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Kali Linux 2.0 Review

posted on 2015-08-11 by Spencer Bravo

Earlier today, Kali Linux 2.0 was released. For those of you who don't already know, Kali Linux is the GNU/Linux distro built specifically for digital forensics and penetration testing. Kali is based on Debian and version 2.0 comes with GNOME as it's default Desktop Environment. Kali Linux 2.0 also comes with the 4.0 Linux kernel.

When I went to go download Kali 2.0 this morning Kali.org was down. I waited a few minutes, but it continued to be non-responsive. So I went to the Google cache of the downloads page and downloaded the torrent file I needed. Upon downloaded the file I used dd to put the ISO file on a flashdrive and installed it on my Inspiron 5323 laptop. The install was smooth, quick, and simple. The only problem I had(which I have with most Debian based distros on this laptop) is while I am installing the distro, the trackpad does not work but after the install it works fine. You don't need a trackpad or mouse for the install, but I plugged one in just incase I needed to edit partitions manually and didn't want to fool around with the Tab key.

When it finished the install and I rebooted, it didn't work; it went to grub, I made the selection, entered in my encryption passphrase(I opted for full disk encryption), and then it ran through it's basic startup log but then went to a black screen with just a line flashing at the top left of the screen. After several minutes, I tried again, no luck. So I booted into the recovery mode, entered the encryption passphrase, and logged into the root account. Once everything worked fine in the recovery mode, I rebooted and everything started up normally into the user interface

Upon entering the account with the DE(not recovery mode), you are welcomed with a clean cut, simple, and self explanatory layout. The first physical changes I noticed in the layout was the addition of the application bar on the left border and that the workspace navigator in the bottom right corner was gone. I love what they've done with their new tools menu layout. Before it seemed like an endless chain of tiered categories, but now its simple, as well as compact. Another big change is that the workspaces are now stacked vertically rather than horizontally. This took some time to get used to, as I have always used horizontal workspaces. A nice feature of the workspaces is that by default it only adds one workspace ahead of your last window. This keeps things concise and less confusing, as well as being convenient so you never have to worry about adding more workspaces.

Even though it is on is not an extremely powerful laptop, it still ran very smoothly. For the majority of the time I've used this laptop I've used Crunchbang, so Kali 2.0 wasn't nearly as nimble as I was used to on this machine. Though it still was quite snappy. The only experience I had with true lag was when I was compiling several programs(I think vim and tmux) at once and browsing, and this only lasted a second or two. The battery life has been surprisingly quite good. Previously when this laptop was on Crunchbang++, I was only getting 4-5 hours out of the battery. But today I've been using it a lot unplugged and it hasn't had a problem, also its estimated time left at 100% is around 7 hours!

It is also using very little memory and CPU. It almost rivals Crunchbang(and Crunchbang++) in how little resources it uses in idle. With only a terminal with htop open, its averaging around 680MB of ram and close to 1-2% of CPU. Though once you start moving around the DE(switching workspaces, going through menus, etc.) the CPU usage jumps around 15%, but the memory stays constant. All together its only using 8.4GB of disk space after customizing it and adding several applications.

The settings are easy to change and the menu for network, Bluetooth, battery, etc. is very simple and intuitive. They also added a desktop recording software which is extremely straightforward to use. Another nice feature is the search they included, it will search your computer for applications, files, settings, and more; offering good feel of organization. Many of the tools have remarkably good response times, much quicker than in earlier versions of Kali Linux. There used to be some where you would have to wait around for something to start, but most open almost instantaneously now.

Overall, I really like Kali Linux 2.0. It offers a great balance between performance, design, usability. It's almost good enough(in my mind) to use it as an everyday desktop distro, but crunchbang++ still has the upper-hand. That being said, I will keep it on my laptop and I'm sure it will be enjoyable to use for months, or maybe even years to come.

Why Windows Has So Many Viruses

posted on 2015-04-10 by Spencer Bravo

Earlier today, I heard a few guys sitting in front of me in class talk about computer security. One of them was arguing that OS X was much better than Windows because Windows has so many viruses. The Mac sided guy claimed that it was all because Mac OS X was so much more secure(and overall superior) to Windows. The Windows supporter proceeded to argue that it was only based on the size of the target. This aspect of tech security is still very confused among a large number of users. They are both partially right. In this post I will go over why it at least seems that OS X is so much more secure and why Windows has so many more viruses.

Security

This is touching on the Mac supporters argument. It is true that Microsoft has had a rough time with security vulnerabilities. The backdoors and what not over the years has given them a pretty bad wrap in the world of tech-sec. Though the security is getting better, mostly because of the thousands of patches they've released, but none the less, it is better. With each version of Windows, the security is getting better. This being said, because of their poor history, there is always speculation with the latest version on whether there might be more/different potentially for malicious attacks.

Next, lets talk about the security of OS X. It's not really that good, but until recently it was much better than Windows. We can thank BSD for most of Mac's security being that Mac OS X is just(slightly) modified) BSD. I wish they could take some of those public license good vibes with them and forget about patenting absolutely everything, and they could actually contribute to the growth of overall technology, rather than holding it back. But that's a rant for a different post. To the point, Macs are about as vulnerable as the latest version of Windows. The Flashback virus is one of the most famous widespread viruses, but the overall security issues are much bigger. In a competition to see which operating system was easiest to break into, OS X "won", by being broken into in a grand total of 2 minutes! Windows was broken into easily once a variety of third party applications were added, and the GNU/Linux machine(Ubuntu) was never broken into. So as secure as OS X may seem, it isn't much(if any) better than Windows

Popularity

Flat out, Windows is by far the most popular computer operating system. Anywhere you go, you will most likely see a Windows computer. This makes it the most attractive target to hackers. Why take control of thousands of computers when you could take over millions of users? It seems like a no-brainer. If you live in California, it may seem like there are almost an even amount of Apple computers as there are Microsoft computers, but in the scheme of things, the Windows user base is much much larger(a lot of this has to do with price). For most people, the price point of an Apple computer is just too high. That again, is another rant for another post. Overall, the number of "vulnerable" computers per operating system is much larger for Windows, so the attackers see a bigger value in making viruses for Windows machines rather than Macs.

Conclusion

These two factors are the main reasons that Windows has more viruses. I'm not saying that it's all based on popularity and hacker's choice, but that does make a significant difference, as it has been pointed out that it is very easy to break into a Mac. Although the GNU/Linux machine was never gotten into, I am not saying that it is completely immune to all attacks. No operating system is 100% secure, but using GNU/Linux over the others does give you a better shot at not getting infected.

Noteworthy Kickstarter Tech Innovations

posted on 2015-02-17 by Spencer Bravo

I was sick today so I had to stay home from school and after watching two of my favorite movies, Die Hard 4.0 and Ocean's 11, I decided to check out kickstarter. I enjoy looking at the various projects but I don't often have time to really sit down and look into the details and discover the many different innovations that people are coming up with. I found many projects that were really cool and that I think could go far, but these are the top three I really liked.

  • Modular Audio: Although this project is currently postponed, I still love the idea. The idea, as described by the creator, is to "provide an alternative to the heavy, cumbersome and expensive Amplifier/Speaker units that most live performing musicians must lug around from venue to venue, to rehearsal studios, to recording studios, etc." The way that these speakers would work is that you can combine as many as you want to build upon what you already have. Also by connecting them on the tracks built in to them it would eliminate cables connecting them because of the connectors on the tracks.

  • Sleev: Such a simple idea, but it's also a great one. All it does is protect your wires. I know between my brother and I, we've gone through at least a dozen or so cables just from the ends getting worn out, but this solves that problem. By extending the life if your cables is being both eco-friendly and economical!

  • Whisper Audio Headphone Practice Amp for Guitar and Bass: The idea of this is to provide a simple, good quality converter from your guitar or bass to your headphones for practicing. Many amps provide a headphone jack or an output 1/4" which you can use a converter for to listen with your standard headphones, though if you are just going to use your headphones then there is no point in the amp! This product solves that by being just what's necessary for practicing with headphones.

That's my list of intriguing projects I discovered on kickstarter. Maybe I should be sick more often so I can have more time discover all the cool inventions that people are coming up with!

Is There Any Reason to Not Be Using GNU/Linux?

posted on 2015-02-05 by Spencer Bravo

If you know me or have read any of my posts you probably are aware that I am very pro-GNU/Linux. It is my operating system of choice, but I'm not an obsessed controlling tech person who is trying to convert everyone out there to my OS. I do think it improves efficiency and that the majority of people who don't run GNU/Linux could benefit from it but I do see some of the reasons that people may choose not to run it.

In this post I will express the three main reasons that another operating system may be better for someone than GNU/Linux. Lets jump right into it.

  1. Your job requires you to use a different OS; A lot of jobs supply their employees with work computers of laptops to use as long as they continue to work for their company. Modifying these computers is usually frowned upon and can most likely have them revoked or get you in a bad position. So you either just work with the computer given to you or you use your own. But if you do some work at home you will most likely want the same OS as your work computer so you can have almost guaranteed compatibility. Most likely these computers run windows and for example .docx files don't always play nicely with GNU/Linux(but I recently discovered you can edit .docx files in GDrive), (which in my opinion is the best thing since sliced bread). I hope that online word processors will soon take over and finally nail compatibility issues.
  2. You depend on proprietary software that isn't developed for GNU/Linux; I am borderline anti-proprietary software, but I understand that some people swear by it or need a specific feature that they can't find in free software offered for GNU/Linux(very very unlikely, but lets entertain the scenario). As I said, it's unlikely, but there's a chance there is such software that people would stand by their OS for.
  3. You're a gamer; Not many games are developed for GNU/Linux, most likely because there aren't that many gamers on GNU/Linux because not that many companies develop games for it. Kind of a paradox, don't you think? But either way, there are hardly any gamers on GNU/Linux because the majority of the latest/best games are only developed for Windows. Lately there have been more games being developed for GNU/Linux, but not to the extent that a hardcore gamer is going to sacrifice the rest of the games they play to play a few on a different OS.

