Linux Fu: User Space File Systems — Now For Windows, Too!

One of the nice things about the Unix philosophy that Linux inherited is that the filesystem is very modular. That’s good, too, because a typical system might want a choice of filesystems like ext4, reiserfs, btrfs, and even network systems like nfs. Besides that, there are fake file systems like /sys and /dev that help Linux make everything look like a file. The downside is that building a filesystem required changing the kernel or, at least, writing a loadable module. That’s not as hard as it sounds, but it is a little more difficult than writing a normal program. Then came FUSE — file system in user space. This is a single file system module that allows you to create new file systems by writing ordinary code.

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Razer Mouse Grants Windows Admin Privileges

As the common saying goes, “all networked computers are vulnerable to exploits, but some networked computers are more vulnerable than others”. While not the exact wording from Animal Farm, the saying does have plenty of merit nonetheless. Sure, there are some viruses and issues with Linux distributions but by far most of the exploits target Windows, if only because more people use it daily than any other operating system. The latest Windows 10 exploit, discovered by [jonhat], is almost comically easy too, and involves little more than plugging in a mouse.

While slightly comforting in that an attacker would need physical access to the device rather than simple network access, it is very concerning how simple this attack is otherwise. Apparently plugging in a Razer mouse automatically launches Windows Update, which installs a driver for the mouse. The installation is run with admin privileges, and a Power Shell can be opened by the user simply by pressing Shift and right-clicking the mouse. While [jonhat] originally tried to let the company know, they weren’t responsive until he made the exploit public on Twitter, and are now apparently working on solving the issue.

Others have confirmed the exploit does in fact work, so hopefully there is a patch released soon that solves the issue. In the meantime, we recommend not allowing strangers to plug any devices into your personal computers as a general rule, or plugging in anything where its origins are unknown. Also remember that some attacks don’t required physical or network access at all, like this one which remotely sniffs keystrokes from a wireless keyboard with less than stellar security, also coincidentally built by Microsoft.

ReactOS Is Going Places, With More Stable AMD64, SMP, And Multi-Monitor Support

In the crowd of GNU/Linux and BSD users that throng our community, it’s easy to forget that those two families are not the only games in the open-source operating system town. One we’ve casually kept an eye on for years is ReactOS, the long-running open-source Windows-compatible operating system that is doing its best to reach a stable Windows XP-like experience. Their most recent update has a few significant advances mentioned in it that hold the promise of it moving from curiosity to contender, so is definitely worth a second look.

ReactOS has had 64-bit builds for a long time now, but it appears they’ve made some strides in both making them a lot more stable, and moving away from the MSVC compiler to GCC. Sadly this doesn’t seem to mean that this now does the job of a 64-bit Windows API, but it should at least take advantage internally of the 64-bit processors. In addition they have updated their support for the Intel APIC that is paving the way for ongoing work on multiprocessor support where their previous APIC driver couldn’t escape the single processor constraint of an original Intel 8259.

Aside from these its new-found support for multiple monitors should delight more productive users, and its improved support for ISA plug-and-play cards will be of interest to retro enthusiasts.

We took a close look at the current ReactOS release when it came out last year, and concluded that its niche lay in becoming a supported and secure replacement for the many legacy Windows XP machines that are still hanging on years after that OS faded away. We look forward to these and other enhancements in their next release, which can’t be far away.

Linux Fu: The Windows X11 Connection

The life of a Linux user can be a bit difficult. Sometimes you have to — or want to — run Windows. Why Windows? Sometimes you have a work computer or a laptop that Linux doesn’t support well. Or it might be software. Although there are plenty of programs that can edit, say, Word documents, there’s always that one document that doesn’t quite translate correctly. Things like videoconferencing software sometimes works on Linux but might have fewer features.

So what do you do? You can dual boot, of course, but that’s not very handy. You can run Windows in a virtual machine if you have enough horsepower. There’s also Wine, but that often has its own set of problems with features and stability of complex programs. However, recent versions of Windows provide the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL).

With WSL, you can have most of what you like about Linux inside your Windows session. You just have to know how to set it up, and I’m going to show you one way that works for me with reasonably stable versions of Windows 10. Continue reading “Linux Fu: The Windows X11 Connection”

The Great Windows 11 Computer Extinction Experiment

There was a time when a new version of Windows was a really big deal, such the launch of Windows 95 for which the tones of the Rolling Stones’ Start me up could be heard across all manner of media outlets. Gradually over years this excitement has petered out, finally leaving us with Windows 10 that would, we were told, be the last ever version of the popular operating system and thence only receive continuous updates

But here we are in 2021, and a new Windows has been announced. Windows 11 will be the next latest and greatest from Redmond, but along with all the hoopla there has been an undercurrent of concern. Every new OS comes with a list of hardware requirements, but those for Windows 11 seem to go beyond the usual in their quest to cull older hardware. Aside from requiring Secure Boot and a Trusted Platform Module that’s caused a run on the devices, they’ve struck a load of surprisingly recent processors including those in some of their current Surface mobile PCs off their supported list, and it’s reported that they will even require laptops to have front-facing webcams if they wish to run Windows 11.

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Making A Kid-Friendly Computer As A Present: Or How To Be The Cool Aunt At Christmas

This article was meant to be finished up before Christmas, so it’ll be a little late whenever you’re reading it to go and prepare this for the holiday. Regardless, if, like me, should you ever be on the lookout for something to give a toddler nephew or relative, it could be worth it to look into your neglected old parts shelves. In my case, what caught my eye was a 9-year-old AMD laptop catching dust that could be better repurposed in the tiny hands of a kid eager to play video games.

The main issues here are finding a decent selection of appropriate games and streamling the whole experience so that it’s easy to use for a not-yet-hacker, all the while keeping the system secure and child-friendly. And doing it all on a budget.

This is a tall order, and requirements will be as individual as children are, of course, but I hope that my experience and considerations will help guide you if you’re in a similar boat.

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Hardware Keymapper Routes Through Raspberry Pi

There are a lot of keyboards to choose from, and a quick trip through some of the forums will quickly show you how fanatical some people can be about very specific styles or switches. [Crdotson] doesn’t seem to be too far down the rabbit hole in that regard, but he does have a keyboard that he really likes despite one small quirk: it’s built for Mac, and some of the modifier keys aren’t laid out correctly for Windows. Since Windows has limited (and poor) options for software keymapping, he took an alternative route and built a keymapper in hardware instead.

The build uses a Raspberry Pi as a go-between from the keyboard to his computer. The Pi watches the USB bus using usbmon, which allows inspection of the packets and can see which keys have been pressed. It then passes those keypresses through to the computer. His only modification to the keyboard mapping is to swap the Alt and Super (Windows) keys for his keyboard of choice, although using this software would allow any other changes to be made as well. Latency is only on the order of a few microseconds, which is not noticeable for normal use cases.

While we have seen plenty of other builds around that can map keyboards in plenty of custom ways, if you don’t have the required hardware for a bespoke solution it’s much more likely that there’s a Raspberry Pi laying around that can do the job instead. There are a few issues with the build that [crdotson] is planning to tackle, though, such as unplugging the device while a key is being pressed, which perpetually sends that keystroke to the computer without stopping. But for now it’s a workable solution for his problem.