Make a Linux LiveUSB without Unetbootin

Unetbootin has been giving me issues lately. After starting up my newly-burned Antergos LiveUSB on a testbed, the system halted with a weird error as it was mounting the drive:

[    8.755116] FAT-fs (sdb1): IO charset iso8859-1 not found
mount: wrong fs type, bad option, bad superblock on /dev/sdb1,
       missing codepage or helper program, or other error

       In some cases useful info is found in syslog - try
       dmesg | tail or so
ERROR; Failed to mount '/dev/disk/by-label/ANTERGOS'
   Falling back to interactive prompt
   You can try to fix the problem manually, log out when you are finished
sh: can't access tty: job control turned off
[rootfs /]#

Very, very weird. There was little else I could do that wouldn’t result in an instant kernel panic. Since I was testing an unstable pre-release image, I decided to boot into Windows, deep format the drive as FAT32, and use Unetbootin to burn an older stable copy of Antergos that I knew worked.

Unetbootin and formatting process

I booted it up, and to my surprise, I came up with the same error again! I tried using LiLi instead, but it still didn’t work. I even tested my images with VirtualBox to check if they were clean, and sure enough, they were. Frustrated, I wrote down the error and Googled it. It seems to be a particularly nasty bug with Unetbootin that has apparently affected others.

I decided to write the ISO directly to the flash drive without using Unetbootin nor LiLi as my middle-man. Let’s get our hands dirty in the terminal.

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Manually upgrading Debian & friends to a newer kernel

CrunchBang 11 Kernel Upgrade Offline

After nearly a year and a half of using Arch Linux as my primary desktop distribution for my desktop and its more user-friendly cousin, Manjaro, for my laptop, I ran into problems when installing a copy of VMware Workstation 9.

The .bundle installer would run for a while and mysteriously fail, leaving me with a broken VMware daemon. After some digging around, I learned that VMware Workstation depends on a Debian-like environment (a System V-style init, for starters) and getting it to work on Arch would require quite a bit of elbow grease before using it.

Being short on time, I decided to get a lightweight Debian installed on my desktop for the purposes of installing and using VMware. For me, CrunchBang 11 “Waldorf” (aka #!) was a fast, configurable, and attractive choice (I am a sucker for Flux/OpenBox distros).

Unfortunately, #! is based on the x86-64 Debian stable (Wheezy, at this time of writing) and my motherboard uses the new Haswell Z87 chipset and UEFI. Ugh. I had issues right off the bat. My Logitech M705 and K320 crash-banged (see what I did there?) while it booted and spat out the error:

logitech-djreceiver: probe of 0003:046D:C52B.0009 failed with error -32

Not good, but plugging in a wired mouse and keyboard worked around this problem. The rest of my system wasn’t so lucky. #! could not recognize the new Haswell microcode changes and gave me more errors. Audio under ALSA was glitchy. Worst of all, neither of my dual Gigabit Ethernet NICs on my motherboard worked (didn’t show up on ifconfig), so I couldn’t go online to update my kernel image and firmware. I decided to download the necessary packages on my laptop, bring ’em on over to my desktop the old-fashioned way and do the upgrade manually.

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Kali Linux: A better BackTrack?

Kali Linux 1.0 in action

BackTrack Linux was and still is reputedly one of the best security-oriented Live Linux distributions out there, for both offensive and defensive purposes. Packed with tools and affirmed by near-universal acclaim, the veteran BackTrack has seen a whopping 7+ years of active development and explosive community growth.

Originally based on a merger of two earlier established distros, the Slax-based WHAX (formerly Whoppix) and a Knoppix-based LiveCD named Auditor Security Collection, BackTrack saw a switch to an Ubuntu-based system during its later life, mostly to benefit from its Aptitude package management system and wide driver compatibility. But now, faced with an aging tool management architecture for its penetration testing tools, parent company Offensive Security wants to try something new.

Enter Kali Linux. First announced and finalized just a month ago in March 2013, Kali aims to be a complete restructuring and replacing of BackTrack from the software perspective while keeping the philosophy, community, penetration testing options, and even much of the branding intact.

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Linux Kernel 3.1 has arrived!

Tux, the Linux mascotJust this morning, Linus Torvalds released the Linux kernel 3.1 into the mainline branch. This was merely a few days after Linux kernel 3.0 hit the Internet. Apparently the new version numbering scheme is doing its job well. Still this release has been relatively silent and without much fanfare, as neither Linus or Kernel.org have published any announcements or posted on their mailing list yet.

