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Linux and Unix Security Portable Reference 69

celloguy writes: "HackNotes Linux and Unix Security Portable Reference is a great security reference for IT professionals. It presents information in a clear, concise, easy-to-digest manner and sticks to facts and practical approaches to security." Read on for the rest of celloguy's review. (And maybe some grumpy readers can elaborate more on this book's flaws, since celloguy didn't find many.)
HackNotes Linux and Unix Security Portable Reference
author Nitesh Dhanjani
pages 224
publisher McGraw-Hill Osborne Media
rating 9
reviewer Michael Reynolds
ISBN 0072227869
summary HackNotes(tm) Linux and Unix Security Portable Reference is a great security reference for IT professionals.

The intended audience for this book is primarily IT professionals who have some experience in systems administration and security. The book is organized into logical sections: Part 1 deals with hacking techniques and defenses, Part 2 deals with host hardening, and Part 3 contains special topics. Each part is divided into chapters that follow a logical progression.

Part 1 starts with footprinting, which includes basic information gathering about potential targets. The chapters then proceed further into the stages of an attack (port scanning, obtaining a shell, privilege escalation) and finishes by discussing some of the techniques hackers use to cover their tracks. The services covered in this section include FTP, Telnet, SSH, SMTP, HTTP, HTTPS, R-services, NFS, Samba, POP, IMAP, MySQL, X, and VNC. An interesting point here is that these services are listed in ascending order with respect to their port numbers.

Part 2, Host Hardening, examines some vulnerabilities common to most systems and includes remedies. Choosing good passwords is discussed, as well as how to set password policies. Though the author warns of the dangers of weak passwords, I would have liked to see a more thorough explanation of how to choose passwords. The section goes on to explain how to disable unnecessary services and harden remote services. At the end of this section are chapter on good practices related to user and system privileges, as well as logging.

Part 3 contains some interesting material, including a whole chapter on the Nessus Attack Scripting Language (NASL), wireless hacking, hacking with the Sharp Zaurus PDA. The section on wireless networks contains some fairly standard material (WEP is insecure, using AirSnort, etc.) but nevertheless serves as a good reminder to use caution when deploying wireless networks. The final chapter, Hacking with the Sharp Zaurus PDA, is especially interesting and details all sorts of fun things you can do with this handheld device, including scanning for wireless networks, connecting to remote machines via SSH, and using VNC to control remote machines.

The Good

This book does an excellent job of presenting information in a clear and easy-to-understand manner. It avoids theories and concepts and delivers just the facts that a systems administrator needs to evaluate and protect a Unix or Linux system. It also makes use of helpful icons throughout the book which draw attention to key points. For example, hacking techniques have a sword icon next to them while defense techniques are listed with a shield. This visual feedback makes it easy to focus in on specific techniques and helps organize the material in a more usable manner. The content of the book is especially good, and the author does a thorough job of covering the basic hacking techniques as well as methods of defense against these techniques.

Another great feature of this book is the inclusion of a reference center in the middle of the book. This section, marked by easy-to-find blue pages, contains a wealth of relevant reference information, such as common commands, common ports, IP addressing, online resources, useful netcat commands, an ascii table, HTTP codes, and important files.


It's hard to find much wrong with this book. However, I felt that a few things were glossed over. For example, the section on passwords was extremely brief and gave no suggestions for choosing good passwords or for how long to set password expirations. In addition to the discussion on TCP Wrappers, I would have also liked to see some mention of using iptables for creating a software firewall.


HackNotes(tm) Linux and Unix Security Portable Reference is an excellent security reference for IT professionals and systems administrators. The clear, concise presentation of the book makes it easy to digest and use as a practical resource. It is well-organized and thorough and covers a wide range of situations. If you maintain one or more Unix or Linux machines, this book belongs on your shelf.

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Linux and Unix Security Portable Reference

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  • by SeanTobin ( 138474 ) * <byrdhuntr AT hotmail DOT com> on Monday October 13, 2003 @02:46PM (#7200966)
    On behalf of all grumpy readers, I would like to elaborate more on this book's flaws.

    First, lets start with the title. "HackNotes Linux and Unix Security Portable Refrence." The title is far too long. A much nicer title would have been an unpronounceable vowelless abbreviation such as HNLUSPR. Also the title is ambiguous - Is hacknotes the author/publisher or is it a description of what the book is about? And if you ask your local B&N service rep for books by HackNotes, is it one word or two?

    Now, more on to the book. It is far from portable. Sure, you can move it around but don't try sticking it in your pocket. Perhaps they should have included a handle on the spline.

    The book is also missing GNU/'s all over the place. I mean, what is linux? I've always been severely beaten with a UNIX manual by a guy with a huge beard everytime I said linux without a GNU/ infront of it. And yes, you *MUST* pronounce the /.

    The advice the book gives is fairly standard. Close all ports, don't use windows etc... Not too special for a "pocket" guide. A far more usefull guide would have included all ports to forward for games. I can't count the times I've had to research what ports a game uses in order to get it to work through my NAT.

    Now, more about the book itself. Its made of paper! I attempted to test its easy-to-digestness but gave up around chapter 3. I seriously doubt that this is production quality digestableness. However, the copy I received may have been a pre-release so that might not apply to the final book.

    The book itself is strewn with DMCA violations as well. In the forward, the editors openly admit to using the shift key while writing it -- a known security circumvention device. Also, the authors signature on the back jacket appears to be made with a Sharpie marker. Don't be supprised if the FBI raids your local bookstore. (Disclaimer: all uppercase letters in this post were made with the CAPS LOCK key. All extended characters such as * and () were made with thier ASCII code equivilants.)

    All in all, this book doesn't live up to the hype. It will most likely be placed on the same shelf with all the other security guides. However if it will end up on the Unix or GNU/Linux shelf still remains a mystery.
    • Well, U is a vowel, so I just hacked your title. However, your points are well taken.
    • My big question is why this book is out there at all? It's published by McGraw-Hill, who is the same company that published Hacking Exposed Linux, 2nd Edition []. HEL (or HLE, or whatever) is very comprehensive. It covers all the topics in this book, but with enough space that you can actually learn from it and apply it today. This book is a half-hearted attempt at a security book. It reads more like someone started to write a book, realized they'd bitten off more than they could chew, and tried to get ou
      • Hacking Exposed Linux is good but if you want to spend reading 10 fucking pages telling you how to do a simple portscan, then thats fine. I have the entire hacknotes series of books that I picked up at a security conference, and yeah I like them. They are to the point and dont waste your time dicking around with stupid page fillers. I own both the books, and they are from the same publisher, so what? I hate it when people dont even fucking read the books and want to talk like they have.
    • Good job finding flaws with a book you probably even have read yet. Moron.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Ref: Amazon has this book for $9 less than bn. []
    Spend $4 more to get free shipping.
    • is there an e-book format somewhere? save a tree and welcome to the 21st century.
      • $20.99 + shipping
      • $29.99 + shipping
      • $18.89 + shipping
      • $17.69 + shipping
      Conclusion: price depends on your individual shipping and sales tax charges, but Amazon is likely not the best price unless you are buying something else to get free shipping.
  • Why wouldn't a PDF/eBook be available that allows me to quickly search for a command or page number? I don't think the cost factor is to blame, is it?
    • I can't find the article I read last week, but I did find this [] at least. I remember a publisher in the article saying for a book that sells 40,000 copies, they generally sell about 400 ebook versions. So to them, it's not cost effective. That really sucks though.. I have a huge library of (actually purchased) eBooks that I reference all the time.
  • However, I felt that a few things were glossed over. For example, the section on passwords was extremely brief and gave no suggestions for choosing good passwords or for how long to set password expirations


    Despite years of reading that everyone needs alpha numeric and special characters, phrases not words, at least 8 characters, mandatory changes every 30 minutes, etc... I still feel someone should tell me all that USELESS shit again.

    Make people's passwords hard to remember and they will
    • "Make people's passwords hard to remember and they will write them on their monitors."

