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Books: A User's Report

Elizabeth Zinkann

This is my last column for Sys Admin magazine. I thank the many readers who have written throughout the years with comments, questions, and the occasional correction. I have been extremely fortunate the past 9+ years and have enjoyed corresponding with and meeting many of you. I have also been privileged to work with extraordinary editors and publishers, including Bruce and Karen Hunter, Robert Ward, Martha Masinton, Ralph Barker, Amber Ankerholz, Lori White, Michelle Parmley, Dana LaPoint, and Rikki Endsley. Thank you for a fantastic experience and I hope to see you online! elizabeth

This month's reviews concentrate on systems and their security. They include: Counter Hack: A Step-by-Step Guide to Computer Attacks and Effective Defenses by Ed Skondis (Prentice Hall Series in Computer Networking and Distributed Systems, Prentice Hall), Scott Mueller's Upgrading And Repairing PCs, 13th Edition by Scott Mueller (Que Publishing), and White-Hat Security Arsenal: Tackling the Threats by Aviel D. Rubin, Foreword by William R. Cheswick (Addison-Wesley).

Counter Hack: A Step-by-Step Guide to Computer Attacks and Effective Defenses
Ed Skondis
Prentice Hall Series in Computer Networking and Distributed Systems
Prentice Hall
ISBN 0-13-033273-9
564 Pages

The Internet has become a convenient and trusted tool for many users. It can (and often does), however, give the user a false sense of security. An intruder looks for weaknesses or a lax procedure in order to gain access to the system. Different types of intrusion demand individual types of responses and defenses to maintain a system's integrity. In Counter Hack: A Step-by-Step Guide to Computer Attacks and Effective Defenses, author Ed Skondis examines the various types of intruder, known vulnerabilities in the most popular operating systems, and defenses that administrators can employ to protect their systems. He also analyzes the process of hacking and presents scenarios that demonstrate hacking or intrusion as it could occur.

He specifically illustrates these processes through: the Introduction; Networking Overview: Pretty Much Everything You Need to Know about TCP/IP to Follow the Rest of This Book in 55 Pages or Less, UNIX Overview: Pretty Much Everything You Need to Know about UNIX to Follow the Rest of This Book in 30 Pages or Less; Windows NT/2000 Overview: Pretty Much Everything You Need to Know about Windows to Follow the Rest of This Book in 40 Pages or Less; Phase 1: Reconnaissance; Phase 2: Scanning; Phase 3: Gaining Access Using Application and Operating System Attacks; Phase 3: Gaining Access Using Network Attacks; Phase 3: Denial-of-Service Attacks; Phase 4: Maintaining Access: Trojans, Backdoors, and RootKits...Oh My!; Phase 5: Covering Tracks and Hiding; Putting It All Together: Anatomy of an Attack; The Future; Resources; and Conclusions.

Skoudis has created an extraordinary book in several ways: he demonstrates the vulnerabilities of system design and implementation, illustrates the processes a hacker utilizes to gain access to a system, presents scenarios of intrusions, and offers defensive measures to ward off would-be invasions. His writing style is excellent, refreshing, and often humorous. Counter Hack: A Step-by-Step Guide to Computer Attacks and Effective Defenses is essential reading for every systems and network administrator.

Scott Mueller's Upgrading and Repairing PCs
13th Edition
Scott Mueller
Que Publishing
ISBN 0-7897-2542-0
1556 Pages
CD-ROM Included

The advantages of understanding the mechanics of computer systems and their individual components provide numerous opportunities. Whether you build an entire system, add a new peripheral, replace an existing component, or maintain a system's integrity, the principles remain the same. It is necessary, however, to be able to evaluate new developments, hardware, and prevalent trends as they occur. The thirteenth edition of Scott Mueller's Upgrading And Repairing PCs presents extensive coverage and thorough explanations of both new and legacy hardware, including processors, chipsets, DVD drives, and memory choices.

