Restock your IT toolbox

I've discovered my dream job: CIO of Pebble Beach Resorts. I spent all last week there with the mostly glam fam, and it's definitely the place for me. Even Honolulu didn't relax me that much. (Then again, I'm working when I'm in Honolulu, not golfing and then lying around drinking in front of a giant fireplace -- but why burst my fantasy?) I'm sure Clint & Co. could use the talents of a widely versed technology analyst with the ability to manage others to do all the real work. (Think of me, guys. I'm not kidding. I work cheap.)

After all, bad things happen on every network, and only guys like me know all the latest tricks and tools to get past them and back to the calm, tranquil lifestyle that so encapsulates you out there in Carmel. Where I wish to return. Right now. Today.

Enough of that. To get 2006 off to the right start, let's keep avoiding the most-important-technologies-of-2006 routine (VoIP, perimeter security, Vista, and shooting patent lawyers, if you really need to know my top four). Let's get right down to brass tacks and talk about tools to use if you bump into some of those day-to-day headaches we all look to avoid but that always catch up to us on just the wrong day. Best of all, they're mostly free.

First, a new buddy, Kiltak of the Geeksaresexy blog, found a pretty excellent set of Windows diagnostic and recovery tools available on a single CD -- all free as the air we're breathing now. (That is still free, right George?) The toolkit has only one flaw, which is, as usual, its name: UBCD4Win (Ultimate Boot CD for Windows). Other than that, it's a real geek Swiss army knife, containing all kinds of recovery tools, including anti-virus scans, document readers, CD burners, e-mail clients, boot record fixers, disk copiers and defraggers, disk erasers and search utilities, Linux partition browsers, registry analyzers, port scanners, and way more. Yes, it's a geek tool, so don't expect a UBCD for Dummies book, but if you're a day-to-day sys admin, this thing may be more of a lifesaver than a flak vest at the post office.

But what about that emergency where either the machine is simply DOA or you do the unthinkable: Forget the admin password. Yeah, laugh it up, fuzzball; but if I had a dime for every time I had to call one of the contract sys admins to ask him for the recently changed password and then get that telltale pause. "Um. Did you try P4ssw0rd? No? Are you sure I changed it?" It's stuff like this that makes guys like me show up at the office one fine sunny day with a briefcase, a chai latte, and an AK-47.

But put down the weapon, Oliver. Instead check into any one of a number of Linux-based boot CDs designed especially for this purpose. My personal favorite thus far is Austrumi. This guy boots off a biz-card-size CD and immediately brings up a console utility that automatically detects all Windows partitions along with a menu for modifying any Windows password on the system. You need console access, and it doesn't do much for your faith in basic Windows security, but in a pinch, I'm willing to overlook that kind of stuff.

There are other bootable Penguin password recovery/cracking utilities. Most run off CDs in this modern day, but you can still find a few such as John the Ripper or EBCD (Emergency Boot CD) that can be made to run off a floppy drive. I like Austrumi because I like things as simple as possible and they've got that down pretty well.

For everything else, I'm making UBCD4Win a permanent part of my Deal With It! Toolkit. Hope you're having a happy start to 2006, and if you're not, one of these tools might help get you back on the right track.

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Oliver Rist

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