Hackers, Windows, Linux and Knoppix

Being the kind of technical person you are, you most likely identify with the old-time hacker ethic and disdain the popular use of the word "hacker" when "cracker" would be more apropos.

Well, Eric Steven Raymond, co-founder and president of the Open Source Initiative and ex-board member of VA Linux Systems, is of a similar mind. Eric wants you to identify with the hacker ethic and do so in public by displaying his hacker emblem on your Web site, your personal home page, your T-shirt and your coffee mug.

Eric's hacker emblem is the glider formation from Conway's Game of Life set in a three-by-three grid.

It's a nice idea and the meme (www.memecentral.com) could well catch on. Then again, given that the term "hacker" has become so thoroughly debased by popular culture, we wonder if what's needed is a new term for the true hacker.

Anyway, a few weeks ago we asked for your thoughts on useful tools. Reader David Coursey wrote, "My CFO's laptop was having some serious problems connecting to the Windows 2000 domain, so I wanted to simplify things and remove the computer account and re-add it. You can imagine my joy when I removed it from the domain and nobody knew ANY password to log back on to the machine after the reboot.

"After a couple of hours of frantic Internet searching I found this tool that will reset any password for any local account on a machine you have physical access to."

David's discovery was the freeware Offline NT Password & Registry Editor, which we will refer to as ONTP&RE. This is an interesting tool for Windows NT, 2000 and XP that can reset the password of any user who has a valid local account, and, most critically, you do not need to know the old password to set a new one.

Because it's an offline tool, you shut down your computer and then boot from the ONTP&RE boot disk (floppy or CD) into a Linux shell. The author, Petter Nordahl-Hagen, says the boot disk includes "stuff to access NTFS and FAT/FAT32 partitions and scripts to glue the whole thing together." The software will detect and offer to unlock locked or disabled user accounts and includes "an almost fully functional registry editor."

David happily notes that "I have since used it many times, often because it is faster to reset the password than hunt for an old password."

There's only one serious limitation, which is that users who have files encrypted with EFS under XP will find that after the password reset all encrypted files will not be readable or recoverable unless you can somehow remember the old password.

Another useful resource in this vein can be found at DocFinder: 6637. This page is titled "Unlocking Windows NT/2000/2003 Domain Controllers" and describes some neat hacks to get control back when passwords have been mistyped, forgotten, misplaced or otherwise lost.

Reader Blair Nicodemus (what a wonderful name) wrote to tell us that while searching for "simple Linux install tools, I came across this interesting article . . . that caused me to search for open source partitioning tools. Upon further searching, I came across this interesting and pretty useful software: SystemRescueCd, www.sysresccd.org, which might be useful for Linux fans."

SystemRescueCd is described as "a Linux system on a bootable CD-ROM for repairing your system and your data after a crash." We haven't tried this yet, but it looks very useful.

Blair also purchased a copy of the Knoppix book we recommended (Knoppix Hacks by Kyle Rankin, DocFinder: 6639) and commented: "Awesome. Thanks for the recommendation. I'm now out of control, in a geeky kind of way."

Well, Blair, hold on to your knickers because Knoppix 3.8 was recently shown at CeBIT. This release includes a load of updates, such as the 2.6.11 kernel, KDE 3.3.2, Firefox along with Thunderbird (instead of Mozilla), and a really exciting addition: UnionFS.

UnionFS merges the Knoppix RAM disk with the read-only file system on the CD, which lets you modify all the files on the system as if they were all writeable. For example, you can install new applications and the changes to the system will be saved automatically.

Knoppix 3.8 isn't released yet - we'll keep an eye out for it and let you know when it becomes available.

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