Diary of a Network Geek

The trials and tribulations of a Certified Novell Engineer who's been stranded in Houston, Texas.


iPhone as a Penetration Tool

Filed under: Apple,Linux,News and Current Events,Ooo, shiny...,PERL,Rotten Apples,The Dark Side — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:11 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

No, this is not a post about sexual performance.

I use my iPhone for a surprising variety of things, even at the office.  For around $14, I threw together a suite of network scanning and testing tools that let me get a pretty good look at any network I manage.  But, that’s another post.
Today, I thought I’d bring to your attention a great blog post by Nicholas M. Petty tittled “iPen: Hacking with the iDevice“.  What he’s got is a set of instructions and tools for turning your iPhone, or, presumably, your iPad, into hand-held computer security penetration testing tool.  Yeah, I know, it still sounds dirty when you say “penetration”.  Grow up.

If you’re into security, whether you own an iPhone or not, it’s worth going to take a look at just to see the thought process and methodology.
Now, as much as I love this idea, I probably won’t actually do it myself because the first step is to “jailbreak” your phone and, frankly, as tight as money is and as important as my phone is to me, I can’t afford to have problems with it.  Still, it is an interesting idea, especially considering how many of these little devices are wandering loose out there and how many wifi access point exist out in the world.  I often wonder how secure any of them really are, especially in corporate environments.

Anyway, this should be something for network managers to think about the next time they see someone in the lobby of their building “playing a game” on their iPhone!


Hacking is Sexy

Filed under: Fun,Fun Work,Geek Work,News and Current Events,Red Herrings,Rotten Apples,The Dark Side — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:44 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Stop laughing.

Okay, so this is totally no joke. Marketing people now use sex to sell absolutely everything. Even hacking. Yes, over at SexyHacking.com they have hot chicks dispensing computer security information and techniques. Really. And, apparently, they were supposed to be at Blackhat, one of the big security conferences in Vegas, this year, too.  Not sure if they actually were or not.
Well, thank you, to the Security Monkey for pointing this out to us.

So, sex sells. Go figure.
(Oh, and don’t forget, today is “Talk Like A Pirate Day“.)


Upgrade Issues

Filed under: Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,News and Current Events,Personal,Rotten Apples,The Dark Side — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning or 7:27 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

So, it seems like I still have some issues.

Someone e-mailed me this morning to see if my site was down because they were getting a blank page. Well, so was I. At least, until I hit refresh. Then, hitting the links on the categories didn’t work at all. So, I checked the WordPress support forum and tweaked a couple of things. Now, the categories give you blank pages, until you hit the refresh button. And, actually, this is all in Firefox. Firefox 2, actually, so I have no idea if any other browsers are having trouble or not. If you are, leave me a comment here so I can keep track, would you?

And, in any case, I’m working on it. Right now, the fix seems to be coming in a minor version update. This is why I usually wait a couple of months before upgrading. It’s just that this version had some things I wanted to use, so… Well, anyway, like I wrote, I’m working on it.

First, let me thank you all for not taking advantage of that opening line.  It is sort of like putting on a “kick me” sign and sticking one’s rump out.
Secondly, I think I found the problem.  I upgraded WordPress, but not all the plugins I have loaded.  So, I deactivated one until I can get the new version.  Luckily, it’s one that works behind the scenes doing things for me, so your viewing experience shouldn’t be effected.
Thanks for your help and attention!


Happy Sysadmin Day!

Filed under: Fun,Fun Work,Geek Work,News and Current Events,Red Herrings,Rotten Apples,The Dark Side — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Horse which is around lunchtime or 12:28 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Third Quarter Moon

Oh, wow, I almost missed it this year!

Today is System Administrator Appreciation Day.
I was reminded by Gizmodo that today is the day to remember the geeks that make your network run.  Sure, you’d mostly rather see us locked into our server rooms and hardware closets, but, admit it, when something goes terribly wrong with your computer or network, you’re actually happy to see us.  So, since you’re able to read this, find your local system administrator and tell them thank you for letting you waste time reading my blog on the Internet instead of working on a Friday afternoon.


Who Helps the Helpers?

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Apple,Geek Work,Linux,MicroSoft,Red Herrings,Rotten Apples,The Dark Side — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Pig which is late at night or 11:28 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

Be kind to your IT staff.

Don’t do this to them. Do not walk into their office and ask questions like “Are we having a problem with the server?” or “Is the Internet down?” Asking us questions like that result in responses like “No, the server is fine. But why don’t you tell me about your problem now?” and “No, I’m on the web right now and it’s fine. Do you have an error message?” or even “Why don’t you tell me if you’re having a problem?”

I swear by all I hold sacred, there is nothing more frustrating than having someone who really has no idea whatsoever how anything on a computer or network works wander into my office with that special stunned cattle look on their face only to ask me very specific questions about a problem they’re having. Even when I answer their question with another question in the voice I normally reserve for precocious toddlers, for the fifth time, they come and waste our collective time doing this, instead of simply describing their problem to me.

Don’t do this to your IT staff. Just tell them what the problem is. Don’t make them guess what you really want. Please.

Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes."
   --Oscar Wilde


Attention Deficit

Filed under: By Bread Alone,Career Archive,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Deep Thoughts,Geek Work,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Personal,Red Herrings,Rotten Apples,The Dark Side,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning or 7:34 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

I have a dream.

It is a simple dream. No, not winning the lottery, or world peace, or the perpetual motion engine, or even a mythical trip to the Playboy Mansion. No, my dream is that I might get through an entire task without interruption, distraction, mishap, mayhem, or… Sorry, lost my train of thought because the dog started barking at something outside. Now, where was I?

Right, so, Monday, I started out with a few simple bullet items to accomplish. Easy, uncomplicated goals. Just configure a laptop and run a couple of cables out in the shop. Seems fairly straight-forward, doesn’t it? Sadly, those two simple, easy, straight-forward things are still not done, two days later.
Instead, I dealt with spy ware installed on a machine in Bellechasse. A machine that I personally cleaned of spy ware last week. In some cases, deleting, by hand, files and directories and Windows registry entries to kill the offending malware. Two full days I spent on this infernal machine, meticulously cleaning every last scrap of naughty code, only to have it completely reinfected not more than five minutes after it was powered on by the user. Why? Because, no matter how many times I tell my users not to click on any random link they get in e-mail from Bubba Mussolini or Archimedes Hirohito or Kwabena Mieles, no matter how fascinating their offer sounds. Nor should they click on any stupid web page that comes up in a search they can’t imagine would be a problem, no matter how personal it might be. And a guy who’s used AutoCAD for years asked me for help on printing. Me, who’s never so much as opened a drawing in the latest version of AutoCAD, much less tried to send it to a plotter. Naturally, I’ve got him printing in less than thirty minutes.
Then, at home, I made marinara which proceeded to find every piece of clothing I was wearing. That was followed by an attempt at a berry smoothie, made with frozen strawberries, blueberries and raspberries. A smoothie that was so thick and frozen it “poured” like a blender full of half-solid mud. The splash from that minor accident found the clothes that the marinara missed. But, before I could try to stop those stains from setting, I had to hurry and nail up some boards from the fence because my dog had tried to chase a squirrel through the rickety, old thing. Oh, and speaking of dogs, Hilda found something dead and nasty to roll in, after having had a bath Sunday. Now, even though I live far enough away from the city that I pass cows on the way to work, they’re still not in my backyard. Nor am I so close to the projects that she should have found a diaper in the backyard, so what she rolled in, I’m not sure, but, at least now, you have some idea what I was smelling while I tried to get it off her. Again.
(As an aside, I should note that Monday evening, while I was actually having fun installing a blog for a fellow blogger plagued by comment spam, I saw a gecko that was about the size of my pinky scurry across the floor. An hour later, I saw a cockroach by the back door that was at least twice the size of pinky. Who lost the bet with God that allowed roaches twice the size of their natural predator?)