Changes

The current lack of publicity in this version does not mean that there is nothing nice in this new release. There have been a plethora of new improvements whipped up in this batch of the kernel. Here are a few highlights:

  1. Open source graphics driver improvements
    • This is an epic win for GNU/Linux! Notable GPU fixes and speedups include the buggy Ivy Bridge, Intel GMA 500, Nouveau, and ATI drivers, among others.
  2. Filesystem usage
  3. Dynamic Writeback Throttling
    •  “Writeback” is when programs copy data from RAM and write it to your hard disk. To keep busy programs from overwriting their own RAM data, “context throttling” comes in handy. Throttling is telling a process or two to not create any new data until the current data has been copied to disk (hint: think of a street crossing guard).
    • Unfortunately, the older writeback was not very mindful of the filesystem dutifully tidying up your hard disk, and would sometimes interfere with its cleanup work and corrupt its structure. The new writeback system can now intelligently check when the filesystem is busy and adjust its throttling habits accordingly, keeping your hard disk clean and boosting performance.
  4. OpenRISC support
    • Yay! OpenRISC is a project by the OpenCores organization aimed at creating a modern computing CPU platform based upon the classic RISC, fully licensed under the GNU LGPL License, and now Linux can boot on it. I’m not surprised, as Linux can be made to run on basically anything. 🙂
  5. Wiimote Controller support
    • Finally, the Wii remote works! The driver has been around for a while, but it has now been added to the official kernel repositories.

More Information

To see a full description of the new Linux kernel 3.1 fixes and improvements, I’d recommend you visit this page at KernelNewbies.org. It explains the rather cryptic changelog in a well-organized, plain English wiki page. Now, all that is left is to wait for Linux kernel version 3.2, which (unsurprisingly, given the new warp-speed version numbering scheme) is already in the works…

Honeyd: Your own virtual honeypot

Featured image: “DEFCON In Action #2” by Ambrosia Software

HoneyD Logo
Today, I will discuss a very interesting tool called Honeyd (pronounced “honey-dee” or “honey-daemon“). It is a powerful virtual honeypot tool written by Niels Provos and released as open source under the GNU General Public License v2.0, as part of the Honeynet Project. It runs on many Linux distributions and BSD’s.

A honeypot is a public or private computer that is intentionally left insecure, unpatched, without an anti-virus or firewall, etc. which encourages malicious hackers to attack it for behavioral analysis or for spamtrapping. This is a perfect tool for catching potential black-hat network intruders or spammers and monitoring their behavior. If you like, you can even build a massive open “playground”, giving any hacker (good or bad) a testbed to develop their skills and put their knowledge and techniques to the test without disrupting others.

If you have the cash, you can up multiple honeypots in your home or workplace, which act as convincing “decoy machines” that can help protect your legitimate computers from crackers. Networks like these are called honeynets.

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Minimal Linux distros for the Ubuntu refugee

Fed up with Ubuntu? Image from Wikipedia.
Fed up with Ubuntu?

I’ve seen many people get frustrated with Ubuntu’s new direction in terms of its user experience, its recently worsening speediness, and its mixed-bag Unity interface. I was one of them! When I first tried Ubuntu back in 2008 (version 8.04 LTS), it ran like a dream on my shoddy 1.6GHz, 1GB DDR2 RAM, Windows Vista laptop. I loved GNU/Linux’s ease of use, efficiency, and its immunity to virtually all known malware. With each release, Ubuntu seemed to get better and better, with a slicker interface, better driver support, bugfixes, and a more diverse package repository every time.

When version 10.04 LTS was released, that’s when the shit hit the fan for me. I liked its new “Ambience” theme and I was enthusiastic about the improved Linux kernel release.

Later on, problems started cropping up. My wireless drivers broke down unexpectedly, 2D/3D acceleration performance was worsening on my integrated Intel GMA 965, the interface was getting increasingly sluggish, boot times were gradually lengthening, and despite my constant config file tweaking and fine tuning, my frail laptop eventually sank into a dependency hell.

I tried out Kubuntu instead for a while, but I didn’t like KDE, so I wiped it soon after. I tried Xubuntu, and while it helped speed up my machine a little, I couldn’t seem to get used to Xfce and its little quirks either, so that distribution was out the window as well.

Ubuntu version 10.10, however, was a far better performer on my laptop than 10.04, and with some more command-line knowledge and some system administration experience under my belt, I managed to keep Ubuntu chugging along for a long, long time on my weak laptop hardware. Those were reasonably happier days, and my programming experience flourished.

By then, I now had a fully custom-built desktop with a Core 2 Duo, 2GB DDR2 RAM, which could run Ubuntu a lot better than my laptop, so I migrated my data there. Still, I longed for an alternative distribution that would run more efficiently on my old lappy.

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A List of Ethical Hacking Tools: Part 2

Well, I decided to respond to part 1 of this series with a little shell script which automatically grabs a suite of ethical (and not-so-ethical) hacking and programming tools freely available on Ubuntu’s software repository listings. This should work fine under Debian or other similar distributions as it uses simple apt-get commands, but I cannot promise anything. I will revise this series of posts periodically to improve the listings and fix scripting bugs as time progresses.

See full source code