a highly sensitive server you should consider using multi-factor authentication. The most common method for this would be RSA_SecurID, I have several for work. This is not a free option however and I aim to keep the Wasteland open source. For me using a strong password, Fail2ban and a few of these suggestions is sufficient. I highly recommend disabling direct root login. A good majority of attackers will be trying for root so denying direct root access just seems logical. You can quickly switch to root from any user account anyway. One more tip, make that user account unique, avoid just using your first name or a dictionary word. 

Some may wish to take it a step further. I can confirm that a good majority of the attacks I receive are from Chinese and Russian hosts. For the small time blogger like me you might consider just blocking all hosts from those regions. If you have no need to do business with China you can just block all hosts from them in your firewall. This may not be a viable solution though if you need to conduct business with that part of the world. I do not, I don’t speak Mandarin nor do I have any current business interests there. The Wasteland is blocking all Chinese hosts at the firewall level. Russia is also famous for their less than savory activities on the internet. For those interested I will place links to sites that have countries broken down by their assigned IP blocks. I like this one best but found another worthy site to share. 

There you have it, you can still leave SSH open in your firewall and not have to fret about the threat of brute-force attacks. I hope you find this useful and as always feel free to comment with any questions or points I may have left out. 

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Retro Gaming the DIY way with RetroPie

With Today’s release of the SNES Classic, retro gaming is once again in the spotlight. In typical Nintendo fashion availability is limited to the point that people are camping out in order to secure one on launch day. I too enjoy classic gaming, but have no desire to wade through crowds or camp out. For those of us more sane people I present to you the RetroPie. What exactly is a RetroPie you might ask? The short answer is that it a multi-platform emulator built using the Raspberry Pi device. What is a Raspberry Pi you may wonder? Simply put it is a low cost computing platform that was aimed at college students. It’s goal was to provide a low cost platform for students to learn how to program. 

The great thing about the Raspberry Pi is that it is a flexible platform. Not only can you make a game emulator but you can do so much more. The amount of projects you can undertake is almost endless. I will provide a few more links here is one, another can be found here, and lastly here. This appeals to me greatly I have already built a media center box that works just as well if not better than any commercial device like a Roku. I plan to try some of the other projects as well and will share my results here on The Wasteland. So lets say you get sick of gaming, well with the SNES classic that is a one trick pony. The Raspberry Pi is way more flexible as you can see. Possibilities are almost endless, if you can imagine it, you can probably do it. 

So now that I have your attention you may ask how do I build one for myself? Do I need to be an electrical engineer or computer programmer to do this? No you do not, with a few basic tools and reading skills almost anyone can accomplish this project. First you will need to the the parts, luckily you can find kits with everything you need at most retailers including Amazon. For someone like me I would suggest getting a basic kit which comes with the board, power supply and case. If you want a one stop shop they do sell  complete kits that come with all the parts you will need. I personally caution against this, and suggest you find your own controllers at minimum. We all know that a quality controller can make or break your gaming experience. Read reviews first then select the one that fits you best.  You will be happy to know that you can even get NES and SNES cases to give your project that authentic feel. I bet the casual fan would never know the difference between this and the commercial units shipped by Nintendo. 

Now that you have all the parts it is time to get building, I will link the official setup guide here. It is a fairly simple setup though you will need to make sure you have a computer with an SD card reader as well as Win32 Disk Imager. This is needed to write the image to the SD card. Some may come with this but if not you can get it there. If you have any questions that the guide or the video I will link below can not answer feel free to leave me a comment. If you like you can even send me an email as well. I am always happy to help someone with their projects. The more we share the more we learn and that is always a good thing. That is all for now, lets get to building our RetroPie and enjoy those classic games we grew up with. For the younger crowds come experience gaming of the past, I think you will find many of these games quite rewarding. 

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Irma pummels Central Florida, Highlands County

With pleasure I announce that The Wasteland is finally back online. I do apologize for the delay but I have been quite busy. Storm projections had this riding Florida’s west coast, meaning my family and friends should have been out of the brunt of the storm. That did not occur, Irma went due north from Naples and ripped a path of destruction right up the center. This path placed central Florida directly over the eastern eye-wall, the most intense part of these storms. I am happy to report that everyone I know is safe, though damages were plenty. My family in Highlands county fared worst, but even here in the Orlando area there was plenty of damage.