Tuesday, was more of the same, but spiced with visits from phone switch vendors trying to sell me things that I’ve been told I can’t buy. Instead, I have to explain, carefully, to these people that I have two choices for phone switches because a mysterious, invisible “consultant” of some kind, who I’ve never met or talked with, has convinced someone who matters in my company that those are the only two choices that matter. Oh, and the guys in the shop who’ve been waiting on that cable since last week asked about it. And the director of sales needs a photo editor for the Mac he doesn’t want to use, so he can resize pictures to send to clients. And, the engineering department has rehired a former employee, so I need to shuffle people around to get to a computer that has to be totally reconfigured by Monday. (Which is actually an improvement, since I normally get an hour or two’s notice before the guy starts.) And, a giant monitor went out and needed to be replaced. And I have to spec out PCs and a new server, which I’ll have to go install, for that Bellechasse office. And… I’m sorry, something shiny passed by my screen. Where was I?

Oh, right, I should be planning for … Something. Shouldn’t I? Shouldn’t I be planning projects? Planning to improve their IT infrastructure? Something? Who knows. And, what’s more, I don’t have time to worry about it because about the time I have more than two minutes to string together, something else will distract me.
Well, at least they’re still paying me!
But, on the upside, tomorrow night I go in for my last therapy appointment. My head-shrink has pronounced me well. Or, at least, well enough to be turned loose without a keeper, which is all anyone can really hope for, right?

Well, now, if you’ll pardon me, it’s time to head off to work, so I need to put my cup and mouth guard in before I pull on my stain-resistant body armor.
You know, it really didn’t seem like such a big, impossible dream when I got into this business. Ah, well, maybe next year.


Very Disappointed

Filed under: Apple,Career Archive,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Geek Work,Linux,MicroSoft,Novell,Rotten Apples,The Dark Side — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Dog which is in the evening time or 9:34 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

Novell has failed me.
I cannot believe that I am writing this, but I actually advised against continuing with a Novell product in favor of a Microsoft product this week. I would be more ashamed of myself if not for the terrible problems I had with Novell’s Open Enterprise Server from the install all the way through an attempt at migration. Everything that could possibly go wrong, did.
First, there were numerous problems getting the software to simply install simply because I used a secure password that started with a “$”. That caused a previously unknown error in the Linux-based installer. As far as I know, this has still not been corrected or published. From there, things just got worse. Then there were all the problems getting the SAMBA share to work at all with the Netware Storage Services(NSS) functions on the server. I had to do this because we have Mac OS X clients that access the same data as Windows clients. I had no other option, but, apparently, no one has ever done this before in the history of Open Enterprise Server because I could find no data on doing this and making it work. And, it did work, for a couple of weeks, until I changed some setting somewhere that knocked the Macs off that SAMBA share. I have no idea still what did that. But, there’s more!
The deal-breaker in this case was that our accounting system, Peachtree, would not allow us to add more than a single transaction without restarting the program. Even when only a single user was accessing the data at a time. As you might imagine, this cause some concern in upper management. Two days into trying to get this resolved via Novell Support, my management had lost all confidence in Open Enterprise Server running on SuSE and Novell as a company. At the point that happens, there is absolutely no way to ever make that executive feel “warm and fuzzy” about the software in question. I know, I’ve tried over and over and over again over the years. Well, your Uncle Jim has learned his lesson, kids. Not this time. This time, I decided to cut my losses early and not drag it out. What’s the point? If I managed to get them to stick with this product, six months from now when some other thing went wrong, because, of course, it will, who will get the blame for choosing this stupid software? Me, that’s who. So, yeah, no thanks. Time to change horses.
So, I figure, if we’ve got to change, go with what they know and feel okay with and that’s Windows Server 2003. And very few of you have any idea how it galls me to have to admit that it’s the best option for these folks. Trust me, this goes against every thing I believe in the realm of technology. It used to be: “Windows for workstations, Novell for servers and Macs for graphics” as far as I was concerned. Now, it’s “Windows for workstations, Unix/Linux for servers, and Macs for graphics”. I think a part of me died inside to have to say that, too.
I worry about Novell as a company. This has been a mess from day one. Understand, I’ve been Novell certified for more than fourteen years and I’m well known as a Novell cheerleader. But, after this, I really wonder how long they’ll be around as a company. I think the shift to Linux is too little, late. I don’t think even vaguely complimentary articles at eWeek or changing their strategy, again, to building “cross-platform management tools” can help them now.
At least I think I’ve convinced the boss that when we do an e-mail server it should be Linux or BSD running some, to-be-named-later e-mail package. So, I’ll be able to use some of my favorite skills and show that on my resume. After all those jobs doing so many different things in IT, I can spin just about anything I do professionally to look about the way I want. Sure, there are limits, but, with me, not many. Professionally, that is. I’ve alway said that I can sit down with a good manual and a test system and figure almost anything out. Time and professional experience has shown that to be true. So, I guess I’ll be looking for a good Windows Server 2003 book. And, a good Linux-based e-mail system that allows me to give my users web access. Any suggestions anyone?