Mueller addresses various hardware considerations in the following order: Personal Computer Background; PC Components, Features, and System Design; Microprocessor Types and Specifications; Motherboards and Buses; BIOS; Memory; The IDE Interface; The SCSI Interface; Magnetic Storage Principles; Hard Disk Storage; Floppy Disk Storage; High-Capacity Removable Storage; Optical Storage; Physical Drive Installation and Configuration; Video Hardware; Audio Hardware; I/O Interfaces from Serial and Parallel to IEEE-1394 and USB; Input Devices: Internet Connectivity; Local Area Networking; Power Supply and Chassis/Case; Portable PCs; Building or Upgrading Systems; PC Diagnostics, Testing, and Maintenance; and File Systems and Data Recovery. The Appendices contain A) Glossary, B) Key Vendor Contact Information, and C) Troubleshooting Index succeeded by a List of Acronyms. The accompanying CD-ROM includes a 90-minute video/tutorial by the author, technical documentation reference section, a vendor database, and four previous editions of the book in PDF format.

This is also a superb reference. This 13th edition describes how to build a PC as well as upgrade it, demonstrates making your own networking cables, provides expanded troubleshooting coverage plus a troubleshooting procedure index, and case/chassis requirements for the new Pentium 4. Mueller also discusses the different processors, complete with illustrations, form factors, power requirements, and the capabilities of the various chipsets. The inclusion of previous editions on the CD-ROM increases the book's value and portability. Scott Mueller's Upgrading and Repairing PCs, 13th Edition, is an excellent resource for any and every hardware technician (and the rest of us, too!)

White-Hat Security Arsenal: Tackling the Threats
Aviel D. Rubin
Foreword by William R. Cheswick
ISBN 0-201-71114-1
330 Pages

The concerns surrounding the implementations and the fundamental design and implementations of security practices have evolved into a series of questions. Whether you are a systems administrator, an IT consultant, or a user, the issues of secure transmission and confidential data are essential considerations. In White-Hat Security Arsenal, Rubin examines the risks threatening computer systems, some past viruses and worms, the most common dangers to a system, and some solutions.

He addresses the topics through five separate areas: Is There Really a Threat?, Storing Data Securely, Secure Data Transfer, Protecting Against Network Threats, and Commerce and Privacy. In the first part, the author looks at the risks and some recent security trespassers through: Shrouded in Secrecy, Computer Security Risks, and The Morris Worm Meets the Love Bug: Computer Viruses and Worms. In the viruses and worm chapter, he analyzes the Morris Worm, Melissa, CIH Chernobyl, Happy 99, Worm.ExploreZip (also known as W32ExploreZip), Bubbleboy, Babylonia, and The Love Bug, and utilizes a parallel structure to compare them. Rubin discusses the impact of each virus or worm in the following contexts: When It Hit and What It Did, How and Why It Worked, The Consequences, How We Recovered, and Lessons Learned. In the second major section, Storing Data Securely, the author describes Local Storage (including a favorite product, PGPDisk), Remote Storage, and Secure Backup.

The following part, Secure Data Transfer, features Setting Up a Long-Term Association, Deriving Session Keys, and Communicating Securely After Key Setup. Part IV, Protecting Against Network Threats, demonstrates protecting a network perimeter, including firewalls and remote access capabilities and defending against attacks. The concluding section focuses on commerce and privacy and scrutinizes protecting e-commerce and privacy. This section contains information about the SSL Protocol, using credit cards, the pros and cons of using Passport, protecting your email and posting anonymously, among other topics. Rubin also provides a glossary and an extensive bibliography. The topic of each chapter is identified with one or more icons to show its intended audience. The four icons are: system administrator, the academic, the IT professional, and the surfer/end user. The beginning of most of the chapters start with a scenario comprised of a problem statement (what the administrator is trying to accomplish) and the threat model (what the dangers are within the scenario). Our familiar cryptographic couple, Alice and Bob, illustrate each example.

In White-Hat Security Arsenal: Tackling the Threats, author Aviel Rubin addresses the most important problems and questions concerning security, privacy, and invasion regarding computer systems and data integrity. He presents the issues and possible solutions in a very readable format, utilizing numerous case studies in the process. His valuable and productive portrayals detail how to become more proficient in establishing a secure environment. Rubin's superior explanations make this an essential book to read, whether to overcome a specific and immediate obstacle or to generate a security policy. White-Hat Arsenal: Tackling the Threats provides an exceptional reference for anyone involved with system security, protection, and defense.

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: