Saturday, November 29, 2014

How to Create Encrypted Zip or 7z Archives on Any Operating System

Protected Folder.
Zip files can be password-protected, but the standard Zip encryption scheme is extremely weak. If your operating system has a built-in way to encrypt zip files, you probably shouldn’t use it.
To gain the actual benefits of encryption, you should use AES-256 encryption. 7z archives support this natively, but you can also encrypt Zip files with AES-256 encryption.

Zip 2.0 Legacy Encryption vs. AES Encryption

There are actually two types of Zip file encryption. The older Zip 2.0 encryption is extremely insecure, while the newer AES encryption is fairly secure.
Unfortunately, many pieces of software — particularly operating systems with built-in support for Zip files — don’t support the newer AES encryption standard. This means that using the Zip password-protection features found in Windows XP, current versions of Mac OS X, and even typical Linux desktops won’t give you securely encrypted Zip files. Even some third-party utilities are reluctant to switch to AES for their Zip encryption as it means those AES-encrypted zip files will then be incompatible with the built-in Zip features in Windows, Mac OS X, and other software.
It’s still possible to get AES encryption with Zip files — but such files will require third-party software to view, anyway. You may just want to use a different archive format, such as 7z. The 7z archive format requires strong AES-256 encryption. Whenever you create a password-protected 7z file, you know that it’s securely encrypted. Really, 7z is great — it came out on top in our file-compression benchmarks. It’s generally on the top of other file compression benchmarks we’ve seen, too.

Windows – 7-Zip

Windows offers a built-in way to create Zip files. Windows XP even offered a way to password-protect and encrypt these Zip files. However, Windows XP used the extremely insecure “standard” zip file encryption algorithm. Even if you’re still using Windows XP, you shouldn’t use this feature. Later versions of Windows dropped the password-protection option entirely.
Nearly every popular encryption utility offers this features. We like 7-Zip, which is completely free and open-source, so it won’t try to nag you for any money.
With 7-Zip installed, you can select some files in a File Explorer or Windows Explorer window, right-click them, and select 7-Zip > Add to archive. Be sure to select the “Add to archive” option, as it gives you the ability to set a password. If you don’t see the menu option here, you can also open the 7-Zip application directly and use it to create an archive.
7-Zip will create a 7z archive by default, but you can also choose Zip. If you do opt to go with Zip, be sure to select the AES-256 encryption method instead of the weaker ZipCrypto method. Enter your password into the provided boxes and click OK to create your encrypted archive file.

Mac – Keka

Mac OS X also provides an easy way to create Zip files from a Finder window, but there’s no way to encrypt a zip file with the graphical user interface. The zip command included with Mac OS X does offer a way to encrypt zip files without using any third-party software. However, like the password-protection feature built into Windows XP, it uses the old and insecure standard zip encryption scheme. If you really wanted, you could use the “zip -e” command in a Terminal on a Mac. However, we strongly recommend against this.
As on Windows, you’ll once again need a third-party file compression app for secure compression. Keka seems to be one of the most well-loved file compression and decompression apps for Mac, and we can recommend it. However, even Keka doesn’t use AES for encrypting Zip files by default. You can get the currently-in-beta version of Keka and enable a hidden option to do this, or just use the standard version of Keka and create encrypted 7z files instead.
Launch Keka, select 7z, and enter a password for your archive. (If you select Zip, be sure you have the correct version of Keka and that you’ve enabled the hidden option above to get the secure encryption.)
Drag and drop one or more files you want to compress onto the Keka window and they’ll be compressed into a 7z file encrypted with the password you provided. You’ll need the password to access the file’s contents in the future.

Linux – File Roller with p7zip-full

The standard Archive Manager (File Roller) application included with Ubuntu and other GNOME-based desktop environments does have an option to create password-protected zip files. However, the underlying zip command used still uses the old, weak encryption instead of strong AES encryption. Thankfully, File Roller can be used to create encrypted 7z archives.
To enable this option, you’ll first need to install the p7zip-full package. (On some Linux distributions, it may just be called p7zip instead.) For example, on Ubuntu, you can either open the Ubuntu Software Center, search for p7zip-full and install it, or open a Terminal window and run the sudo apt-get install p7zip-full command.
Once you have, you can create encrypted 7z files directly from the File Roller window. Select some files in a file manager window, right-click them, and select Compress — or open the Archive Manager application directly and use it to create a new archive.
In the Compress window, be sure to select the 7z archive format. Click the Other Options header and provide a password. The password will be used to unlock your archive later.

There are many different software programs for creating password-protected archives, but — whatever you use — be sure it’s using secure encryption. The problem with Zip encryption isn’t purely theoretical. The web is full of tools that can “recover” a password-protected zip file that was created using the old encryption scheme. “Recover” is a less-scary word for breaking and removing the encryption.

Friday, September 26, 2014

How to Check Your BIOS Version and Update it

bios-update

You probably shouldn’t update your BIOS, but sometimes you need to. Here’s how to check what BIOS version your computer is using and flash that new BIOS version onto your motherboard as quickly and safely as possible.
Be very careful when updating your BIOS! If your computer freezes, crashes, or loses power during the process, the BIOS or UEFI firmware may be corrupted. This will render your computer unbootable — it’ll be “bricked.”

How to Check Your BIOS Version in Windows

Your computer’s BIOS version is displayed in the BIOS setup menu itself, but you don’t have to reboot to check this version number. There are several ways to see your BIOS version from within Windows, and they work the same on PCs with a traditional BIOS or a newer UEFI firmware.
To use a command, open a Command Prompt window — press Windows Key + R, type cmd into the Run dialog, and press Enter. Run the following command:
wmic bios get smbiosbiosversion
You’ll see the version number of the BIOS or UEFI firmware in your current PC.
find-bios-version-from-command-prompt
You can also find your BIOS’s version number in the System Information window. On Windows 7, you can search the Start menu for System Information to find it. On Windows 8, it’s more hidden — but you can still launch the System Information panel on Windows 8.
The BIOS version number is displayed on the System Summary pane. Look at the BIOS Version/Date field.
find-bios-or-uefi-version-in-windows-system-information

How to Update Your BIOS

Different motherboards use different utilities and procedures, so there’s no one-size-fits-all set of instructions here. However, you’ll perform the same basic process on all motherboards.
First, head to the motherboard manufacturer’s website and find the Downloads or Support page for your specific model of motherboard. You should see a list of available BIOS versions, along with any changes/bug fixes in each and the dates they were released. Download the one you want to update to. You’ll probably want the newest BIOS version unless you want an older one for a specific reason.
If you purchased a pre-built computer, head to the computer manufacturer’s website, look up the computer model, and look at its downloads page. You’ll find any available BIOS updates there.
download-updated-bios
Your BIOS download probably came in an archive — usually a .zip file. Extract the contents of that file. You’ll find some sort of BIOS file — in the screenshot below, it’s the E7887IMS.140 file.
The archive should also contain a README file that will walk you through updating to the new BIOS. You should check out this file for instructions that apply specifically to your hardware, but we’ll try to cover the basics that work across all hardware here.
bios-archive

You’ll need to choose one of several different types of BIOS-flashing tools depending on your motherboard and what it supports. The BIOS update’s included README file should recommend the ideal option for your hardware.
Some manufacturers offer a BIOS-flashing option in their BIOS, or as a special key-press option when you boot the computer. You copy the BIOS file to a USB drive, reboot your computer, and enter the BIOS or UEFI screen. From there, you choose the BIOS-updating option, select the BIOS file you placed on the USB drive, and the BIOS updates to the new version.
You generally access the BIOS screen by pressing the appropriate key while your computer boots — it’s often displayed on the screen during the boot process and will be noted in your motherboard or PC’s manual. Common BIOS keys include Delete and F2. The process forentering a UEFI setup screen on a Windows 8 PC is a bit different.
bios-menu
There are also more traditional DOS-based BIOS-flashing tools. You’d create a DOS live USB drive and copy the BIOS-flashing utility and BIOS file to that USB drive. You’d then reboot your computer and boot from the USB drive. In the minimal DOS environment, you’d run the appropriate command — often something like flash.bat BIOS3245.bin — and the tool would flash the new version of the BIOS.
The DOS-based flashing tool is often provided in the BIOS archive you download from the manufacturer’s website, although you may have to download it separately. Look for a file with the .bat or .exe file extension.
In the past, this process was performed with bootable floppy disks and CDs. We recommend a USB drive because it would probably be the easiest method on modern hardware.
run-dos-program-from-a-bootable-usb-drive
Some manufacturers provide Windows-based flashing tools, which you run on the Windows desktop to flash your BIOS and then reboot. We don’t recommend using these, and even many manufacturers who provide these tools usually caution against using them. For example, MSI “strongly recommends” using their BIOS-based menu option instead of their Windows-based utility in the README file of the sample BIOS update we downloaded.
Flashing your BIOS from within Windows can result in more problems. All that software running in the background — including security programs that may interfere with writing to the computer’s BIOS — could cause the process to fail and corrupt your BIOS. Any system crashes or freezes could also result in a corrupted BIOS. It’s better to be safe than sorry, so you should use a BIOS-based flashing tool or boot to a minimal DOS environment to flash your BIOS.
windows-bios-flashing-utility

That’s it — after you run the BIOS-flashing utility, you’ll reboot your computer and immediately begin using the new BIOS or UEFI firmware version. If there’s a problem with the new BIOS version, you may be able to downgrade it by downloading an older version from the manufacturer’s website and repeating the flashing process.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

How to Create and Run Virtual Machines With Hyper-V

run-linux-in-hyper-v-on-windows-8.1

Hyper-V is a virtual machine feature built into Windows. It was originally part of Windows Server 2008, but made the leap the to desktop with Windows 8. Hyper-V allows you to create virtual machines without any additional software.
This feature isn’t available on Windows 7, and it requires the Professional or Enterprise editions of Windows 8 or 8.1. It also requires a CPU with hardware virtualization support like Intel VT or AMD-V, features found in most modern CPUs.

Install Hyper-V

Hyper-V isn’t installed by default on Windows 8 Professional and Enterprise systems, so you’ll have to install it before you can use it. Thankfully, you don’t need a Windows disc to install it — you just need to click a few checkboxes.
Tap the Windows key, type “Windows features” to perform a search, and then click the “Turn Windows features on or off” shortcut. Check the Hyper-V checkbox in the list and click OK to install it. Restart your computer when prompted.
install-hyper-v-on-windows-8-or-8.1

Open Hyper-V Manager

To actually use Hyper-V, you’ll need to launch the Hyper-V Manager application. You’ll find it in your list of installed programs, and you can also launch it by searching for Hyper-V.
The Hyper-V Manager application refers to a “virtualization server,” which gives away its heritage as a tool for servers. It can be used to run virtual machines on your own computer — in that case, your local computer functions as a local virtualization server.
launch-hyper-v-manager

Set Up Networking

Click the name of your local computer in Hyper-V Manager to find the options for your current computer.
You’ll probably want to give the virtual machine access to the Internet and local network, so you’ll need to create a virtual switch. Click the Virtual Switch Manager link first.
virtual-switch-manager
Select External in the list to give virtual machines access to the external network, and click Create Virtual Switch.
virtual-switch-manager-create-external-switch
Give the virtual switch a name afterward and click OK. The default options should be fine here, although you should ensure the External network connection is correct. Be sure to select the network adapter that’s actually connected to the Internet, whether it’s Wi-Fi or wired Ethernet.
give-virtual-machine-networking-in-hyper-v

Create a Virtual Machine

Click New > Virtual Machine in the Actions pane to create a new virtual machine.
create-new-virtual-machine-in-hyper-v-manager
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The New Virtual Machine Wizard window will appear. Use the options to name your virtual machine and configure its basic hardware. This should all be fairly self-explanatory if you’ve ever used another virtual machine program before. When you reach the Configure Networking pane, you’ll need to select the virtual switch you configured earlier — if you didn’t configure one, the only option you’ll see here is “Not Connected,” which means your virtual machine won’t be connected to the network unless you add a network adapter to its virtual hardware later.
hyper-v-new-virtual-machine-wizard
If you have an ISO file containing your guest operating system’s installation files, you can select it at the end of the process. Hyper-V will insert the ISO file into the virtual machine’s virtual disc drive so you can boot it afterwards and immediately start installing your guest operating system of choice.
install-operating-system-from-iso-file

Boot the Virtual Machine

Your new virtual machine will appear in the Hyper-V Manager list. Select it and “Start” it — click Start in the sidebar, click Action > Start, or right-click it and select Start. The virtual machine will boot up.
hyper-v-manager-start-virtual-machine
Next, right-click the virtual machine and click Connect to connect to it. Your virtual machine will then open in a window on your desktop — if you don’t connect to it, it just runs in the background with no visible interface. Again, it’s easy to see how this management interface was designed for servers.
After you connect, you’ll see a standard virtual machine window with options you can use to control the virtual machine. It should look familiar if you’ve ever used VirtualBox or VMware Player. Go through the normal installation process to install the guest operating system in the virtual machine.
When you’re done installing the operating system, click Action > Insert Integration Services Setup Disk. Open the Windows file manager and install the integration services from the virtual disc. This is Hyper-V’s counterpart to VirtualBox Guest Additions and VMware Tools
hyper-v-connected-window

Using Hyper-V

When you’re done with the virtual machine, make sure you’ve shut it down or turned it off in the Hyper-V Manager window — just closing the window won’t actually close the virtual machine, so it will stay running in the background. The virtual machine’s state should be “Off” if you don’t want it running.
turn-off-virtual-machine-in-hyper-v
Each virtual machine has a settings window you can use to configure its virtual hardware and other settings. Right-click a virtual machine and select Settings to adjust these options. Many of these settings can only be modified while the virtual machine is turned off.
virtual-machine's-settings-in-hyper-v
This tool was created by Microsoft, but that doesn’t mean it only works with Windows. Hyper-V can also be used to run Linux-based virtual machines. We were able to run Ubuntu 14.04 with Hyper-V on Windows 8.1 — no special configuration required.
install-ubuntu-14.04-in-hyper-v-on-windows-8.1

Hyper-V has other useful features, too. For example, checkpoints work like snapshots in VirtualBoxor VMware. You can create a checkpoint and then revert your guest operating system’s state to that state later. It’s a useful feature for experimenting with software or tweaks that may cause problems in your guest operating system