Easy, secure VPN with Hamachi

I often get asked by my less "geeky" friends on a easy-to-setup easy-to-use method of establishing a secure connection between two (or more) computers on the internet. The purpose of having such a connection ranges from simply sharing files, controlling a remote computer and even having a virtual LAN to connect together a geographically scattered community. I usually have a simple one word answer for all such queries: Hamachi.

Hamachi is a zero-configuration Virtual Private Networking (VPN) application that uses its own central server with encrypted communications. The software isn't open-source, it's method of encryption has a few unanswered questions and it relies on a central server beyond one's control, however, despite all that it admittedly is a very elegant solution to the traditional VPN. The ease of setup, the ease of use and its ability to work with NAT'ed connections render it a very attractive solution for use by anyone. Best of all, software is a free download of around 800Kb in size!

Once logged into the Hamachi network using the software, we can create our own virtual named networks that individual nodes can access by typing in the name of the network - quite similar to joining a channel in an IRC network. The virtual networks can have password protection so as to restrict access to known persons only. The application comes with its own chat facility allowing the user to strike up a chat with anyone on the Hamachi virtual network. The application is also configured to allow browsing another user's computer via Windows File Sharing/SMB - as per access restrictions of course. The neat thing here being that you can have File Sharing disabled for the Internet connection yet have it enabled for the Hamachi connection.

My PC at home in Male' is behind a NAT but is easily reachable via the Hamachi network that it automatically joins on whenever it is switched on. The Hamachi central servers rid me of the burden of having my own server as is required by standard VPN systems. The connection speeds on the Hamachi network is decent enough for most purposes including VNC use. This is an ideal solution for all those of you who want to create a virtual network to pool together all the friends and/or family or simply want to make your alternative PC easily accessible wherever you are...

The main Hamachi website is at http://www.hamachi.cc/. There is a handy guide on setting up Hamachi for optimal use at http://www.itsatechworld.com/2006/01/17/hamachi-vpn-solution/

Enjoy :-)

Screenshot [ Image from Hamachi.cc website]

Stargate Atlantis

I am a huuuge fan of sci-fi, which is why the StarTrek series and the Stargate series rank as some of my favourites on television. Stargate Atlantis is an offshoot from the original (still ongoing) Stargate SG-1 series and has been going on for a few years now. Sadly, I only had the chance to catch up on the series a few months ago. Season 3 is underway now and I am entirely glued to the story.

It tells the story of a Stargate base that is established in the Pegasus galaxy on an abandoned Ancients outpost that was found in one of the SG-1 missions. The place, known as Atlantis, is an artificial city that resides on the sea and is thought to be have been one of the main bases of the Ancients before they were destroyed by the prevalent enemy in the galaxy, the Wraith. The Ancients were a species much more advanced than humans and had evolved millions of years prior to humans. They were joined in the pursuit of knowledge and "ascension" - a goal that made them both technology and scientifically more advanced than anything else the Stargate mission had encountered. I like the Stargate Atlantis series much more than the original SG-1 series and it definitely trumps the latest StarTrek "Enterprise" series.

Check out the series if you gobble up science fiction, space travel and extra-world exploration as much I do. Drooool :)~

Dhivehi Document Converter 1.0 beta

Immi has amalgamated some code for Dhivehi document converting from Hassan and myself, to make a nifty little utility to convert from either MLS format or Accent format into more universal document formats such as RichText. The tool is available for download from the Technova website.

The utility is a bit rough at the moment and notably has Unicode support left out. There is no installer either at the moment, so it is ready to run once downloaded. However, as always, the utility is expected to become more user friendly and feature rich in future incarnations. Drop some feedback if you are keen on seeing particular features added...

Click here for more info and download link

Dhivehi Document Converter 1.0 beta

SigStat.com launches, uses Blobsy

I always get much pleasure when I see my work being used elsewhere. I got a email today from the creator of the recently launched SigStat.com, informing me of its use of the Blobsy bot framework.

To quote the introduction to the service on the site:
"SigStat.com allows you to keep your forum signatures update to date by displaying your present msn status, and msn nickname, which automatically update. This innovative service is free just add your msn address and click get sig right after to get started."

The site currently has the status image available in the following layouts:

Sig 1

Sig 2

Sig 3

In addition to status images, there is a primitive statistics option that can display the MSN Messenger usage in terms of the status messages the user has set over a period of time. What use it can be of I am not sure, since I for one, leave my status as "Online" most times regardless of whether I am at the PC or not...

Congratulations to Adam Davis on the work. I reckon it might be a neat feature to have a large collection of status image layout/formats available, especially for usage on websites and blogs. Good luck!

Open routers at Dhiraagu hotspots?

Dhiraagu Wifi hotspot is something I had mentioned in an earlier post, however, I hadn't got a chance to experience the service on my laptop till recently. The opportunity popped up when my flight to UK got delayed and had to kill some time at the food outlet at the airport. My laptop readily found the "Dhiraagu Wireless Hotspot" SSID and a stable connection was established. The service was quite decent and I could browse and download in comfort and with speed. It certainly was a luxury that quite a few people would happily pay for.

As ever, curiosity got the better of me and I decided to peek a look at how the service was operating. Access controlled wifi hotspots usually operate by allowing unprotected (that is WEP/WPA free) access to the wireless network and then authenticating the client with a central access controller. The client needs to open a web page, any page, upon which the browser gets redirected to a service login page where the user is prompted to enter the login details that grant them access to the internet thereafter. The login mechanism also serves as a means to facilitate billing.

The Dhiraagu system operates in a similar manner. Below is the screen that we are shown upon connecting. Notice that they are giving the username/password to login with in the current free access promotion they are running.

The browser flickers as the system guides it through a series of links to complete the authentication. Looking at the URLs that the browser hit through, I picked one "interesting" looking IP...

And voila comes the web administration interface for a Cisco router - the equipment that Dhiraagu is using to provide the Wifi hotspot service!

The router apparently is configured without any administration password and the act of going to the router's IP address provided unfettered access to the wifi router and hence control over the wifi hotspot service.

I wonder if this is true for all the rest of Dhiraagu hotspots splattered across Male'. The service is great, BUT is this how the system was deployed? This configuration of the wifi hotspot lets anyone command control over the router and facilitates all kinds of mischief!

Back in UK and moving house

I am back in the UK after a 10+ hour uneventful flight from Male' to London Gatwick on Monday. I even managed to pass through immigration and customs without any problems despite the presence of the large number of electronics components and circuit boards - items that had caused me much trouble at Indian and Sri Lankan airports recently.

However, things managed to kick up into storm thereafter and I had to forego rest and sleep till early morning on Tuesday! Disaster continued on as I ended up oversleeping, then going through the hassle of catching two trains to land me in Reading city in time before the end of working hours. The next task of moving into my (new) home for the year also had me shuttling between the city center and the letting agent on a mix of travel on bus and foot. It took a while before paperwork was over with and I could move my old stuff in and finally set my butt down.

The place isn't too far from the university and is quite cozy. It is still in the process of being whipped into liveable shape but I reckon that will take a teeny bit more time 'coz I'll probably be in deep slumber out this sheer exhaustion that is setting on me!


Back to Male'!

Phew! I am back in Male' tonight after a tiring week in Malaysia. My schedule was quite tight and consuming and didn't leave me with extra time to explore the place. I didn't even get the chance to climb up the world famous Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur as I had hoped to :-(

Time to snore...