Posted tagged ‘tips and tricks’

Open Source ‘LoggedOn2’ finds usernames for a domain PC

January 26, 2009

As the person essentially in charge of desktop support for a field office of about 100 users, I occasionally receive a phone call from a corporate network administrator who wants to know who’s using all the bandwidth, or who is downloading viruses, or the like.  Usually, they give me a NetBIOS name, and I take care of checking the user’s internet history and talking with them about their particular issue. 

More frequently that that, I have to track down a user who is using a particular resource.  For instance, this morning all of our available admin licenses for Alchemy (a document database) were in use, some by people who were idle for over an hour, and the person who really needed the license couldn’t get it.  But Alchemy only gives you IP addresses, not computer names or user IDs.  So I can use nbtstat to find the computer name from the IP address, but that’s still cumbersome.  In the past, I have had to make a spreadsheet (and keep it up to date) of which user has which computer.  It’s a good thing to have anyway, but I don’t need it for this process anymore.

Enter LoggedOn2.  It’s a simple (and incredibly fast) Delphi program that will grab the logged on user on any given box, either via NetBIOS name or IP address.  I tried a couple other alternatives, but this one was fastest and free.  The others either didn’t work (as in a VBScript someone posted), were too slow (one was trying to scan the whole domain for computers), or were shareware.  I don’t mind buying the shareware (and getting a 1.7 billion dollar company to drop 50 bucks for software isn’t hard) but this one works too well.  No installation needed, either. 

It is open source, so I did have a look at the source code.  I don’t write any Delphi, but I have enough knowledge to try to guess what it’s doing.  It looks like it checks the registry of the PC (under the HKEY_CURRENT_USER hive) for the domain ID of the user.  You do need administrative privileges on the remote machine (which you should have, if you’re an administrator).  It’s fast, simple, effective, and free.  Here’s a few screenshots:

main

 The main screen.  Click Scan Machine to continue…

 

main2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Input the PC name or IP address, or select a computer from the list of domain PCs (which I conveniently blotted out)

 

main32

 Output is the domain\username for the computer you entered (just like this screen, except instead of saying “domain\username” it would say “YourCompany\t_collins” or somethinglike that).  You can also click “Scan Domain” (if you have a small domain) and get the logged on user for every box.  This would make asset tracking especially easy as you could develop a list easily. 

Other features that would be great would be a comma-delimited or Excel report of all domain PCs and logged on users.  Especially great would be the ability to search by IP range so that I can grab only a few VLANs from our rather incredibly large domain.  At some point I would like to port this to Python, just for fun and to help my understanding of Python programming.

One minor annoyance (it’s a help too, but it’s annoying) is that the program is (in Windows terminology) “always on top.”  This is nice because I might be logged on to a server via RDP and need to grab an IP address from the server while switching back and forth between LoggedIn2 and the RDP session.  On the other hand, you have to minimize the window to get your screen back (it conveniently minimizes to the system tray).

This program is a great example of what old-school “hacking” was.  Make your own tool and use it to access the information you need.  Ah, makes me feel all nostalgic.

You can download LoggedOn2 here.  Does anyone have a similar program for Mac or *nix?

Laser toner refills

December 16, 2008

I recently commented on an Amazon customer review of an HP toner cartridge we use here at the office.  The user was considering buying a refilled toner cartridge due to cost savings.  I gave him a speech on it (not trolling!  Just providing perspective).  Here’s an edited version of what I wrote.  Geez, I sound arrogant.

 
I agree that the cost is high, but I would point out that the reason I buy HP printers is that, as an IT technician, I know I can rely on them, and I won’t go wrong recommending them to a customer. Their quality is unmatched by anyone in the industry. They build better products, so they are more expensive. Of course, it’s your call what you want to buy, but I wanted to give the “standard” IT guy line on why to buy new instead of refilled.

As far as refilled toner goes, that’s up to you, but I’m not a fan of them (again, as an professional technician). It’s something I would steer a customer away from for several reasons:

1. Reliability – it is fairly common knowledge in the IT tech field that refilled toner cartridges are not reliable. Cartridges were not made to be refilled, regardless of what may be posted on refill-kit websites. See http://www.hp.com/sbso/product/supplies/toner-cartridge-refill.html for more information.

In addition, you may not save money if you get a faulty cartridge, and you may not be able to return any of the refill-related parts (for instance, tonerrefillcartridges.com states: “All defective returns examined and weighed. Product that is found to be non-defective or used will not be credited.”) So if you used it a few times, then it spilled toner, you may not get a refund? Shipping fees are non-refundable (that would typically include return shipping), so you might pay more in shipping than you did for the cartridge.

2. Health – Toner is considered by some scientists to be a carcinogen (http://news.zdnet.com/2100-9584_22-157835.html). It suspends easily in air and is easily inhaled. Refilled cartridges have been known to spill toner more frequently than new cartridges, increasing the danger. Some manufacturers claim this is an urban legend (of course they would!), but some researchers insist toner is dangerous. It can also be a pain to clean up because it is static-sensitive and clings to plastic surfaces such as the inside of the printer.

3. Quality – since refilled ink and toner is designed to lower the price as much as possible, the quality of ink and manufacturing is often questionable (again, see website from #1).

If it’s the environment you are concerned about (as refill companies will tell you you are being “green” by refilling), check your local area for a computer recycling center. Many metro areas have a computer store that will recycle cartridges or equipment. If not, check with the manufacturer.

Bottom line for me is – if I’m a home user who prints mainly for personal use (i.e. doesn’t need resume-quality documents or color documents), and it’s not important if my printer is unavailable a few days in case of a cartridge failing, then I might use refills. If I’m a business user and need 24/7 reliability and high quality printing on the first try (especially in color printers), it would be worth it in the long run to go with a new cartridge. It’s your call, of course, and I might go with a refill cartridge for home use, but I wouldn’t expect to save as much money as it appears upon first glance.

