The Secular Franciscans and the Year of Mercy

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The Pope has designated 2016 as the ‘Year of Mercy‘ – you’ve probably seen the banners outside the Catholic churches with the slogan ‘Nobody is excluded from God’s mercy‘ – but what does that actually mean? Why does the Pope feel so strongly about it that a friar travels all the way from Rome to visit us in South Wales this weekend?

Mercy isn’t solely about mercy from judgements. It has another meaning for Franciscans, and the central theme of what the Friar and the rest of us discussed was mercy in the context of providing assistance to those in need. For us it was a reflection (with many tangents) on why St. Francis chose to live and work amongst the poor, and why religious societies generally feel a duty to provide care.
Often we’re often called upon to reach those who, society being the way it is, are treated like outcasts. Some Catholics also make a vow never to ignore a person who asks for help – a tough vow to keep for anyone working in the city. Mercy is largely about showing kindness to those who need it, regardless of their life choices, and doing away with the distinction between the ‘deserving’ and the ‘undeserving’ poor. We do it because dignity, compassion and the alleviation of their suffering is their right – addressing that is also a central definition of ‘justice’ in the Catechism.

The Seven Corporal Works of Mercy:
* Feed the hungry
* Give drink to the thirsty
* Clothe the naked
* Shelter the homeless
* Visit the sick
* Visit the imprisoned
* Bury the dead

Edited to add: Saw this sculpture in the chapel – it was massive:
sfo-2016-e

Converting a Test Manager Recording to a Coded UI Test

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For this you’ll need:
• Microsoft Test Manager
• Visual Studio Enterprise
• Team Services

When using the following method, I strongly recommend putting the manual test scripts and application source code in two separate projects, or there’s a risk of overwriting the latter. I started off by creating a new project in Team Foundation Server for the automation scripts, then connected the Test Manager project, and created a test plan.

connecting-test-manager

Creating and Recording a Manual Test
A test case needs to be added to the test plan in Test Manager. At this point only the manual instructions and expected outcomes need to be entered. When done, make a note of the test case number.

tm-create-new-test-case

Now the test script is ready to be run, and an action recording can be made. When completed, the test case should be updated with two XML attachments and an action log file.

tm-test-case-attachments

Test Playback
Now you should be able to run the test case from Test Manager, by opening the test panel as before, and clicking the Play All button, just to confirm it works.

tm-replay-all

Import recording into Coded UI Test
Test Manager action recordings can be imported into a Coded UI Test as C# code. In Visual Studio, connect Team Explorer to the TFS project. Next, create a new Coded UI Test Project, but instead of creating a recording, select the option to ‘Use an existing action recording‘.

generate-code-use-existing

This will display the Work Items Picker. The quickest way to find the action recording is to enter its test case number.

vs-work-items-picker

The test recording is now converted to a C# Coded UI Test.

How to Export Virtual Machines from Azure and Access Storage Objects

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Using Redgate Azure Explorer (free to download), we can browse data storage objects on Microsoft Azure and extract our virtual machines as .vhd files. It’s also handy for determining which of our Azure services are associated with a given storage object.

Azure Explorer looks just like our typical file browser. In order to connect it with a remote storage object, we first require the storage object’s name an its access key. This can be found by navigating to the object’s settings in the Azure Portal.

azure-portal-storage-accounts

Click the ‘All settings‘ button, and select the ‘Keys‘ panel.

azure-manage-storage-keys

Then copy the Storage Account Name and the Primary Access Key. Both values are all that’s needed to create a new connection in Azure Explorer.

azue-explorer-connection-settings

Once the settings are added and the connection was successful, the data object will be listed to the left of the Azure Explorer window. The VM images are listed under the ‘vhds‘ sub-directory as downloadable files.

azure-explorer-list-vhds

Obfuscation

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obfuscation

The black fabric cover and silver lettering caught my eye in Waterstones last Wednesday.

