Opening to my video: Screencast 002 - A quick walk through Git

Screencast 002: A quick walk through Git (a mentoring style video)

I have done a follow-up Mentoring style video to support my last one. This video shows how to fix some of the issues in Git I came across in my last mentoring video!

Screencast 002: A quick walk through Git

I took some advice from a colleague who noticed that I skipped past a couple of issues with my Git setup, so I re-did them :) I hope this makes sense, and at 35 minutes, is a bit more understandable than the last 1h15 video!

Also on LBRY and

Opening to my video: Screencast 001 - Ansible and Inspec using Vagrant

Screencast 001: Ansible and Inspec with Vagrant and Git (a mentoring style video)

If you’ve ever wondered how I use Ansible and Inspec, or wondered why some of my Vagrant files look like they do, well, I want to start recording some “mentor” style videos… You know how, if you were sitting next to someone who’s a mentor to you, and you watch how they build a solution.

The first one was released last night!

Screencast 001:Ansible and Inspec using Vagrant

I recently saw a video by Chris Hartjes on how he creates his TDD (Test driven development) based PHP projects, and I really wanted to emulate that style, but talking about the things I use.

This was my second attempt at recording a mentoring style video yesterday, the first was shown to the Admin Admin Podcast listeners group on Telegram, and then sacrificed to the demo gods (there were lots of issues in that first video) never to be seen again.

From a tooling perspective, I’m using a remote virtual machine running Ubuntu Mate 18.04 over RDP (to improve performance) with xrdp and Remmina, OBS is running locally to record the content, and I’m using Visual Studio Code, git, Vagrant and Virtualbox, as well as Ansible and Inspec.

Late edit 2020-02-29: Like videos like this, hate YouTube? It’s also on

Late edit 2020-03-01: Popey told me about when I announced this on the Admin Admin Podcast telegram channel, and so I’ve also copied the video to there:

Publishing a “Bio” in Secure Scuttlebutt, using ssb-server

This is one of those “oh, there it is” posts, more for myself than anyone else. Anyway, if you use SSB from a shell (perhaps you run your own SSB Pub, for example), you might want to run this style of command:

ssb-server publish --type about --about "$(ssb-server whoami | jq .id -r)" --name "Some Server" --description "I'm just some server, you know"

As long as you have --name or --description in there, you should be good to go!

"vieux port Marseille" by "Jeanne Menjoulet" on Flickr

Networking tricks with Multipass in Virtualbox on Windows (Bridged interfaces and Port Forwards)

TL;DR? Want to “just” bridge one or more interfaces to a Multipass instance when you’re using Virtualbox? See the Bridging Summary below. Want to do a port forward? See the Port Forward section below. You will need the psexec command and to execute this as an administrator. The use of these two may be considered a security incident on your computing environment, depending on how your security processes and infrastructure are defined and configured.

Ah Multipass. This is a tool created by Canonical to create a “A mini-cloud on your Mac or Windows workstation.” (from their website)…

I’ve often seen this endorsed as the tool of choice from Canonical employees to do “stuff” like run Kubernetes, develop tools for UBPorts (previously Ubuntu Touch) devices, and so on.

So far, it seems interesting. It’s a little bit like Vagrant with an in-built cloud-init Provisioner, and as I want to test out the cloud-init files I’m creating for AWS and Azure, that’d be so much easier than actually building the AWS or Azure machines, or finding a viable cloud-init plugin for Vagrant to test it out.

BUT… Multipass is really designed for Linux systems (running LibVirt), OS X (running HyperKit) and Windows (running Hyper-V). Even if I were using Windows 10 Pro on this machine, I use Virtualbox for “things” on my Windows Machine, and Hyper-V steals the VT-X bit, which means that VirtualBox can’t run x64 code…. Soooo I can’t use the Hyper-V mode.

Now, there is a “fix” for this. You can put Multipass into Virtualbox mode, which lets you run Multipass on Windows or OS X without using their designed-for hypervisor, but this has a downside, you see, VirtualBox doesn’t give MultiPass the same interface to route networking connections to the VM, and there’s currently no CLI or GUI options to say “bridge my network” or “forward a port” (in part because it needs to be portable to the native hypervisor options, apparently). So, I needed to fudge some things so I can get my beloved bridged connections.

I got to the point where I could do this, thanks to the responses to a few issues I raised on the Multipass Github issues, mostly #1333.

The first thing you need to install in Windows is PsExec, because Multipass runs it’s Virtual Machines as the SYSTEM account, and talking to SYSTEM account processes is nominally hard. Get PsExec from the SysInternals website. Some IT Security professionals will note the addition of PsExec as a potential security incident, but then again, they might also see the running of a virtual machine as a security incident too, as these aren’t controlled with a central image. Anyway… Just bear it in mind, and don’t shout at me if you get frogmarched in front of your CISO.

I’m guessing if you’re here, you’ve already installed Multipass, (but if not, and it seems interesting – it’s over at Get it and install it, then carry on…) and you’ve probably enabled the VirtualBox mode (if not – open a command prompt as administrator, and run “multipass set local.driver=virtualbox“). Now, you can start sorting out your bridges.

Sorting out bridges

First things first, you need to launch a virtual machine. I did, and it generated a name for my image.

C:\Users\JON>multipass launch
Launched: witty-kelpie

Fab! We have a running virtual machine, and you should be able to get a shell in there by running multipass shell "witty-kelpie" (the name of the machine it launched before). But, uh-oh. We have the “default” NAT interface of this device mapped, not a bridged interface.

C:\Users\JON>multipass shell "witty-kelpie"
Welcome to Ubuntu 18.04.3 LTS (GNU/Linux 4.15.0-76-generic x86_64)

 * Documentation:
 * Management:
 * Support:

  System information as of Thu Feb  6 10:56:38 GMT 2020

  System load:  0.3               Processes:             82
  Usage of /:   20.9% of 4.67GB   Users logged in:       0
  Memory usage: 11%               IP address for enp0s3:
  Swap usage:   0%

0 packages can be updated.
0 updates are security updates.

To run a command as administrator (user "root"), use "sudo <command>".
See "man sudo_root" for details.


So, exit the machine, and issue a multipass stop "witty-kelpie" command to ask Virtualbox to shut it down.

So, this is where the fun[1] part begins.
[1] The “Fun” part here depends on how you view this specific set of circumstances 😉

We need to get the descriptions of all the interfaces we might want to bridge to this device. I have three interfaces on my machine – a WiFi interface, a Ethernet interface on my laptop, and an Ethernet interface on my USB3 dock. At some point in the past, I renamed these interfaces, so I’d recognise them in the list of interfaces, so they’re not just called “Connection #1”, “Connection #2” and so on… but you should recognise your interfaces.

To get this list of interfaces, open PowerShell (as a “user”), and run this command:

PS C:\Users\JON> Get-NetAdapter -Physical | format-list -property "Name","DriverDescription"

Name              : On-Board Network Connection
DriverDescription : Intel(R) Ethernet Connection I219-LM

Name              : Wi-Fi
DriverDescription : Intel(R) Dual Band Wireless-AC 8260

Name              : Dock Network Connection
DriverDescription : DisplayLink Network Adapter NCM

For reasons best known to the Oracle team, they use the “Driver Description” to identify the interfaces, not the name assigned to the device by the user, so, before we get started, find your interface, and note down the description for later. If you want to bridge “all” of them, make a note of all the interfaces in question, and in the order you want to attach them. Note that Virtualbox doesn’t really like exposing more than 8 NICs without changing the Chipset to ICH9 (but really… 9+ NICs? really??) and the first one is already consumed with the NAT interface you’re using to connect to it… so that gives you 7 bridgeable interfaces. Whee!

So, now you know what interfaces you want to bridge, let’s configure the Virtualbox side. Like I said before you need psexec. I’ve got psexec stored in my Downloads folder. You can only run psexec as administrator, so open up an Administrator command prompt or powershell session, and run your command.

Just for clarity, your commands are likely to have some different paths, so remember that wherever “your” PsExec64.exe command is located, mine is in C:\Users\JON\Downloads\sysinternals\PsExec64.exe, and wherever your vboxmanage.exe is located, mine is in C:\Program Files\Oracle\VirtualBox\vboxmanage.exe.

Here, I’m going to attach my dock port (“DisplayLink Network Adapter NCM”) to the second VirtualBox interface, the Wifi adaptor to the third interface and my locally connected interface to the fourth interface. Your interfaces WILL have different descriptions, and you’re likely not to need quite so many of them!

C:\WINDOWS\system32>C:\Users\JON\Downloads\sysinternals\PsExec64.exe -s "c:\program files\oracle\virtualbox\vboxmanage" modifyvm "witty-kelpie" --nic2 bridged --bridgeadapter2 "DisplayLink Network Adapter NCM" --nic3 bridged --bridgeadapter3 "Intel(R) Dual Band Wireless-AC 8260" --nic4 bridged --bridgeadapter4 "Intel(R) Ethernet Connection I219-LM"

PsExec v2.2 - Execute processes remotely
Copyright (C) 2001-2016 Mark Russinovich
Sysinternals -

c:\program files\oracle\virtualbox\vboxmanage exited on MINILITH with error code 0.

An error code of 0 means that it completed successfuly and with no issues.

If you wanted to use a “Host Only” network (if you’re used to using Vagrant, you might know it as “Private” Networking), then change the NIC you’re interested in from --nicX bridged --bridgeadapterX "Some Description" to --nicX hostonly --hostonlyadapterX "VirtualBox Host-Only Ethernet Adapter" (where X is replaced with the NIC number you want to swap, ranged between 2 and 8, as 1 is the NAT interface you use to SSH into the virtual machine.)

Now we need to check to make sure the machine has it’s requisite number of interfaces. We use the showvminfo flag to the vboxmanage command. It produces a LOT of content, so I’ve manually filtered the lines I want, but you should spot it reasonably quickly.

C:\WINDOWS\system32>C:\Users\JON\Downloads\sysinternals\PsExec64.exe -s "c:\program files\oracle\virtualbox\vboxmanage" showvminfo "witty-kelpie"

PsExec v2.2 - Execute processes remotely
Copyright (C) 2001-2016 Mark Russinovich
Sysinternals -

Name:                        witty-kelpie
Groups:                      /Multipass
Guest OS:                    Ubuntu (64-bit)
NIC 1:                       MAC: 0800273CCED0, Attachment: NAT, Cable connected: on, Trace: off (file: none), Type: 82540EM, Reported speed: 0 Mbps, Boot priority: 0, Promisc Policy: deny, Bandwidth group: none
NIC 1 Settings:  MTU: 0, Socket (send: 64, receive: 64), TCP Window (send:64, receive: 64)
NIC 1 Rule(0):   name = ssh, protocol = tcp, host ip = , host port = 53507, guest ip = , guest port = 22
NIC 2:                       MAC: 080027303758, Attachment: Bridged Interface 'DisplayLink Network Adapter NCM', Cable connected: on, Trace: off (file: none), Type: 82540EM, Reported speed: 0 Mbps, Boot priority: 0, Promisc Policy: deny, Bandwidth group: none
NIC 3:                       MAC: 0800276EA174, Attachment: Bridged Interface 'Intel(R) Dual Band Wireless-AC 8260', Cable connected: on, Trace: off (file: none), Type: 82540EM, Reported speed: 0 Mbps, Boot priority: 0, Promisc Policy: deny, Bandwidth group: none
NIC 4:                       MAC: 080027042135, Attachment: Bridged Interface 'Intel(R) Ethernet Connection I219-LM', Cable connected: on, Trace: off (file: none), Type: 82540EM, Reported speed: 0 Mbps, Boot priority: 0, Promisc Policy: deny, Bandwidth group: none
NIC 5:                       disabled
NIC 6:                       disabled
NIC 7:                       disabled
NIC 8:                       disabled

Configured memory balloon size: 0MB

c:\program files\oracle\virtualbox\vboxmanage exited on MINILITH with error code 0.

Fab! We now have working interfaces… But wait, let’s start that VM back up and see what happens.

C:\Users\JON>multipass shell "witty-kelpie"
Welcome to Ubuntu 18.04.3 LTS (GNU/Linux 4.15.0-76-generic x86_64)

 * Documentation:
 * Management:
 * Support:

  System information as of Thu Feb  6 11:31:08 GMT 2020

  System load:  0.1               Processes:             84
  Usage of /:   21.1% of 4.67GB   Users logged in:       0
  Memory usage: 11%               IP address for enp0s3:
  Swap usage:   0%

0 packages can be updated.
0 updates are security updates.

Last login: Thu Feb  6 10:56:45 2020 from
To run a command as administrator (user "root"), use "sudo <command>".
See "man sudo_root" for details.


Wait, what….. We’ve still only got the one interface up with an IP address… OK, let’s fix this!

As of Ubuntu 18.04, interfaces are managed using Netplan, and, well, when the VM was built, it didn’t know about any interface past the first one, so we need to get Netplan to get them enabled. Let’s check they’re detected by the VM, and see what they’re all called:

ubuntu@witty-kelpie:~$ ip link
1: lo: <LOOPBACK,UP,LOWER_UP> mtu 65536 qdisc noqueue state UNKNOWN mode DEFAULT group default qlen 1000
    link/loopback 00:00:00:00:00:00 brd 00:00:00:00:00:00
2: enp0s3: <BROADCAST,MULTICAST,UP,LOWER_UP> mtu 1500 qdisc fq_codel state UP mode DEFAULT group default qlen 1000
    link/ether 08:00:27:3c:ce:d0 brd ff:ff:ff:ff:ff:ff
3: enp0s8: <BROADCAST,MULTICAST> mtu 1500 qdisc noop state DOWN mode DEFAULT group default qlen 1000
    link/ether 08:00:27:30:37:58 brd ff:ff:ff:ff:ff:ff
4: enp0s9: <BROADCAST,MULTICAST> mtu 1500 qdisc noop state DOWN mode DEFAULT group default qlen 1000
    link/ether 08:00:27:6e:a1:74 brd ff:ff:ff:ff:ff:ff
5: enp0s10: <BROADCAST,MULTICAST> mtu 1500 qdisc noop state DOWN mode DEFAULT group default qlen 1000
    link/ether 08:00:27:04:21:35 brd ff:ff:ff:ff:ff:ff

If you compare the link/ether lines to the output from showvminfo we executed before, you’ll see that the MAC address against enp0s3 matches the NAT interface, while enp0s8 matches the DisplayLink adapter, and so on… So we basically want to ask NetPlan to do a DHCP lookup for all the new interfaces we’ve added to it. If you’ve got 1 NAT and 7 physical interfaces (why oh why…) then you’d have enp0s8, 9, 10, 16, 17, 18 and 19 (I’ll come back to the random numbering in a tic)… so we now need to ask Netplan to do DHCP on all of those interfaces (assuming we’ll be asking for them all to come up!)

If we want to push that in, then we need to add a new file in /etc/netplan called something like 60-extra-interfaces.yaml, that should contain:

      optional: yes
      dhcp4: yes
        route-metric: 10
      optional: yes
      dhcp4: yes
        route-metric: 11
      optional: yes
      dhcp4: yes
        route-metric: 12
      optional: yes
      dhcp4: yes
        route-metric: 13
      optional: yes
      dhcp4: yes
        route-metric: 14
      optional: yes
      dhcp4: yes
        route-metric: 15
      optional: yes
      dhcp4: yes
        route-metric: 16

Going through this, we basically ask netplan not to assume the interfaces are attached. This stops the boot process for waiting for a timeout to configure each of the interfaces before proceeding, so it means your boot should be reasonably fast, particularly if you don’t always attach a network cable or join a Wifi network on all your interfaces!

We also say to assume we want IPv4 DHCP on each of those interfaces. I’ve done IPv4 only, as most people don’t use IPv6 at home, but if you are doing IPv6 as well, then you’d also need the same lines that start dhcp4 copied to show dhcp6 (like dhcp6: yes and dhcp6-overrides: route-metric: 10)

The eagle eyed of you might notice that the route metric increases for each extra interface. This is because realistically, if you have two interfaces connected (perhaps if you’ve got wifi enabled, and plug a network cable in), then you’re more likely to want to prioritize traffic going over the lower numbered interfaces than the higher number interfaces.

Once you’ve created this file, you need to run netplan apply or reboot your machine.

So, yehr, that gets you sorted on the interface front.

Bridging Summary

To review, you launch your machine with multipass launch, and immediately stop it with multipass stop "vm-name", then, as an admin, run psexec vboxmanage modifyvm "vm-name" --nic2 bridged --bridgedadapter2 "NIC description", and then start the machine with multipass start "vm-name". Lastly, ask the interface to do DHCP by manipulating your Netplan configuration.

Interface Names in VirtualBox

Just a quick note on the fact that the interface names aren’t called things like eth0 any more. A few years back, Ubuntu (amongst pretty much all of the Linux distribution vendors) changed from using eth0 style naming to what they call “Predictable Network Interface Names”. This derives the names from things like, what the BIOS provides for on-board interfaces, slot index numbers for PCI Express ports, and for this case, the “geographic location of the connector”. In Virtualbox, these interfaces are provided as the “Geographically” attached to “port 0” (so enp0 are all on port 0), but for some reason, they broadcast themselves as being attached to the port 0 at “slots” 3, 8, 9, 10, 16, 17, 18 and 19… hence enp0s3 and so on. shrug It just means that if you don’t have the interfaces coming up on the interfaces you’re expecting, you need to run ip link to confirm the MAC addresses match.

Port Forwarding

Unlike with the Bridging, we don’t need to power down the VM to add the extra interfaces, we just need to use psexec (as an admin again) to execute a vboxmanage command – in this case, it’s:

C:\WINDOWS\system32>C:\Users\JON\Downloads\sysinternals\PsExec64.exe -s "c:\program files\oracle\virtualbox\vboxmanage" controlvm "witty-kelpie" --natpf1 "myport,tcp,,1234,,2345"

OK, that’s a bit more obscure. Basically it says “Create a NAT rule on NIC 1 called ‘myport’ to forward TCP connections from port 1234 attached to any IP associated to the host OS to port 2345 attached to the DHCP supplied IP on the guest OS”.

If we wanted to run a DNS server in our VM, we could run multiple NAT rules in the same command, like this:

C:\WINDOWS\system32>C:\Users\JON\Downloads\sysinternals\PsExec64.exe -s "c:\program files\oracle\virtualbox\vboxmanage" controlvm "witty-kelpie" --natpf1 "TCP DNS,tcp,,53,,53" --natpf1 "UDP DNS,udp,,53,,53"

If we then decide we don’t need those NAT rules any more, we just (with psexec and appropriate paths) issue: vboxmanage controlvm "vm-name" --natpf1 delete "TCP DNS"

Using ifupdown instead of netplan

Late Edit 2020-04-01: On Github, someone asked me how they could use the same type of config with netplan, but instead on a 16.04 system. Ubuntu 16.04 doesn’t use netplan, but instead uses ifupdown instead. Here’s how to configure the file for ifupdown:

You can either add the following stanzas to /etc/network/interfaces, or create a separate file for each interface in /etc/network/interfaces.d/<number>-<interface>.cfg (e.g. /etc/network/interfaces.d/10-enp0s8.cfg)

allow-hotplug enp0s8
iface enp0s8 inet dhcp
  metric 10

To re-iterate, in the above netplan file, the interfaces we identified were: enp0s8, enp0s9, enp0s10, enp0s16, enp0s17, enp0s18 and enp0s19. Each interface was incrementally assigned a route metric, starting at 10 and ending at 16, so enp0s8 has a metric of 10, while enp0s16 has a metric of 13, and so on. To build these files, I’ve created this brief shell script you could use:

export metric=10
for int in 8 9 10 16 17 18 19
  echo -e "allow-hotplug enp0s${int}\niface enp0s${int} inet dhcp\n  metric $metric" > /etc/network/interfaces.d/enp0s${int}.cfg

As before, you could reboot to make the changes to the interfaces. Bear in mind, however, that unlike Netplan, these interfaces will try and DHCP on boot with this configuration, so boot time will take longer if every interface attached isn’t connected to a network.

Using NAT Network instead of NAT Interface

Late update 2020-05-26: Ruzsinsky contacted me by email to ask how I’d use a “NAT Network” instead of a “NAT interface”. Essentially, it’s the same as the Bridged interface above, with one other tweak first, we need to create the Net Network, with this command (as an Admin)

C:\WINDOWS\system32>C:\Users\JON\Downloads\sysinternals\PsExec64.exe -s "c:\program files\oracle\virtualbox\vboxmanage" natnetwork add --netname MyNet --network

Next, stop your multipass virtual machine with multipass stop "witty-kelpie", and configure your second interface, like this:

C:\WINDOWS\system32>C:\Users\JON\Downloads\sysinternals\PsExec64.exe -s "c:\program files\oracle\virtualbox\vboxmanage" modifyvm "witty-kelpie" --nic2 natnetwork --nat-network2 "MyNet"

PsExec v2.2 - Execute processes remotely
Copyright (C) 2001-2016 Mark Russinovich
Sysinternals -

c:\program files\oracle\virtualbox\vboxmanage exited on MINILITH with error code 0.

Start the vm with multipass start "witty-kelpie", open a shell with it multipass shell "witty-kelpie", become root sudo -i and then configure the interface in /etc/netplan/60-extra-interfaces.yaml like we did before:

      optional: yes
      dhcp4: yes
        route-metric: 10

And then run netplan apply or reboot.

What I would say, however, is that the first interface seems to be expected to be a NAT interface, at which point, having a NAT network as well seems a bit pointless. You might be better off using a “Host Only” (or “Private”) network for any inter-host communications between nodes at a network level… But you know your environments and requirements better than I do :)

Featured image is “vieux port Marseille” by “Jeanne Menjoulet” on Flickr and is released under a CC-BY-ND license.

"Unnatural Love" by "Keith Garner" on Flickr

Configuring a Remote Desktop (Gnome Shell) for Ubuntu

I started thinking a couple of weeks ago, when my coding laptop broke, that it would be really useful to have a development machine somewhere else that I could use.

It wouldn’t need a lot of power (after all, I’m mostly developing web apps and not compiling stuff), but it does need to be a desktop OS, as I rather like being able to open code editors and suchlike, while I’ve got a web browser open.

I have an Android tablet, which while it’s great for being a tablet, it’s not much use as a desktop, and … yes, I’ve got a work laptop, but I don’t really want to install software on that (and I don’t think my admin team would be happy if I did).

Also, I quite like Linux.

Some time ago, I spotted that AWS has a “Virtual Desktop” environment, and I think that’s kinda what I’m after. Something I can spin up, run for a bit and then shut it down, so I thought I’d build something like that… but not pesky Windows, after all… who likes Windows, eh? ;)

So, I built a Virtual Desktop Environment (VDE) in AWS, using Terraform and a bit of shell script!

I start from an Ubuntu 18.04 server image, and, after the install is complete, I run this user-data script inside it. Yes, I know I could be doing this with Ansible, but… eh, I wanted it to be a quick deployment ;)

Oh, and there’s a couple of Terraform managed variables in here – ${aws_eip.vde.public_ip} is the AWS public IP address assigned to this host., ${var.firstuser} is the username we want to rename “ubuntu” (the stock server username) to. ${var.firstgecos} is the user’s “real name” which the machine identifies the user as (like “Log out Jon Spriggs” and so on). ${var.userpw} is either the password you want it to use, OR (by default) pwgen 12 which generates a 12 character long password. ${var.desktopenv} is the name of the desktop environment I want to install (Ubuntu by default) and … well, ${var.var_start} is a bit of a fudge, because I couldn’t, in a hurry, work out how to tell Terraform not to mangle the bash variable allocation of ${somevar} which is the format that Terraform also uses. D’oh.

#! /bin/bash
# Set Hostname
hostnamectl set-hostname vde.${aws_eip.vde.public_ip}
# Change User
if [ ! "$user" == 'ubuntu' ]
  until usermod -c "${var.firstgecos}" -l $user ubuntu ; do sleep 5 ; done
  until groupmod -n $user ubuntu ; do sleep 5 ; done
  until usermod  -d /home/$user -m $user ; do sleep 5 ; done
  if [ -f /etc/sudoers.d/90-cloudimg-ubuntu ]; then
    mv /etc/sudoers.d/90-cloudimg-ubuntu /etc/sudoers.d/90-cloud-init-users
  perl -pi -e "s/ubuntu/$user/g;" /etc/sudoers.d/90-cloud-init-users
if [ '${var.userpw}' == '$(pwgen 12)' ]
  apt update && apt install pwgen
echo "$newpw" > /var/log/userpw
echo -e "$fullpw" | passwd $user
# Install Desktop and RDP
apt-get update
export DEBIAN_FRONTEND=noninteractive
apt-get full-upgrade -yq
apt-get autoremove -y
apt-get autoclean -y
apt-get install -y ${var.desktopenv}-desktop xrdp certbot
# Configure Certbot
echo "#!/bin/sh" > /etc/letsencrypt/
echo 'cat ${var.var_start}{RENEWED_LINEAGE}/privkey.pem ${var.var_start}{RENEWED_LINEAGE}/fullchain.pem > ${var.var_start}{RENEWED_LINEAGE}/merged.pem' >> /etc/letsencrypt/
echo 'chmod 640 ${var.var_start}{RENEWED_LINEAGE}/merged.pem' >> /etc/letsencrypt/
chmod 750 /etc/letsencrypt/
certbot certonly --standalone --deploy-hook /etc/letsencrypt/ -n -d vde.${aws_eip.vde.public_ip} -d ${aws_eip.vde.public_ip} --register-unsafely-without-email --agree-tos
# Based on
sed -i 's~^certificate=$~certificate=/etc/letsencrypt/live/vde.${aws_eip.vde.public_ip}; s~^key_file=$~key_file=/etc/letsencrypt/live/vde.${aws_eip.vde.public_ip}' /etc/xrdp/xrdp.ini
# Fix colord remote user issue
# Derived from
echo "[Allow Colord all Users]
ResultActive=yes" > /etc/polkit-1/localauthority/50-local.d/45-allow.colord.pkla
# Configure Desktop
if [ '${var.desktopenv}' == 'ubuntu' ]
  echo "#!/bin/bash" > /tmp/desktop_settings
  echo "gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.input-sources sources \"[('xkb', 'gb')]\"" >> /tmp/desktop_settings
  echo "gsettings set folder-children \"['Utilities', 'Sundry', 'YaST']\"" >> /tmp/desktop_settings
  echo "gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.privacy report-technical-problems false" >> /tmp/desktop_settings
  echo "gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.screensaver lock-enabled false" >> /tmp/desktop_settings
  echo "gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.session idle-delay 0" >> /tmp/desktop_settings
  echo "echo yes > /home/${var.firstuser}/.config/gnome-initial-setup-done" >> /tmp/desktop_settings
  sudo -H -u ${var.firstuser} dbus-launch --exit-with-session bash /tmp/desktop_settings
  rm -f /tmp/desktop_settings
# Install VSCode
wget -O /tmp/vscode.deb
apt install -y /tmp/vscode.deb
rm /var/crash/*
shutdown -r now

Ubuntu 18.04 has a “first login” wizard, that lets you pre-set up things like, what language will you be using. I bypassed this with the gsettings commands towards the end of the script, and writing the string “yes” to ~/.config/gnome-initial-setup-done.

Also, I wanted to be able to RDP to it. I’m a bit concerned by the use of VNC, especially where RDP is more than capable. It’s just an apt-install away, so… that’s what I do. But, because I’m RDP’ing into this box, I wanted to prevent the RDP session from locking, so I provide two commands to the session: gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.screensaver lock-enabled false which removes the screensaver’s ability to lock the screen, and gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.session idle-delay 0 which stops the screensaver from even starting in the first place.

Now all I need to do is to figure out where I’m going to store my code between boots ;)

So, in summary, I now have a Virtual Machine, which runs Ubuntu 18.04 Desktop, in AWS, with an RDP connection (powered by xRDP), and a disabled screensaver. Job done, I think!

Oh, and if I’m doing it “wrong”, let me know in the comments? :)

Featured image is “Unnatural Love” by “Keith Garner” on Flickr and is released under a CC-BY-SA license.

"presentation structure" by "Sean MacEntee" on Flickr

One to read: “The Art of Slide Design”

This is a little different from my usual posts, but I heard about this from the User Error podcast this morning. In 2018 Melinda Seckington gave a talk at DevRelCon Tokyo which she then reposted in full detail on her blog. This set of posts is well worth a read, particularly if you’re someone who enjoys writing and delivering presentations, or if it’s part of your job.

While I don’t adhere to her advice exactly, I can see a lot of benefits to the way that she’s advising to create your decks.

It’s worth mentioning that if you follow the links on the blog posts, post 4 of 5 links to the wrong page for the last page (post 5/5), but there is a “next post” button at the bottom of the page… or just follow the links from this page :)

Featured image is “presentation structure” by “Sean MacEntee” on Flickr and is released under a CC-BY license.

"Captain" by "The Laddie" on Flickr

Trying out Kubernetes (K8S) with MicroK8S in Vagrant

I’m going on a bit of a containers kick at the moment, and just recently I wanted to give Kubernetes (sometimes abbreviated to “K8S”) a try.

Kubernetes is an orchestration engine for Containers, like Docker. It’s designed to take the images that Docker (and other similar tools) produce, and run them across multiple nodes. You need to have a handle on how Docker works before giving K8S a try, but once you do, it’s well worth a shot to understand K8S.

Unlike Docker, K8S is a bit more in-depth on it’s requirements, and often people are pointed at Minikube as their introduction to K8S, however, my colleague and friend Nick suggested I might be better off with MicroK8S.

MicroK8S is an application released by Canonical as a Snap. A Snap is a Linux packaging format, similar to FlatPak and AppImage. It’s mostly used on Ubuntu based operating systems, but can also work on other Linux distributions.

I had an initial, failed, punt with the recommended advice for using MicroK8S on Windows (short story, Hyper-V did not work for me, and the VirtualBox back-end doesn’t expose any network ports, or at least, if it does, I couldn’t see how to make it work), and as I’m reasonably confident in using Vagrant work in Windows, I built a Vagrantfile to deliver MicroK8S.

To use this, you need Vagrant and VirtualBox, and then get the Vagrantfile from repo… then run vagrant up (it will ask you what interface you want to “bridge” to – this will be how you access the Kubernetes pods and Docker containers). Once the machine has finished building, you can run vagrant ssh to connect into it. From here, you can run your kubectl commands, as well as docker commands.

If you want to experiment with a multi-node environment, then I also built a Vagrantfile to deliver two virtual machines, both running MicroK8S, and used the shared storage element of Vagrant to transfer the “join” instruction from the first node to the second.

Of course, now I just need to work out how the hell I do Kubernetes 🤣

Featured image is “Captain” by “The Laddie” on Flickr and is released under a CC-BY-ND license.

apt update && apt full-upgrade -y && apt autoremove -y && apt autoclean -y

Apt Updates with Ansible

I’ve got a small Ansible script that I bundle up on Ubuntu boxes to do apt updates. This was originally a one-statement job, but I’ve added a few lines to it, so I thought I’d explain what I’m doing (more for myself, for later!)

Initally, I just had a task to do apt: upgrade=full update_cache=yes autoremove=yes autoclean-yes but if you’re running the script over and over again, well, this gets slow… So I added a tweak!

Here it is folks, in all it’s glory!

- hosts: all
  - name: Get stat of last run apt
      path: /var/cache/apt/pkgcache.bin
    register: apt_run

  - name: "Apt update, Full-upgrade, autoremove, autoclean check"
      msg: "Skipping apt-update, etc. actions as apt update was run today"
    when: "'%Y-%m-%d' | strftime(apt_run.stat.mtime) in"

  - name: "Apt update, Full-upgrade, autoremove, autoclean"
      upgrade: full
      update_cache: yes
      autoremove: yes
      autoclean: yes
    when: "'%Y-%m-%d' | strftime(apt_run.stat.mtime) not in"

What does this do? Well, according to this AskUbuntu post, the best file to check if an update has been performed is /var/cache/apt/pkgcache.bin, so we check the status of that file. Most file systems available to Linux distributions provide the mtime – or “last modified time”. This is returned in the number of seconds since UTC 00:00:00 on the Unix Epoch (1970-01-01), so we need to convert that to a date., which we return as YYYY-MM-DD (e.g. today is 2020-01-06) and then compare that to what the system thinks today is. If the dates don’t equate (so one string doesn’t match the other – in other words, apt update wasn’t run today), it runs the update. If the dates do match up, we get a statement saying that apt update was already run.

Fun times!

"Shipping Containers" by "asgw" on Flickr

Creating my first Docker containerized LEMP (Linux, nginx, MariaDB, PHP) application

Want to see what I built without reading the why’s and wherefore’s? The git repository with all the docker-compose goodness is here!

Late edit 2020-01-16: The fantastic Jerry Steel, my co-host on The Admin Admin podcast looked at what I wrote, and made a few suggestions. I’ve updated the code in the git repo, and I’ll try to annotate below when I’ve changed something. If I miss it, it’s right in the Git repo!

One of the challenges I set myself this Christmas was to learn enough about Docker to put an arbitrary PHP application, that I would previously have misused Vagrant to contain.

Just before I started down this rabbit hole, I spoke to my Aunt about some family tree research my father had left behind after he died, and how I wished I could easily share the old tree with her (I organised getting her a Chromebook a couple of years ago, after fighting with doing remote support for years on Linux and Windows laptops). In the end, I found a web application for genealogical research called HuMo-gen, that is a perfect match for both projects I wanted to look at.

HuMo-gen was first created in 1999, with a PHP version being released in 2005. It used MySQL or MariaDB as the Database engine. I was reasonably confident that I could have created a Vagrantfile to deliver this on my home server, but I wanted to try something new. I wanted to use the “standard” building blocks of Docker and Docker-Compose, and some common containers to make my way around learning Docker.

I started by looking for some resources on how to build a Docker container. Much of the guidance I’d found was to use Docker-Compose, as this allows you to stand several components up at the same time!

In contrast to how Vagrant works (which is basically a CLI wrapper to many virtual machine services), Docker isolates resources for a single process that runs on a machine. Where in Vagrant, you might run several processes on one machine (perhaps, in this instance, nginx, PHP-FPM and MariaDB), with Docker, you’re encouraged to run each “service” as their own containers, and link them together with an overlay network. It’s possible to also do the same with Vagrant, but you’ll end up with an awful lot of VM overhead to separate out each piece.

So, I first needed to select my services. My initial line-up was:

  • MariaDB
  • Apache’s httpd2 (replaced by nginx)

I was able to find official Docker images for PHP, MariaDB and httpd, but after extensive tweaking, I couldn’t make the httpd image talk the way I wanted it to with the PHP image. Bowing to what now seems to be conventional wisdom, I swapped out the httpd service for nginx.

One of the stumbling blocks for me, particularly early on, was how to build several different Dockerfiles (these are basically the instructions for the container you’re constructing). Here is the basic outline of how to do this:

version: '3'
      context: .
      dockerfile: relative/path/to/Dockerfile

In this docker-compose.yml file, I tell it that to create the yourservice service, it needs to build the docker container, using the file in ./relative/path/to/Dockerfile. This file in turn contains an instruction to import an image.

Each service stacks on top of each other in that docker-compose.yml file, like this:

version: '3'
      context: .
      dockerfile: service1/Dockerfile
    image: localhost:32000/service1
      context: .
      dockerfile: service2/Dockerfile
    image: localhost:32000/service2

Late edit 2020-01-16: This previously listed Dockerfile/service1, however, much of the documentation suggested that Docker gets quite opinionated about the file being called Dockerfile. While docker-compose can work around this, it’s better to stick to tradition :) The docker-compose.yml files below have also been adjusted accordingly. I’ve also added an image: somehost:1234/image_name line to help with tagging the images for later use. It’s not critical to what’s going on here, but I found it useful with some later projects.

To allow containers to see ports between themselves, you add the expose: command in your docker-compose.yml, and to allow that port to be visible from the “outside” (i.e. to the host and upwards), use the ports: command listing the “host” port (the one on the host OS), then a colon and then the “target” port (the one in the container), like these:

version: '3'
      context: .
      dockerfile: service1/Dockerfile
    image: localhost:32000/service1
    - 12345
      context: .
      dockerfile: service2/Dockerfile
    image: localhost:32000/service2
    - 8000:80

Now, let’s take a quick look into the Dockerfiles. Each “statement” in a Dockerfile adds a new “layer” to the image. For local operations, this probably isn’t a problem, but when you’re storing these images on a hosted provider, you want to keep these images as small as possible.

I built a Database Dockerfile, which is about as small as you can make it!

FROM mariadb:10.4.10

Yep, one line. How cool is that? In the docker-compose.yml file, I invoke this, like this:

version: '3'
      context: .
      dockerfile: mariadb/Dockerfile
    image: localhost:32000/db
    restart: always
      MYSQL_ROOT_PASSWORD: a_root_pw
      MYSQL_USER: a_user
      MYSQL_PASSWORD: a_password
      MYSQL_DATABASE: a_db
      - 3306

OK, so this one is a bit more complex! I wanted it to build my Dockerfile, which is “mariadb/Dockerfile“. I wanted it to restart the container whenever it failed (which hopefully isn’t that often!), and I wanted to inject some specific environment variables into the file – the root and user passwords, a user account and a database name. Initially I was having some issues where it wasn’t building the database with these credentials, but I think that’s because I wasn’t “building” the new database, I was just using it. I also expose the MariaDB (MySQL) port, 3306 to the other containers in the docker-compose.yml file.

Let’s take a look at the next part! PHP-FPM. Here’s the Dockerfile:

FROM php:7.4-fpm
RUN docker-php-ext-install pdo pdo_mysql
ADD --chown=www-data:www-data public /var/www/html

There’s a bit more to this, but not loads. We build our image from a named version of PHP, and install two extensions to PHP, pdo and pdo_mysql. Lastly, we copy the content of the “public” directory into the /var/www/html path, and make sure it “belongs” to the right user (www-data).

I’d previously tried to do a lot more complicated things with this Dockerfile, but it wasn’t working, so instead I slimmed it right down to just this, and the docker-compose.yml is a lot simpler too.

      context: .
      dockerfile: phpfpm/Dockerfile
    image: localhost:32000/phpfpm

See! Loads simpler! Now we need the complicated bit! :) This is the Dockerfile for nginx.

FROM nginx:1.17.7
COPY nginx/default.conf /etc/nginx/conf.d/default.conf

COPY public /var/www/html

Weirdly, even though I’ve added version numbers for MariaDB and PHP, I’ve not done the same for nginx, perhaps I should! Late edit 2020-01-16: I’ve put a version number on there now, previously where it said nginx:1.17.7 it actually said nginx:latest.

I’ve created the configuration block for nginx in a single “RUN” line. Late edit 2020-01-16: This Dockerfile now doesn’t have a giant echo 'stuff' > file block either, following Jerry’s advice, and I’m using COPY instead of ADD on his advice too. I’ll show that config file below. There’s a couple of high points for me here!

server {
  index index.php index.html;
  server_name _;
  error_log /proc/self/fd/2;
  access_log /proc/self/fd/1;
  root /var/www/html;
  location ~ \.php$ {
    try_files $uri =404;
    fastcgi_split_path_info ^(.+\.php)(/.+)$;
    fastcgi_pass phpfpm:9000;
    fastcgi_index index.php;
    include fastcgi_params;
    fastcgi_param SCRIPT_FILENAME $document_root$fastcgi_script_name;
    fastcgi_param PATH_INFO $fastcgi_path_info;
  • server_name _; means “use this block for all unnamed requests”.
  • access_log /proc/self/fd/1; and error_log /proc/self/fd/2;These are links to the “stdout” and “stderr” file descriptors (or pointers to other parts of the filesystem), and basically means that when you do docker-compose logs, you’ll see the HTTP logs for the server! These two files are guaranteed to be there, while /dev/stderr isn’t!

Because nginx is “just” caching the web content, and I know the content doesn’t need to be written to from nginx, I knew I didn’t need to do the chown action, like I did with the PHP-FPM block.

Lastly, I need to configure the docker-compose.yml file for nginx:

      context: .
      dockerfile: Dockerfile/nginx
    image: localhost:32000/nginx

I’ve gone for a slightly unusual ports configuration when I deployed this to my web server… you see, I already have the HTTP port (TCP/80) configured for use on my home server – for running the rest of my web services. During development, on my home machine, the ports line instead showed “1980:80” because I was running this on Instead, I’m running this application bound to “localhost” ( on a different port number (1980 selected because it could, conceivably, be a birthday of someone on this system), and then in my local web server configuration, I’m proxying connections to this service, with HTTPS encryption as well. That’s all outside the scope of this article (as I probably should be using something like Traefik, anyway) but it shows you how you could bind to a separate port too.

Anyway, that was my Docker journey over Christmas, and I look forward to using it more, going forward!

Featured image is “Shipping Containers” by “asgw” on Flickr and is released under a CC-BY license.

“Swatch Water Store, Grand Central Station, NYC, 9/2016, pics by Mike Mozart of TheToyChannel and JeepersMedia on YouTube #Swatch #Watch” by “Mike Mozart” on Flickr

Time Based Security

I came across the concept of “Time Based Security” (TBS) in the Sysadministrivia podcast, S4E13.

I’m still digging into the details of it, but in essence, the “Armadillo” (Crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside) protection model is broken (sometimes known as the “Fortress Model”). You assume that your impenetrable network boundary will prevent attackers from getting to your sensitive data. While this may stop them for a while, what you’re actually seeing here is one part of a complex protection system, however many organisations miss the fact that this is just one part.

The examples used in the only online content I’ve found about this refer to a burglary.

In this context, your “Protection” (P) is measured in time. Perhaps you have hardened glass that takes 20 seconds to break.

Next, we evaluate “Detection” (D) which is also, surprisingly enough, measured in time. As the glass is hit, it triggers an alarm to a security facility. That takes 20 seconds to respond and goes to a dispatch centre, another 20 seconds for that to be answered and a police officer dispatched.

The police officer being dispatched is the “Response” (R). The police take (optimistically) 2 minutes to arrive (it was written in the 90’s so the police forces weren’t decimated then).

So, in the TBS system, we say that Detection (D) of 40 seconds plus Response (R) of 120 seconds = 160 seconds. This is greater than Protection (P) of 20 seconds, so we have an Exposure (E) time of 140 seconds E = P – (D + R). The question that is posed is, how much damage can be done in E?

So, compare this to your average pre-automation SOC. Your firewall, SIEM (Security Incident Event Management system), IDS (Intrusion Detection System) or WAF (Web Application Firewall) triggers an alarm. Someone is trying to do something (e.g. Denial Of Service attack, password spraying or port scanning for vulnerable services) a system you’re responsible for. While D might be in the tiny fractions of a minute (perhaps let’s say 1 minute, for maths sake), R is likely to be minutes or even hours, depending on the refresh rate of the ticket management system or alarm system (again, for maths sake, let’s say 60 minutes). So, D+R is now 61 minutes. How long is P really going to hold? Could it be less than 30 minutes against a determined attacker? (Let’s assume P is 30 minutes for maths sake).

Let’s do the calculation for a pre-automation SOC (Security Operations Centre). P-(D+R)=E. E here is 31 minutes. How much damage can an attacker do in 31 minutes? Could they put a backdoor into your system? Can they download sensitive data to a remote system? Could they pivot to your monitoring system, and remove the logs that said they were in there?

If you consider how much smaller the D and R numbers become with an event driven SOAR (Security Orchestration and Automation Response) system – does that improve your P and E numbers? Consider that if you can get E to 0, this could be considered to be “A Secure Environment”.

Also, consider the fact that many of the tools we implement for security reduce D and R, but if you’re not monitoring the outputs of the Detection components, then your response time grows significantly. If your Detection component is misconfigured in that it’s producing too many False Positives (for example, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf“), so you don’t see the real incident, then your Response might only be when a security service notifies you that your data, your service or your money has been exposed and lost. And that wouldn’t be good now… Time to look into automation 😁

Featured image is “Swatch Water Store, Grand Central Station, NYC, 9/2016, pics by Mike Mozart of TheToyChannel and JeepersMedia on YouTube #Swatch #Watch” by “Mike Mozart” on Flickr and is released under a CC-BY license.