Category Archives: Study

Exchange, Hotels and Laptops

I haven’t written a lot on here recently, partly because I’ve been busy at work with various projects and partly because I’ve been stressing about buying a new house (I’m still waiting for the people at the top of the chain to vacate their property. There are only four people in the chain, including me, yet it’s been nearly 6 months since I sold my property. C’mon people, let’s get moving).

Anyway, I’m writing this from my new laptop in my hotel room in London where I’ve been sent to attend an Exchange 2010 course. I have a spare thirty minutes, so thought I’d write up a quick review of my experience so far. As with most of my reviews, these are based on my own narrow perspective and should probably be read with a generous pinch of salt.


Work recently provided me with a new laptop, after I dropped a not-so-subtle hint that my own had died and I couldn’t afford to replace it (Not strictly true, but hey, I use it for work so why shouldn’t work pay for it!). Anyway, I chose a Samsung Series 7 Chronos laptop with an i5 processor, 8Gb of RAM and a 1Tb hard drive. I have been using it every day this week, and I am suitably impressed with the hardware. The battery life (although perhaps not the reported 11 and a half hours) exceeds my previous laptops by several hours, the screen is large enough to be useful and is crystal clear. The keyboard is comfortable, and the keys are well spaced and don’t have that “flick off-able” quality that some cheaper laptop keyboards have (you know, when you’re speed typing and your finger catches the edge of a key and flicks it off. And no matter what you do, that key never feels the same afterwards!).

In fact, the only thing that lets this laptop down is the software. It can pre-loaded with Windows 8, which was an intentional decision on my part as I felt that I needed to get some exposure to Win8 in order to better assist friends, family & colleagues when they upgrade. While I am pretty sure the OS works well on a mobile device such as a tablet or phone, I really don’t like it on laptops (nor will I like it on desktops!). Microsoft have put both interfaces (the new Metro touchscreen style interface, and the old style desktop interface), and while you can flick between them manually, the fact that different apps runs in different interfaces mean that you will spend much of your time switching between the two. This wouldn’t be so bad if applications such as IE that run in both interfaces actually moved between interfaces as well, but unfortunately each IE instance is totally separate, so pages you’ve opened in one interface don’t appear in the other.

Some of the apps also don’t feel particularly stable. The provided Mail app, for example, keeps telling me that my gmail account is unavailable, despite synching with it not 5 minutes ago. And what is up with having to sign in with a Microsoft account for everything (You even have to sign in with your Microsoft account to start the Mail app, even if you’ve no intention of using the app with a Microsoft email account.

All in all, Windows 8 feels a bit like Vista. A step between two vastly different products that has been used to introduced new features and technologies. As with most new technology, it has rough edges that I’m sure will be smoothed out in time for the release of Windows 9.


I’m staying in the Travelodge on City Road, and I have to say, it’s not been as bad as I thought it’d be. Despite it’s location, and the warnings of traffic and nightclub noise posted on their website, the room has been for the most part quiet and relaxing. The only noisy elements have been one or two of the guests who seem to thinking nothing of having conversations at the top of their voices whilst leaving their rooms at 4am.

The room is basic, but clean. Tea/Coffee etc are provided free of charge and are topped up daily. The room is also cleaned daily (I noted that some other reviews stated their rooms were only cleaned a couple of times a week). There is a bar/café down stairs which I haven’t yet used, so can’t really comment on the quality of the food, but it’s nice to know that it’s an option.

The staff (from the little I’ve seen of them) are friendly and polite. All in all, a decent hotel that I would have no objection to staying in again.


Finally, the Exchange 2010 course that I’ve been attending. I’m not going to go into too much detail yet with the actual course content, as the week isn’t over and it’d be unfair to judge the course based on the first couple of days (which tend to be quite basic regardless of what course you’re on).

The course is being carried out by QA on Tabernacle Street, which is only a couple hundred yards from my hotel. The facilities are about average, with free tea/coffee/biscuits etc. Each student has their own dual screened workstation with 16Gb RAM and plenty of virtual machines to play with. Unlike some courses, you’re not made to pair up with another student in order to test out interactions between systems; each individual workstation runs its own virtual AD/Exchange organisation.

Lunch is pretty much as good as it gets for someone with “lunchophobia”, with us being essentially kicked out and made to find our own places to eat (although we are permitted to bring food back to the classroom).

