October 6, 2005

Review: MitraX live CD

Author: Mirko Perak

When I first heard of MitraX, I thought it was just a Linux distribution with an assortment of network tools, and that working with MitraX would come down to typing endless commands at the console. Perhaps such a distribution would be interesting to a few experienced administrators or skillful hackers, but most users would simply run away from it. However, once I tried MitraX, I was pleasantly surprised to find it a nice, little, stable, and practical live CD distribution.

MitraX 0.3.1 is based on Slackware Linux, with the 2.6.9 kernel, and uses FVWM-95 as its window manager. Nenad Mitrovic, the creator of MitraX, has carefully selected the software packages. If you look at the software that comes with this distribution, it's clear that MitraX is a tool for network administrators, but also well-suited for desktop use. You can watch a movie, listen to music, write a document, send an email, create a spreadsheet, process a photo, or back up data from your hard disk. It is perfect for burning to a wallet-size CD, and could be used in many situations. It is incredible what can you do with this live CD, which only takes up 50MB.

Powerful network tools

MitraX is similar to any other live distribution -- you insert it in a CD or DVD drive and restart the computer. MitraX presents a boot menu with several options. Besides the usual system startup with the graphic environment, there is also a "no cache" mode, memtest mode, and win_pass mode.

If you choose the win_pass option, MitraX takes you into the Win/NT Registry Edit Utility, an interactive tool that lets you delete and change user passwords on Windows NT-based systems -- a useful utility for when if your co-worker forgets his password and can't log in to Windows. A second interesting option is memtest, which is useful for testing system memory for errors.

MitraX boots notably faster than similar live CD distributions. In less than half a minute, MitraX boots into the FVWM-95 desktop, which looks like Windows 95 and works in a similar fashion. This is a smart choice because it is practical and lightweight. For this kind of distribution, it's more than enough.

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On the bottom left side of the desktop is the Start menu, which is very well organized. The Network submenu contains tools for network administrators: Nmap Front End, Ettercap NG, Gspoof, HydraGTK, LinNeighborhood, Talvadiba-Terminal Server Client, and Telnet/SSH. These powerful tools can be used for monitoring and security testing of small and large networks. Each application has a GUI front end, and they are easy to use -- though some knowledge of network protocols is required.

Nmap (The Network Mapper) is a powerful open source utility intended for network exploration and analysis. With Nmap you can rapidly scan large networks and single hosts. It uses raw IP packets to determine available hosts on targeted networks, and what operating system, services, and firewall (if any) they are running.

Ettercap is designed for network administrators to see what kind of information is exposed on their network. The tool features sniffing of live connections, content filtering on the fly, and supports active and passive dissection of protocols. With this tool it's easy to see all the connections going to and from monitored computers.

With Hydra you can check the security level of network passwords. It is a brute-force logon cracker that can be customized with use of modules to add support for protocols. Hydra supports a variety of protocols: Cisco AAA, LDAP3, LDAP2, ISQ, IMAP, POP3, VNC, CVS, MYSQL, SMB, MS-SQL, HTTPS, FTP, and others. This tool is a proof of concept, just to show how easy it would be to gain unauthorized access to a system -- it's not meant to be used for illegal purposes.

Everything works out of the box

In the Control Panel submenu, you will find Partimage, a useful tool for saving partitions to an image file. You will also find ppconfig, which can be used to set up a dial-up connection to your ISP, and netconfig, which helps configure your network card. MitraX also includes a GUI tool to set up a firewall, making MitraX a good distro for quickly setting up a firewall or router.

The multimedia submenu shows two applications: MPlayer and SimpleCDR-X. MPlayer is compiled with all the necessary codecs, so you can listen to popular music formats and watch DivX movies without any problems.

MitraX has an option that isn't found with many other distributions: when you boot the system from CD and save it to RAM, the CD/DVD player ejects the disc automatically. With one MitraX CD you can boot as many computers as you wish, and then connect them to a network. After that, your CD or DVD drive is ready for use, and you can insert a disc with movies or music and enjoy.

MitraX also includes Opera, AbiWord, the GIMP, and Inkscape. MitraX uses emelFM as its file manager, which is similar to Total Commander, and with its help you can work with files and copy from the hard disk.

To be able to use a USB drive with MitraX, you just need to connect the USB drive to one of the free USB ports, open emelFM file manager, and press the USB button on the bottom right corner of the emelFM window. When you are finished using the USB drive, just click with the right mouse button on the listed USB device file system, and choose umount from the context menu.

MitraX is far from perfect. It lacks several features, and others could use improvement. For example, support for Wi-Fi and VPN connections is missing, as is support for writing to NTFS partitions. MitraX's help system could be improved; there's very little documentation to go with MitraX.

Development of the MitraX distribution has been slowed, since its creator, Mitrovic, is currently serving in the Serbian military. MitraX is published under the GNU General Public License (GPL), and the ISO image is available for download.


MitraX is a live CD distribution that should be useful to anyone who deals with computer maintenance, network administration, and similar tasks, and could be a useful tool for those fighting cyber crime. However, since MitraX is easy to use and includes MPlayer, AbiWord, and other desktop software, we can recommend this distribution to everyone, even beginners.


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