Data destruction (with DBAN)

December 9, 2008

Recent legislation has caused the American healthcare industry to change the way it handles information.  This has radiated into the IT realm in a variety of ways – network security, physical (facility) security, background checks, et cetera.  In my particular job role, I am responsible to make sure that our data never leaves our property.  Or more specifically, that our property never leaves the facility with data on it.  In other words, I clean computers prior to disposal. 

There are a variety of methods of destroying data, both digital and physical.  My personal favorite would be heating the hard drive platters past the Curie point (the point at which the metal is no longer capable of maintaining a magnetic charge).  However, your average IT facility does not have the means to make this happen.  Another method is degaussing – to oversimplify, degaussing is magnetizing the entire disk, causing all the bits to flip the same direction and erasing all data.  Encryption can also be used – not to destroy the data, but to make it effectively inaccessible.

These are proven methods which are indeed used, but they do have drawbacks – they can be expensive and can require special equipment.  Most often, they are services performed by third parties (with the exception of encryption).

Our company used to sell our old hardware to a vendor, who would certify the data destruction and then resell the equipment.  This is a handy solution, but due to our office’s remote location and some other recent changes, we are now wiping the disks ourselves with one of the most common methods – the software wipe.

Software wiping is most often done using a boot CD.  I use a Linux-based tool called DBAN (Darik’s Boot And Nuke), which I will talk more about later.

Even within the field of software-based data destruction, there are a variety of methods and algorithms, some (such as the Gutmann wipe) taking a very long time, but considered very secure.  Many people have strong opinions on this issue.  Our company currently requires at least the US Department of Defense (DoD) 3-pass method.  The method writes 3 passes of random data over the entire drive.

For this kind of wipe, I recommend DBAN, as mentioned earlier.  DBAN allows for unattended wiping of all drives on a system (or the drives of your choice), and it has proven very easy to use when used on physically healthy disks.  For damaged disks, you may be better off sending it to a data destruction company, in my opinion.

DBAN supports a variety of the standard methods, including Gutmann, DoD (3-pass or 7-pass), and others.  The standard DBAN is open source software and is distributed free of charge.  There is an enterprise version available which supports wiping over a network and wiping of multiple computers simultaneously.  Both versions, since they run from CD, are platform independent.  DBAN will wipe IDE, SATA, and SCSI drives.

Windows XP/Vista trick for a Friday afternoon

February 28, 2008

This is a neat little trick that takes just a minute but reaps amazing benefits (ok, not really).  It’s how to change the text “AM” or “PM” by your clock to read whatever you want (as long as it’s less than 12 characters).  Like the screenshot below.

Oh, and the article is written for XP, but it works in Vista too, as you might have guessed from the screenshot.

http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/window-on-windows/?p=619

vLite gives an edge for Windows Vista enterprise deployment

January 29, 2008

My PC is no slouch.  I’m running a Core 2 Quad Q6600, 4 GB RAM, and a slew of other nice hardware.  So why is it that, when I run Windows Vista (especially the first few times after install), it takes longer to boot than my XP box did (it ran a Core 2 Duo E2160 with 1 GB RAM)?

If you have wondered this kind of wonder, vLite is something you might be interested in.  This is a freeware tool for customizing Vista installations.  The vLite website is http://www.vlite.net/ – have a look.

If you don’t do technospeak, here’s what they are saying.  This program lets you manipulate Vista BEFORE you install it – this way, you’re not trying to rip out components that are already installed.  In other words, hopefully we can keep from breaking it while getting it to be a little more resource-friendly.

Now, after looking at this, I see some good points.  Here’s some of the highlights for me as an enterprise IT tech:

          remove components/tweak installation
If you’re an IT tech, you probably have found things in the OS that your users could waste time with.  Minesweeper, FreeCell, Paint, Windows Movie Maker, and the list goes on.  This gives you the option of adding, removing, or customizing components prior to install.  Enterprise techs use this kind of technology all the time (called a transform when used on individual programs).  Most recently, I used it on Adobe Reader, though it also comes in handy on MS Office installs.  Using this technology helps you set up default options, remove garbage, and keep your users out of the Games folder.

          unattended setup

We’ve seen this on other OSs, and though I haven’t used it much (we clone our HDs, so I don’t have to do many OS installs).  You get to start it and walk away.

 

          driver integration

If you have lots of PCs with the same hardware configuration, here’s your ticket to get it all set up ahead of time, so when you boot the system after the install, you’re all set.  Enterprise techs LOVE this kind of thing.

          create ISO and burn bootable CD/DVD
Here’s another one we IT people love.  You can save your work and burn a DVD – presto!  Your own customized Vista install.  As I mentioned before, transformed installs are popular in the IT world.  But this is the first I have heard of one for Windows Vista.

So here’s the downside.  Two that I can think of.  First, you have to know what you are doing with operating system installations.  You have to know what the program is talking about before deciding you don’t want it.  Otherwise, you may not be able to get your hard drive to boot, or who knows what else?

Second, you actually have to do the customization BEFORE you install.  So, that means that you would have to reinstall your OS to make any changes using this program. 
 

Bottom line for me – if you aren’t comfortable working with a few technical terms and some things that could seriously mess up your PC, I don’t think I’d worry too much about vLite.  Either that or you could get your Vista-savvy cousin to help you.  But if you’re a PC tech who has to widely deploy Vista, this tool (properly learned and tested) could be a real time and resource saver.

 

Ben

BTW, here’s the post that tipped me off to this tool.

http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/tech-news/?p=2016