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Books: A User's Report

Elizabeth Zinkann

Most administration problems and techniques are documented in more than one book as well as online. Preferred reference materials may differ among administrators. However, some new editions of two favorites have recently been released. This resource-full column includes reviews of a Linux reference, a security book specializing in hacker protection, an administration classic, and a welcome Linux notebook reference. The selections specifically include: Linux in a Nutshell: A Desktop Quick Reference, Third Edition by Ellen Siever, Stephen Spainhour, Stephen Figgins, and Jessica P. Hekman (O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.); Hack Proofing Your Network: Internet Tradecraft by Ryan Russell and Stace Cunningham, Contributors: Ryan Russell, Blue Boar, Riley (caezar) Eller, Georgi Guninski, Oliver Friedrichs, Greg Hoglund, Dan Kaminsky, Elias Levy, Mudge, Rain Forest Puppy, Jeremy Rauch, Stace Cunningham, and Mike Schiffman (Syngress Publishing, Inc.); UNIX System Administration Handbook, Third Edition by Evi Nemeth, Garth Snyder, Scott Seebass, and Trent R. Hein with Adam Boggs, Rob Braun, Ned McClain, Dan Crawl, Lynda McGinley, and Todd Miller (Prentice Hall); and Linux for Your Laptop by Bill Ball, Technically Reviewed by Tuxtops, Inc. (Prima Tech).

Linux in a Nutshell: A Desktop Quick Reference
Third Edition
Ellen Siever, Stephen Spainhour, Stephen Figgins,
and Jessica P. Hekman
O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.
ISBN 0-596-00025-1
797 Pages

The O'Reilly Nutshell series collects essential facts and commands related to any given topic, whether it is Web Design, Tcl/Tk, or the Mac OS. Linux in a Nutshell is no exception; it provides the commands, their syntax, and accompanying descriptions in a compact volume. The third edition features a more streamlined and Linux-specific approach. The authors eliminated the Perl 5 Quick Reference and the ex editor chapters; the chapter on the vi editor now incorporates the ex information. New chapters address GNOME, KDE, fvwm2, and both Red Hat and Debian package managers. The System and Network Administration Overview and the Boot Method chapters have both been expanded and moved to the beginning of the book. The authors also include information on the 2.4 kernel when applicable and possible. (The information was written prior to the release of the 2.4 kernel.) Siever, Spainhour, Figgins, and Hekman present the topics in the following order: the Introduction, System and Network Administration Overview, Linux Commands, Boot Methods, Red Hat and Debian Package Managers, The Linux Shells: An Overview, bash: The Bourne-Again Shell, csh and tcsh, Pattern Matching, The emacs Editor, The vi Editor, The sed Editor, The gawk Scripting Language, CVS and RCS, GNOME, KDE, and the Alternative Window Manager: fvwm2.

The authors describe the commands and concepts through a well-organized and clear approach. Each topic is thoroughly and effectively presented for both users and administrators. This combination makes the third edition of Linux in a Nutshell: A Desktop Quick Reference a valuable resource for the Linux user and an essential tool for the Linux administrator.

Hack Proofing Your Network: Internet Tradecraft
Ryan Russell and Stace Cunningham
Contributors: Ryan Russell, Blue Boar, Riley (caezar) Eller,
Georgi Guninski, Oliver Friedrichs, Greg Hoglund, Dan Kaminsky, Elias Levy, Mudge, Rain Forest Puppy, Jeremy Rauch,
Stace Cunningham, and Mike Schiffman
Syngress Publishing, Inc.
ISBN 1-928994-15-6
450 Pages

The controversy surrounding books on hacking questions the wisdom of revealing system weaknesses. Demonstrating a system's security problems is the best way to show how to safeguard it against intrusion. A hacker may learn additional information from a security book; however, most of the information is also available through other sources. Russell and Cunningham address a wide range of practices, procedures, and weaknesses that can allow a hacker to enter your system. By discovering where and how a hacker could gain access, you identify any system vulnerabilities and learn exactly what must be secured. The authors have divided this book into four major sections: Theory and Ideals, Local Attacks, Remote Attacks, and Reporting. The first section defines many basic hacker-specific terms through the chapters on Politics, Laws of Security, Classes of Attack, and Methodology. The following section, Local Attacks, investigates Diffing, Cryptography, Unexpected Input, and Buffer Overflow. The Remote Attacks segment details Sniffing, Session Hijacking, Spoofing: Attacks on Trusted Identity, Server Holes, Client Holes, and Viruses, Trojan Horses, and Worms. The final division, Reporting, explores Reporting Security Problems.

The authors examine various aspects of system and program security from the viewpoint of a hacker. The numerous examples, URLs, and program resources simulate a hacker's environment and tools. Each chapter includes a title page with the chapter name and a “Solutions in this chapter:” outline, an introduction, a summary, and some FAQs related to the chapter's content. Russell and Cunningham have crafted a unique and intriguing book for the non-hacker. It illustrates what hackers can do, analyzes how they do it, and suggests ways to protect your system against intrusion. Hack Proofing Your Network: Internet Tradecraft presents a realistic and practical guide to the many facets of computer invasion and demonstrates some possible solutions. This excellent book provides a valuable analysis of security from an outside aspect. It is also a fascinating and compelling reading experience, complete with good guys (white hats), bad guys (black hats), and those somewhere in the middle (gray hats).

