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Macrotone blogs upon Joomla, our products and other matters.

Implementing Online Storage - DropBox

b2ap3 icon dropboxWe have been investigating the use of ‘Cloud services’ in particular for backup and synchronising devices and discovered just how easy it was to use.   One attraction is that there is a ‘free’ no cost option, and there appears to be a wide variety of providers.  We have used Amazon Cloud Drive, Google Drive and also Microsoft’s SkyDrive but they didn’t easily integrate into all of our environments and we wanted to automate the use of the service.

Before we jump straight in, one often asked question is what is online storage?  The answer is of course, that online storage, or "cloud" services as they're also known, it that it is ‘storage space’ help somewhere in the ‘internet cloud’ that appears (often) as a virtual hard drive that's shown on your desktop and linked directly via the internet to the suppliers online space.  Exactly where it is stored is not really important, just that it is accessible.

They are easy to use, as one just opens the folder on the desktop and copies or pastes a file (or files) whether they be documents, music files, photos etc., and the files get synchronised across to the ‘online’ space.  If one has multiple devices (or machines) then each device, with the ‘providers’ software installed can see and access to files.

It is also possible to ‘share’ the files with other users as well,  once they've installed the same service.

Security

Data security is the number one concern since one is relying on the service to keep your files and documents secure.  If your account is hacked, your files are immediately available. However, there are several things you can do to prevent this:

  • Frequently change your passwords and don't use the same passwords as your email accounts. As a lot of these services require you to use your email address as your ID, it makes it easier for the bad guys to crack your password.
  • Use some encryption upon the files which is encoded with a password for sensitive files stored on the ‘online service.

And of course the ‘old’ standards still apply:

  • Install (free?) antivirus software and malware software, and keep it up-to-date.
  • Avoid opening any links or attachments that could be potential security risks.
  • Beware of phishing emails and any messages from unknown senders that request your bank details.

Note: Other ‘online storage’ users usually can't see your private files unless one deliberately invites them or places the files in the "public" (or shared) folder.  As expected everything in your public folder is, by definition, accessible to anyone.

As we said at the beginning we wanted to specifically concentrate on the ‘offsite’ storing of ‘backups’, in particular our web server.  Fortunately we make use of Akeeba Backup Pro, which allows easy integration into a number of providers.  We chose to look specifically at DropBox which since its launch in 2008 has become well know with techies, and has become one of the biggest names in online storage. It is also available upon a number of devices and has a simple, user-friendly interface. It can be downloaded on to PCs, Macs, iPads, iPhones, BlackBerrys and Android devices.  It also has an online version of the service, which you can use on any PC where Dropbox is not installed - just log in online.  IT is this flexibility that particularly appeals.

It initially comes with 2GB of space, but this can be boosted by introducing ‘new’ friends to Dropbox.  With every new referral, you'll both gain an extra 500MB, up to a maximum of 18GB. If more is still required a monthly subscription can be added to the account.  This was more than suitable for our requirements so we read the documentation on the Akeeba site and proceeded to set up Akeeba Backup to create a backup and ran a test.  It worked perfectly, so much so that we thought we had made a mistake, but the site backup was in the Dropbox account. The automation was then set up using a cron ‘daemon’ on our web site and left to see how it performed overnight.  Checking the following day showed the backups were working well.

Next we looked at the synchronisation process between devices.  The only snag we found was that some of our devices were a ‘little long in the tooth’ and the Dropbox software required ‘up to date’ operating system versions, which were of course not available for  some of the hardware.  Apart from that the processes work well, with only the expected delays caused by the network performance.

The next thing we looked at was synchronising with our NAS, (again another device, albeit one with certain characteristics). Again installing the software package upon the NAS went smoothly just as explained in the NAS documentation., and it then automatically created a folder on the NAS and saved all the files onto the NAS from Dropbox.

So we achieved what we set out to do.  Automatically created a web site backup (via cron), and transferred it to the ‘cloud Dropbox service’. Then on our NAS box it automatically synchronised the Dropbox backup files to out local NAS storage. Job done.

All in all it was as ‘easy as pie’ and we recommend it.  In fact we wonder why we didn’t do it before, it just ‘worked’!

It is easy to see how beneficial this service could be to someone at or going to University who wanted to preserve their work in the unlikely event  of an accident or possible theft of their personal computer.

Download it now: Dropbox

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Website Anti-Spam


A recent comment requested some additional anti-spam option in our Issue Tracker component. That triggered much though on a topic that obviously impact all website and their components, be it blogs, commenting systems etc.

There are a number of different parts to preventing spam on a website and this is to expand upon our own particular take on the subject.

Spam is one of the many problem that face web sites today. It is basically the proverbial ‘pain in the neck’ and if not handled correctly can be very time consuming. How often have you viewed web sites where there are totally unrelated comments /registrations/ forums posts which has to make one think about the site’s reputation and credibility.

Our site is not immune to this problem and the source is not restricted to any specific country although there does seem to be a preponderance from locations such as Turkey, China, Russian Federation and more recently Ukraine and Brazil.

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sh404SEF graphs, Akeeba Admin Pro and .htaccess

Just tracked down a configuration problem with the .htaccess file generated by Akeeba Admin Tools Pro which was causing the sh404SEF Analytics display to fail to display the generated site view graphics.

The problem was that the .htaccess rule was preventing the sh404SEF component from accessing the graphical data that it has created.  I could see that the graphical png files were being created but they were not being displayed.

Turning off the .htaccess effect by renaming the file, enabled the graphs to be displayed so it was obviously .htaccess that was at fault.

So then it was a case of finding the creation rule in the Akeeba Admin Tools Pro htaccess creator.

The solution was to add the directory to the list of exceptions:

Under 'Server Protection -> Exceptions -> '  add the path to the sh404sef_analytics directory to the list.

This then generates an exception which means that it is not picked up by the rule identified above.

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Problem remote posting blog entry with htaccess rule - resolved.

I recently implemented the strict htaccess rules generated by the Akeeba Admin Tools utility.   I then discovered that it was not possible to use Windows Live Writer to post entries to the blog anymore.   It was obviously a problem with the htaccess rules since a simple test removing the htaccess file enabled a post to complete successfully.

Looking at the configuration in more detail the most obvious cause appeared to be two rules related to access the xmlrpc directory:

RewriteRule ^xmlrpc/(index\.php)?$ - [L]
RewriteRule ^xmlrpc/ - [F]

But these rules permit access, they do not deny access. so they were obviously not the cause of the problem.

Then the light dawned.  There was a rule to redirect www addresses to non-www addresses:

RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^www\.(.+)$ [NC]
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://%1/$1 [R,L]

Because the Windows Live Writer (WLW) blog account was set up before the htaccess setting were changed it was set up to use the ‘www.xxxx’ address NOT the ‘xxxx’ address.

For this reason the posting was being disallowed.   The redirection was getting in the way.  Just disabling this one rule enabled the posting to proceed.  It was desirable to have the rule in place, so once I had changed the WLW blog account to use the non-www address posting could resume and complete successfully.

I hope others find this interesting and perhaps do not spend as much time as I have trying to resolve it.

I thoroughly recommend Akeeba Admin Tools Professional as a user since it has stopped SPAM on the site almost completely.  That alone is a triumph.

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