All in all, not a bad experience and I don’t think I’d have any objections staying in this Travelodge once more, armed with my Chronos laptop ready to embark upon another QA course.


Posted by on March 20, 2013 in Study, Work


Postgrad News & Pineapple Goodness

So, I had my (in)formal postgrad interview with my employer this week where they set out what they expected from me as I start my MSc in Computer Security & Forensics early next year.

The interview went well, I think, but I can’t help but wish I could just do the MSc without my employers involvement (sadly though, I can’t afford the £14,000 or so that it’s going to cost so they kinda have me over a barrel). Being a technical guy who is happier probing our defences with tools like metasploit from the safety of a darkened server room than performing in front of crowds, the thought of having to give a formal lecture to my company fills me with terror. Hell, even the thought of doing lunch with the other postgrads on site makes me queasy. I totally understand why people doing similar MSc’s may want to get together, but my MSc is worlds apart from the life science degrees that they’re all doing. Ugh.

In other news, I ordered a Mk3 Pineapple from Hak5 last week, which I’m looking forward to getting my hands on. The Pineapple is essentially a device put together by Darren Kitchen and the Hak5 team to take advantage of a feature in most wifi devices that allows them to automatically reconnect to open Wifi networks that they’ve previously connected to, based on just the SSID of the network. The Pineapple is running Jasager (apparently German for “Yes man”), and when a wifi device starts up and sends out a probe asking if its wireless network is available, the Pineapple replies saying “Yep, I am that network”. The client then connects to the Pineapple without bothering to check if MAC address, Wifi channel or any other setting matches what was previously used by the real wifi network using that SSID, and that’s when the fun begins – at least, for the guy on the other end of the Pineapple :). I’m hoping to get time to sit down and really look at what this device does, how it all fits together, any additions I think I could make, as well as thinking about how best to defend against such a device from a corporate point of view. I shall post my findings back here later on once I’ve had a chance to play.


Posted by on December 1, 2011 in Security, Study


Farewell M889!

As I sit here writing this, I am in the process of finalising my end of module assignment ready for submission to the Open Uni. I actually finished my EMA report this morning and was pretty pleased with the end result, but am now having to re-write parts of it due to yet another hiccup in the OU website. Despite expecting us to upload files to support our report (for example, our contemporaneous notes file generated by CaseNotes, HTML fragments acquired from the suspect laptop and so on), the submission website is refusing to accept anything that isn’t a Word file, even if it’s put into a zip file. Grr.

Now seems as good a time as any to reflect on my feelings towards the course. Overall, I have enjoyed it and definitely feel it was worth taking. I learnt much more about the legal side of things than the actual technical side of performing an analysis. Anyone thinking of taking the course: be aware that there is an awful lot of work on the legal side of things. It’s probably not too bad if you’re coming from a profession that deals with the law, but it’s quite heavy going for an IT sysadmin with no previous legal experience! I found the technical side of the course relatively straight forward, although I had already got a fair bit of experience using Linux with tools such as Autopsy for analysis. I was a little disappointed there weren’t more hands-on tasks. Aside from a couple of optional tasks to familiarise you with the tools, you don’t really do any “proper” forensic analysis until the very final stages of the course where you get taught the basics required to do an analysis for the EMA.

My biggest criticism of the course is mainly with the admin side. There were a few administrative errors such as the wrong material being sent out to incorrect mailing addresses, and it felt like an awful lot of the course material contained out of date links. Yes, I know that websites disappear over time, and one or two broken links wouldn’t be an issue, but it seemed there were a few sections that comprised mainly of a list of broken links. I know it’s a post-grad course, and you’re expected to do your own research, but it would be nice if the OU could update their material occasionally. It’d also be nice if they could double check when they’re sending out virtual machines that they’re actually sending out the correct one. I find it generally makes it easier to find the evidence when you’re looking at the right VM!

I remember back when I started the course nine months or so ago, I skipped ahead to the first TMA and thought…holy crap, I barely understand what the questions are asking, how the frack am I gonna get through this?! Having made it through it with (I think) a respectable score, I am quite pleased with myself. Doing this course, however, has made me much more aware of how much time I am going to have to commit to studying if I decide to go ahead with an MSc in Computer Security next year. No more World of Warcraft for me!

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Posted by on October 16, 2011 in Study


OU? O Dear.

As readers of my blog will be aware, I am currently taking a computer forensics course with the Open University.

The course has felt quite long, thanks to the large amount of work on the legal processes involved in computer investigations early on in the course, nevertheless, I have enjoyed the course.

I have been disappointed however by a couple of administrative errors made during the course, as well as by the number of topics in the material that seemed to essentially be comprised of a large number of hyperlinks that yielded no information other than a “404 page not found”. Given that we’re paying money for the OU to provide this course, is it unreasonable to expect that the content is occasionally reviewed and updated.

The latest administrative error was a blinder. Our final End of Module assessment involves investigating a virtual machine that has been provided to us on a DVD. Not only was the DVD initially sent to the wrong address, they sent out the wrong DVD. It then took a couple of days of trying to prove that I’m not a muppet, and am quite capable of checking the MD5 hashes on the DVD and seeing that they’ve just sent out another copy of a VM used earlier in the course.

No matter, they have now admitted their mistake, and should be sending out (hopefully) the correct DVD to (hopefully) the correct address.

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Posted by on September 2, 2011 in Study


Day 3 of 5: The End is in Sight

We’ve passed hump day, and the end is now in sight. Today, my parkray has been removed, the radiator in the bathroom has been fitted and various dials and control panels have appeared through the house. Hurrah, I’m nearly centrally heated 🙂 As the last pic shows, I now have a nice pile of rubble and old heating bits on my front garden. Luckily I have a skip arriving tomorrow so that’ll be gone soon.

On a different topic, the final parts of my OU forensics course have been unlocked. Once I get this weeks TMA out of the way, the rest of the course is practical hands-on forensics with an End of Module assessment at the end. I now need to start thinking about which courses I’m doing next. Since I’ll be deploying Exchange 2010 this year, I’ll have to do an Exchange course this year, probably with QA in October down in London. I also need to seriously decide whether I’m going to pursue a masters in Computer Security & Forensics.

Anyway, enough study talk, onto today’s pics…

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Posted by on August 10, 2011 in House & Home, Study


This is not just a delayed delivery…

…it’s a M&S delayed delivery.

Despite the fact that I ordered my new leather office chair from Marks & Spencer a month ago, they somehow messed up the order and now tell me that the chair hasn’t arrived at their warehouse. Really? A month to get the order processed, and you still mess it up?

And what is really annoying is the letter I received advised me that if *I* were to change the delivery date it would be against the terms & conditions of the sale, and they would charge me £100. That’s not a typo, they would actually charge me a one hundred pound re-booking fee. Given that they’ve now changed the delivery date (still don’t know when it’s going to be arriving) I’ve a good mind to invoice them the same amount.

On another note, I received my marked assignment back from the OU today and my score was much better than I’d anticipated, giving me hope that I might just be able to muster enough self discipline to get through TMA3 and reach the final EMA. Only trouble is, now I’m potentially looking at doing an MSc in computer security and forensics with 7Safe after this, which will no doubt means serious amounts of study (not to mention expense) for a few years to come.

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Posted by on July 23, 2011 in Rant, Study


Long time, No Blog

As I sit here in my dressing gown sipping coffee and trying to motivate myself to get ready for work, I suddenly realised that I haven’t posted anything hear for a while, so thought I’d stick a quick post up.

Got my first assignment back today from M889 Computer Forensics and Investigations. Although by no means a perfect score (grade 2 pass), I am nonetheless pleased with my first result as it shows that I’m not hopelessly out of my depth. I am finding the course hard going at the moment, as there has been an awful lot of theoretical courtroom content and not a lot of hands-on stuff. I am definitely glad that I gave up World of Warcraft prior to starting the course, as between studying the coursework, reading up on the various laws, acts and prior court cases and working full time as a sysadmin, I’m finding that I have very little spare time left over.

I recently had a plumber out to fix a couple of minor leaks in my house and to give me a quote for replacing my heating. That’s right, after living in a house with virtual no heating for about 5 years, I am finally pulling out my finger and getting it sorted. Unfortunately, it means parting with a rather large pile of cash along with the inconvenience of having workmen in my house for a week. I’m sure it’ll all be worth it though when winter arrives and I don’t have to shiver myself to sleep each night.

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Posted by on June 16, 2011 in Study