UNIX System Administration Handbook
Third Edition
Evi Nemeth, Garth Snyder, Scott Seebass, and Trent R. Hein
With Adam Boggs, Rob Braun, Ned McClain, Dan Crawl,
Lynda McGinley, and Todd Miller
Prentice Hall
ISBN 0-13-020601-6
853 Pages

One of the most popular and valuable sources of system information for any UNIX administrator is the UNIX System Administration Handbook. The recently released third edition officially added Linux to the documented operating systems. (The second edition included Solaris, HP-UX, IRIX, SunOS, OSF/1, and BSDI. The third edition provides detailed information about: Red Hat Linux, Solaris, HP-UX, and FreeBSD.) The order of topics has been slightly rearranged and several chapters have either been merged, renamed, or separated. For example, the Usenet news information is in a new chapter entitled Web Hosting and Internet Servers and the former TCP/IP and Routing chapter has been split into two: TCP/IP Networking and Routing.

The inclusion of Red Hat Linux changed some of the book's contents and much of the book has been expanded to reflect new technology and its accompanying procedures. The authors address the current topics through three divisions: Basic Administration, Networking, and Bunch o' Stuff. Basic Administration contains the following chapters: Where to Start, Booting and Shutting Down, Rootly Powers, Controlling Processes, The Filesystem, Adding New Users, Serial Devices, Adding A Disk, Periodic Processes, Backups, Syslog and Log Files, and Drivers and the Kernel. The Networking section contains the chapters related to networking, electronic mail, and other related Internet concepts: TCP/IP Networking, Routing, Network Hardware, The Domain Name System, The Network File System, Sharing System Files, Electronic Mail, Network Management and Debugging, Security, and Web Hosting and Internet Servers. The final section, Bunch o' Stuff, examines Printing, Maintenance and Environment, Performance Analysis, Cooperating with Windows, Policy and Politics, and Daemons.

Nemeth, Snyder, Seebass, Hein, et al. have produced an outstanding resource and reference. Each procedure is explained, the techniques are lucidly described, and any exceptions or shortcuts are noted. The writing throughout the book is clear, thorough, and precise, and the information is presented in a well-organized sequence. This is an exceptional and practical book and a required resource for all UNIX systems administrators.

Linux for Your Laptop
Bill Ball
Technically Reviewed by Tuxtops, Inc.
Prima Tech
ISBN 0-7615-2816-4
487 Pages
Linuxcare Bootable Business Card CD-ROM Included

As the notebook computer simultaneously becomes both more portable and more powerful, users want it to resemble their desktop computing environments. Since laptop components now often rival or exceed those of their desktop counterparts, and in many instances have replaced the desktop computer completely, the desire to use them as Linux computers is not surprising. The challenge is to coerce the hardware to work correctly. In Linux for Your Laptop, author Bill Ball examines the notebook market, installation problems, performance issues, and problems associated with laptops and Linux. He addresses the problems and solutions through four sections: Putting Linux on Your Notebook, Managing Your Notebook -- Making It Work the Way You Want, On the Road -- Problems and Solutions, and Appendixes. In the first section, Ball analyzes the unique hardware issues connected with notebooks through: Choosing a Notebook for Linux, Taking Inventory, Basic Installation Preliminaries, General Installation Procedures, Starting the Installation, and Post-Installation Issues. In Managing Your Notebook -- Making It Work the Way You Want, the author surveys Advanced Power Management, Storage Issues, Display Issues, Input Issues, Networking Issues, and Data Synchronization. The third section, On the Road -- Problems and Solutions, contains: Crash Prevention and Recovery, Printing on the Road, Getting Connected on the Road, Time Zones and Locales, Battery Power, On-the-Road Entertainment, and The Essential Road Kit. The Appendixes include: A) Linux Laptop Resources and B) Using the Bootable Business Card.

The basic compact design of any notebook is the reason for the special consideration it needs. When installing Linux on a desktop computer, there is a hardware conflict or a device driver problem, it's often simpler to just replace the troublesome component if you can't find a workaround for it. Since the display and keyboard are permanent in a notebook, it is more important to find solutions for the existing hardware. Ball provides excellent coverage of the problems associated with notebook hardware and includes a thorough listing of online resources for both software and hardware problems, as well as support for Linux on laptops. For example, the notebook modem is becoming more and more difficult to configure with a Linux system. (This is due to the current and unfortunate trend to include proprietarily driven software modems in many laptops.) However, the most current solutions to this problem are at If there is a workaround or new driver, this site will have all of the information you need. The other solution is to purchase a card type of modem, which will vary depending on your individual notebook.

Another relatively new development is the “Easy Install Linux” software developed by Tuxtops, Inc. to facilitate Linux installation on different brands of notebook computers. ( Ball also offers some excellent practical suggestions, such as the Linux Road Kit, which lists everything you could possibly need for your notebook computing away from home. Additionally, Part II illustrates ways to save space, tailor APM to your preference, and generally customize different settings to your individual selections. Ball also provides excellent information and online resources for Linux questions and solutions. The accompanying Linuxcare business card CD-ROM is a neat bonus, providing a bootable version of Debian, diagnostics, and files to create a Linux boot diskette, to name some of its contents. Linux for Your Laptop is a great reference for notebook hardware, software, and procedures. This is an essential book for every Linux notebook user.

About the Author

Elizabeth Zinkann has been involved in the UNIX and C environment for the past 15 years. She is currently a UNIX and C consultant, and one of her specialties is UNIX education. In addition to her computer science background, she also has a degree in English. Her writing has also appeared in Linux Magazine, Performance Computing, and Network Administrator. Elizabeth can be reached at: