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Add February introduction to Linux presentation.

Joachim Desroches 1 year ago
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Joachim Desroches
Craft v.s. Science
1. Linux: About and Philosophy
2. Shell
3. Asymmetric Cryptography
4. SSH and PGP
5. Git
6. Practical tools
1. Linux
# Linux is actually only the kernel, and needs a bunch of userland utilities
# to be of any use. Usually though, when we say linux, we mean the whole OS.
operating system
# Additionally to interacting with the hardware, it comes with the usual
# facilities we expect of an OS: compiler, user management, logging...
(em)power users
# General purpose, but of philosophy aimed at power users. Know what you are
# doing, think before you type, read the docs.
# Most powerful concept is that everything is a file. Indexed in the FSH, and
# can be accessed and manipulated that way. Example: disk, serial port.
# config!!
# Names like ubuntu, Alpine, Debian are distros. Usually represent a package
# manager and a usage philosophy.
2. Shell
# -> GNUGEN's presentation
3. Asymmetric Cryptography
secret + key > encrypted
encrypted - key > secret
share key
public key
private key
secret + public key > encrypted
encrypted - public key > garbage
encrypted - private key > secret
secret + private key > signature
signature - public key > valid!
5. SSH and PGP
# Main crypto usage in our tooling
PGP: Pretty Good Privacy
GPG: GNU Privacy Guard
# We'll go into GPG if we have time and interest, for now let us stay on SSH.
SSH: Secure SHell
remote access
authentication keys
private & public SSH keys
# Give the server your public, and show you can decrypt the challenge
some policy
# Secrets are important! Don't let them be stolen
password-protected accounts
encrypted hard drives
# I'd say that's good enough for us for now. More would take too much
# resources to enforce. Ideally, password-protect with something in your head
# or your password manager.
5. Git
# -> GNUGEN's presentation
6. Practical tools
PuTTY, WSL - SSH for windows


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author: Joachim Desroches
date: 2021-02-15
fontsize: 11pt
geometry: margin=2.5cm
- Linux
- e-Durable
lang: en-US
mainfont: Times New Roman
papersize: A4
subject: Linux usage and administration
subtitle: Simple and Effective Tools
title: Linux and Tools Introduction
toc-depth: 2
toc: true
# About Linux
## Big fat warning
As I'm sure you all know, system administration is a craft and not a science. It is made up of accumulated knowledge,
empirical rules and experience. I give a high-level overview of the most important concepts I could think of over the WE
here, but only though usage, habit and trial and error can anyone get fluent in *nix. This doesn't mean you shouldn't
read the fine manual though :)
## Linux is a Kernel
Linux is actually only the kernel, and needs a bunch of userland utilities to be of any use. Usually though, when we say
Linux, we mean the whole OS, so including the usual additional facilities we expect: logging, user and privilege
management, compilers...
Though you can build it to be anything, the main philosophy change between Linux and windows/MacOS - or rather, between
windows/MacOS and everything else - is that we don't take users for idiots. Think before you type, because your actions
are powerful and irreversible. If you remove a file, it is lost. If you have the permission to do an action, the system
will neither warn nor stop you. It is expected that you read and understand the documentation. Once you are used to
this, you find the safeguards and child barriers on common desktop OSes to be an absolute PITA!
## Everything is a file
The most powerful concept in the *nix philosophy is that everything should do one thing and do it well. This is not the
subject of this paragraph.
The second most powerful concept in *nix is that everything is a file. Disks, network sockets, serial and USB ports, and
all the physical and virtual resources the system has access to is represented as files. This means that you can treat
the contents of a disk like the contents of a text file, and that the same simple mechanisms provided by the kernel can
be reused everywhere in system programming. This makes code readable and palatable.
In a similar design fashion, most tools in the \*nix world are configured using a *configuration file*. Several syntaxes
exist, but are usually one form or another of key-value store. This is the reason why you see « hackers » always going
around in text interfaces: in the *nix world, [your text editor is your mollusc](
Different editors exist: you'll probably encounter nano and vim at some point in your career. Vim takes some time to
learn but is really nice to use, nano is very simple and easy to use.
## Distributions
Names like Ubuntu, Alpine, Debian are *distributions* of the GNU/Linux operating system. Usually, a distribution is
tied to a package manager (a way to distribute software) and a design / usage philosophy. Debian makes a rock-solid OS
with tried and tested software, Ubuntu strives to be user-friendly, making the beaten track easy and anything else a
pain, and Alpine is a minimal system that gives maximal control to the user. They all use the same kernel, but come with
different pre-installed mechanisms and software.