I understand that some people just prefer a different OS and they are entitled to their opinion. But in my opinion and based off my experience, I have found that these are the most(only) logical reasons I have found for not switching to GNU/Linux.

My Three GUIs

posted on 2014-12-15 by Spencer Bravo

It's only been 242 days since I started using GNU/Linux, and since then I have learned an imense amount. My habits and way I do things have also changed a lot. Before I switched to Linux I used Windows and used a GUI(Graphical User Interface) for everything. But I slowley started to change. The evolution started with me using Ubuntu and starting to do a few things in the command line. I knew a few commands like 'ls', 'cd', and 'rm'; but that was about the extent of my ability in the command line. So I stuck with clean, user friendly, and slower, GUIs. I was still getting used to using GNU/Linux and was unaware of the ability it offered with efficiency with more knowledge. Gradually, I learned more and more, not only about using the command line, but about computers in general. Soon enough I switched from Ubuntu to CrunchBang: a light weight, Debian based distro. Because it was light weight(especially compared to Ubuntu), I had to rely on more command line use. So my ability in the command line grew exponentially from that point on.

At this point I use three true GUIs and I am very pleased with how much more efficient I am, as well as how much faster my computer is overall. Here are the three GUIs I use:

  1. Firefox; as much as I'd like to be like Richard Stallman, I am not going to do my web browsing by using Wget. That being said, Wget and cURL are great tools to know how to use.
  2. gFTP; a lot of transfering files from my computer to a server and vice versa is just a lot easier using a GUI. Not to mention that gFTP is very lightweight. For some smaller and not very complex transfers I do use just command line.
  3. DBeaver; keeping track of, as well as maintaining, a SQL database it so much easier with a GUI and as it was with gFTP, DBeaver is rather light and doesn't take much computing power.

Some may ask how I did this and it was really just doing it one step at a time. First of all, I eliminated GUI text editors, I now use VIM and not only is it faster but it's just flat out better. The next step was getting a lot better at the command line so I could avoid file managers. In Ubuntu I used nautilus and in CrunchBang before moving to command line I used Thunar. Thunar is pretty light weight, but it can't beat the efficency of command line. I also stopped using system monitor and replaced it with a mixture of Conky and Htop. The most recent change I made was with email. I used to use in browser Gmail but that was slow and I didn't really like the way it fitted in with the rest of my habits so I switched to Mutt. It's a ncurses based email client and I must say, it's amazing. It allows me to view and interact with email way more efficently than any in browser or GUI setup ever could. If you want to see any of my Htop, VIM, Conky, Mutt, or Terminal setup then go take a look at my dotfiles.

Is Wikipedia A Reliable Source?

posted on 2014-11-15 by Spencer Bravo

If you're a student, then I bet you've heard this from a teacher at some point: "No! Wikipedia is NOT a source!" No matter what(logical) argument you give, they always deny it and go back to the "anyone can edit pages" approach. But that's what makes it good. This approach is similar to that of Open source code, it improves because many people have the opportunity to look over it and fix things that are wrong. Sure, these some people out there who may just go around screwing up articles, but the amount of people fixing and contributing information far outweighs the people screwing them up.

According to an article written in 2005, it says that "Wikipedia comes close to Britannica in terms of the accuracy of its science entries", although Wikipedia's articles were often "poorly structured"(Nature, 2005). Though does structure change reliability? I certainly don't think so. Of course, this article was written nearly ten years and many things are likely to have changed since then. According to a statistic released by Wikipedia, there are about 900% more articles on Wikipedia now than in 2005. This is a huge amount of articles, free to anyone. There are 4,647,987 articles in wikipedia now whereas the Encyclopedia Britannica only has 32,640 pages in their most recent edition. With Wikipedia having so many more articles and being almost if not as accurate as the Encyclopedia Britannica it makes it a very useful source.

Even though it is about as accurate as other (non-free) encyclopedias it does every once in a while have outlandish articles. This is what usually scares away researchers and teachers from using it as a source. For example: for over seven years there was an article on a completely made up football player. This is a pretty big concern because supposedly any article could have "made up" information. But there are so many more people improving the articles and fixing the mistakes than changing them to be false and fabricating information. If you see something that's questionable you should check with other sources and then if the Wikipedia article isn't accurate, change it! Then the next person that looks at it will have the right information. That's the beauty of it being open for anyone to edit.

In conclusion, I would say it's fine to use Wikipedia, but as with any source, you should check multiple articles on the same topic to make sure they all agree on the information you find.

Sources:

Size_of_Wikipedia, Wikipedia
Study: Wikipedia as accurate as Britannica, CNET
Special Report Internet encyclopaedias go head to head, Nature