2017-09-26

A Hacker's Tale (With a Human Side)

This is a hacking story from my University years. It ends with a nice bit about human qualities.

The University had several computer labs, most of them equipped with Unix workstations, a few with PCs. I would often be found in the PC lab, since I was already quite familiar with that kind of machine and operating system. It was the early nineties, and PCs back then were running MS-DOS. Networking was done by connecting them to Novell™ servers via coaxial Ethernet cable, which delivered a (decent, for that time) 10 megabits per second.

Each PC in the lab was running a network driver, which was making parts of the server's filesystem visible locally as DOS drives. These drives were available only at a filesystem level: if you bypassed the OS and invoked the BIOS to enumerate the physical hard disks on the system, they did not show up, because they did not physically exist.

Filesystem access to these drives was subject to security checks performed by the Novell™ server, which was running some proprietary Novell™ operating system, so the whole setup was fairly secure, and for even higher security, the server was kept locked in a cabinet, so nobody but the administrator had physical access to it. The administrator of the lab was Dr. "A", and he had appointed as co-administrator a fellow student and friend of mine, Bashir.

Back in those days, if you were a power user, (let alone a computer lab administrator,) you absolutely had to be using the Norton Utilities.

Screen capture of the main menu of the Norton Utilities; found on the interwebz.
Of course, most of these utilities required physical access to the disk, so it was impossible to use them on the server, but they could be used on workstations.  And they were indispensable, so Bashir had stored them on the server, in order to be able to access them from any workstation.