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09/09/2005 Archived Entry: "Internet for disaster shelters"

I saw this request on the Internet Storm Center Tuesday:

The Red Cross needs volunteers with system administration, network engineering and information security (infosec) expertise to assist in the design and implementation of a network of Internet kiosks. These kiosks will be deployed to all of the Red Cross shelters to be used be people displaced by the hurricane and flooding to report that they are alive and to try to contact others.

The Red Cross will be requiring a great deal of help to stand up the infrastructure as well as to actively safeguard it from eventual infection attempts from bots, worms, viruses, spyware and other sorts of malware.

Before I begin to ramble, here's the link where you can volunteer your services. They're particularly looking for Windows XP experts and Cisco experts.

It's a pity that the Red Cross will require "a great deal of help" to safeguard their kiosks from "from eventual infection attempts from bots, worms, viruses, spyware and other sorts of malware." But hey, they're using Windows. And since Microsoft is donating equipment and people to the effort, I suppose it would be ungracious for the Red Cross to prefer Linux. So, alas, they're going to need extra volunteer help.

Now, I'm not an infosec specialist. And I know practically nil about Internet backbone hardware, but that's what the Cisco experts are for. But for the kiosks themselves, I have a modest suggestion. At the 2003 World Science Fiction Convention in Toronto, the organizers solved exactly this problem by loading a bunch of borrowed PCs with Knoppix.

Knoppix is a version of Linux that boots and runs from CD-ROM. It doesn't touch the hard drive, which makes it nice for people wanting to try Linux without installing it. For a quick setup in a disaster shelter, the advantages are many:

1. There's almost no installation required -- just insert CD and boot.
2. Being Linux, it's tremendously more secure against infection.
3. Since the operating system is on CD, it's physically impossible for malware to alter it. If the system gets infected, all you need to do is reboot.

Sure, without using a hard drive, your capabilities are limited. But these folks aren't creating spreadsheets; they just need a bunch of web browsers working quickly. I've seen Knoppix in action and it's amazing how quickly it automatically configures the hardware. Plug a bunch of PCs into an off-the-shelf router, and you're ready to go.

It seems to me the Linux community missed an opportunity here. Well, I'll be talking to our local Red Cross branch and see if I can hook them up with some Linux volunteers. Someday it might be our community that needs an Internet kiosk.


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