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More tips to freedom on a restricted computer environment

Half a year ago, I posted about dealing with a restricted work environment to still be able to roam around as freely as possible. I was then on a not too restricted computer, on a not too restricted network. Notably I was able to use port 22 (or maybe just 443, I already forgot) for SSH tunelling. On my new PC things are harder because SSH is detected and blocked, no matter the port. And I still haven’t managed to set up an HTTPS tunnel, but anyway this is so bustable that I didn’t really try hard. I mean, on my previous network there was obviously no close monitoring (considering how easy it was with PuTTY), while on this one there might be more. Anyway I decided to go for easier goals:

1. Let’s get Firefox

That’s right, my PC is on MSIE 6. The whole company network is. Even the IT guys complain about this, but we’re stuck on Internet Explorer 6 and this might last still a while. There’s no running an installer here, so I went for the portable version, as usual.

First problem: exe blocked

First surprise of the day: no can download an executable file. This must be a new policy since it used to be possible half a year ago. Never mind, let’s get a zipped version… or so I thought. But I found out that it’d been a while since they last released the Portable Fox as a ZIP. Additionnally, although Protable Apps do list their old versions, they only list the exe ones. The easy solution is of course to zip Portable Firefox at home then bring it at home, but the I’m-in-a-hurry solution was to go find a zipped version. After a lot of disappointing searches (a lot of sites refer to portable firefox as a zip file, probably because they haven’t been updated during the last 4 years…), I resigned to get a pretty old version, 1.5.7, from sourceforge.
Edit (June 15): here is the current version (3.6.3) of Firefox Portable as a 7-Zip archive.

Second problem: configuring the connection

Firefox wasn’t able to connect to Internet. Which wasn’t really surprising since I knew my company requires us to go through a proxy. The problem was: how to find informations about that proxy?
In Internet options? → They’re hidden.
Use Firefox’s option “use the same proxy settings as MSIE”? → Should work but isn’t available in Firefox 1.5.
In the registry? → Good idea, but then how to launch regedit?
The run menu is disabled (Windows key+R returns an error), but there’s a cheap and easy workaround: batch files. Create a new text file, put regeditin it, change the file extension from .txt to .bat and run it. (NB: for the more generic command prompt, do the same replacing regedit with cmd) Now that we’re in the registry, we just need to browse to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Internet Settings (thanks to the manual). In this key, the proxy is stored in the DWORD value ProxyServer, and the exclusion list (Firefox’s “No Proxy for” field) is stored in ProxyOverride.
If you don’t know or can’t figure out by yourself how to use this information to configure Firefox you probably shouldn’t be following this guide. But since I like unreasonable stuff 😀 I’m still pointing you to the direction: go to ToolsOptions, then in GeneralConnection Settings. Then check “Manual proxy configuration”, enter your proxy in the HTTP proxy field, also add the port (that’s the part of the proxy address after the column, e.g. in myproxy.com:80 the port is 80 and the proxy is myproxy.com). Also check “Use this proxy server for all protocols”. Finally, fill the “No Proxy for” field as mentioned earlier. Click OK as many times as needed, and try again to load a website. If it still fails probably you did something wrong, but it’s also possible that your company filters which programs can or can’t connect (firewall…), and then sorry but you’ll have to stick with your corporate browser.

Finally, don’t forget…

…to update Firefox. The update package isn’t an exe file so auto-update should be able to download it. Because of performance issues (I’m, in May 2010, on a Pentium 4 2.8 GHz with 512 MiB of RAM – yes that’s like 7 years old), I chose to stay on Firefox 1.5 (so, 1.5.12), but the updater should be able to update to the latest Firefox version (and the launcher should keep working with it). If you want to stick with an old version, you can still use plenty of old add-ons since addons.mozilla.org, like sourceforge, keeps all older versions. For instance with my 1.5.12 version I installed the good old Littlefox theme, in its 1.7 version.
Edit: I just compared 1.5.12 and 3.6.3 RAM usage: when writing an e-mail in Gmail, 1.5.12 uses around 57MiB while 3.6.3 uses around 81MiB. So, it’s not that huge in absolute but it’s still a 42% relative increase.

2. Let’s get more portable stuff

In my previous tips to freedom I remained quite unspecific about the portable apps because there are so many of them. This time I’ll list a few chosen for their availability as a zipped (non executable) package (either an official package or one packed by myself for future use).

Opera

Unlike Firefox Portable, Opera Portable (actually, Opera@USB) is still being actively distributed as a zip version. You can get it there: http://www.opera-usb.com/operausben.htm.

R

Although it’s not distributed as a portable installer, R is natively portable (by this I mean, the installer can’t be run on a restricted computer, but if you just copy/paste an existing installation it will work and be 100% functional). So I simply packed my 2.10.1 installation into an archive. There: http://notepad.patheticcockroach.com/512/r-project-portable/.

Notepad++

The must-have notepad replacement with syntax highlighting for most common languages (notably R, too) is, as of today (version 5.6.8), distributed as a zip that might be usable as a portable version. To be verified… => http://sourceforge.net/projects/notepad-plus/files/. But anyway, here’s Notepad++ Portable 5.6.8 packed as a 7-Zip archive.

Name it!

I’ll add here a few things I pack for myself, but if you request some not too big ones I can do them for you, too.

Posted in privacy, security.


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