I was cleaning up some old electronics (I’m a bit of a pack rat) and came across a Mac Mini I’ve owned since 2009. I was curious whether it still worked and whether it could get useful work done. This turned out to be more than a 5 minute experiment, so I thought I’d write it up here as it was just an interesting little test.
First off, I want to wish everyone a Happy Holidays and a Merry Christmas. I know 2020 has been a hard year for so many, and I hope you and your families are healthy and making it through the year.
Over the past few years, I’ve gotten into making holiday ornaments for friends and family. In 2017, I did a snowflake PCB ornament. In 2018, I used laser cutting service Ponoko to cut acrylic fir trees with interlocking pieces. In 2019, I used my new 3D printer to print 3-dimensional snowflakes. In 2020, I’ve returned to my roots and gone with another PCB design. As a huge fan of DEFCON #badgelife, it felt appropriate to go back this way. I ended up with a touch-sensitive snowman with 6 LEDs.
Welcome to the 2020 edition of my Hacker Holiday Gift Guide! This has been a trying year for all of us, but I sincerely hope you and your family are happy and healthy as this year comes to an end.
Table of Contents
- General Security
- Penetration Testers & Red Teamers
- Hardware Hackers
- Young Hackers
- Friends and Family of Hackers
- Non-Security Tech
- General Offers
ProtonMail is a great encrypted mail provider for those with an interest in privacy or cryptography. They offer gift cards for subscriptions to both ProtonMail and ProtonVPN, their VPN service.
Encrypted Flash Drive
I know cloud storage is all the rage, but sometimes you need a local copy. Sometimes, you even need that local copy to be protected – maybe it’s user data, maybe it’s financial data, maybe it’s medical data – and hardware encryption allows you to go from one system to another without needing any special software. Additionally, it can’t be keylogged or easily compromised from software. This Datashur Pro is my choice of encrypted flash drive, but there are a number of options out there.
Cryptographic Security Key
These devices act as a second factor for authentication, but some of them can do so much more. The Yubikey 5 can also function as a hardware security token for encryption keys and provide one-time-password functionality. Keys from Feitian Technologies support Bluetooth Low Energy in addition to NFC and USB, allowing them to work with a variety of devices. If you or your hacker are into open source, the SoloKey keys are open source hardware implementations of the specification.
Linux Basics for Hackers
I’ve been using Linux for more than two decades, so I honestly initially just bought Linux Basics for Hackers because of the awesome hacker penguin on the cover. If you’re not already familiar with Linux, but need it to grow your skillset, this is an excellent book with a focus on the Linux you need to know as an information security professional or hacker. It has a particular focus on Kali Linux, the Linux distribution popular for penetration testing, but the lessons are more broadly applicable across different security domains.
Penetration Testers & Red Teamers
These gifts are for your pentesters, red teamers, and those learning the field.
The Pentester Blueprint
The Pentester Blueprint is a guide to getting started as a professional penetration tester. It’s not very technical, and it’s not going to teach your recipient how to “hack”, but it’s great career advice for those getting started in penetration testing or looking to make a career transition. It basically just came out, so it’s up-to-date (which is, of course, a perpetual issue in technical books these days. It’s written in a very easy-reading style, so is great for those considering the switch to pentesting.
Online Learning Labs
I can recommend several online labs, some of which offer gift cards:
Penetration Testing: A Hands-On Introduction to Hacking
Georgia Weidman’s book, “Penetration Testing: A Hands-On Introduction to Hacking” is one of the best introductory guides to penetration testing that I have seen. Even though it’s been a few years since it was released, it remains high-quality content and a great introductory guide to the space. Available via Amazon or No Starch Press. Georgia is a great speaker and teacher and well-known for her efforts to spread knowledge within the security community.
WiFi Pineapple Mark VII
The WiFi Pineapple is probably the best known piece of “hacking hardware”. Now in it’s seventh generation, it’s used for conducting WiFi security audits, on-site penetration tests, or even as a remote implant for remote penetration tests. I’ve owned several versions of the WiFi Pineapple and found that it only gets better with each generation. Especially with dual radios, it can do things like act as a client on one radio while providing an access point on the other radio.
The WiFi Pineapple does have a bit of a learning curve, but it’s a great option for those getting into the field or learning about the various types of WiFi audits and attacks. The USB ports also allow expansion if you need to add a capability not already built-in.
PoC || GTFO
PoC||GTFO is an online journal for offensive security and exploitation. No Starch Press has published a pair of physical journals in a beautiful biblical style. The content is very high quality, but they’re also presented in a striking style that would go well on the bookshelf of even the most discerning hacker. Check out both Volume I and Volume II, with Volume III available for pre-order to be delivered in January.
Tigard is a pretty cool little hardware hacker’s universal interface that I’m super excited about. Similar to my open source project, TIMEP, it’s a universal interface for SPI, I2C, JTAG, SWD, UART, and more. It’s great for examining embedded devices and IoT, and is a really well-thought-out implementation of such a board. It supports a variety of voltages and options and is even really well documented on the back of the board so you never have to figure out how to hook it up. This is great both for those new to hardware hacking as well as those experienced looking for an addition to the toolkit.
Hardware Hacker: Adventures in Making and Breaking Hardware
Andrew “Bunnie” Huang is a well-known hardware hacker with both experience in making and breaking hardware, and Hardware Hacker: Adventures in Making and Breaking Hardware is a great guide to his experiences in those fields. It’s not a super technical read, but it’s an excellent and interesting resource on the topics.
RTL-SDR Starter Kit
Software-Defined Radio allows you to examine wireless signals between devices. This is useful if you want to take a look at how wireless doorbells, toys, and other devices work. This Nooelec kit is a great starting SDR, as is this kit from rtl-sdr.com.
iFixit Pro Tech Toolkit
The iFixit Pro Tech Toolkit is probably the tool I use the most during security assessments of IoT/embedded devices. This kit can get into almost anything, and the driver set in it has bits for almost anything. It has torx, security torx, hex, Phillips and slotted bits, in addition to many more esoteric bits. The kit also contains other opening tools for prying and pulling apart snap-together enclosures and devices. I will admit, I don’t think I’ve ever used the anti-static wrist strap, even if it would make sense to do so.
imagiCharm by imagiLabs is a small hardware device that allows young programmers to get their first bite into programming embedded devices – or even programming in general. While I haven’t tried it myself, it looks like a great concept, and providing something hands-on looks like a clear win for encouraging students and helping them find their interest.
PuzzleMaster offers a bunch of really cool mechanical puzzles and games. These include things like puzzle locks, twisty puzzles, and more. When we’re all stuck inside, why not give something hands on a try?
Friends and Family of Hackers
Bring a touch of hacking to your friends and family!
Hardware Security Keys
A Security Key is a physical 2 factor security token that makes web logins much more secure. Users touch the gold disc when signing in to verify their signin request, so even if a password gets stolen, the account won’t be stolen. These tokens are supported by sites like Google, GitHub, Vanguard, Dropbox, GitLab, Facebook, and more.
Unlike text-message based second factor, these tokens are impossible to phish, can’t be stolen via phone number porting attacks, and don’t depend on your phone having a charge.
Control-Alt-Hack is a hacking-themed card game. Don’t expect technical accuracy, but it’s a lot of fun to play. Featuring terms like “Entropy” and “Mission”, it brings the theme of hacking to the whole family. It’s an interesting take on things, and a really cool concept. If you’re a fan of independent board/card games and a fan of hacking, this would be a fun addition to your collection.
If your friends or family use open wireless networks (I know, maybe not as much this year), they should consider using a VPN. I currently use Private Internet Access when I need a commercial provider, but I have also used Ivacy before, as well as ProtonVPN.
These are tech items that are not specific to the security industry/area. Great for hackers, friends of hackers, and more.
Raspberry Pi 4
Okay, I probably could’ve put the Raspberry Pi 4 in almost any of these categories because it’s such a versatile tool. It can be a young hacker’s first Linux computer, it can be a penetration testing dropbox, it can be a great tool for hardware hackers, and it can be a project unto itself. The user can use it to run a home media server, a network-level ad blocker, or just get familiar with another operating system. While I’ve been a fan of the Raspberry Pi in various forms for years, the Pi 4 has a quad core processor and can come with enough memory for some powerful uses. There’s a bunch of configurations, like:
- A Complete Starter Kit
- The Bare Board
- Learning Kit with Sensors, Buttons, Screen, etc.
- Pi Zero Starter Kit
The Keysy is a a small RFID duplicator. While it can be used for physical penetration testing, it’s also just super convenient if you have multiple RFID keyfobs you need to deal with (i.e., apartment, work, garage, etc.). Note that it only handles certain types of RFID cards, but most of the common standards are available and workable.
Home Automation Learning Kit
This is a really cool kit for learning about home automation with Arduino. It has sensors and inputs for learning about how home automation systems work – controlling things with relays, measuring light, temperature, etc. I love the implementation into a fake laser cut house for the purpose of learning – it’s really clever, and makes me think it would be great for anyone into tech and automation. Teens and adults wanting to learn about Arduino, security practitioners who want to examine how things could go wrong (could augment this with consumer-grade products) and more.
Boogie Board Writing Tablet
Sometimes you just want to hand write something. While I’m also a fan of Field Notes Notebooks in my pocket, this Boogie Board tablet strikes me as a pretty cool option. It allows the user to write on its surface overlaid over anything of your choice (it’s transparent) and then capture the written content into iOS or Android. I love to hand write for brainstorming, some form of note taking, and more. System diagrams are so much easier in writing than in digital format, even today.
This is my attempt to collect special offers for the holiday season that are relevant to the hacking community. These are all subject to change, but I believe them correct at the time of writing.
No Starch Press
No Starch Press is possibly the highest quality tech book publisher. Rather than focusing on quantity of books published, they only accept books that will be high quality. I own at least a couple of dozen of their books and they have been consistently well-written and high quality coverage of the topics. They are currently offering 33.7% off their entire catalog for Black Friday (through 11/29/20).
For the past few months, I’ve been running a handful of SSH Honeypots on some cloud providers, including Google Cloud, DigitalOcean, and NameCheap. As opposed to more complicated honeypots looking at attacker behavior, I decided to do something simple and was only interested in where they were coming from, what tools might be in use, and what credentials they are attempting to use to authenticate. My dataset includes 929,554 attempted logins over a period of a little more than 3 months.
If you’re looking for a big surprise, I’ll go ahead and let you down easy: my analysis hasn’t located any new botnets or clusters of attackers. But it’s been a fascinating project nonetheless.