Month: June 2017

One Coffee Shop and the $15 Minimum Wage


Article Summary

In May, a bill to increase minimum wage passed through the Illinois state house and senate- and waits for Governor Bruce Rauner’s signature.

We’ve faced minimum wage increases before but none have been so feverently debated as this: the largest increase the state has ever considered. The $15 minimum wage would be factored over the next five years and, at over double the federal minimum, would make Illinois the highest minimum wage in the country.

 

Click here to read SB81.

 

The economics of minimum wage make for a complicated conversation. This article lays out the effect this bill will have on our small business, Maeva’s Coffee, and projects a probable path we would take if it were to be signed into law.

 


Business As Chess:

First, How You Look At The Challenge…

In Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Khaneman explains how chess is a rare place true intuition can exist. All of the information regarding both your position and your opponent’s- as well as all possible outcomes- can be known by any observer. Unlike poker or politics, there are no hidden variables.

In chess, there are instances in which a player finds himself in either an unbeatable or an unwinnable position. But, more often than not, chess falls in a spectrum of grey where advantage results from careful attention. Luck has little place in chess.

Perseverance can transform terrible positions into a win.

I play business with the same calculated optimism and perseverance as I do chess.

Look at the entire board.

Choose the best move.

Keep looking until you find the answer.

With every option in plain sight- the solution to any situation is also in plain sight. A game is never over until it is over.

Second, What You Do In a Weak Position…

In The Art of Learning, internationally ranked chess master Josh Waitzkin dives into how chess masters manage the psychological and emotional pressures of competitive chess. Aspects of chess that aren’t so black and white as just looking at what’s on the board.

When we’re faced with change in business, these pressures are cautionary tale for us, too.

During a chess game, one mistake can lead to another. Not because we’re bad at playing…but because we start to doubt ourselves. We second guess ourselves. The psychological pressure clouds our own judgement.

One mistake causes another…and a compounding series of mistakes leads us to loose the game.

But if we change our psychological approach, something amazing happens. The opposite in both business and chess can be true. The willingness to address a weak position with determination can lead to a landfall win.

And Finally…Black and White Numbers vs. Human Nature.

Like chess, the minimum wage debate also has a duality: the numbers vs. the human nature.

That’s why this post is broken into two parts.

The first part is an objective breakdown of how, if passed:

  • the $15 minimum wage will be implemented

  • how it will affect our shop

  • and what we will do to accommodate the change.

It’s the chessboard. Just moves and position.

The second part of this post is a human hypothesis on how the minimum wage increase could play out in the microeconomics of our community. The human stuff: how it changes us as business owners, the staff we love, and the customers we’re here to serve.

Our Shop Structure

If you are reading this and have not visited our shop, let me explain our position.

Our shop is located inside an old schoolhouse in a post-industrial town on the Mississippi River, just inside the Illinois border. We own the building in which we operate mortgage-free – a huge advantage to our three year old operation. Our location is surrounded by middle class residential neighborhoods with an average household income of $40k-$75k annually. Not a wealthy neighborhood, but a good one comprised of young families and older retirees who have raised their own families in modest 2-4 bedroom single family homes on small plots of land. Our shop is a few blocks from a well-attended satellite dental school campus for a major state university.

Our location creates limitations on our potential for creating revenue. Our shop is built out inside a classroom of the old schoolhouse and its brick structure renders it impossible to expand our current seating capacity. The structure is also split level and sits up from the elevation of the road about 10 feet. This makes the addition of a direct drive thru addition cost ineffective and unlikely.

We recently celebrated our third year as a bustling community coffee shop. As people have discovered us and come to love this place, we’ve seen an increase of traffic as well as an associated growth in revenue.

By my projections, I believe we will continue to see a slow and steady increase in revenue as we continue to become a foundational part of this community.

I see that growth potential limited by our structure- and don’t project more than a 20% increase over the next five years.

 

 

Current Financial Position

Maeva’s Coffee employs seven front of house staff, two kitchen staff, and two owner/operators. Three of our ten active staff are full time, with our seven remaining staff working between 15-35 hours per week.

The separation between house and kitchen staff is significant due to how both the federal tip dispersion law and the minimum wage laws are authored.

  1. Tipping:

    Regarding tipping: Federal law doesn’t regulate how tips are dispersed if an employee is being paid at least minimum wage and all tips are distributed completely and only to tip eligible employees. An employee eligible for tips is one that works on shift and that is being tipped by our customer.

    In short: This means neither our kitchen staff, nor my business partner, who do not work on shift in the shop, are eligible for tips.

     

  2. Fiscal Insecurity

    No minimum wage law offers wage protection for business owner/operators- a fact that comes at its own cost to entrepreneurs. This, in theory, means we can make as much as we want as entrepreneurs. However, the practice is often reversed. Most small business owners sacrifice a good deal of time, under or unpaid, to start and operate a business.

Quick Look at the Numbers

In 2016, Maeva’s paid out 38% in gross revenue as wages to staff.

$18,900 of this was distributed as Officer Salaries (owner/operator wages). As mentioned, my business partner doesn’t work in the shop but does receive a stipend for ongoing maintenance. In 2016, I averaged 35 hours per week in the shop between both shifts and office management, putting my hourly wage for 2016 at $7.70 pr/hr prior to taxes.

$32,000 of this was distributed to kitchen staff for an average hourly wage of $9.50 per/hr.

The remaining $73,700 was distributed to house staff who made, prior to tips, on average $9.10 per/hr. However, an additional $28,000 in cash tips were dispersed to these staff. This brings our average shop wage to $14.13 per/hr.

 

Game Variation 

Like a game of chess, if SB81 were to become a law, we have several pieces we could move to better position our business for survival. In all likelihood, it is not the use of a single variable that will keep our business running- but a combination of pieces on the board.

Here are some of the possible pieces we can adjust in our small business to accommodate for the $15 hour minimum wage increase.

  1. Federal Tip Policy

    We assume that customer tipping habits at Maeva’s are unlikely to be negatively affected by the minimum wage increase. Assuming tipping remains static to our revenue, we have options available for tip redistribution to alleviate loss.

    Federal law regarding tipping practices states that with staff making at least minimum wage, tips must be 100% distributed to tip eligible employees. But it doesn’t mandate how. Business owners in the service industry have the freedom to choose whatever method they wish, whether it be tip pools, weighted tip pools, or even incentivised bonuses. Likewise, we would be allowed to redirect the $27,000 +/- of cash tips into payroll for house staff*.

    This would allow us to cover some increase should SB81 become law- but only for house staff. Any increases necessary for kitchen staff, or to owner/operators, would need to be sourced from another aspect of our business.

  2. Tax Credits

    As SB81 is being considered, its supporters are claiming it will not hurt small businesses due to the tax credits offered in the legislation.

    Quick Note: If you have never been a business owner, you might not be aware that a tax credit isn’t a check the government hands you- but rather a credit against the taxes you owe.

    The particular tax credit offered by SB81 appears to be a general tax credit against the reported profits of a business with fewer than 50 employees when they file their yearly taxes.

    Here is the excerpt from the bill regarding tax credits for small businesses:

    Tax CreditThe amended bill creates a credit against the withholding tax liability of employers with 50 or fewer employees at any time during the applicable payment period, for each qualified employee, in an amount equal to the maximum credit multiplied by the number of hours the employee worked during the reporting period. The credit (or credits) may be taken against payments due for reporting periods that being on or after January 1, 2018 and end on or before either:1) December 31, 2025 for employers who employ more than 5 employees during the applicable payment period; or2) December 31, 2027 for employers that employ no more than 5 employees during the applicable payment period.The amount of the credit is: (1) $0.75 per hour for standard minimum wage workers; (2) $0.45 per hour for tipped workers; and (3) $0.53 per hour for youth workers. The credits can be claimed on employees who make up to $0.25 more than the minimum or reduced minimum wage and have been employed with the employer for at least 90 consecutive days; provided, that those employees could not have had their wages reduced in order for the employer to earn the credit. This credit does have limitations, as for each reporting period, the employer may not claim a credit or credits for more employees than the number of employees making less than the minimum or reduced wage for the current calendar year during the last reporting period of the preceding calendar year. Additionally, an employer shall not be eligible for credits for a reporting period unless the average wage paid by the employee per employee for all employees making less than $55,000 during the reporting period is greater than the average wage paid by the employer per employee for all employees making less than $55,000 during the same reporting period of the prior calendar year.Further, the credit cannot reduce the employer’s obligation for any payment due under the Section by any more than the percentages laid out below:1) For reporting periods that begin during the calendar year 2018, 25%;2) For 2019, 20%;3) For 2020, 15%;4) For 2021, 10%;5) For 2022, 5%;For Calendar years 2023 through: (1) December 31, 2025 for those employers that employ more than 5 workers during the applicable period; or (2) December 31, 2027 for employers that employ no more than 5 employees during the applicable payment period, the total amount of credits awarded to a taxpayer in each calendar year shall be equal to the total amount of credits awarded to the taxpayer in calendar year 202

In short, if a business isn’t making a profit, a common situation in the first 3-5 years of startup, this credit won’t help to close the gap in the wage increase.

Why I Mention This:

Last year, Maeva’s reported a $16,000 loss due to essential reinvestment needed in equipment for both our upstairs operation and kitchen. Our revenue has seen slight growth in our first quarter but remains on track to see a $16,000-20,000 net income this year. If the minimum wage increases our payroll liability to extend beyond this amount, the tax credit will not apply to our business.

3. Tax Adjustment and Price Increases

Another piece to adjust is pricing.

At the moment, Maeva’s Coffee is incredibly competitive on pricing. We pay a premium on our most essential supplies to provide a product that is noticeably higher in quality than franchise competitors. Yet, our prices are equal to if not lower than your neighborhood Starbucks.

Our menu is currently priced as “tax included”- a decision that allows us to shave time off of our service (it is easier to count in increments of $.25 instead of pennies). However, this means a customer who is paying for a $4.50 16oz mocha is actually only paying less per beverage- the difference is more substantial for retail. There is not another coffee house, franchise or independent, in our surrounding area that uses this method of pricing.

In addition, non-franchise locations often tack on credit card processing fees to displayed menu pricing or have a minimum purchase amount for orders. These credit card processing fees are higher for businesses processing small ticket orders at a smaller annual revenue than franchise locations.

To keep up with the minimum wage increase proposed in SB81, we could keep our menu prices “the same” but reconfigure our point of sales system to add on state/city sales tax and processing fees. If that wasn’t enough, we could raise our base prices.

4. Reinvestment Reduction

As a new business located in a historic building, there is always a need for structural repair or improvement.

In 2016, we reinvested $16,000 of our net income into our kitchen facility. This year we anticipate spending between $3,000-5,000 in adding a second restroom to our main level.

If necessary, we could slow or stop improvements to account for rising labor costs. It is possible that declining margins would begin to outpace depreciation costs with aging equipment over the course of several years.

Less frequent maintenance also creates a risk of service interruption due to failure of essential equipment.

5. Employees Under the Age of 18

SB81 does not offer as substantial of a raise in the minimum wage for employees under the age of 18 who work fewer than 650 hours annually. This law is intended to help seasonal operations- such as summer camps and public pools.

Some year-round operations might try to skirt the intention of the law by hiring employees under the age of 18 and terminating their employment prior to the 650 hour limit.

However, the coffee industry requires a greater level of technical training. The cost of training a new hire for Maeva’s is around $400, and can rise to around $800 when training a new barista who requires product to burn and learn.

The financial aspect of this strategy, coupled with the poor impact it would undoubtedly make on staff morale, doesn’t make it an option I’d consider for my business. However, it may be something we see in franchises operating in Illinois should this change to minimum wage become a reality.

6. Staff Reduction

SB81’s biggest critics cite the inevitable loss of jobs this bill would cause. However, “loss of jobs” associated with this bill could mean several things. 

  • Some businesses will not be able to support the increased cost of employment. This may be the “straw on the camel’s back” for businesses that are unhealthy for reasons other than the increase burden of labor. They may close, but one could argue this is only expediting their inevitable demise. That being the case, one could argue that currently struggling businesses shouldn’t be factored into numbers regarding job loss when considering the impact of the minimum wage increase.

  • As margins grow thinner, older business owners may decide to retire earlier than planned. Closing businesses could create a decrease in the number of jobs available.

Again, one could argue that these businesses were going to close anyway. However, retiring business owners may be counting on the sale of their business, its equipment, or property to sustain them in their twilight years. Without a positive economic market in which to sell their business, a rippling effect may be seen 10-25 years after this increase with heightened strain on our medicare/medicaid system. Is this a measurable effect? Business owners make up a small percentage of the general population.

The financial cost might not be measurable, but the perception of the entrepreneurial experience may be. The more difficult it becomes to survive and thrive on a personal level as an entrepreneur today- the less likely candidates for entrepreneurial ventures will be to start businesses of their own.

  • Some job loss will be reduction. Small business owners will have to balance the demands of their current operation, make sacrifices to service, or pare down operational aspects to support fewer staff. Owner/operators entrepreneurs may choose to increase their own workload to alleviate the payroll increase.

 

Just like a chess game in progress, it is not a single move that will aid a small-town coffee shop in its adaptation to a $15 pr/hr minimum wage but a combination of these variables.


SB81: The $15 Minimum Wage & Its Implementation

SB81 would raise the minimum wage to $15 per/hr over the course of five years. The bill outlines its implementation as follows:

July 1, 2010 through December 31, 2017 every employer shall pay to each

of his or her employees who is 18 years of age or older in every

occupation wages of not less than $8.25 per hour, and from

January 1, 2018 to December 31, 2018 every employer shall pay

to each of his or her employees who is 18 years of age or older

from January 1, 2019 to December 31, 2019 every employer shall

pay to each of his or her employees who is 18 years of age or

older in every occupation wages of not less than $10 per hour, 

and from January 1, 2020 to December 31, 2020 every employer

shall pay to each of his or her employees who is 18 years of age

or older in every occupation wages of not less than $11.25 per

hour, and from January 1, 2021 to December 31, 2021 every

employer shall pay to each of his or her employees who is 18

21 years of age or older in every occupation wages of not less

than $13 per hour, and on and after January 1, 2022 every

employer shall pay to each of his or her employees who is 18

24 years of age or older in every occupation wages of not less

than $15 per hour.

The conversation surrounding small business and minimum wage is complicated. For the sake of simplifying this analysis, the projected experience of our shop and a $15 minimum wage increase below assumes the following:

  1. That we experience no more than a 20% projected increase of growth over from 2018-2022 and experience no drop in revenue

  2. No increase to our CoGS for this period

  3. No increase to State or City Sales Tax for this period

  4. No equipment repair/purchase exceeding $10,000

While it would be nice to say those things are possible, the reality is one or more of these variables to our business will change before the minimum wage reaches its final increase in 2022. Although calculating every potential possibility would make the hypothesis in this post more mathematically comprehensive, I wanted to create an article that spotlighted the effects of SB81 with as little complication as possible.  

Here is the plan of change we would most likely follow if this bill were to be signed into law:

 

2018: Year One

The first year of this bill’s affect- 2018- we wouldn’t have to “feel” much financially. The bills states that:

From January 1, 2018 to December 31, 2018 every employer shall pay to each of his or her employees who is 18 years of age or older in every occupation wages of not less than $9 per hour.

With the exception of one new hire, all of our staff currently make at or above $9 per hour. The loss of being able to hire in at the current minimum wage, and then giving a wage increase after training, would cost around $270 per year, assuming three new hires annually (.75 increase x 120 hours x 3 hires = $270)

The True Cost of Leveling the Playing Field

The main detriment to our current business would be competitiveness. Since opening for business, we’ve made it a priority to have both a better atmosphere and better wage for employment than franchise competitors. With minimum wage raising to $9 per hour, our current rate no longer gives us a hiring advantage.

Looking forward into 2019, my first move to adjust our small business to this state law would be to start a new redistribution of tips through payroll- raising the wages of staff above the $9 per hour increase so we can continue to offer higher wages than our community standard. We’d increase new hire wages to $10 per hour- with veteran staff wages rising proportionally to compensate for their experience and dedication to our business.

 

2019: Year Two

In 2019, if made a law, SB81 would increase minimum wage to no less than $10 per hour beginning on January 1st.

This being two years out in operation, I plan to realize a 10% growth in revenue by the end of the second quarter in 2019.

Between 2015 and 2016, we saw a 14% increase of revenue with only a 1% increase in CoGS (our kitchen investment has allowed us to reduce our waste and streamline our supply). CoGS, or cost of goods sold, does not include labor. As sales increase, it is expected that the labor hours required will also increase (ours raised 10% for this 13% overall increase).

Using those values, to keep our current staffing at two people on shift throughout all open operating hours, we can expect a 10% growth in revenue would cause a 7.7% increase in labor.

In 2016, we paid out:

8,113 house labor hours

3,360 kitchen labor hours

11,437 total labor hours

 

With a 10% increase in revenue, this would cause an increase of:

624 house labor hours

258 kitchen labor hours

 

As mentioned before, the house hourly increase can be covered by tip distribution. However, kitchen staff are not eligible for tip distribution. With the $10 pr/hour minimum wage in 2019, we would see a rising payroll burden of around $1,800-$2,000 annually.

This burden isn’t too great yet. However, I don’t want to sacrifice service or our brand- so I would likely begin to shift the schedule so there would be one barista on shift for the last hour of the night instead of two.

This change would cover the payroll increase for kitchen staff as well as competitively raise wages for veteran staff.

 

2020: Year Three

If enacted into law, SB81 would raise minimum wage in 2020 to $11.25 per hour.

At this point, we can no longer rely on current tipping practices to cover our rising labor costs for house staff.

We would need to budget an additional $1.73 pr/hour for kitchen staff and $1.25 pr/hour for house staff, amounting to an additional $15,900 annually for labor. If we wished to stay competitive by continuing to reward trained/veteran staff with proportionally higher wages- and continue the practice of hiring new staff in at more than minimum wage- that cost raises to $29,900.

Had we not reinvested into our kitchen in 2016, Maeva’s Coffee would have shown a net income of just over $12,000. Factoring in a projected 12% increase in revenue over the next three years, we can estimate in about another $1,000 to this number. Without any changes made to pricing, material costs, staff, etc- this net income is the “cushion” we have to accommodate increased labor costs.

Now pieces on the chess board must be developed into a position.

At this point in our hypothetical situation, we’ve been fortunate enough to not really “feel” the impact of rising minimum wage as other community businesses may be experiencing. Year three would be the point wherein the variables mentioned above would have to be changed to cover the rising labor cost and maintain a safe margin for unexpected equipment repair or emergency operating expenses.

First, we would begin charging state and city sales tax, as well as credit card processing fees, in addition to our current menu pricing. With a projected revenue of $370,000, that would bring in:

$300,000 x .0175 = $5,250

$70,000 x .0785 = $5.485 ($10,745 taxes)

$370,000 x .6 = 222,000 (approximate credit sales) x .025 = $5,500

Total Increase of $16,245

 

These numbers assume no increase in city or state sales tax through the end of the 2020 fiscal year.

By no longer offering our product with prices including tax, and assuming a net income of $13,000, we have working capital of $29,245 with which to cover the minimum wage increase and continue to provide competitive wages for our staff. This would negate any income or “cushion” for any unexpected equipment needs or emergency problems, or our available funds for growth or improvements to the business.

At this point, I believe it’s be reasonable to increase pricing. If you are already going to change the way you pricng works (no longer using increments of $.25), one could also add a percentage increase across the board to cover the wage demands of the state. By increasing prices by an addtional 5%, we would cover rising costs and still have an income of approximately $17,000- a pool necessary for emergency expenses and repair. This would be an increase that is surely noticable to the customer.

 

2021: Year Four

In 2021, if enacted into law, SB0081 would increase the Illinois state minimum wage to $13 pr hour. If labor hours were to stay static to our 2020 calculations, this would increase payroll by $21,600.

At this point- having already exhausted our tip cash flow and freshly “increased” pricing in the minds of customer- it would be time to look at staff reduction.

For our current level of traffic, we don’t need the level of staffing we maintain. I employ additional staff because I feel it does lighten the workload and keep customer service exceptional during our heavy hours- as well as give everyone a morale boost during slower times.

I would evaluate my staff on speed, consistency, and service to find who could carry heavier traffic hours with minimal effects on quality or timeliness. In looking at our current scheduling matrix, I’ve determined our “break even” point for having two staff on shift is $60 in sales per hour. Realistically, if the bar is fully stocked, an experienced veteran can handle around $90-100 in sales per hour. However, multiple hours at this rate can lead to inventory shortage behind the bar, mental fatigue, and order inaccuracy (product waste). With this in mind, I would create a schedule based on our hourly sales trends collected to that point, raising the bar to scheduling two members on staff at the $80 benchmark from the $60.

I realize this would put strain on our staff and could lead to an environment where discontent is more likely. Also, realistically, when I look at my current staff, I believe only a percentage could handle the additional load.

How I Plan to Ensure Quality and Morale

To incentivize my best staff, I would split the difference between the labor savings. Instead of just telling them to work harder for the wages they’ve already been earning- a path Starbucks was recently criticized for taking –  I’d offer those who could handle the load a substantial raise. For instance, a staff member who was able to handle $80 solo sales hours well would be saving me at least the $13 per hour I would typically pay a second person to be on. I would offer staff capable of this an hourly rate of $17 pr hour, reducing our labor hours and saving $9 per hour.

Shaving 25 hours per week by scheduling solo shifts, and accounting for the pay raise for our most capable staff, would free up an additional $11,500 per year to put towards the $21,600 gap with the $13 minimum wage.

At any given time, we typically employ 2-3 high school or college students who work 15-20 hours per week around their school schedule. A reduction of 25 hours per week would eliminate two of these part time positions at Maeva’s coffee- bringing our house staff to 6.

This leaves a $10,000 gap to close with the 2021 minimum wage at $13 per hour.

