Backtrack 5 is out! Do you get a kernel panic when you startx? The FIX is here!

by on May.18, 2011, under Hardware, Security, Tutorials, Whining

So, being someone who used Backtrack daily for my career, I routinely make sure I’m current with Backtrack.  So Backtrack 5 is out, I went and grabbed x64 KDE version, backedup up my PSKL directory on BT4R2, and blew it away…

First thing, startx didn’t load from the DVD until I removed some cache files…
rm /root/.kde/cache-root/icon-cache.kcache
rm /root/.kde/cache-root/plasma_theme_Volatile.kcache
rm /root/.kde/cache-bt/icon-cache.kcache
rm /root/.kde/cache-bt/plasma_theme_Volatile.kcache

So finally startx loaded and I was able to use the graphical installer to install it to my hard drive on my laptop.

When I rebooted, I did startx, and got a kernel panic (blinking caps lock light).   So I’m like, “M’kay, x64 kde is borked…” so I grabbed x64 gnome, repeat process, same things, x32 gnome, repeat process, same thing.  ok, it’s NOT borked, I’m just not doing it right.

so I searched and searched, found nothing immediately useful.  (I could bore the heck out of anyone with some of the searches I did to get at this one…)

Finally, I found this kernel parameter: i915.modeset=1

they should rename that to “setbrokentofixed=1”

So, put that at the end of your GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT in your /etc/default/grub and update-grub!

Boom, I appended that and now startx works and I can enjoy the BT5 goodness…   Now I just gotta configure my metasploit account on there and put my pskl directory back with all out awesome scripts.

Enjoy BackTrack 5!

Update (June 15th 2011): Talking with a few others, including the great comments here, you might need this like in your /etc/default/grub
Alternative line from Daveonator:
GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT=”text splash vga=791 i915.modeset=1″
then update-grub.

Try it, and let us know.

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Never Use Email Tech Support. Ever.

by on Jan.14, 2011, under Hardware, Whining

Today I’d like to thank Panasonic for reminding me why I should never use an “email tech support” form, even if the question I have is simple and clear. In the future I’ll look back on this post to remind myself to either call tech support or simply shoot myself in the face.
A bit of background on this exchange (so that you know what the techs know):
I bought a few Panasonic C1 Toughbook convertible tablets (to replace old Lenovo ThinkPad X60 tablets). All of our Lenovo tablets had built-in Verizon radios (Sierra mini PCIe cards) even though we only activated about 10 of them at any given time. They were a cheap option so we figured “why not” when we bought the tablets. Tablets would change hands and I’d simply move the activation from one radio to another and the user would never know the difference. I’ve also been known to physically remove these radios from Lenovo tablets and move them to Dell laptops when the need came up. Worked just fine.
When I was shopping for the Toughbooks I noticed that they only come with a Gobi option for a WWAN radio and the option is rather expensive. I figured “why pay a few hundred $$ for a Gobi radio when I already have a bunch of Verizon radios laying around for free?” I examined the first few Toughbooks and found what I suspected would be there: a mini PCIe slot with antenna wires ready to be connected to a radio…just like the Dells…just like the Lenovos. I tried installing 2 different models of Sierra Wireless radios and neither of them worked. It was as if they were not there at all. I suspect there is a hardware switch somewhere that enables the mini PCIe slot or some alternate BIOS that adds in the ENABLE/DISABLE option for WWAN (which is documented as being in the BIOS in the Gobi-equipped machines)…or maybe they did something completely different and goofy that I’m not thinking of.
I didn’t want to spend 4 hours on the phone searching for an answer to this question, so I figured I’d use their “contact tech support” form and wait for an email response. Here is what I sent:

Subject: Hardware
Inquiry: Toughbook CF-C1 tablets… I have 7 of them so far.
I got them without WWAN cards but now I would like to add them. I see the mini PCIe slot and the antenna wires seem all ready to go, but when I put in a Sierra Wireless MC5725 (Verizon) card, it is as if it isn’t there. The system doesn’t see it at all. The option in the bios to enable or disable a WWAN card seems to be missing completely. These Sierra cards work fine in my Dells and my Lenovos.
Is it possible to get this to work? Is there a hardware switch somewhere that I need to turn on to enable the mini-PCIe slot?

It only took about 8 hours to get a response I should have expected:

Thank you for your continued support of Panasonic Toughbook computers.

The CF-C1 does not have a Sierra Wireless MC5725 (Verizon) card it has a Qualcomm / Gobi module.

Yes, yes… that is what I was confused about: which card the system ships with. Thanks so much for taking the time to skim my question with the attention of a coke-sniffing gnat.

If anybody out there knows the definitive answer to my question, I’d love to hear it, but really just for the sake of curiosity. I’ve decided to just have the users get MiFi units instead of messing with built-in Verizon cards from now on.

For what it’s worth, these Toughbooks are really really nice. They are REALLY expensive, but really nice, too. They are shockingly light…the first time people pick them up they think it is an empty shell and not a real computer. They are very fast, too, and the semi-ruggedness is very handy for us because our users aren’t the most gentle people with their hardware. Battery life is excellent, especially if you get the optional second battery (get it).

Thanks, Panasonic tech support!

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500mW USB Adapter goodness!

by on Oct.26, 2010, under Hardware, Security, Tutorials

Alfa 500mW AWUS036H USB Wireless Adapter 802.11 b/g Network Radio Card is a win in Backtrack 4!

I picked up a Alfa USB Wireless Adapter about a month or so ago, and it’s a definitely a good card for Backtrak 4.

For some reason, I’m one of the few that had to switch the realtek driver for it, and boom, every wireless utility a tried in BT4 worked great.  (I’m using BT4 RC1, on a Lenovo x201.)

So to get the good love, follow my simple steps in BT4:
vi /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist

find “blacklist r8187” (if you don’t know how to use vi or vim, I weep for you.)
comment that out with the hash / pound / number / whateveryoucallitinyourworld “#”, and add this line:
blacklist rtl8187

save it and reboot. (too used to dealing winblows.. probably could remove it and rmmod the rtl8187)
it should be using the r8187 kernel module instead of the rtl8187.

Boom, kismet should work and all the other good stuff should work in BT4 with this good card.

A side item: if you’ve never used wepbuster to show someone how bad wep is, *do it*.
Eric and I wrote some scripts for DEFCON a few years ago to automatically crack WEP with the parts that were around then. This does something just like it, but seems to run through all the different vectors you could use. Basically, start it, and let it go… very handy!

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Review: LifeShield Wireless Homeview Camera

by on Oct.15, 2010, under Group News, Hardware, Presentations, Reviews

UPDATE (2012-05-10): I’ve been less-than-thrilled with the business practices of LifeShield lately. I still am a big fan of their products and services, so these reviews stand true, but if you’d like to know what they are up to, read this blog post.

Full disclosure: LifeShield sent me this camera for review, I did not purchase it.

Homeview Camera

As you all know from my InGrid/LifeShield security system review, I’m a big fan. I’ve been using the system for a few months now and I’m still very happy with my purchase. I’ve added on a few peripherals of sorts, such as a water detector, which will let me know if my second-floor laundry room is flooding. I had considered buying a network camera to attach to the system, but I just hadn’t gotten around to it yet.

Lucky for me, the folks from LifeShield contacted me and said that they liked my review. “Would you like to do a review of one of our new wireless cameras?” they asked. Not a difficult question to answer, so the camera showed up a few days later.

The Hardware:

The camera sells for $129.99 on

Package includes the camera, the base/mount, AC power adapter and an ethernet cable.

The camera itself has 640×480 resolution.

This appears to be some sort of stock hardware made by a 3rd party as it looks exactly like the wireless camera you can get with the Schlage LiNK system.


Adding the camera to the security system is very simple. Before you can use it wirelessly, you need to power on the camera and plug it into your wired network. The two lights on the front indicate power and network activity, so you can tell pretty quick if it is up and running. Once it is booted up, you simply navigate to Cameras >> Add Camera on the LifeShield handset or base unit. It will scan for a few seconds, find the camera, then allow you to “name” it.

Now that the camera is attached, you need to log on to My LifeShield and you’ll notice that now there is 1 camera listed under the Cameras tab. Click on Camera Settings and you’ll see the options that are available to you. The first thing you’ll probably want to do is adjust the wireless settings so that the camera can connect to your wireless network. It had no problem connecting to my home WPA2-encrypted wireless network.

On the settings page, you can also tell it to flip the image horizontally, vertically, or both, which will open up your camera mounting options. You can also tell it to turn the front LEDs off if you want a stealthier mount. Image quality settings are also available, such as brightness and contrast.


Now that you have the wireless settings nailed down, you can move the camera away from the wired connection and test it out. Make sure that the camera successfully connects to your wireless network by going back to the web UI and telling it to take a test shot. If it all works out honky-dory, feel free to move the camera to where you intend to permanently mount it. Once you plug it in, it should connect to your wifi and you can take another test shot to confirm that it is working.

General Use:

Now that the camera is set up to view your front door or your kid’s room or the garage, what can you do with it?

There are 2 levels of service for the camera with LifeShield. The basic service is free with the monitoring package you are already paying for, and this is the service I have. I’ll explain what you can do with this service in a moment. The 2nd level of service is $6/month, and it allows you to add special triggers and to view live video and images from the camera remotely. I have not tested this service, but I’ll report here if I decide to activate it.

I have reviewed the basic service, however, and here’s what it can do for you:

  • When your alarm is triggered, have the camera take a pic or record video
  • Using the new mobile app or the mobile My LifeShield page, you can tell it to take a pic at any time and then view it.

This obviously makes the camera a lot less useful, but if this is all you really want it to do, it is great that it won’t cost you any extra money per month.

I kind of glossed over it quickly, but you may have noticed my mention of the new mobile app from LifeShield. This was just released recently and if you have an Android phone, an iPhone, or a fairly new BlackBerry, you’ll want to install this app. It is a MUCH better experience than the mobile My LifeShield web page. I’ll be writing a review of the app as soon as I can.


As I mentioned before, the camera only produces a 640×480 image, so you won’t be getting a lot of detail here. It is enough to get some idea of what is going on, though. I’d rate the quality as similar to a low-end USB webcam (like an old Logitech QuickCam). Actually, I’m sure the sensor in the camera is the same as is used in webcams. As is the case with webcams, performance is good as long as there is decent light. If you don’t have the camera pointing towards a well-lit area, the image quality will degrade and get extremely noisy very quickly.

…which brings me to my problem with the unit: it doesn’t have IR illuminating LEDs. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out this TRENDnet IP Camera. It has a bunch of IR LEDs around the lens that will (invisibly to the naked eye) light up the area in front of the camera. “Night vision,” for lack of a better phrase. Our eyes can’t see IR light but digital camera sensors pick it up just fine. A camera that turns on these LEDs once the lights go out allow you to see what is going on in a pitch-black room. It would look something like this (sample shot from a camera that does have IR illum):


So I ask: what is the point of the camera taking a picture at the time an alarm goes off if there is no IR illumination? Do you expect your thieves to come in during the day, or to turn on all the lights? Chances are good that you’d get a picture of blackness.

That’s a bit disappointing, but probably not a deal breaker. Chances are good that you’re more interested in using this camera for much more casual photos than for catching a crook. If you had this camera mounted in your front hall so you could see people coming in the front door (probably not in pitch-black), you’ll be just fine.


If you are looking for an easy-to-implement home surveillance camera and you don’t want to spend a ton of money, this camera will work just fine. Some people would say “why not just buy an IP camera that is higher resolution and has more options?” Well, if you are asking that question, this camera might not be for you. IP cameras are fine for those of us who know how to set them up and allow access to them from outside our router/firewall, etc, but I don’t think that’s the target audience for this camera. This camera’s biggest selling point, I think, is the ease of setup and use. Unlike a lot of IP cams I’ve used in the past, I haven’t yet had to reboot this camera. It just works, and that’s the most important part.

UPDATE 12-08-2011: I’ve been using this camera a lot more since I realized that it has a web UI. What does this mean? It means I can view live video from the camera from my phone or tablet via a VPN connection and this app IP Cam Viewer. This requires some networking know-how on your part, but it sure beats paying an extra monthly fee to be able to view live video from the camera.

Do you own this camera, and has your experience been different from mine? Please let me know in the comments.

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$5 Geiger Counter Speaker

by on Dec.20, 2009, under Hardware

Five Below ( sells a number of amplified “iPod Speakers” for $4 – $5.  The units I picked up contain a decent audio amplifier and work surprisingly well when connected to the high impedance headphone jack of your civil defense Geiger counter.

Simply crack the case and add a panel-mount RCA jack (or connector of your choice).  Bridge the left and right channels together and connect to the line level input on the amplifier board.  Reassemble, connect, and enjoy!

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