The threat that wasn’t.

Well, that old Acer Travelmate with its paltry 256Mb of memory is now running Linux. Puppy Linux, to be precise. It couldn’t manage Ubuntu or Mint but it’s back in action with a little version of Linux. Now it’s worth trying the physical fixing it needs.

The place it’s going (assuming it survives surgery) doesn’t yet have a landline phone but he’s getting one. Along with an internet connection. The Acer doesn’t have wireless so it’ll need a cable link to the modem but that’s okay. It doesn’t have a working main battery either so it’s not exactly portable. Replacement battery, more memory, well it’s possible but it’s not really worth the expenditure. He’s only going to play card games and mah-jong on it, and maybe progress to picking up email and a bit of light internet. The guy’s down to three fingers on one hand and four on the other, and the ones he has left don’t all work. He won’t be doing a lot of typing.

Tomorrow it is highly likely, well, pretty much certain, that the replacement for this old and battered machine will arrive. Bucko has sent it on its way and it arrived at the Aberdeen depot this afternoon. Tomorrow night I’ll be playing around with it – unfortunately I will be at work Saturday (still in pain, it seems, since I appear to have done something not immediately recoverable from – again) so it won’t be a late session. I have been setting up CDs with various forms of Linux so I can try out a few. Naturally, this new one won’t get Puppy. That’s for the old, limited-memory machines.

No surprise then that today, in the Mail, is the news that all Linux/Unix – based machines are about to die from the Phantom Hacker.

The Mail’s ignorance of computer matters far surpasses my own. A software bug is not a virus. It’s not something that is deliberately and maliciously created. It’s a programming flaw. It won’t ‘jump around your house’ infecting the smart light bulb (WTF?) and your magic front door lock. Wait – why in Hell does anyone want their front door lock connected to the internet?

Programming flaws like this allow a hacker to get access to your computer once they have found it on the internet and broken through any firewalls you might have. Didn’t install a firewall? Most operating systems, certainly Windows, have one installed anyway and so do most broadband routers. So it’s likely you already have two you didn’t know about.

If you have an antivirus package installed (if you don’t, get one) it most likely came with another firewall program. If a hacker is going to all the trouble of getting into your computer than he must believe you have something important in there. Viruses are random. Hacker attacks are specifically targeted. They aren’t likely to come after an individual but are more likely to go after big corporate systems, which are full of data they can steal and sell.

Bank details? The criminals get all they can use and more from those who fall for phishing emails. They don’t need to pick apart the code in one machine at a time. All they need do is press a button and send ten million random emails. A 0.01% response will be more than enough to keep them busy.

Apparently this particular flaw has existed for 25 years and there have been no reports of any hacker activity. ‘Oh, but there could have been, without anyone noticing’, shrieks the Mail. I think most people would notice if their bank accounts were inexplicably emptied or the bailiffs arrived to enforce payment of a loan they hadn’t taken out. Hackers might well be now looking at this flaw – but it’s already been patched. Unless the IT community is composed of a load of utter berks, they would not have made this news until it was already fixed.

I’m still going with Linux. It still sees a lot less virus/hacker activity than Windows and it’s free. One other defence I have is a floating IP address. Every time I have to reboot the router it reconnects to the ISP and is assigned whichever IP address is available. It changes all the time. So even if a hacker decided to rummage around in my not-interesting collection of old photos, LOLcat images and old music videos from YouTube, well, I might be plugged into a different connection tomorrow.

This bug might well be a big problem for companies with loads of sensitive or private data and a large network but for the individual, not so much.

Not even the ones who connect their lightbulbs to the internet. Seriously, WTF?




6 thoughts on “The threat that wasn’t.

  1. The guy’s down to three fingers on one hand and four on the other, and the ones he has left don’t all work. He won’t be doing a lot of typing.

    Well I have the full complement of ten, but I manage to get by using only two fingers, so he shouldn’t have a problem. 🙂

    Not even the ones who connect their lightbulbs to the internet. Seriously, WTF?

    WTF indeed!


  2. LI,
    No need for any domestic Linuxer to lose sleep over the shellshock bug. It’s the Linux servers that are the target. (started happening, only a few hours after the bug was announced to great fanfare. And the first patch has another bug. ) OTOH, it’s probably a good idea to avoid buying online for a few days, you’ve no idea how good the vendor’s setup is. That’s the hole that’s exploitable.


  3. Acer Travelmate + Puppy. Sounds good. A few years ago I had an old second (probably third, fourth) hand Dell Latitude C600. I started using Puppy linux when the HDD died. Just put a Puppy cd in the cd drive and booted from that. I Velcro’d a USB hub, USB WiFi adapter and a 2gb USB drive, for storage, to the back of the screen. I used that setup for months until I could get a new HDD.


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