 

The Truth Behind Being an Owner/Operator

In 2017, on average, I (as an owner/operator) work 2 shifts per week in Maeva’s Coffee averaging 12 hours/wk or 612 hours annually on shift. I spend on average another 13 hours/wk or 663 hours annually on office work, running errands, and behind-the-scenes work. In the prior years of operation, I was clocking in between 45-80 hours per week but, thankfully, our shop has grown from a fledgling startup into a smooth operation.

Having the extra hours available has allowed me to concentrate my other 50 or so work hours per week on our business incubator at The Milton Schoolhouse. Without my attention, our growth had stagnated in 2014-2016. However, this year, we’ve seen the influx of two new startups and the expansion of an existing business in our first quarter alone.

Should Maeva’s Coffee require me to step in to cover additional shifts, we risk seeing a slowing in our growth once again.

Facing a $10,000 gap, I could reasonably work an extra shift per week without jeopardizing our growth completely. If I were to take on an early weekday morning shift- say an opening Monday shift that wouldn’t necessitate a second staff member, I could lighten the payroll load by $26 per/hr. At 7 hours a week, that’s 357 hours annually or a $9,300 payroll reduction.

That 7 hours a week would also eliminate the need for another part time staff member, bringing our house staff to five employees (not including myself). The remaining gap caused by the minimum wage increase for 2021 could be taken from net income without putting Maeva’s at critical risk should unexpected expenses arise.

 

2022: Year Five

In 2022, if enacted into law, SB81 would raise the minimum wage in Illinois to $15 per hour.

To determine the additional $2 per hour burden on our payroll costs, we are going to assume our business has hit the 20% projected revenue growth by this point.

This would mean:

2022 Revenue = 390,000

Payroll increase of 15.4% or 13,200 labor hours paid out. This is a 7.36% increase from our last revenue increase of 14% in 2020.

Raising minimum wage by $2 from the year prior would mean an additional payroll burden of $26,478 per year.

In 2016, Maeva’s Coffee made 66,500 beverages. Factoring in a 20% projected increase, we can hope that by 2022 that number is around 80,000. If we were to increase all beverage pricing by $.32, we could realize a $25,500 gain that could be used to close the $15 minimum wage gap. If we instituted a similar $.15 increase for food items, we could realize another $1,098. This (on average) 8% increase in beverage prices and (average) 6% increase in food prices would allow us to cover the $15 minimum wage increase.

 

Five Year Strategy Summary

In analyzing how SB81 would be implemented if signed into law, the five year increase to a $15 minimum wage in Illinois would cause the following changes to our coffee shop’s current business model:

  • A 43% reduction in house staff, or, the elimination of the equivalent of 3 part time positions, or, a 30% reduction of staff overall

  • For remaining staff, an average 14% increase in pay prior to taxation over the five year period

  • A 30% on-shift workload increase for Owner/Operator

  • An pricing increase of approximately 15.3% on food and beverages over the five year period as compared to 2016 pricing

I believe we would continue to survive and operate at our current level through this period.

However, after five years of increasing labor burden, eliminating available positions, and increasing costs, we wouldn’t realize any increase to our business’ current valuation.


The Psychology of Competitive Chess & Minimum Wage

Anxiety runs high while playing competitive chess.

Familiarity brings comfort. When playing a friendly game with a regular in Maeva’s, I’m relaxed. There is very little at stake. Familiarity brings comfort because it creates an easy environment for experimentation and growth.

Playing tournament chess is a different beast.

Seated across from a strange face, the clock ticking in an unfamiliar environment, I’ve often played games that aren’t my best. Once a game has ended, there is a dizziness from the sheer level of effort and concentration involved.

On the human level of this pending change,  I anticipate small business owners will find themselves facing the next five years of implementation with a dizzying anxiety. Those of us who don’t loose position early on will look up in 2023 with elation found only from having survived ourselves.

Not knowing the plays, the traps and tactics each industry would afford during this change, I am sure I will be surprised by those who resign from their business and those who continue on once the law has been fully realized.

For me, as many of my colleagues, our business is our life. We don’t look at change and consider whether we should or should not play. We hope to find ourselves in the best position possible to pursue that dynamic American dream of entrepreneurialism. But if SB0081 became law no longer would we be free to experiment, try new things, and increase value without increasing cost. Instead we would face those tournament conditions and be forced to continue to play for survival in place of growth.

Recover Exchange Server after total loss

Recover Exchange Server after total loss

Being able to recover an Exchange Server is key to business continuity. This is magnified in environments where there is only a single Exchange server. Rebuilding an Exchange environment from scratch would be an arduous and monumental task. Luckily Exchange saves much of its configuration settings in Active Directory. As long as Active Directory is healthy you can recover an Exchange Server to its former configuration. This process saves a massive amount of time.

That said there are some items that are not stored in Active Directory. This includes the databases where the user and public folder data is stored, third-party certificates and, customizations made outside of the Exchange management tools.

Certificates are easy. If you don’t have a backup you can have your certificate re-keyed by your provider. This may take some time so it is much better to export your Exchange server certificate and save it to a safe location. Then it can be quickly imported in the event of a failure. This will reduce downtime.

Databases are a little more difficult. Depending on the nature of the failure they may need to be restored from backup. The time required for restore largely depends on the size of the database. With the Exchange standard license you get five databases. So, rather than one large database, go with five smaller ones. These greatly aides your recovery time objective (RTO). Exchange enterprise allows up to a hundred databases giving you even greater capacity.

I always recommend that you architect a database availability group (DAG) where possible. Even if your budget can only cover two Exchange servers–creating a two-member DAG with two copies of each database–will put you miles ahead when it comes to disaster recovery. The instructions to recover a DAG member differ and we will cover that in a later article.

Configuration outside of the Exchange tools is going to be a little tougher. You will either need documentation so the changes can be repeated, or, a backup of the changes. Customizations outside of Exchange can include the registry, IIS, or, text-based configuration files.

Note: It can help to keep a copy of the Exchange install files in a safe location. Microsoft generally only makes the last two cumulative updates publically available. You can recover from the latest cumulative update. However, note that the build number within Exchange admin tools will reflect the version prior to failure. This will update as soon as you run the next cumulative update.

Total loss of an Exchange Server

For this article I have a virtual machine running Exchange Server 2016 CU5, named EX16, running on Windows Server 2016. This virtual machine is going to be deleted from its virtual storage. This could mimic failed storage, a virtual machine becoming corrupt, or, the operating system refusing to boot. This Exchange Server is not part of a Database Availability Group (DAG).

Note: You can also use this process with older versions of Exchange.

So, let’s “accidentally” delete our virtual machine. The screenshot to the right shows our virtual machine has been deleted.

Recover Exchange Server after total loss 1
Recover Exchange Server after total loss 2

Gathering information for the recovery process

For the recovery, we will need to know the operating system and directory path our Exchange server used. Without this information, the recovery procedure will fail. For our lab, we knew all this information. But what if we didn’t have this information?

To find the operating system we can use Active Directory Users and Computers.

Open Active Directory Users and Computers and locate the computer account for the failed Exchange Server. Right-click on the account and select Properties from the context menu. Select the Operating System tab. In our case, we can see we were running Windows Server 2016 Datacenter.

To find the install directory for Exchange you will need to use ADSI Edit.

Open ADSI Edit. Right-click on the ADSI Edit node and select Connect to from the context menu. Under Select a well known naming context pick Configuration from the drop-down menu. Click Ok.

Expand Configuration, CN=Configuration,DC=,DC=, CN=Services, CN=Microsoft Exchange, CN=, CN=Administrative Groups, CN=Exchange Administrative Group, CN=Servers and right-click on the name of the failed server and select Properties.

Double click on the attribute named msExchInstallPath to see the Exchange install path on the failed server. In our case Exchange was installed under the default path of C:Program FilesMicrosoftExchange ServerV15. If your value is different than the default install path you will need to specify this during recovery.

If you want to restore using the exact same cumulative update you can find that with ADSI Edit.

Using the instructions above right-click on the name of the failed server and select Properties. Select the attribute named serialNumber. The number 15.1 designates Exchange 2016. In parenthesis, we can see the build is 30845.34. If we remove the first two digits (30) we have the build number of 845.34. If we look up this build number we can see we are on Cumulative Update 5.

Recover Exchange Server

Now that we know the operating system and install path let’s recover our server.

The first decision is whether you are recovering to the same or different hardware. If the same hardware then you should not have to worry about sizing. If new hardware you need to make sure it meets both the system requirements to run Exchange and that you have also sized the new hardware in accordance with the Exchange Server Role Requirements Calculator.

For our scenario, we have a single server environment and will be recovering to a new virtual machine on the existing virtual infrastructure. We will use the same sizing as our old virtual machine.

Once the hardware is ready we need to reinstall our operating system. It is imperative we use the same operating system and service pack level as before. The recovery procedure will not allow an in-place upgrade of the operating system. For our scenario, we will be reinstalling Windows Server 2016.

While we are waiting for the operating system to reinstall let’s reset the Active Directory computer account for the failed Exchange Server. Resetting the computer account permits us to do two things. First, it allows us to rejoin the new server to Active Directory under the old computer name. Second–this is the most important part–it allows the recovery process to retrieve all configuration data from Active Directory for the failed Exchange server. It is critical we do not delete the computer account during the recovery process.

To reset the computer account open Active Directory Users and Computers and locate the computer account for the failed Exchange Server. Right-click on the account and select Reset Account from the context menu. Click Yes to confirm. You will receive a notification that the account was successfully reset. Click Ok.

Note: That it may take some time for this reset to replicate throughout Active Directory.

Once the operating system is installed be sure to give it a static IP (I recommend using the same one), the same computer name and, join it to the domain. If the domain join fails you may need more time for replication. In our case, we have set a static IP, named the new server back to EX16 and rejoined our domain SKARO.LOCAL.

Next, let’s get the Exchange 2016 prerequisites installed. To do this open a PowerShell console as the administrator.

Then issue the following command.

 C:> Install-WindowsFeature Server-Media-Foundation, NET-Framework-45-Features, RPC-over-HTTP-proxy, RSAT-Clustering, RSAT-Clustering-CmdInterface, RSAT-Clustering-Mgmt, RSAT-Clustering-PowerShell, Web-Mgmt-Console, WAS-Process-Model, Web-Asp-Net45, Web-Basic-Auth, Web-Client-Auth, Web-Digest-Auth, Web-Dir-Browsing, Web-Dyn-Compression, Web-Http-Errors, Web-Http-Logging, Web-Http-Redirect, Web-Http-Tracing, Web-ISAPI-Ext, Web-ISAPI-Filter, Web-Lgcy-Mgmt-Console, Web-Metabase, Web-Mgmt-Console, Web-Mgmt-Service, Web-Net-Ext45, Web-Request-Monitor, Web-Server, Web-Stat-Compression, Web-Static-Content, Web-Windows-Auth, Web-WMI, Windows-Identity-Foundation, RSAT-ADDS

Next, verify you have the necessary version of the .NET Framework installed. This will vary based on the version of Exchange and operating system you need to recover.

Next download and install the Unified Communications Managed API (UCMA) 4.0.

Note: Your prerequisites will vary depending on the version of Exchange and operating system you are installing. For example, we are installing Exchange 2016 on Windows Server 2016 which requires we install this patch.

Now is a good time to reboot the server. Once rebooted open a Command Prompt, change to the location of your Exchange setup files and, issue the following command. The recovery process can not be completed via the GUI setup.

If you installed Exchange at a different install path you will need to specify this with the /TargetDir switch.

D:> Setup /m:RecoverServer /IAcceptExchangeServerLicenseTerms

Welcome to Microsoft Exchange Server 2016 Cumulative Update 5 Unattended 
Setup

Copying Files...
File copy complete. Setup will now collect additional information needed 
for installation.

Languages
Mailbox role: Transport service
Mailbox role: Client Access service
Mailbox role: Unified Messaging service
Mailbox role: Mailbox service
Management tools
Mailbox role: Client Access Front End service
Mailbox role: Front End Transport service

Performing Microsoft Exchange Server Prerequisite Check

Configuring Prerequisites                                    COMPLETED
Prerequisite Analysis                                        COMPLETED

Configuring Microsoft Exchange Server

Preparing Setup                                              COMPLETED
Stopping Services                                            COMPLETED
Copying Exchange Files                                       COMPLETED
Language Files                                               COMPLETED
Restoring Services                                           COMPLETED
Language Configuration                                       COMPLETED
Mailbox role: Transport service                              COMPLETED
Mailbox role: Client Access service                          COMPLETED
Mailbox role: Unified Messaging service                      COMPLETED
Mailbox role: Mailbox service                                COMPLETED
Exchange Management Tools                                    COMPLETED
Mailbox role: Client Access Front End service                COMPLETED
Mailbox role: Front End Transport service                    COMPLETED
Finalizing Setup                                             COMPLETED

The Exchange Server setup operation completed successfully.
Setup has made changes to operating system settings that require a reboot 
to take effect. Please reboot this server prior to placing it into 
production.

When setup completes you will need to reboot. Once rebooted you will be able to log back into the Exchange Admin Center and confirm all settings were restored from Active Directory.

Wrapping it all up

Once you have successfully restored your Exchange server you will need to reapply your Exchange certificate. If you have backed this up you can easily import it. If not, you will need to get your certificate re-keyed with your certificate provider, which will mean generating a new certificate. This can take some time. As mentioned previously it is a good idea to export your certificate and store it in a safe place.

If you made any customizations to the Exchange Server these will need to be reconfigured. Customizations are changes you have made outside of Exchange Admin Center or Exchange Management Shell that Exchange has no knowledge of. For example, making custom registry changes, IIS modifications, or, manual edits to web.config files will all need to be redeployed. Any setting you configured inside of the Exchange tools such as configuring custom connectors, virtual directories, email address policies, or, transport rules will all be present.

Lastly, depending on the nature of your failure you may also need to recover a database from backup. For example, if this was just a matter of an operating system that would not boot and your databases and logs were on a separate drive you probably will not have to restore but instead, be dealing with a dirty shutdown. If the database and logs were lost you will need to recover this from a backup. As mentioned earlier if your budget can cover two Exchange servers then I would recommend creating a DAG. This will greatly improve your business continuity from a single server failure.

Further Reading

Here are some articles I thought you might like:

Have you ever had to recover an Exchange Server? How did it go? Join the conversation on Twitter @SuperTekBoy.

The post Recover Exchange Server after total loss appeared first on SuperTekBoy.

“SED” Options and its usage

Sed – The Stream Editor

A stream editor is used to perform basic text transformations on an input file. Sed command is mainly used to replace the text in a file. But it is a powerful text processing tool.

Some uses of sed command are explained below with examples:

Consider the text file “test” as an example

1) Replace all the occurrence of the pattern in a line

“SED”  Options and its usage 3

Here in the above example, sed is used to replace all occurrences of  “system” with “software” within the file test.

Let us have look into the switches used for the task

 Denotes
 s  Substitution operation
 /  Delimiter
 system  Search pattern
 software  Replacement string
 g  Global Replacement flag

Sed command by default replace only the first occurrence of a string in each line. The /g flag specifies the sed command to replace all the occurrences of the pattern in each line.

The table below shows some more options:

 Command  Purpose
 sed ‘s/system/software/’ test  Replace first occurrence of a string in each line
 sed ‘s/system/software/n’ test  Replace the nth occurrence of a pattern in a line
 sed ‘s/system/software/ng’ test  Replace from nth occurrence to all occurrences in a line
 sed ‘n s/system/software/’ test  Replace string on a specific line number (nth line)
 sed ‘n,$ s/system/software/’ test  Replace string on a range of lines (from nth line till last)
 sed ‘/as/ s/system/software/’ test  Replace on a line which matches a pattern (here pattern is “as”)
sed ‘s/system/software/w test2’ test Copy replaced line to another file
 sed ‘/your/ c Replaced line’ test  Replace the lines which contains a pattern (In this case, the entire line with the pattern “your” will be replced with “Replaced line”.)
 sed ‘/your/ a Replaced line’ test  Add a new line after a match
  sed ‘/your/ i Replaced line’ test   Add a new line before a match

 

2) Use a different delimiter


sed 's|system|software|' test

Instead of ‘|’ we can also use ‘_’ or ‘@’ as the delimiters. This is mainly used when the search pattern or the replacement string is url.

 

3) Use & as the replacement string


sed 's/system/& and &' test

Here in the above example ‘&’ represents the replacement string and hence replace ‘system’ with ‘system and system’.

4) Duplicate the replaced line


sed 's/system/software/p' test

The /p(print) flag prints the replaced line twice in the terminal. In this case the lines which are not replaced will be printed only once.

The following command generate the duplicate of each line in this file:


sed 'p' test

 

5) Print only the replaced lines


sed -n 's/system/software/p' test

Here the -n option suppresses the duplicate of the replaced lines generated by the /p flag.

If we use the option -n alone without /p, then the sed does not print anything.

 

6) Delete lines


sed '2 d' test

In this case, it deletes the second line from the file ‘test’.


sed '2,$ d' test

Here, it deletes a range of lines i.e, from second line till the last line.

7) Run multiple sed commands

sed -e 's/An/The' -e 's/is/was/' test

In order to run multiple sed commands either we can pipe the output of one sed command to the other or we can use the ‘-e’ option.

8) Sed as grep command


Case 1:
cat test
An operating system is a vital component of the system.
The operating system controls your computer's tasks and system resources to optimize performance.
An operating system is a collection of softwares.
An operating system is abbreviated as OS.

Case 2:
sed -n '/vital/ p' test
An operating system is a vital component of the system.


Case 3:
sed -n '/vital/ !p' test
The operating system controls your computer's tasks and system resources to optimize performance.
An operating system is a collection of softwares.
An operating system is abbreviated as OS.

Here in the above example,

Case 1 shows the contents of the file “test”

Case 2 executes sed command to print the lines which match the pattern “vital”. This is same as grep command.

Case 3 executes sed command to print the lined which do not match with the pattern “vital”. This is same as grep -v.

 

9) Sed as tr command


sed 'y/ATp/atP/' test

The sed command along with y flag acts as tr command. Here in the above example, the sed command use ‘y’ flag to replace ‘A’ with ‘a’ and ‘T’ with ‘t’ which is similar to the action performed by tr command.

 

10) Edit the source file


sed -i 's/system/software/' test

Sed command by default does not edit the source file for our safety but by using ‘-i’ option source file can be edited.

11) Take backup of source file prior to editing


sed -i.back 's/system/software/' test

In the above sed command, before editing the source file sed command takes the backup of ‘test’ as ‘test.back’.

sed command is case-sensitive. Use /I or /i flag for case-insensitive search.

 

There are many more examples of sed command. Here I chose these examples to illustrate some basic concepts. This concludes my tutorial on sed and I hope you enjoyed it.

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Enable SSH login to vCenter 6.5 in WebUI




Enabling vCenter SSH access from Web User Interface

1. Log in to WebUI

2. On the vSphere Web Client Home page, click System Configuration.

3. Under System Configuration, click Nodes.

4. Under Nodes, select a node and click the Manage tab.

5. Under Common, select Access and click Edit.

(I already had SSH enabled)

6. Check the box for SSH and click OK to save the settings.







Quickly copy an Anonymous Receive Connector “Relay” between servers

In this article, we are going to take a look at just how easy it can be to copy an anonymous receive connector from one server to another using PowerShell.

This is especially important in scenarios where a receive connector may have dozens–if not hundreds–of IPs. Adding each IP using the graphical user interface would be insanely time-consuming. It would also be prone to human error. This challenge only multiplies if you have many servers to repeat this process on. With PowerShell, we can cut this task down to mere seconds.

The first part of this article is a primer on how to configure an anonymous receive connector. If you are just interested in how to copy all IPs from one connector to another jump to the section titled Copying an Anonymous “Relay” Connector between servers.

Note: While this article focuses on moving an anonymous receive connector it can be adapted for any custom receive connector you have created.

A quick primer on anonymous receive connectors

Before we explore how to move a receive connector let’s take a refresher on how we create a receive connector with PowerShell. For this task, we use the New-ReceiveConnector cmdlet. For example, to create an anonymous receive connector our command might look like this.

 C:> New-ReceiveConnector -Name "Anonymous Relay" -Server EX16-01 -Usage Custom -TransportRole FrontEndTransport -PermissionGroups AnonymousUsers -Bindings 0.0.0.0:25 -RemoteIPRanges 10.0.0.25, 10.0.0.26, 10.0.0.50-10.0.0.59

In this command, we create a receive connector named “Anonymous Relay”. We use the -Server parameter to identify which server we want the connector to be created on. We identify that the -Usage of the connector will be Custom. Custom is one of five connector types and is used for anonymous relays.

The -TransportRole identifies whether this connector should be a FrontEndTransport or a HubTransport. Front-end transport is a connector that accepts messages from client connections. When I say client connections this is anything external to the Exchange servers coming in. Hub transport is designed solely to accept messages from another Exchange server. Whenever configuring a relay you will always go with FrontEndTransport.

The -PermissionGroups identifies what type of connections this connector will accept. For the purposes of our relay, we went with AnonymousUsers. Assigning this permission grants the NT AuthorityAnonymous Logon account several permissions to the connector, including ms-Exch-SMTP-Accept-Any-Sender. For a full list of connector permissions and permission groups check out this article from TechNet.

The -Bindings parameter configures the IP and port number Exchange server should listen on. Specifying a string of zeroes instructs Exchange to listen on all its assigned IPs. We left the port number at 25 as this is the default for SMTP. However, it is possible to configure your relay on a custom port.

The -RemoteIPRanges lists all the IPs that will be permitted to relay through this connector. You can specify individual IPs or IP ranges. This parameter will accept a comma-separated list of IPs and IP ranges. In our example, we went with two individual IPs and one IP range.

If you want your anonymous receive connector to be able to relay to email addresses outside your organization you will need to add one additional permission. This is MS-Exch-SMTP-Accept-Any-Recipient.

 C:> Get-ReceiveConnector "EX16-01Anonymous Relay" | Add-ADPermission -User 'NT AUTHORITYAnonymous Logon' -ExtendedRights MS-Exch-SMTP-Accept-Any-Recipient

Identity                 User                            Deny    Inherited
--------                 ----                            ----    ---------
EX16-01Anonymous Relay  NT AUTHORITYANONYMOUS LOGON    False   False

Copying an Anonymous “Relay” Connector between servers

While PowerShell is certainly much easier than adding IPs via the graphical user interface the previous example is still cumbersome. In this section, we will take New-ReceiveConnector to the next level. But first, let’s take a look at the Get-ReceiveConnector cmdlet.

