Google Authenticator – How to Backup for Moving to a New Device

Recently I’ve had to start using two factor authentication (2FA), both for my AWS account and Bitcoin wallets. It seemed like there were two main options for apps to run this, Google Authenticator and Authy. Initially Authy looked like a good bet, it could sync across multiple devices, including smart watches, but it turns out this convenience means the security is weakened – to the point that Coinbase advised users not to use it! Google Authenticator goes the other way, it is extremely secure, but if you lose/reset your device the settings, and potentially access to your accounts are lost.

The only way to avoid this situation is to make a backup of your access codes at the time you add them to Authenticator. You can either do this by writing down the seed key, or taking a screenshot of the QR code. It is not advisable to keep these backups with your phone or readily accessible on an online computer, as this is one of the keys to your account. I prefer to print off a couple of copies, write – with a pen, which account the QR code is for and file them away separately. I also keep another copy on an encrypted memory stick. If you are using 2FA to access an online account and have not backed up your access codes – you should do it now!!!

When you get a new device, or wipe your existing device, it is just a case of re-scanning the QR code into Google Authenticator from your backup. You can test your backups by scanning them into Authenticator again, either on your existing device or a separate one – they will give the same six digit code as the original. To test that nothing was linked to my iPhone I also installed Authenticator on my old iPhone and was able to log into my AWS account – AWS is ideal for testing 2FA, as you can create a dummy account with 2FA enabled, without running the risk of losing access to your main account.

Bitcoin: Wallets

The main thing you need to get started with Bitcoin is a wallet to hold your coins. There are a few different kinds of wallet available, I’ll run through them in order of security, starting from the weakest. As with most things there is a trade off to be made, as the less secure wallets are more convenient to use.

Online wallets are the easiest to use as they are online and can be accessed from many devices such as smartphones and web browsers. The downside of this convenience is that you don’t own the wallet, it lives on someone else’s server and you could lose your money – as happened to Mt.Gox customers. These wallets are often part of an other service like such as exchanges such as Coinbase or LocalBitcoins or faucets (free bitcoin sites), like freebitcoin. Some others that do not come with a service are Blockchain.info and Green Address.

Desktop wallets are installed on a computer and keep your Bitcoins there. This is safer than using an online service – you are in control of your wallet, but also responsible for backing it up and ensuring your system is secure. To make desktop wallets more secure you can use some of them in an “offline” state, if you have an old computer not connected to the internet. You can usually only access the wallet from the machine it is installed on, so they are less useful when it comes to spending Bitcoins out and about, although you can get “desktop wallets” on your smartphone. The official Bitcoin Core client is a desktop wallet, albeit one that requires downloading a large section of the blockchain – so make sure you have a lot of free space on our machine! Other examples are ArmoryElectrum and Copay, which is also available on iOS.

Paper wallets are simply a print out of the data needed for a Bitcoin wallet, usually in the form of a QR code. They don’t have to be printed on paper, they could be printed on something more durable, such as metal. As they are not held on a computer they are secure, but not so user friendly and have largely been replaced by hardware wallets.

Hardware wallets are small devices designed to hold cryptocurrency securely, offline. This can mean that they are possibly too secure – as the founder of Wired magazine found out! Trezor and Ledger Nano S are examples of hardware wallets.

Wallets are usually referred to as “hot” or “cold” with “hot wallets” usually being online wallets, containing a small amount of Bitcoin for servicing transactions. “Cold wallets” are offline wallets, such as hardware or paper wallets for long term storage, much like a savings account.

Based on my research, I have set up an account with Coinbase, so I am using their wallet as my hot wallet. I noticed that the service struggled with the number of users caused by Bitcoin reaching $10,000, then $11,000 on the same day, so that is something to keep an eye on. I have also set up a desktop wallet with Copay, which rather niftily can be duplicated on my iPhone. I also plan to set up a paper wallet, but that is a project for another day/post.

Some of the links I’ve posted are referral/affiliate links, but in general with Bitcoin/crypto currency you need to be wary of the links you are clicking, as some of them may be scams. At the time of publishing this post, all links appeared to be genuine.