      But teach them to how to remember more complex passwords and they can eat for life!

      (i.e. complex passwords like "slash^#$dot" which aren't hard to remember)
    • by kfg ( 145172 ) on Monday October 13, 2003 @03:17PM (#7201199)
      My monitor came with my password already written on it. Is that convienient or what?

    • One problem with giving TOO much advice on password selection is that some people that read such advice have absolutely no common sense. A government agency I was associated with a while back took away password setting rights from its users and ASSIGNED everyone passwords of the form CVC99CVC (V=vowel, C=consonant, 9=digit). I figured out which of the MCSEs had come up with this nonsense and (pretending not to know) explained to him how easy such passwords were to crack. The policy got changed real qui
      • Or as an old Novell admin... I can't tell you the number f novell 3.XX & 4.XX systems there are out there with novell as the password! freakin' CNE courses!
    • This is how I usually choose passwords: I get 12 to 24 bytes from /dev/random (depanding on how much entropy and how large keyspace do I really need) and just use its base64 representation as a password. It's quite hard to guess and after few years I have little problem in remembering the short (96 bits of entropy) ones. The secret is that I don't have to remember them for long, as I change it weekly anyway. This is what I always tell my lusers to use. Once they get used to it, they stop complaining. It's e
  • Sample Chapter:ch03-enumeration(pdf) []
    (3) Other Hacknotes titles []
    Disclosure: I am not a paid endorser for hacknotes products.
  • As an MCSE, I have to ask: Are there pictures? Are there ducks in the pictures? Will we be tested on how many ducks there are in the pictures? How many chances do we have to guess the correct number of ducks in the pictures? Can I go nap now?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    It avoids theories and concepts and delivers just the facts that a systems administrator needs to evaluate and protect a Unix or Linux system.

    Great! We can now admin Unix and Linux as mindlessly as MCSE's do MS Windows.

    Theories? We don't need no stinkin' theories!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 13, 2003 @03:40PM (#7201394)
    Why is it that everyone wants to write a security book nowadays without any regard to whether the book actually adds anything to the realm of infosec? Do the authors prize the idea of being viewed as subject matter experts so they will get invited to speak at cons, thereby further inflating their reputations/egos?

    The whole review spoke of shit I have in half a dozen other books already. If I pick up a security book and it has crypto basics or passwd basics in it I'm tempted to just toss it right then and there, especially since most of these tomes are >$40.

    Very few security books find their way to my shelf nowadays since most are redundant. Awesome exceptions include:
    Incident Response (McGraw Hill)
    Practical Unix & Internet Security ( you didn't know)
    Network Intrusion Detection (New Rider)
    Building Internet FWs (OReilly)

    There are others of course but these all share the characteristic of actually *adding knowledge to the field*.
    • Great set of books. However, have you even _read_ this one? I have read most of the above in addition to the Hacknotes series. This hacknotes books gives me the same info in 200 pages that other books give me in 450 pages or more. So, before you go out and list other books that you like, try reading the one being reviewed first.
  • "Though the author warns of the dangers of weak passwords, I would have liked to see a more thorough explanation of how to choose passwords."

    Am I the only person sick of security books having yet another diatribe about password quality? How about a two page summary of recommended settings and the appropriate configuration files/menus? Security theory is nice, but dammit, if I had time to worry about the theories, I'd just read "Practical UNIX and Internet Security" and "Secrets and Lies," before writing a
  • is tantamount to wishful thinking.

    Looking back at the number and severity of vulnerabilities exposed in the past 18 months or so (across many platforms) I am becoming increasingly pessimistic about the effectiveness of preventative measures. The rate at which I need to be patching/updating software to plug the holes has become simply unmanageable. Meanwhile, crackers have access to increasingly effective tools like the new Nmap [] with version detection.

    I'm beginning to question whether the

  • I'm sorry, but in this field, nothing is ever printed because it is out of date so quickly. The thought of carrying around a paper reference book when doing security work is, well, futile.

Maternity pay? Now every Tom, Dick and Harry will get pregnant. -- Malcolm Smith