Backtrack is a Linux distribution optimized for hackers or security people trying to stop them. It allows people to easily break into WEP and WPS enabled routers.
It’s alarmingly simple to crack a WEP account. That can be done in minutes. Most new routers have WPS enabled. That usually takes many hours to crack.
See this Lifehacker article on cracking WEP.
See this video from Skidhacker on cracking WPS.
Instead of trashing an old computer that runs Windows way too slowly, consider installing a flavor of Linux that will work well on an old machine. This will get you a good web browser, word processor, graphics editor, simple games, and much more. Because it’s an up-to-date Linux, there will be fewer viruses to worry about. It won’t run Microsoft Word, but it will run something similar that can load .doc files.
How much would you pay for all that functionality? Well, it’s free. And it’s super fast, especially if you install a version like Lubuntu which is designed for an old computer.
Which Version (Distro) To Choose?
If your computer is somewhat modern and has more than 512MB of RAM, these distros will work well:
If your computer has 128 to 512MB of RAM, these distros can work better in that low memory environment:
- Lubuntu – a “lighter” Ubuntu build specifically for older computers, also has builds for old Macs
- Puppy Linux – longtime favorite for old systems
If your computer has less than than 128MB of RAM, try:
Windows 8 Preview
If you 1) must have Microsoft Windows, 2) have a computer with at least 1GB of RAM, and 3) are willing to be adventurous, you can install the free preview of Windows 8. The new Metro interface will be infuriating for many users, but it does work for free at least until the final version of Windows 8 arrives in October 2012.
If you want to install Linux or just try it out, you can make a USB key that is bootable into Linux with UNetbootin.
UNetbootin is a simple program that allows you to choose from over 40 Linux distributions. My favorites are Linux Mint (which is probably easiest for folks used to Windows) and Ubuntu.
Once you create the bootable USB thumb drive, you can select it in your computer’s boot options or enable USB booting in the BIOS.
This is a great way to try a new operating system that might speed up your old machine.
While Linux can be scary for most users, there is a simple way to get into it. It is the Live CD.
A Live CD is a CD that the computer loads or boots on. It does not modify your hard drive or computer in any way. So you can boot into Linux, another copy of Windows, or another operating system.
Helix for Forensics
Live CDs can be a great forensics tool. One of my favorites is Helix, based off of the Knoppix Linux distribution. Helix can read your Windows NTFS-formatted hard drive, allowing you to transfer files if you can’t boot into Windows. Helix also includes ClamAV and F-Prot virus scanners and tools to recover deleted files.
Ubuntu for trying Linux
Ubuntu also has a Linux Live CD, which is great for people who are just considering using Ubuntu but don’t want to install it yet. Ubuntu Linux is a free operating system that will be faster than Windows. It is currently the most popular distribution of Linux for desktop use and in many ways it is easier to use than Windows.
Ubuntu also includes Memtest86+ which thoroughly tests all your RAM, great for determining if your computer problems are caused by faulty memory.
Ultimate Boot CD
Unlike Helix and Ubuntu above that use Linux, the Ultimate Boot CD boots into Windows from the CD. Like Helix, it includes diagnostic, repair, and recovery tools. Unfortunately, the Ultimate Boot CD (UBCD) is not a simple iso file that you burn to disk. Because it uses Windows, you must provide a copy of Windows during the build process of the UBCD.
Try a Live CD
There are many other bootable CDs out there, as shown on this Live CD list. Most just require you to burn an iso (CD image file) to a disk. Make sure that your computer is set in the BIOS (which you access by clicking setup during the starting boot) to use the CD as the first boot device. Then you can try out these diagnostic tools and other operating systems.