Bitcoin: Introduction

I’m no expert in Bitcoin, or any crypto currency, just a regular guy with a bit of background knowledge. I’m starting to experiment with Bitcoin partly to diversify my investments, but mostly out of curiosity – I am a geek and this sort of thing interests me! I thought I’d blog about my Bitcoin journey in case anyone else is looking into it, but also to serve as a notebook for myself.

Bitcoin is a form of digital currency, created and held electronically. No one controls it. Bitcoins aren’t printed, like dollars or euros – they’re produced by people, and increasingly businesses, running computers all around the world, using software that solves mathematical problems.

– Coindesk: 20th March 2015

In the UK we have already started to change how we use money, even five years ago the major banks had a monopoly, but now fintech startups and even the big players such as Apple/Google are trying to replace the old banks. I was an early adopter of Apple Pay, registering and using iron the first day it was available in the UK. Bitcoin is certainly a part of the changing landscape for our money – I especially like that it is decentralised and not run by a company whose main motivation is do get more data about us. I spend a lot of time online, both for work and leisure, and Bitcoin has been in my peripheral vision for years – I’m not going to think about how lucrative it could have been to have bought some Bitcoin when I first heard about it! The value has already doubled since I put “Research Bitcoin” into my todo list three months ago! I am not interested in learning about the mining side of things, it seems like I have already missed the boat on that. Mining now seems to be the domain of large “mining pools”, plus my old iMac doesn’t need anything else to slow it down!

Whilst I’m certainly no financial expert, I have researched stocks/shares/funds etc and how to invest in them efficiently over the last few years, both for myself and for my young son Owen. I came to the  conclusion that I prefer to take a hands off approach to investing, and that fees can eat into your profits so need to be minimised. Obviously the biggest risk is that the value of your investment can go down, as well as up. I got caught out by investing just before a big dip, but stuck it out, investing more when the prices were low and did OK when things bounced back. I’m going to take a similar approach to Bitcoin, finding a balance between returns, effort and fees, and to start with – not investing more than I can afford to lose!

This is going to be a series of posts, documenting what you need to get started with Bitcoin, how to get Bitcoins and hopefully how I become filthy rich – if only it was that easy!

Saved by the Backup

In my last post I explained about my back up routine for WordPress, I wasn’t planning on testing it out so soon, but it has just saved my bacon! The plan was to spend an hour or so tweaking the blog to make it faster, by using the WP Super Cache plug in and Amazon Cloud Front, however something went badly wrong! The alarm bells should have started to ring when I noticed that most tutorials about using Amazon Cloud Front with WordPress referred to W3 Total Cache, however I preferred the look of WP Super Cache and fancied a challenge…

I was loosely following this guide, but somehow managed to take my website offline, probably by sending requests into a DNS blackhole. The problem was this meant I couldn’t get back onto my website to turn the caching off again. At this point I would also like to add that I couldn’t test this phase on my development server, as Cloud Front needed to pull data from the blog, which meant deploying on the live site.

I could still SSH into the server, so used the WP Super Cache uninstall instructions for “if all else fails and your site is broken”. However that didn’t help. At this point I was getting a little bit more panicked, but was very glad of my new backup strategy and that I’d had the foresight to make a backup just before I’d started fiddling with the blog. I feared the worst, that I would have to reinstall WordPress again from scratch and reload my data, reading this troubleshooting guide confirmed my fears.

Reinstalling WordPress isn’t the end of the world, I have done it a number of times, but for some reason I have been having a lot of permission issues on my web server, maybe I had taken security a bit too far. This meant that I couldn’t get my FTP client to upload my backup data. I ended up revisiting the AWS WordPress installation guide and also this blog post to find the correct settings and set them via SSL. At least I’ve had a lot of command line practice this evening!

Even with the permissions fixed, I couldn’t use the restore tool on Updraftplus (possibly due to restrictions I have added on AWS?), but was able to upload the data via FTP and got the blog up and running again. I still haven’t got the caching/CDN set up, but I think I’l take the easy route now and hopefully not need to test my backups again.