# The Shell
The shell is the program that presents you with a prompt containing some (configurable) information, munches the text
you type it and *interprets* the *commands* represented by what you typed. Several exist, but you're probably good
sticking with `bash(1)`. A command is modified by the context in which it is run: the current working directory
(obtained through `pwd`, modified with `cd`) and the environment variables (obtained through `env`, modified with `set`
and `export`). The command you typed is executed in this context and passed the rest of your line as *arguments*, which
can be both (long and short) flags, or actual data to munch (numbers, file names, gibbering magical incantations).
Shells also come with a scripting language, a minimal programming language consisting of the usual control facilities
(if/else, while, for) and mechanisms to chain commands (`||`, `&&`, `|`, `;`). Scripts are either executed through the
interpreter directly (`sh`) or contain a shebang to tell the computer how to execute it (`#!/bin/sh`).
You manipulate directories and files using `cd`, `ls`, `mv`, `cp` and text editors. You become administrator using
`sudo`, and read the fine manual using `man`: so the manual's manual is `man man`.
# Asymmetric Cryptography
In traditional cryptography, one or more parties hold a key, used to encrypt and decrypt the secret. However, this poses
the question of how to securely distribute the keys. Various methods have been used throughout history, up to the naval
codebooks used as the subject of so many WWII submarine war movies. However, these solutions were never really
A solution to this discovered in the second half of the twentieth century is asymmetric cryptography. I'll skip the
mathematical details, you can go readup on RSA if you're interested, it's just a super smart application of high-school
arithmetic using primes and moduli. This time you have two keys, a public and a private one. It is *hard* to derive one
from the other, but they are linked in such a way that if you encrypt something with one, you can decrypt it with the
other (and only the other). Therefore, everyone wanting to encrypt something to you can encrypt is using your public
key, and only the holder of the private key, i.e. you, can decrypt it. Inversely, if you encrypt something with your
private key, e.g. the hash of a message to act as a signature, then people can use your public key to verify the claim
that you own the private key.
For the longest time, we've used the RSA algorithm to provide this (factoring prime numbers as I mentioned above). In
the recent years, elliptic curve cryptography has gained some traction, usually seen as ECDSA. It achieves better
security with much fewer bits and work from the computer: if you have a choice, use ECDSA or ED25519 for your keys. If
using RSA, use 3072 bit size (2048 not enough, 4096 too much). But really, use elliptic curves.
You can also authenticate (sign) data by encrypting it (or a hash of it, which is more practical) with your private key:
people can check using your public key that you do indeed own the associated private key, which is how we identify
people on the internet (your identity = knowledge).
Note that asymmetric cryptography is both slower and weaker than symmetrical crypto, which is why most protocols use
asymmetrical cryptography to authenticate, and then exchange session-wide symmetrical keys for encryption. See a HTTPS
certificate for example, the Wikipedia page on TLS, &c...
# SSH and PGP
The two main places where we use cryptography in our tooling is SSH and PGP.
## PGP
PGP stands for Pretty Good Privacy and is a way to authenticate and encrypt files; mostly we use it to secure our
emails. You can generate a PGP key using thunderbird and send it to people. You'll be able to receive encrypted emails
from people who own your public key, verify signatures of people of whom you own the public key, as well as sending
encrypted emails to them.
## SSH
SSH is the Secure SHell, and is a remote access protocol to get a shell on a remote machine you can internet to. It uses
asymmetrical cryptography to authenticate servers (against DNS spoofing / ARP poisoning). It knows several mechanisms to
authenticate users to the server, dumbly a user/password combination, better a user/keypair combination. You keep your
private key secure on your laptop, copy the public key to the server, and it can then check that you own the key that
you claim you own (identity = knowledge). On Windows, you can use the PuTTY generator to generate an ED25519 key for
yourself. Save the public and private keys someplace on your drive that you'll remember: you'll need to access the
public key to copy it to servers you are supposed to access.
## Policy
Secrets are important! Don't let them be stolen. Considering our current size, threat model and device policy, my
security recommendations are:
* security keys (PGP & SSH) will only exist on an individual work device (your laptop). They will be tied to one person
(you) and you will be held accountable for anything happening using that key. This means no copying of the key on
OneDrive or AppleCloud or whatever!
* You will use the security mechanisms your OS provides to lock your session automatically and use a strong, mandatory
session password. This is CRITICAL.
* Your drive will be encrypted using Bitlocker for Windows, the APFS crypto volume mechanisms on MacOS and LUKS in
Linux. This is CRITICAL.
* Password-protection of the keys is optional but recommended with the above rules.
Bus-factor considerations for access keys are currently being discussed by our technical security consulting team
(a.k.a Tim and I). We'll get back to you on that.
# Git
Git is a text version tracking system, saving you from version hell. There are plenty of very well done documents on git
out there, just know that it exists and that tracking changes by hand is dumb and must cease. It also helps to share
work done on common files, using []( You can use
[]( if you use that OS, or just install git using `brew` or whatever package manager
is available for your platform. Compile it with butterflies if you like XKCD.
That's all folks!