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Installing CentOS Linux as default OS on a Macbook

2013-08-12 16:46:00

While preparing for my RHCSA exams, I was in dire need of a Linux playground. At first I could make do with virtual machines running inside Parallels Workstation on my Macbook. But in order to use Michael Jang's practice exams I really needed to run Linux as the main OS (the tests require KVM virtualization). I tried and I tried and I tried but CentOS refused to boot, mostly ending up on the grey Tux / penguin screen of rEFIt

On my final attempt I managed to get it running. I started off with this set of instructions, which got me most of the way. After resyncing the partition table using rEFIt's menu, using the rEFIt boot menu would still send me to the grey penguin screen. But then I found this page! It turns out that rEFIt is only needed in order to tell EFI about the Linux boot partition! Booting is then done using the normal Apple boot loader!

Just hold down the ALT button after powerin up and then choose the disk labeled "Windows". And presto! It works, CentOS boots up just fine. You can simply set it to the default boot disk, provided that you left OS X on there as well (by using the Boot Disk Selector). tags: , , , ,

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RHCSA achieved

2013-08-12 16:23:00

Huzzah! As I'd hoped, I passed my RHCSA examination this morning. Not only is this a sign that I'm learning good things about Linux, but it also puts me 100% in the green for my continued CISSP-hood: 101 points in domain A and 62 in domain B: 163/120 required points.

I can't be very specific about the examination due to the NDAs, but I can tell a little bit about my personal experience. 

The testing center in Utrecht was pleasant. It's close to the highway and easily accessible because it's not in the middle of town. The amenities are modern and customer-friendly. The testing room itself is decent and the kiosk setup is exactly as shown in Red Hat videos. Personally, I am very happy that RH started with the kiosk exams because of the flexibility it offers. With this new method, you can sit for RHCSA/RHCE/etc almost every day, instead of being bound to a specifc date. 

The kiosk exam comes with continuous, online proctoring meaning that you're not stuck of something goes wrong. In a normal exam situation you'd be able to flag down a proctor and in this case you can simply type in the chatbox to get help. And I did need it on two occasions because something was broken on the RH-side. The online support crew was very helpful and quick to react! They helped me out wonderfully!

I prepared for the test by using two of Michael Jang's books: the RHCSA/RHCE study guide and the RHCSA/RHCE practice exams. If you decide to get those books, I suggest you do NOT go for the e-books because the physical books include DVDs with practice materials. Without going into details of the exams, I found that Jang's books provided me ample preparation for the test. However, it certainly helps to do further investigation on your own, for those subjects that you're not yet familiar with. tags: , ,

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Security measures all of us can take - part 3

2013-08-10 22:53:00

Here's another follow-up with regards to security matters I believe everybody should know. It's a short one: Email is not safe.

It has been said that you "don't put anything in an email that you wouldn't want to see on the evening news." It's not even a matter of the NSA/FBI/KGB/superspies. Email really is akin to writing something on a postcard: it's legible to anyone who can get his hands on it. And like with the postal service, many people can get their hands on your email. 

Here is an excelent and long read on the many issues with email. But to sum it up:

  1. In general, emails are transfered and stored unencrypted. Anyone on the same network as you can read them in passing. Anyone managing an email server can read the mails stored on them.
  2. Source/sender information is easily spoofed. There is no way to guarantee that an email actually came from whoever's name is at the top. 

These two problems can be worked around in a few rather technical manners, most of which are not very user friendly. The most important one is to use GPG/PGP, which allows you to encrypt (problem 1) and to digitally sign (problem 2) the emails that you send. It certainly helps, but it introduces a new problem: key exchange. You now need to swap encryption keys with all people with whom you'll want to swap emails. But at least it's something. 

In the mean time:

Want to send me an encrypted email? Here's my public key :) tags: , ,

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An update on certifications

2013-08-07 22:09:00

Here's a follow-up post to last year's "Confessions of a CISSP slacker".

By the end of last year I was woefully behind on my CPE (continued professional education) requirements, which are needed to retain my CISSP certification. Not only is CISSP a darn hard exam to take, but ISC2 also need you to garner a minimum of 120 study points each three years. In my first two years, I didn't put in much effort meaning I had a trickle of 51 points out of 120. Thus my emergency plan for making it to 120+ points in the span of a year.

All the calculations were made in the linked article and then I set things into motion. My resolve being strengthened by my personal coach I put together a planning for 2013 that would ensure my success. And my hard work has been paying off, because as of tonight I have now achieved the first milestone: the minimum of 80 points in "domain A" (screenshot above). 

The heaviest hitters in obtaining these 29 points are:

The remaining points were garnered by attending online seminars and by perusing a number of issues of InfoSecurity Professional magazine

Next monday I'm scheduled to be taking my RHCSA (Red Hat Certified System Administrator) exam. I've been working hard the past three months and I'm confident that I'll pass the practical exam on my first go. If I do, that's a HUGE load of CPE because all the study time counts towards my CISSP. That would be roughly 20 hours in domain A (security-related) and 60 hours in domain B (generic professional education). And that, my friend, would put me squarely over my minimal requirements! And I haven't even finished all the items on my wishlist :) tags: , ,

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Public and private parts of this site

2013-07-24 23:38:00

As I wrote earlier I have decided to clamp down on what is publicly published about our lives. This means that >80% of my blog has been turned into a private affair, with only work-related materials still being available to the whole world.