First off were the power issues, this storm caused one of the largest outages in U.S. history. I went without power for 5 days, my family down in Highlands county were without for 8. Some were out for longer and parts of the Keys still may be without. The Highlands county area made the news, being rural there were not only issues with power but also gas. The hidden toll with this storm will be agriculture, central Florida has a huge citrus and cattle industry. I can confirm the citrus crop this year is ruined, most of the oranges were blown off trees. Things were bad enough for both senators Marco Rubio and governor Rick Scott to visit to witness the losses first hand. Luckily Highlands county was one of many to be added to FEMA’s official list to receive federal assistance.  I can assure you they will need it, damage to citrus alone could drive many farmers out of business. That would cripple the local economy.

I want to share some YouTube links with local news reports showing how bad things got for a bit down where my family lives. Supplies were hard to get, I wound up having to run them gas and ice from the Orlando area where I live. Getting out of their county was quite the challenge too with all but 3 traffic signals in the entire county out.  I will just provide links to keep this post as short as possible.

This link shows the fate of their bowling alley. It caught fire during the storm and they could not respond. The rest of these links will be random local news stories highlighting the issues they had in Highlands county. I was lucky enough to weather the storm there myself as I got caught there after helping them board up. It was a fun ride I assure you. Not only did they have no power, but no running water since they are in the country with a well. If you want to know more about my personal experience with the storm feel free to comment or email me here

YouTube Links

Highlands County clobbered by Irma

Majority of Highlands County still in the dark

Devastating damage in Highlands County

People waiting hours for gas after Irma

Highlands County struggles after Irma

Governor Scott visits Highlands County

Highlands County deputies pass out supplies

Highlands County residents getting the basics

Highlands County power concerns grow, fuel in short supply

Senator Rubio visits Highlands, witnesses agriculture damage

I also wanted to share a few personal photos I took of damages, these are from Highlands county where I rode out the storm with my family. The first three show roof and overhang damage at my family’s place. All of their gutters were ripped off.  The mangled metal in the last photo you see is someone’s porch that blew off and traveled about a block. 


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Irma approaches Florida’s west coast

This will probably be my last update. Irma is making its final approach on Florida’s west coast. Computer models show the storm skirting the west coast of Florida. Current projections show this powerful category 4 storm making landfall in the Keys and riding the west coast. This is slightly better news for those of us inland, but terrible news for Tampa. Storm surge projections show them getting over 10 feet of water. Tampa bay is similar to New Orleans, it lies below sea level. 

As expected with storms like this local curfew’s are in affect. For more information on that check here and  here. Schools are closed across Florida, most until at least Tuesday. For further details on local school closures be sure to check out this link. For those in mobile homes or low lying areas that have not evacuated to a shelter time is running out. We are expecting conditions to deteriorate throughout the day and by evening the roads will no longer be safe. Those with city water are already starting to see boil water notices. Best practice is to begin boiling water at the first signs of low water pressure. Normally that is an indication the system has been compromised. 

Current weather conditions here are fairly calm. We have had bands of rain and wind since the early hours of the morning. We expect the worst of the storm to hit late tonight and into the early hours of Monday. The Wasteland will be taken offline as soon as power is lost. I plan to move the server to a more secure location. Hopefully we all weather out the storm safely. Weather in south Florida is already poor, access to most if not all of the barrier islands is closed or will be soon. Area bridges are also starting to close. In prior storms access is shut down once sustained winds reach 40 Mph. Lastly I wanted to provide emergency management links for OrangeSeminoleLake, and Highlands counties. A statewide emergency info can be found here. 

That is all I have, stay safe everyone and stay off the roads. We need to keep them open for emergency personnel and when the storm passes Utility crews. I will bring The Wasteland back online as soon as services are restored provided my home does not sustain damage. Below are the most recent tracks and models. 

And here are the current track and computer models from Weather Underground.

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