Monday, August 02, 2004

Everyone needs a local security exploit like this....

One of the neatest things to be churned out of the free software world in recent years is the Linux live cd, the most famous one being Knoppix. Knoppix is a Linux cd that boots and runs entirely from the cd, making it a great demonstration of what a Linux desktop with KDE can do. Knoppix has spawned a whole genre of Linux distributions. There's Gnoppix, which is more or less the same as Knoppix but with GNOME instead of KDE, there's Mepis (nice!), and PCLinuxOS (the best, IMHO).

It is a wonderful idea for Windows users to keep one of these disks around. If your Windows partition is foobar'ed, you can boot a cd like this, burn your data to cd, and then prepare your machine for your monthly Windows reinstall.

I recently instructed my sister in law over the phone how to use the PCLinuxOS disk I gave her so that she could back up her sizable collection of stuff she's downloaded over the last couple of years, because her computer running Windows XP absolutely friggin' refuses to burn any cds for her. With the use of the Linux live-cd, we were able to get her data off the machine, which is another great use for this technology -- if you're having a problem with a piece of hardware, the problem can be with the hardware itself or with the software that drives it. By running two different operating systems on the same hardware, you can determine if a problem is hardware or software based, which, needless to say, is extremely useful. We were able to determine using this disk that my sister in law's cd burner is a-okay, and doesn't need to be scrapped.

Having said this, these disks are an extremely easy to use local security threat. Anyone who has access to your machine can use these disks to access any of your data, as they completely ignore any security protocols that Windows might put in place to guard your data. The only feasible way to block against this (minor) threat is to put a password on your BIOS, so that the machine won't boot without your say-so.

So, get one, even if you don't plan on using one, because if you're a Windows users, it is quite inevitable that you'll end up needing one.


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