Obfuscation: A User’s Guide for Privacy and Protest (Finn Brunton and Helen Nissenbaum) is written just like an academic dissertation, and is just over 120 pages long. The content is in two sections, one providing a collection of case studies and examples from the past 50 years, and the other discussing the ethics of deploying obfuscation techniques.
It was written by non-technical authors largely about the social and ethical issues of obfuscation, and we get only high-level descriptions of how various techniques worked in the past. That’s not to say I didn’t learn something from the book – quite the opposite.

Negatives: Where is the users’ guide? There isn’t any signposting to the tools that are readily-available, or instructions on how to the average person might use them. Instead the book, at best, outlines a strategy for designing the tools.

Positives: The content is still interesting, original and relevant, and it’s nicely presented. Some very good arguments were made for obfuscation, and I think it’s a valuable contribution to the debate around privacy.

Bitdefender Total Security 2016 Review

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Most the commercial AV vendors package a more comprehensive solution with their products, such as Mobile Device Management, disk encryption, intrusion detection, etc. Anything that bundles multiple tools is worth reviewing, so I was happy to accept the request to look at Bitdefender Total Security 2016. Initially I didn’t expect it to be much different from the typical AV system.

The first thing I noticed was the installation process was very quick, a matter of signing into Bitdefender Central and clicking the install button. Within five minutes the control panel, which is almost perfectly consistent with the Windows 8/10 desktop, is displayed:

bitdefender-dashboard-local

Aside from the Safepay button, these are all the standard options one would expect in an anti-malware product. Most the interesting features are listed under the ‘Modules’ section:

bitdefender-modules

Antivirus: Options here enable the user to create Scan Profiles that can be configured and scheduled. Scanning can also be performed on demand in the main application panel.

bitdefender-create-scan-profile

Vulnerability: Basically checks the update status of Windows and installed applications, which should eliminate vulnerabilities that can be patched. Having this all in one place is handy.

Firewall: By default this is an application firewall, but under the Advanced settings it’s possible to allow/deny by port numbers and IP addresses under the Advanced settings when adding a new rule.

bitdefender-firewall

Intrusion Detection: A pro-active security measure that includes alerting for changes a malicious program might make to the local system.

bitdefender-intrusion-detection

Here we only get to select the level of detection from three preset profiles, but it should be sufficient for the desktop and users who don’t have the expertise to configure one. It makes sense to include this anyway, as most customers wouldn’t bother installing and configuring a stand-alone IDS.

Antispam: Rule-based system that checks the content of emails against criteria associated with spam.

Ransomware Detection: Seems to basically prevent the encryption of marked directories, so even if the ransomware manages to install itself, execute and encrypt most the system filles, whatever’s in the protected directories should be recoverable.

bitdefender-anti-ransomware

File Encryption: Much like TrueCrypt/VeraCrypt’s main function, Bitdefender file encryption can be used to create ‘Vaults’, which are containers that can be mounted as virtual partitions. Vaults can be exported to other devices running Bitdefender’s encryption utility.

bitdefender-vault-creation

Parental Controls: I’ll probably do a separate post on this, as I find the feature disconcerting for two reasons: Children reach an age where their privacy should be respected, and there comes a point where such intrusive monitoring might be considered morally questionable. Secondly, there’s a lot of information about the child’s Internet activities and relationships being uploaded to the cloud, which in my humble opinion is a recipe for disaster.

bitdefender-parental

Safepay: Bitdefender has also published Safepay as a free download. It appears to be a secure browser that runs in a sandboxed environment, which should prevent malware accessing whatever information is exchanged during a session. Integrated with the browser are the virtual keyboard (to counter keyloggers) and the Bitdefender Password Manager.

bitdefender-safepay

Conclusion
In summary, Bitdefender appears to provide a very well designed product that provides very good security for the average Windows user who’s more worried about crims than The Powers That Be getting hold of personal data, and it incorporates an excellent range of pro-active security features. What I particularly like is that a good collection of security and privacy utilities can be managed from one control panel, and it should be highly usable without expertise.
Given the low price (£40 covers three computers for a year) and the range of features, I’m tempted to choose Bitdefender over my curreent AV solution when the licence expires.

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