NSA CSS OS Guidelines

Filed under: Apple,Geek Work,MicroSoft,Rotten Apples,The Dark Side — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 4:48 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Full Moon

Woo! That’s a lot of acronyms!
So, let’s break this down… What I’ve got here for you fine computer geeks who read my sad, little blog is a link to the National Security Agency Central Security Service computer Operating Systems security configuration guides. Clear as mud now, right? Okay, so what this is, in a nutshell, is a listing of guidelines from the NSA about how to configure and run server and desktop operating systems to their security standards. Or, at least, to the standard they release to the public. The latent paranoid conspiracy theorist in me can’t shake the feeling that the NSA doesn’t generally have an outward flow of information. And, they list four versions of Windows there, as if they can be actually secured. Surely, that must seem suspicious to my readers. Of course, they also have info for Macintosh and Solaris systems, so, you never know.
Anyway, it’s fun information from the NSA, so go have fun with it!


The Hell That Was Friday

Filed under: Apple,Career Archive,Deep Thoughts,Geek Work,Personal,Rotten Apples,Things to Read — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Dragon which is in the early morning or 8:24 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

It all started with those damn black birds last week…
Actually, it was a mostly quiet week, except for the fact that my house refinance is in limbo because my ex-wife’s lawyer didn’t file the special warranty deed that grants me possesion of the house. Ah, well, some things never change. She’s still sticking it to me even after the divorce.
Anyway, today, everyone in the company decided to dump their problems on me for the week. An entire week’s worth in one day. This after a week of Access database development. Yeah, development, not database administration. I hate doing Access development! All pointy-clicky and why-the-hell-does-it-do-that? But, not Friday.
Friday, I replaced a cd-rom drive in the shop. No big deal, right? Yeah, well, at the time, there was a guy in the office looking at negatives of welds, in the dark. So, I did this under someone’s desk by the infrequent light of the glowy box he was using to read the negatives. In other words, I changed a cd-rom drive basically by touch. Then, there was an electrician who need to print labels but was dissatisfied with the fact that they were off by a centimeter in one column. After wrestling with that for fourty-five minutes, I walked away to do something else and found out later that it wasn’t the printer that was off at all. It was the cheap labels he’d bought. They cut them on a bias!
Then, there was the too-picky engineer who complained all day about getting a 19-inch flat-screen LCD. Yeah, complained about it! No one but him could tell the damn difference, but he claimed his recently lasik-ed eyes were strained and hurting because of the low-resolution. Well, until we suggested that he could have his old monitor back. Suddenly then he found settings that looked good enough. Yeah, sure.
But, the coup de grâce was the Vice President of Sales having his Macintrash G4 go South on him. I worked on that alone and, worse, with the boss, who’s the resident Mac expert. There’s noting I hate more than not knowing in front of my boss. And, after buying a hard drive, and exchanging it for one that would actually run in a damn Mac, we finally, after working until 6:30PM on a Friday, finally decided that it was a memory issue. We think. We left it running to see if it hangs up again. So, just to fight my personal ignorance, I went to Borders and bought Mac OS X : The Missing Manual, Tiger Editon . (Well, I also bought some other things including How to Do Everything with PHP and MySQL so I can build an app for Fantasist.net. And, Looking for Jake : Stories, because China Mieville is a great writer and I deserve a break!)
So, tonight after church, children, your Uncle Jim is going to be drinking heavily and ignoring trick-or-treaters. Happy Halloween. Bah!


Work vs. Personal

Filed under: Apple,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Geek Work,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Linux,MicroSoft,Novell,Personal,Rotten Apples,The Dark Side — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Pig which is in the late evening or 10:06 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

They’ve been waiting for me.
I can tell that the folks at my company have been waiting for a guy like me to show up. Today, I had three different persona PCs from three different employees in my cube. Mind, I mean three machines that they brought from home to have me look at for them, not machines from the office. Mostly, they just needed to be defragged and have their anti-virus files updated, but, c’mon, three? Obviously, these people have just been waiting for a “real” computer person to show up so that they can get me to do basic maintenance for them. Actually, come to think of it, I need to update my anti-virus signatures myself!
But, that doesn’t mean I have any less work that’s work related, either. Just this morning I was setting up a PC for yet another person from New Orleans. Which is a good thing, I guess, when you consider some of the alternatives. Of course, it would have been nice if they hadn’t promised that same cube to two different people without telling anyone. I was about to try and move his e-mail from the Windows 2000 machine he had in the office to his G4 Powerbook, but then we decided to take a “wait-and-see” stance instead. With all the miscommunication flying back and forth, we thought that was better. The chaos from Katrina has everyone sort of “runnin’ and gunnin'”, if you take my meaning, and that makes things extra challenging sometimes.
So, with all this craziness going on at the office, I find myself asking, “Should I be doing all this for people?” I mean, it’s not really my job, but the folks asking me to do this for them are the top-level managers. Should I be telling them “no”? I’d really rather not do that, since everyone seems to like me and the work I do for them. Granted, I’m not sure that most of them have any idea what I actually do on a day-to-day basis, but still, they seem pleased, so I’d rather not rock the boat.
Oh, and in recent updates, I did finally manage to get the satellite phone working, but now, since it took so long, we’re trying to return one. Not sure if we can do that at this point, but we’re trying. And, I’ve been messing around with all kinds of Windows 2000, NT and XP issues on the network. Getting all the folks from both offices working has been a bit of a challenge. In fact, if not for the DMZ port on my firewall, I’m not sure I could have had the two domains working together, since they’re named the same. I’m sure that would have caused problems if they’d seen each other on the network.
And, I really should be looking more closely at the version of Linux I want to run on that mythical server that I should be getting spec on. I’m leaning toward either Red Hat or SuSE, possibly even SuSE with all the Novell Open Enterprise Server stuff on it. I have to admit, if I were to get good install media, that could be really cool. All the stability and flexibility of Linux with the way cool administration tools from Novell. Those tools are, after all, what they’re known for developing. It’s the best “value added” product for Linux that I’ve seen so far.
Well, I guess I have some time before we’re really ready to do all that, so, while I wait, I’ll probably just read Sams Teach Yourself UNIX System Administration in 24 Hours, so that my skills are sharp when the time comes. But, now, I’m tired, so I think I’ll just go to bed.

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