WordPress Backups Using UpdraftPlus and Amazon S3

I had a bit of a disaster the other day – I went to link to a blog post from a few months ago and it wasn’t there! I remember writing it, and knew it had posted, because I remembered some of the comments from when it appeared on my Facebook profile. I then remembered that there had been some funny goings on with the WordPress Mac app, I’d had a duplicate post and deleted it manually. However now it seems like the duplicate had also been deleted.

Of course it was at this point I realised that my latest backup was a couple of months before the post and I couldn’t recover it from anywhere. I was particularly annoyed at myself because I have a thorough backup routine for my Macs and especially my photography work, yet virtually nothing for my blog. However, it was the kick up the backside I needed to sort out a decent backup routine for my blog!

Given that I was the weak link when it came to backing up my log I wanted something automatic, that would run regularly and email me when it had completed. As with most things WordPress, there seemed to be loads of plugins available, most of them paid services. In my research I’d read good things about UpdraftPlus, so was pleased to find their free option, which is more than powerful enough for a small blog like mine.

To see if it UpdraftPlus lived up to the hype, I downloaded it onto my WordPress development environment (Chassis running on my iMac) and had a play. Looking at the list of remote storage services Amazon S3 was the obvious choice, as I already use Amazon Web Services to host my blog. Knowing the basics of cyber security, I only wanted UpdraftPlus to have minimal access to AWS, I had got myself lost in a maze of IAM, S3 buckets, users, groups and permissions. I was on the right track but this post on the UpdraftPlus blog, told me exactly what I needed to do. The IAM Policy Simulator on AWS was also a huge help in making sure my policies were both written and applied correctly. I went for the maximum security option, which also gave me a chance to delve into the workings of S3, setting up rules to archive then delete the data after periods of time.

Once deployed and tested on my development environment, it only took a matter of minutes to get working on my live blog, giving me regular, automated backups. Now the only task left to do is do rewrite the post that got lost…

A trip to the pub

This is my first go at making a video, so I thought I’d break myself in gently with a time lapse. Capturing the images was easy, I set the GoPro camera to take a photo every second, stuck it on the windscreen and drove to the pub (via the scenic route)! Winter in Warwickshire isn’t the most glamorous, or exciting of locations, but I got a new toy for Christmas and I wanted to use it!

The real challenge started when I got back from the pub with 2,500 images on the memory card, I had three options when it came to software, so I tried them all:

  • Lightroom – My photo editing software of choice, well within my comfort zone, I could import, back up and add my metadata to the images with two clicks, then process one image and sync settings to the rest. What I couldn’t do without adding plug ins, was compile them to a video at 30 frames per second, this is something I need to investigate further.
  • GoPro CineForm Studio – I’m always a bit vary with bundled software, but after a few teething problems (importing a folder full of images works, importing 2000 individual images doesn’t) I was able to get it to stitch the images together and edit the resulting video file, which I didn’t find too intuitive.
  • iMovie – Apple always seem to say how god Macs are for creative projects such as video, so their software was worth a look, although seemingly, to get the still images into iMovie they had to be imported to iPhoto. This integration is great, but only if you plan on using both, having said that iPhoto saved my bacon when I accidentally formatted the micro SD card in my camera, meaning I didn’t lose the first picture I took with the GoPro. Using iMovie I wasn’t able to stitch the images together faster than 10fps, with 30fps being what I needed, so I gave up on it for creating time lapses, but when it comes to working with multiple video files iMove seems to be the best application I have available, although I’ll need to upgrade it to export in 1080p high resolution.

In the end I used Lightroom to process the images and crop them to the 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio, then GoPro CineForm studio to combine them into a time lapse then compress them to upload to YouTube. I can see video and especially time lapses being a big thing for me in 2013, it’s certainly got my creative juices flowing, so watch this space.

The Best Camera…

Is the one that’s with you.

Not only is it a book/website by Chase Jarvis, one of my favourite photographers, it is a great way of thinking!

As part of his project Chase and his team have created an iPhone app, which makes post processing and sharing phones from the iPhone really easy, combining two of my passions.

Most of my images taken with my phone are posted on my Twitter feed, but can also be found on my part of the Best Camera website.

One of my favourite arty shots, taken with my iPhone, at the Trafford Centre, I love the simplicity of the black and white conversion:

Fountain iPhone photo

Fountain iPhone photo