Now that my Macbook has crashed and I need to spend a lot of time waiting for the backups to restore, I have spent roughly eight hours updating my CMS code. It was an interesting learning experience and now this site has a basic login/logout functionality. Logging in will simply let you see the website in all of its original glory.

If I haven't contacted you yet about a username+password and you'd like one, drop me an email. tags: , , ,

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When FileVault2 fails, it fails hard

2013-07-23 20:54:00

mac os x boot no access screen

For quite a while now I've had my Macbook's boot drive protected using Apple's full-disk encryption, called FileVault2. I've been very pleased with the overall experience and with the fact that the performance hit wasn't too big. All in all it's a nice tool. 

But today i learned that when (if) FileVault2 fails, it fails hard. 

I was on the train to work, fiddling with my Linux VMs and the virtual NICs. Since something wasn't working right, I reckoned I'd reboot the whole laptop and see if that wouldn't clear things up. Heck, my last reboot was at least 20 days ago, so why not?

Well, turns out that my Macbook wouldn't boot anymore. After entering my FileVault password the system would attempt to boot, halting at the "no access" symbol. Not good.

Basically, the boot loader's working and the part that knows my FileVault passwords was also okay. However, poking around with diskutil on the command line quickly showed that the CoreStorage config for my boot drive had gotten corrupted. It showed disk0s2 as being a CoreStorage physical volume, but this was also listed as "failed". There were no logical volumes to be found. Ouchie. This was confirmed by using the diskutil GUI, which greyed out the option to open the encrypted volume.

The only recourse: to delete the failed volume group and to start anew. I'm restoring my backup image as I write this, after which I'll be restoring my homedir through Time Machine, as before. I'm aware that both Filevault and Time Machine can be a bit flaky, so I'm very lucky that they haven't failed on me simultaneously. 

This is all highly ironic, as my Macbook died only a few days before the arrival of my newly ordered Macbook Air. *groan* Now I'm spending a few hours recovering a laptop, which I'll only be using for four more days. Ah well.

This is again a gentle reminder to all you readers to make proper backups. In my case I'm lucky to only lose a few weeks worth of tweaking my Parallels virtual machines, as I chose not to include those with my Time Machine backups (they'd backup multiple gigs every hour). tags: , , ,

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KVM, libvirt, polkit-1 and remote management

2013-07-16 22:00:00

With Red Hat's default virtualization software KVM, it's possible to remotely manage the virtual machines running on a system. See here for some regular 'virt-ception'.

Out of the box, libvirt will NOT allow remote management of its VMs. If you would like to run a virt-manager connection through SSH, you will need to play around with Polkit-1. There is decent documentation available for the configuration of libvirt and Polkit-1, but I thought I'd provide the briefest of summaries.

Go into /etc/polkit-1/localauthority/50-local.d and create a file called (for example) 10.libvirt-remote.pkla. This file should contain the following entries:

[libvirt Remote Management Access]

This setup will allow anyone with (secondary) group "libvirt" to manage VMs remotely. That's a nice option to put into your standard build! tags: , , ,

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Security measures all of us can take - part 2

2013-07-14 23:28:00

As a follow-up to my previous post on common sense I'd like to touch on Internet privacy. 

A few months ago I decided it was time to clean up my presence in social media. Using various plugins and a with a lot of patience I managed to clear out every post I had ever made to Facebook, Google Plus and Reddit. This decission followed after one-too-many privacy changes on Facebook and the realization that despite my best intentions I was still sharing a lot of information. I now regularly go over all of my social profiles to ensure nothing is "leaking out", as all parties involved have proven not to care too much about your privacy. 

What's more, is that I've come to reconsider my online profile. You know how we warn our kids never to give out their real names on the Internet? Or their address and whatnot? Isn't it ironic then, that I've been doing just that for well over a decade? Not only that, but I've kept a pretty detailed diary and have interacted with thousands of people through dozens of forums. I've used the same alias in all of those places, making myself very identifiable. 

Better late than never, but I've finally come to the decission to try and break down that online persona as well as possible. Wherever I can I've taken to changing my usernames and identifiers. That's one hint for people: don't use the same name everywhere.

A second point: on many forums it's not possible to delete all the posts you made. Most forums are of the opinion that providing an option to delete one's whole history is detrimental to both the discussions and to the content of their site. And of course they're right. So if you want to start culling posts you will either need to be selective and pick the worst stuff, or you'll spend hours upon hours manually deleting each and every post you made. Luckily there are tools to help you out, like Greasemonkey scripts that can automate browser tasks: to delete reddit comments, or to clean your facebook timeline. They're not foolproof, but it helps.  

Remember: just about everything on the Internet is forever. If it's not people making copies of your photos or text, it's companies! The famous Internet wayback machine regularly snapshots whole websites for posterity. And sites like shamelessly take your whole Facebook/Google+/Twitter feed and retain fully searchable copies on their own website. 

It's been said before and it'll be often repeated: think about what you post and to whom you make it available. Review your privacy settings on social media frequently and think hard if you want something to be shared across the globe. 

That's why I've decided to dedicate the public version of this website to my professional activites: work, programming, learning. All of the other things will be passworded and only available to myself and my family. tags: , ,

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