Get-ReceiveConnector allows us to return all attributes from a specific receive connector. To examine the connector we just created our command would look like this. Remember that if the name of your connector has spaces you will need to enclose it in quotation marks.

 C:> Get-ReceiveConnector -Identity "EX16-01Anonymous Relay" | Format-List

If we wanted to return just the information on the IP addresses we could issue a command such as this.

 C:> (Get-ReceiveConnector -Identity "EX16-01Anonymous Relay").RemoteIPRanges

LowerBound : 10.0.0.50
UpperBound : 10.0.0.59
Netmask :
CIDRLength :
RangeFormat : LoHi
Size : ::a
Expression : 10.0.0.50-10.0.0.59

LowerBound : 10.0.0.26
UpperBound : 10.0.0.26
Netmask :
CIDRLength :
RangeFormat : SingleAddress
Size : ::1
Expression : 10.0.0.26

LowerBound : 10.0.0.25
UpperBound : 10.0.0.25
Netmask :
CIDRLength :
RangeFormat : SingleAddress
Size : ::1
Expression : 10.0.0.25

The output of the previous command can be used as the source data for a new connector on another server.

To do this we will embed the Get-ReceiveConnector command with New-ReceiveConnector.

For example, to create a new receive connector on server EX16-02, using all remote IP data from EX16-01 our command would look as follows.

 C:> New-ReceiveConnector -Name "Anonymous Relay" -Server EX16-02 -Usage Custom -TransportRole FrontEndTransport -PermissionGroups AnonymousUsers -Bindings 0.0.0.0:25 -RemoteIPRanges (Get-ReceiveConnector "EX16-01Anonymous Relay").RemoteIPRanges

Identity                          Bindings               Enabled
--------                          --------               -------
EX16-02Anonymous Relay           {0.0.0.0:25}           True

In this command, you can see we replace the comma-separated list of IPs and IP ranges with our Get- cmdlet. We can confirm all IPs came across by rerunning the Get-ReceiveConnector cmdlet against the new server. You can repeat this command for each server you need to copy this connector.

Don’t forget that if you need your anonymous relay to be able to send an email outside your organization you will need to add the MS-Exch-SMTP-Accept-Any-Recipient permission.

 C:> Get-ReceiveConnector "EX16-02Anonymous Relay" | Add-ADPermission -User 'NT AUTHORITYAnonymous Logon' -ExtendedRights MS-Exch-SMTP-Accept-Any-Recipient

Further Reading

Here are some articles I thought you might like:

How have you copied anonymous relays to other servers? Join the conversation on Twitter @SuperTekBoy.

The post Quickly copy an Anonymous Receive Connector “Relay” between servers appeared first on SuperTekBoy.

Social Smart: Instagram Essentials

Quick Note: This post focuses around entrepreneurs and business with

  • fewer than 5,000 followers on Instagram

  • who are looking to grow their income

  • by creating meaningful relationships with real people

What NOT to expect: I DON’T endorse strategies that “buy” followers or implement “follow for follow” techniques.  

The plans I develop for my clients- and our businesses at The Milton Schoolhouse- focus on organic growth. The purpose of a successful SMM plan is to put your business in the hands of the people who enthusiastically support it.

If you are looking for quick-fix influencer techniques, there aren’t any in this post.

These are real social media tactics for solid, sustainable growth.

 


The 10,000 Person Myth and The Problem with Growth for Growth’s Sake

The biggest problem entrepreneurs face on social media is losing site of the big picture. Clients say, “I want to grow my Instagram following to 10,000” and my first question is always, ‘Why?”

Focusing on growth for growth’s sake is superficial. Having more followers doesn’t automatically equate to a boost in revenue. A great social media marketing plan is a tool for business success- which typically means:

  • Finding new fans

  • Creating and Deepening Relationships

  • Selling

Different industries, different applications- the goal of every social media strategy is ultimately the same: to create income by creating relationships.

Maeva’s Coffee is a local, community coffee shop. We have one location and no ecommerce. When I set the goal of hitting 1,500 followers on Instagram in January, it seemed laughably small. Instagram is a powerful social media platform, and I’ve coached other start ups into curating five figure fan bases in months!

What made my goal different was that I limited myself to finding followers who lived close enough to become patrons. If I had a million followers but none of them could visit the shop, my ego may be pretty happy but it wouldn’t have actually helped Maeva’s grow financially.

@MaevasCoffee on Instagram remained at a steady 1,350-1,400 followers for six months. I wanted to grow that number. Adapting the strategies I use to manage larger accounts, I was able to organically hit our 1,500 goal in seven weeks. Four months out, our following has continued to grow and is set to hit 1,700 this week.

 

The True Value Of Organic Growth

1700 seems small but consider the impact.

How would an extra 200 customers affect your business?

An extra 200 people visiting Maeva’s Coffee once per month is a $24,000 increase in revenue annually. If they frequent more often, as most people do, it becomes enough to provide full time employment for another member of our community. Small gains on social media have big impact!

 

 

Instagram’s Social Media Power

Thousands of entrepreneurs and artists use Instagram as their only business outlet and succeed. For niche businesses, or businesses focusing on a market of less than 25yrs, Instagram is a natural choice.

90% of Instagram’s users are younger than 35, and 60% of its 400 million users log in daily.

Instagram is perfect for businesses and entrepreneurs who aren’t tied to a geographical location. If you’re an artist, freelancer, or e-commerce entrepreneur who can sell and deliver worldwide, this is an excellent platform for growing a world-wide following in your niche. 75% of Instagram’s users reside outside of the United States; an incredible opportunity to connect with true fans around the globe.  

For a brick and mortar like Maeva’s, and for larger e-commerce based businesses, I recommend choosing 2-3 social media platforms to reach your market, concentrate your focus on those platforms, and ignore the rest.

With Facebook’s recent integration with Instagram, using both platforms in tandem is an easy way to broaden your reach.

A word of caution: Don’t think of Instagram as an abbreviated Facebook. Reposting from one platform to the other without considering their separate audience is a big mistake. Look for more on making the most out of using both platforms in an upcoming post. In the meantime, dive into Facebook’s strengths here.

 

Is Instagram Right for You?

Don’t think you must use every social media platform to have a solid social media outreach. When I work with a client and establish new social media accounts for them, I focus on Facebook and one other platform relevant to their brand model.

How do you know if Instagram is a good platform to choose for your business?

Instagram, works well for brand platforms that have one (or more) of these characteristics:

  • Highly Visual (Think: Photography, Visual Art, Theatre, Dance)

  • Personality Based Brands (Think: Cosplay, Gamers and Geeks, Life Coaches, Fitness Experts)

  • Social and Shareable (Think: Meme Congregators, Political Commentary, Social Activists, Personal Wellness)

  • Entertaining or Inspiring (Think: Comedy, Travel Hackers, Musicians & DJs)

  • Niche (Think: Female Cigar Lovers, Northern Native American Tribal Beadwork, Geographically Restricted Brands, Specific Historical Interests)

Instagram isn’t for you if you don’t have relevant and interesting visual information to post 5-7x weekly.

The good news- you can take advantage of Instagram’s adverts to reach clients. Through Facebook’s advertising for business, you can now redirect clients to your Facebook page or website. This is GREAT if you have a special event or a niche product to promote but don’t want the upkeep of an ongoing account.

 

For success inspiration, here’s a list of incredible people who use Instagram as their primary social media platform- ranging from historians to artists to brick & mortar businesses:

PreciousCreature (Pet Preservation & Taxidermy) 14.1k followers

DrLindseyfitzharris (Medical Historian & Author) 105k followers

Strangelovely1 (A Beautiful Brick & Mortar Vintage Shop in Chicago) 3k followers

PhilJarvis (STL based Sign & Muralist) 95.K followers

PetitesLuxures (French Artist- Line Drawings/Negative Space Art of Sex and Sexuality) 736K Followers

Strange Donuts (STL based funky donut business) 37.2K followers

QueenofLuna (SFX Artist Cosplay) 368k Followers

Skoll_and_hati_custom_armory (Traditionally Made Viking Axes & Weaponry) 34.9K

 

 

The Shadow Ban

If you currently have an Instagram account but aren’t making the most of it, using the guides in this article will cause an increase of activity for your account.

This will make your account vulnerable to the Shadow Ban.

A Shadow Ban is the act of blocking or limiting a user’s reach from their audience without notifying them. It’s different than having your account reported (and blocked) for posting material that violates a community’s content regulations. When you’ve been blocked, you are sent a message with the repercussions and actions you can take to restore your account. Shadow Bans aren’t as cut and dried.

Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram justify shadow banning as a way to cut down on spam in their community’s content, However, there is question that the real motivation is financial. By building a quality social media account that is thoughtfully curated, creative, and strategically tagged- you’ll be getting exposure to the community for free. Shadow banning is increasing on Instagram as paid exposure has become available through Facebook Adverts. Those who have been victims to a shadow ban believe it is the platform’s way of forcing users to pay for reach.

By connecting with your following through your content, your account’s activity will increase. If you then experience a sudden drop in traffic, likes, or comments, your account may have been Shadow Banned. You account will no longer searchable to users who aren’t already following you-  and you won’t receive exposure from hashtag or username searches.

To learn more about the Shadow Ban on Instagram, how to avoid it, and how to check if your account has been placed on Shadow Ban, check out this article by Benjamin Chacon.

 

 

Content: Perfect Vs. Responsive

In the first post of this series, we looked at the cornerstones to crafting content across any SSM platform that makes you human.

With Instagram, just as in any social media platform, there is no such thing as perfect content.

You may envy accounts where every photo is pristinely staged or cleverly captioned- but your perfect content is responsive content. If you are getting an engagement rate of over 6%, your content is on target.

Instagram is a tool for communicating your brand. Whatever language or visual perimeters it takes to connect with your fans is the content you want to create.

What makes for responsive content on Instagram? Here are four qualities your content MUST have on Instagram if you want to make the most out of this platform:

  1. Be Honest

    Your audience is following your brand because they want to know what it is and who you are. Your content MUST be original and authentic. Don’t send mixed signals by jumping on trends or changing your style thoughtlessly. Commit to your brand and create content that communicates your message.

    Strong brands work. Read why having a strong brand creates small business success here.

  2. Dialogue Oriented/ Process Oriented

    By showing work-in-progress or involving your audience in the creation of upcoming events, you’re inviting them to interact with your brand.

    @happydartist talks here about overcoming the fear of showing incomplete works on Instagram- and how her community fell in love with her work through her work-in-progress posts.

  3. Consistant

    Even more than Facebook or Pinterest, Instagram requires consistency for organic growth and revenue creation. If you are using this platform, commit to releasing content 5-7x per week.

    Beware, though, of smothering your fans’ feed. Posting multiple days per day increases the  risk of post cannibalization. Simply put: multiple posts will split response (one post will ‘cannibalize’ the attention of the other) and reduce the impact of your work

  4. Timing– the BIGGEST secret ingredient for creating successful, responsive content.

    Instagram currently presents content in the order it was posted. Unlike Facebook, which ‘weights’ your business’ content according to the platform’s metrics  and determines your follower’s potential level of interest, for now, Instagram still shows your entire follower base all of your posts.

    To get the best place in your follower’s feed, post when they’re most likely to be browsing. Discover when this is by using an analytics tool and doing a little experimentation with your content.

    Well-timed mediocre posts outperform poorly timed awesome content. Marrying timing and great content together will create the perfect environment for Instagram success.

 

 

Posting To Be Seen.

If you just started your Instagram account- or if your social media management style has been lackadaisical- finding your best time to post is essential to creating momentum on your account.

 

Step One: Sign up for a free analytics service.

I use Iconosquare. I find their paid service wonderful for managing account, but they have a great free two-week trial to get you started.

 

Now put on your social media lab coat and start collecting some data!

 

Step Two: Create a hypothesis.

Write down some guesses on when you imagine your followers are most likely to be browsing on Instagram.  

Think about your market. For a 25-35/yr old market, Instagram is most browsed at the office (think 10am-3pm). For a younger market, weekdays between 10pm-1am might be your best shot.

If you’re a brick-and-mortar based company, experiment first in your location’s time zone.

If you’re an ecommerce platform or an artist, do some searching through your sales history and look for location patterns. Do you ship more product to urban areas? Are they concentrated in a city in particular?

 

Step Three: Post, Post, Post.

For the next two weeks, post two Instagram updates per day.

Don’t worry about post cannibalization at this point – fan loss due to oversaturation. Your fan base will start growing when you have collected the right data and quickly correct for any collateral damage.

Post the first post within a cycled morning range, and the second within a cycled evening range.

    This might look like:

    Day One: 9am; 1pm

    Day Two: 10am, 2pm

    Day Three: 11am, 3pm

    Day Four: Noon, 4pm

    ….etc.

Too much to think about? No worries! Apps like Iconosquare allow you to schedule posts. In an hour, you can gather and create your content, schedule ALL of your posts for the week, and get back to running your business.

The more data you have, the more accurate your study will be. I recommend 10-14 days before looking at your data.

 

Step Four: Look at your App’s Analytics.

Iconosquare has a section simply titled “Best Time to Post”.

That’s it. If you have a few different times that seem to be getting good response, you may not have a large enough following to really determine the best time to post. Continue to post once per day, but mix up your scheduled content to fit the times you’ve discovered base on your experiment.

Look at your data at least once a month or every 1,000 followers to hone your timing as your reach grows.

 

 

A Hashtag Secret

Hashtags are how Instagram users search content. Using them well is the best way to introduce your brand to new fans.

There is no perfect way to use them. However, the way you format them, the quantity you use, and the tags you choose will affect the way your brand is accessed and accepted by browsers.

My favorite format for hashtagging is to use them separately below my post caption rather than inline. I feel inline hashtags disrupt the flow of valuable conversational real estate. Their standout color and extra character (“#”) is a visual distraction. But, this is purely subjective. Some freelance artists and entrepreneurs find it difficult to think of good tags to use at the end of their caption and, much like highlighting a textbook, enjoy the ease of tagging important words inline.

Here’s an example of what my preferred spacing looks like:

More Isn’t Better.

The more hashtags used for an Instagram post, the more searchable that post is. By that philosophy, it would make sense that adding an enormous block of tags below each post would be an advantage to increasing your reach.

Not so. Using large amount of hashtags doesn’t lead to organic follower growth. In fact, using too many hashtags can backfire- leading to a greater number of spam or bot followers or priming your account for getting flagged as spam itself.

5-10 highly relevant hashtags will have a better impact than two dozen unfocused tags.

Save yourself the headache of hashtagging every Instagram post with every search term imaginable. Instead, tag smarter on Instagram by choosing hashtags tailored to the individual post and your brand.

When a user searches for a hashtag, most recent posts with that tag are shown first with older posts following. Increase your staying power- and your brand’s uniqueness- by using tags with a lesser popularity.

Instagram makes this easy by showing how many posts are currently associated with a hashtag as you type it. Hashtags with 80+ million posts associated are popular, but may not connect you with focused fans.

Finding solid fans is as simple as using specific hashtags- for example, look at this Maeva’s Coffee post. By choosing #coffeeshop, I’m more likely to reach followers who enjoy coffee at coffeeshops rather than choosing the more general hashtag of #coffee, which could include someone drinking instant stuff from a machine at home. Plus #coffeeshop has been used around 3mil x while #coffee has been used around 70mil x. This means a post with the hashtag #coffeeshop is more likely to stay within the first few finger scrolls of a search for the next couple of days. 

 

Focus On Your Market

The second secret to growing your following on Instagram is knowing your brand focus- and consistently tailoring your tags towards that market.

For instance, Maeva’s is a community brick and mortar location, not a franchise or a shop with product accessible multinationally. For that reason, I often use region specific hashtags such as #altonillinois, #stl, or even #midwest.

Also, Maeva’s Coffee is a Latin/Central/South American inspired shop with ties to those cultures. Instagram is an incredible platform for accessing international and immigrant communities, with over 300 million users residing outside of the United States. Using relevant Spanish hashtags and Spanish captions has allowed us to reach out and welcome representatives of those cultures in our local community…as well as connect with coffee lovers in the most coffee centric regions of the world.


Crafting authentic content, a little data analysis, and a bit of hashtag strategy is 90% of what you need to see success on Instagram. The ease of access to an incredible community of users, the app’s aesthetic and authenticity, and the variety of free/inexpensive tools available to make it convenient makes Instagram my top choice for social media platform.

Interested in more social media tips? Watch for the upcoming post in this Social Smart series on combining multiple platforms to create an amazing social media strategy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to install YARA and write basic YARA rules to identify malware

YARA is described as “The pattern matching Swiss knife for malware researchers (and everyone else)”. Think of it as like grep, but instead of matching based on one pattern, YARA matches based on a set of rules, with each rule capable of  containing multiple patterns, and complex condition logic for further refining matches. It’s a very useful tool. Let’s go over some practical examples of how to use it.

Installing YARA

Official Windows binaries can be found here. Unfortunately, as of the time of this writing, practically every Linux distribution’s repository contains an out-of-date version of YARA that has one or more security vulnerabilities. Follow the instructions below to compile and install the latest release with all features enabled on a Debain or Ubuntu system. The steps should be similar in other Linux distributions.

Download the source code .tar.gz for the latest stable release.

Install the dependencies

sudo apt-get install -y automake libtool make gcc flex bison libssl-dev libjansson-dev libmagic-dev

Build the project

tar -zxf v3.9.0.tar.gz
rm v3.9.0
cd yara-3.9.0
./bootstrap.sh
./configure --with-crypto --enable-profiling --enable-macho --enable-dex --enable-cuckoo --enable-magic --enable-dotnet
make

Install as a Debian package

sudo apt-get install -y checkinstall
sudo apt-get remove -y libyara3 yara python-yara # Remove any existing install from distro repos
sudo checkinstall -y --deldoc=yes

# Cleanup
cd ..
rm -rf yara-3.9.0/

Install the Python package

sudo apt-get install -y python-pip python3-pip
sudo -H pip install -U pip
sudo -H pip3 install -U pip
sudo -H pip install -U git+https://github.com/VirusTotal/yara-python@3.9.0
sudo -H pip3 install -U git+https://github.com/VirusTotal/yara-python@3.9.0

Introduction to YARA rules

Let’s start by looking at the different components that can be part of a rule.

At a minimum, a rule must have a name, and a condition. The simplest possible rule is:

rule dummy { condition: false }

That rule does nothing. Inversely, this rule matches on anything:

rule dummy { condition: true }

Here’s a slightly more useful example that will match on any file over 500 KB:

rule over_500kb {condition: filesize > 500KB}

Most often though, you’ll write rules with a meta section, a strings section, and a condition section:

rule silent_banker : banker {
 
meta:
  description = "This is just an example"
  threat_level = 3
  in_the_wild = true
 
strings:
   $a = {6A 40 68 00 30 00 00 6A 14 8D 91}
   $b = {8D 4D B0 2B C1 83 C0 27 99 6A 4E 59 F7 F9}
   $c = "UVODFRYSIHLNWPEJXQZAKCBGMT"
 
condition:
  all of them
}

The : after the rule name indicates the start of a list of rule tags, which are separated by spaces. These tags are not used frequently, but you should be aware that they exist. C-style comments can be used anywhere.

The meta section consists of a set of arbitrary key-value pairs that can be used to describe the rule, and/or the type of content that it matches. Meta values can be strings, integers, decimals, or booleans. The meta values can be viewed by the application that is using YARA when a match occurs.

The strings section defines variables as content to be matched. These can be:

  • Hexadecimal byte patterns (in {}, with support for wildcards and jumps). Often used to identify unique code, such as an unpacking mechanism
  • Text strings
  • Regular expressions (between //)

The condition section is where the true power an flexibility of YARA can be found. Here are a few common example condition statements

Condition Meaning
any of them The rule will match on anything containing any of the strings defined in the rule
all of them The rule will only match if all of the defined strings are in the content
3 of them The rule will match anything containing at least three of the defined strings
$a and 3 of ($s*)  Match content that contains string $a and at least three strings whose variable begins with $s

Practical examples

It would be very useful to check the attachments of suspected phishing emails reported to you by your users. PDF attachments with a link to a phishing site have become a common tactic, because many email gateways still do not check URLs in attached files. This rule checks for links in PDFs:

rule pdf_1.7_contains_link {

meta:
  author = "Sean Whalen"
  last_updated = "2017-06-08"
  tlp = "white"
  category = "informational"
  confidence = "high"
  description = "A PDFv1.7 that contains a link or external content"

strings:
  $pdf_magic = {25 50 44 46}
  $s_anchor_tag = "

The first part of the condition checks if the first few bytes of the file match the magic numbers (list here) for a PDF, allowing the rule to quickly disregard anything that isn’t a PDF. Filters like these can greatly increase speed when scanning a large amount of data. The second part of the condition strings whose variable begins with $s.

$s_uri is a regular expression that matches any URI/URL in parenthesis, which will match the PDF standard for URI actions and URLs in forms.

$s_anchor_tag matches any HTML anchor tag, which some PDF converters may leave an a document converted from HTML.

The ascii, wide , and nocase keywords tell YARA to search for ASCII and wide strings, and to be case-insensitive. By default, it will only search for ASCII strings, including substrings, and it will be case-sensitive. There are many more keywords for matching other kinds of strings.

But lots of legitimate PDFs (brochures, invoices, etc) contain links, so a better indicator of badness may be a PDF that contains a single link. Unfortunately, most PDF generators like Microsoft Office will save the PDF as multiple “versions”  in the same file, so we should give the rule a little flexibility, and allow for up to two URIs in a PDF.

rule pdf_1.7_contains_few_links {

meta:
  author = "Sean Whalen"
  last_updated = "2017-06-08"
  tlp = "white"
  category = "malicious"
  confidence = "medium"
  killchain_phase = "exploit"
  description = "A PDFv1.7 that contains one or two links - a common phishing tactic"

strings:
  $pdf_magic = {25 50 44 46}
  $s_anchor_tag = " 0 and #s_uri < 3))
}

It’s good to keep both of these rules, that way you have an informational one that should always match on any PDF with any number of links, and another that provides a higher confidence of badness.

Also, these rules only match PDFs with links that were generated according to the latest PDF standard (1.7). Any suggestions for older versions are appreciated.

Viewing strings in a file

To view a list of strings in a file, simply run the strings command on a Linux/MacOS/BSD or other UNIX-like system. You can pipe the output to less to view it one page at a time. For example:

strings rat.exe | less

Strings vs Bytes

the strings section in YARA rules can be made up of any combination of strings, bytes, and regular expressions. Most YARA rules are made up entirely of strings. These kinds of rules are relatively simple to write, but it is also very easy for malware authors to change or obscure strings in order to avoid detection in future builds. If a sample has few or no usable strings, that sample has likely been packed, meaning that any strings are built or decoded at runtime. YARA can scan processes, and you probably would have better luck scanning active memory for strings, but that won’t help if your goal is to identify samples at rest.

Bytes in YARA are represented as hexadecimal strings, and can include wildcards and/or jumps. Bytes can be used to identify specific variations of code, such as a unique method of unpacking. Writing signatures based on bytes requires some knowledge of assembly, APIs provided by the OS, and specialized software.

IDA Pro is the industry standard platform for software reverse engineering. It is also very expensive. Currently, a the Starter Edition of IDA (which can only process 32 bit files) for one named user, along with the X86 Hex-Rays decompiler costs about $2,700. If you want to be able to decompile x86 AMD64 files, the cost is about $4,400 for IDA Pro, x86, and x64 compilers for one named user. Fortunately, a couple open source alternatives exist.

In early 2019, the NSA released an open source Software Reverse Engineering (SRE) suite called Ghidra. It includes a decomplier, and a very simillar feel to IDA.

The open source Radare Framework provides many of the same features of IDA (and a few more) for free, under a GNU GPL license. Radare does not currently have a decomplier though.

If you’re new to assembly, check out this Crash Course in x86 Assembly for Reverse Engineers.

Testing YARA rules

To test your rules against some sample files, run a command like this:

yara -rs dev/yararules/files.yar samples/pdf

Where dev/yararules/files.yar is the path to the file containing your rules and samples/pdf is the path to a directory containing sample files to test against. This will output a list of files matches, and the strings that make up each match.

To find samples that do not match your rules, run a command like this:

yara -rn dev/yararules/files.yar samples/pdf

Note that this will give a a result for each rule that each file does not match. Use grep to narrow this down. For example, if you only wanted to see the results for rules with a name that contains pdf_, you could run:

yara -rs dev/yararules/files.yar samples/pdf | grep pdf_

It’s good practice to keep your rule names consistent. That makes testing much easier.

Generating rules

yarGen is an open source utility by Florian Roth that generates YARA rules for a given set of samples. It’s not magic, and generally won’t do a better than writing a rule manually. But, if you are mostly making rules out of strings rather than bytes, it can give you a great starting point to tweak and tune into a better rule. I use yarGen when I’ve some across a set of samples that I know are related, but have seemingly very different strings.

yarGen will generate many different rules for a given set of files, and the condition for each rule will likely be very narrow (i.e. all of them). I usually combine these rules based on what I suspect are the most reliable strings, and group the strings as needed in the condition statement.

You can download yarGen from its GitHub repository.

Learning more

Take some time to review the comprehensive official documentation for YARA. There, you will find complete details on writing rules, and using the command-line program, the Python API, and the C API.

Once you feel comfortable working with YARA, consider joining the YARA Exchange. The Exchange is a very active and helpful group of information security professionals that share rules and tips for writing them. You can even get access to VirusTotal Intelligence for free through the exchange, if your company doesn’t already pay for it.  In return, they only ask that you participate, share with others, and don’t hog the VirusTotal Intelligence monthly quotas that are shared across the whole group.

With VirusTotal Intelligence access, you can set up alerts to notify you when samples are uploaded to VirusTotal that match your YARA rules, without using any quotas. It’s a fantastic way to stress test your rules (your inbox/alert queue will fill up very quickly if you match false-positives), and for identifying new samples, and new waves of attacks. Quotas are used for searching, downloading, and using Retro Hunt on VirusTotal Intelligence. Retro Hunt takes a set of YARA rules, runs a scan on about the last three months of all files that were uploaded to VirusTotal (literally terabytes of data), and returns a list of file hashes that matched your rules, and which rules they matched.

Check out this great talk on getting the most out of VirusTotal Intelligence and YARA by Wyatt Roersma at GrrCon 2016:

Books

Other resources

The post How to install YARA and write basic YARA rules to identify malware appeared first on seanthegeek.net.

Custom user mappings in LXD containers

Custom user mappings in LXD containers

LXD logo

Introduction

As you may know, LXD uses unprivileged containers by default.
The difference between an unprivileged container and a privileged one is whether the root user in the container is the “real” root user (uid 0 at the kernel level).

The way unprivileged containers are created is by taking a set of normal UIDs and GIDs from the host, usually at least 65536 of each (to be POSIX compliant) and mapping those into the container.

The most common example and what most LXD users will end up with by default is a map of 65536 UIDs and GIDs, with a host base id of 100000. This means that root in the container (uid 0) will be mapped to the host uid 100000 and uid 65535 in the container will be mapped to uid 165535 on the host. UID/GID 65536 and higher in the container aren’t mapped and will return an error if you attempt to use them.

From a security point of view, that means that anything which is not owned by the users and groups mapped into the container will be inaccessible. Any such resource will show up as being owned by uid/gid “-1” (rendered as 65534 or nobody/nogroup in userspace). It also means that should there be a way to escape the container, even root in the container would find itself with just as much privileges on the host as a nobody user.

LXD does offer a number of options related to unprivileged configuration:

  • Increasing the size of the default uid/gid map
  • Setting up per-container maps
  • Punching holes into the map to expose host users and groups

Increasing the size of the default map

As mentioned above, in most cases, LXD will have a default map that’s made of 65536 uids/gids.

In most cases you won’t have to change that. There are however a few cases where you may have to:

  • You need access to uid/gid higher than 65535.
    This is most common when using network authentication inside of your containers.
  • You want to use per-container maps.
    In which case you’ll need 65536 available uid/gid per container.
  • You want to punch some holes in your container’s map and need access to host uids/gids.

The default map is usually controlled by the “shadow” set of utilities and files. On systems where that’s the case, the “/etc/subuid” and “/etc/subgid” files are used to configure those maps.

On systems that do not have a recent enough version of the “shadow” package. LXD will assume that it doesn’t have to share uid/gid ranges with anything else and will therefore assume control of a billion uids and gids, starting at the host uid/gid 100000.

But the common case, is a system with a recent version of shadow.
An example of what the configuration may look like is:

stgraber@castiana:~$ cat /etc/subuid
lxd:100000:65536
root:100000:65536

stgraber@castiana:~$ cat /etc/subgid
lxd:100000:65536
root:100000:65536

The maps for “lxd” and “root” should always be kept in sync. LXD itself is restricted by the “root” allocation. The “lxd” entry is used to track what needs to be removed if LXD is uninstalled.

Now if you want to increase the size of the map available to LXD. Simply edit both of the files and bump the last value from 65536 to whatever size you need. I tend to bump it to a billion just so I don’t ever have to think about it again:

stgraber@castiana:~$ cat /etc/subuid
lxd:100000:1000000000
root:100000:1000000000

stgraber@castiana:~$ cat /etc/subgid
lxd:100000:1000000000
root:100000:100000000

After altering those files, you need to restart LXD to have it detect the new map:

root@vorash:~# systemctl restart lxd
root@vorash:~# cat /var/log/lxd/lxd.log
lvl=info msg="LXD 2.14 is starting in normal mode" path=/var/lib/lxd t=2017-06-14T21:21:13+0000
lvl=warn msg="CGroup memory swap accounting is disabled, swap limits will be ignored." t=2017-06-14T21:21:13+0000
lvl=info msg="Kernel uid/gid map:" t=2017-06-14T21:21:13+0000
lvl=info msg=" - u 0 0 4294967295" t=2017-06-14T21:21:13+0000
lvl=info msg=" - g 0 0 4294967295" t=2017-06-14T21:21:13+0000
lvl=info msg="Configured LXD uid/gid map:" t=2017-06-14T21:21:13+0000
lvl=info msg=" - u 0 1000000 1000000000" t=2017-06-14T21:21:13+0000
lvl=info msg=" - g 0 1000000 1000000000" t=2017-06-14T21:21:13+0000
lvl=info msg="Connecting to a remote simplestreams server" t=2017-06-14T21:21:13+0000
lvl=info msg="Expiring log files" t=2017-06-14T21:21:13+0000
lvl=info msg="Done expiring log files" t=2017-06-14T21:21:13+0000
lvl=info msg="Starting /dev/lxd handler" t=2017-06-14T21:21:13+0000
lvl=info msg="LXD is socket activated" t=2017-06-14T21:21:13+0000
lvl=info msg="REST API daemon:" t=2017-06-14T21:21:13+0000
lvl=info msg=" - binding Unix socket" socket=/var/lib/lxd/unix.socket t=2017-06-14T21:21:13+0000
lvl=info msg=" - binding TCP socket" socket=[::]:8443 t=2017-06-14T21:21:13+0000
lvl=info msg="Pruning expired images" t=2017-06-14T21:21:13+0000
lvl=info msg="Updating images" t=2017-06-14T21:21:13+0000
lvl=info msg="Done pruning expired images" t=2017-06-14T21:21:13+0000
lvl=info msg="Done updating images" t=2017-06-14T21:21:13+0000
root@vorash:~#

As you can see, the configured map is logged at LXD startup and can be used to confirm that the reconfiguration worked as expected.

You’ll then need to restart your containers to have them start using your newly expanded map.

Per container maps

Provided that you have a sufficient amount of uid/gid allocated to LXD, you can configure your containers to use their own, non-overlapping allocation of uids and gids.

This can be useful for two reasons:

  1. You are running software which alters kernel resource ulimits.
    Those user-specific limits are tied to a kernel uid and will cross container boundaries leading to hard to debug issues where one container can perform an action but all others are then unable to do the same.
  2. You want to know that should there be a way for someone in one of your containers to somehow get access to the host that they still won’t be able to access or interact with any of the other containers.

The main downsides to using this feature are:

  • It’s somewhat wasteful with using 65536 uids and gids per container.
    That being said, you’d still be able to run over 60000 isolated containers before running out of system uids and gids.
  • It’s effectively impossible to share storage between two isolated containers as everything written by one will be seen as -1 by the other. There is ongoing work around virtual filesystems in the kernel that will eventually let us get rid of that limitation.

To have a container use its own distinct map, simply run:

stgraber@castiana:~$ lxc config set test security.idmap.isolated true
stgraber@castiana:~$ lxc restart test
stgraber@castiana:~$ lxc config get test volatile.last_state.idmap
[{"Isuid":true,"Isgid":false,"Hostid":165536,"Nsid":0,"Maprange":65536},{"Isuid":false,"Isgid":true,"Hostid":165536,"Nsid":0,"Maprange":65536}]

The restart step is needed to have LXD remap the entire filesystem of the container to its new map.
Note that this step will take a varying amount of time depending on the number of files in the container and the speed of your storage.

As can be seen above, after restart, the container is shown to have its own map of 65536 uids/gids.

If you want LXD to allocate more than the default 65536 uids/gids to an isolated container, you can bump the size of the allocation with:

stgraber@castiana:~$ lxc config set test security.idmap.size 200000
stgraber@castiana:~$ lxc restart test
stgraber@castiana:~$ lxc config get test volatile.last_state.idmap
[{"Isuid":true,"Isgid":false,"Hostid":165536,"Nsid":0,"Maprange":200000},{"Isuid":false,"Isgid":true,"Hostid":165536,"Nsid":0,"Maprange":200000}]

If you’re trying to allocate more uids/gids than are left in LXD’s allocation, LXD will let you know:

stgraber@castiana:~$ lxc config set test security.idmap.size 2000000000
error: Not enough uid/gid available for the container.

Direct user/group mapping

The fact that all uids/gids in an unprivileged container are mapped to a normally unused range on the host means that sharing of data between host and container is effectively impossible.

Now, what if you want to share your user’s home directory with a container?

The obvious answer to that is to define a new “disk” entry in LXD which passes your home directory to the container:

stgraber@castiana:~$ lxc config device add test home disk source=/home/stgraber path=/home/ubuntu
Device home added to test

So that was pretty easy, but did it work?

stgraber@castiana:~$ lxc exec test -- bash
root@test:~# ls -lh /home/
total 529K
drwx--x--x 45 nobody nogroup 84 Jun 14 20:06 ubuntu

No. The mount is clearly there, but it’s completely inaccessible to the container.
To fix that, we need to take a few extra steps:

  • Allow LXD’s use of our user uid and gid
  • Restart LXD to have it load the new map
  • Set a custom map for our container
  • Restart the container to have the new map apply
stgraber@castiana:~$ printf "lxd:$(id -u):1nroot:$(id -u):1n" | sudo tee -a /etc/subuid
lxd:201105:1
root:201105:1

stgraber@castiana:~$ printf "lxd:$(id -g):1nroot:$(id -g):1n" | sudo tee -a /etc/subgid
lxd:200512:1
root:200512:1

stgraber@castiana:~$ sudo systemctl restart lxd

stgraber@castiana:~$ printf "uid $(id -u) 1000ngid $(id -g) 1000" | lxc config set test raw.idmap -

stgraber@castiana:~$ lxc restart test

At which point, things should be working in the container:

stgraber@castiana:~$ lxc exec test -- su ubuntu -l
ubuntu@test:~$ ls -lh
total 119K
drwxr-xr-x 5  ubuntu ubuntu 8 Feb 18 2016 data
drwxr-x--- 4  ubuntu ubuntu 6 Jun 13 17:05 Desktop
drwxr-xr-x 3  ubuntu ubuntu 28 Jun 13 20:09 Downloads
drwx------ 84 ubuntu ubuntu 84 Sep 14 2016 Maildir
drwxr-xr-x 4  ubuntu ubuntu 4 May 20 15:38 snap
ubuntu@test:~$ 

Conclusion

User namespaces, the kernel feature that makes those uid/gid mappings possible is a very powerful tool which finally made containers on Linux safe by design. It is however not the easiest thing to wrap your head around and all of that uid/gid map math can quickly become a major issue.

In LXD we’ve tried to expose just enough of those underlying features to be useful to our users while doing the actual mapping math internally. This makes things like the direct user/group mapping above significantly easier than it otherwise would be.

Going forward, we’re very interested in some of the work around uid/gid remapping at the filesystem level, this would let us decouple the on-disk user/group map from that used for processes, making it possible to share data between differently mapped containers and alter the various maps without needing to also remap the entire filesystem.

Extra information

The main LXD website is at: https://linuxcontainers.org/lxd
Development happens on Github at: https://github.com/lxc/lxd
Discussion forun: https://discuss.linuxcontainers.org
Mailing-list support happens on: https://lists.linuxcontainers.org
IRC support happens in: #lxcontainers on irc.freenode.net
Try LXD online: https://linuxcontainers.org/lxd/try-it

Some useful switches for “du – disk usage”

As we know, du command is used to check the disk usage of files and folders under Linux system. There are a lot of switches available for du among which here I am trying to explain the most common switches used.

As you know, one can easily checks the switches available for du by looking at the man page for du or by executing the command du –help .

Here I am trying to provide some basic guidelines about commonly used switches so that you can use them whenever in need.

Most commonly used form

# du -sch

h -> human readable format.
c -> display a total size usage at the end of result.
s -> display total size of a file or total size of all files in a directory.

Usage:

root@server [/home/abl]# du -s /home/abl
213932 /home/abl
root@server [/home/abl]# du -sh /home/abl
209M /home/abl
root@server [/home/abl]# du -sch /home/abl
209M /home/abl
209M total

Listing all files and directories, switch “a”

# du -ah

a -> this switch displays disk usage of all individual files and directories.

Usage:

root@server [/home/abl/etc]# du -ah /home/abl/etc | tail
0 /home/abl/etc/wis.com/quota
4.0K /home/abl/etc/wis.com
0 /home/abl/etc/ftpquota
0 /home/abl/etc/quota
4.0K /home/abl/etc/cacheid
0 /home/abl/etc/ablo.com/passwd
0 /home/abl/etc/ablo.com/shadow
0 /home/abl/etc/ablo.com/quota
4.0K /home/abl/etc/ablo.com
28K /home/abl/etc

Exclude something from the command output, using –exclude

# du –exclude

-–exclude -> This switch will avoid the particular file name that we have mentioned.
In the below example du -ah avoid files ending with .txt (–exclude=”*.txt”)

 root@server [/home/abl/etc]# du -ah –exclude=”quota” /home/abl/etc | tail
4.0K /home/abl/etc/wis.abl.com
0 /home/abl/etc/wis.com/passwd
0 /home/abl/etc/wis.com/shadow
4.0K /home/abl/etc/wis.com
0 /home/abl/etc/ftpquota
4.0K /home/abl/etc/cacheid
0 /home/abl/etc/abl.com/passwd
0 /home/abl/etc/ablogsite.com/shadow
4.0K /home/abl/etc/ablogsite.com
28K /home/abl/etc

Display modification time of files/folders, using –time

# du –time

–time ->This option shows the modification date and time of the file/directories.

root@server [/home/user/folder]# du -sch –time *
1.8M    2017-05-19 00:32    Folder 1
248M    2017-05-06 07:35   Folder 2
40K       2016-12-15 15:05   Folder 3
32K       2017-04-27 15:46   File.pdf
250M    2017-05-19 00:32    total

This switches should help you get the disk usage of the files in any directory.

There are few other options for du which are worth trying. You can view its details checking the man page of du.

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Moving a WordPress Site to the Root Directory

Moving a WordPress Site to the Root Directory

Moving a WordPress Site to the Root Directory 4There are a couple of common reasons people will want to move their WordPress website from a directory to the root directory.  The most common we’ve seen are:

  1. They installed WordPress in Softaculous’ default /wp directory, and don’t want to have to setup a forwarder for their website.
  2. They developed their site in a directory so that their website would not be offline or interfered with and now want to replace their existing site with the WordPress site.

While you can use the Duplicator plugin to create a zip archive of your website and then restore it in the root, there really is no need to create a large file to download and then re-upload.  The advantage of this is the plugin will rename all of the URLs that will need to be updated.  Disadvantage however is it is much slower, and potentially creates a very large file you will need to download and then re-upload.

Here’s how to do the move without the plugin:

1 – Backup Your Site

Before doing the move, to be safe, we recommend you use the backup wizard to create a backup of your home directory and MySQL database.  The backup Wizard will download the two backup files to your local hard drive.

  • Log in for your domain and open your cPanel
  • Click on Backup Wizard in the Files section
  • Click Backup, and then Home Directory and MySql Database

2 – Remove Old Files from the Root Directory

You can do this in a number of ways, deleting the files or moving them to a directory called something like “old_site”.

  • It is important that you delete or move the file called index.htm or index.html.  WordPress uses a file named index.php as its starting index file.  Most web servers, including ours, will load the html file before the php file.
  • Make certain there are no files in the root directory that would have the same name as any files that are in the directory where your WordPress website is currently.
  • If your WordPress site is currently using a caching plugin, deactivate the plugin and remove any cached files.

3 – Update WordPress’ Target Address

Log into your WordPress dashboard, and go to Settings > General, and update the target WordPress Address and Site Address so that the directory is removed.Moving a WordPress Site to the Root Directory 5

When you click the Save button, you will immediately see a 404 Not Found error page.  Do not ba alarmed, that is normal.  You will be able to log in once you move your files in the next step.

4 – Move the Files

Using either FTP or the File Manager, you’re going to move the files from the directory WordPress is in to the root directory for your website.

Using FTP

Connect to your site using your usual FTP program (FileZilla shown here).  You should be connected with the /public_html directory as the current directory.  In our example, your computer’s file system is in the window on the left, and the server’s on the right.

  • On the server’s side, double click on the directory where the WordPress site is.
  • Click the very top file, scroll to the very bottom, and shift-click to select all of the files.
  • Drag and drop the files on the top icon which shows a yellow folder followed by two dots (..).
    Moving a WordPress Site to the Root Directory 6

Using the cPanel’s File Manager

  • Open up the cPanel for your domain, and click the File Manager icon in the FILES section of cPanel.
  • On the left column, click the plus sign next to public_html.  This will show you on the left column what directories are in the root public_html folder.
  • Click on the directory name on the left column where WordPress is installed.
  • Select the upper most directory on the right window, and shift-click the bottom most file so all files and directories are highlighted.
  • Click Move on the top menu bar
  • A window will pop up.  Delete the directory name so only /public_html/ is displayed, and click the Move Files button.

Moving a WordPress Site to the Root Directory 7

5 – Update Permalinks

You now need to log in again to the WordPress dashboard.  Enter in your domain name followed by /wp-admin.  The final step in moving your site is to update the permalinks for your website.  Log into your WordPress dashboard, and navigate to Settings > Permalinks.  Click on Plain, and then the blue Save Changes button.  Once this has been saved, your site will now be fully functional.  It is highly recommended once you’ve completed this step, you update your permalinks again to “Post name” and click the Save Changes button again.  This makes your URLs more readable, and better for indexing by search engines.

Moving a WordPress Site to the Root Directory 8

6 – Setup 301 Forwarding

If there are external links or your site has already been searched and ranked by search engines, you’ll want to setup forwarding with the 301 redirect (permanent redirection) so that you can preserver your existing search engine rankings.  The redirection will also ensure anyone that’s linked to your old site’s location will still be able to find you.

  • On the cPanel, click on Redirects in the Domains section
  • Choose 301 option
  • Enter in the directory where WordPress was installed
  • Type in your domain name where WordPress has been moved to and click the blue Add button.

Moving a WordPress Site to the Root Directory 9