Linux systems provide various software safeguards against abuse and unauthorized access, such as passwords, file permissions, and system logs. These mechanisms can be effective against remote attacks when used properly, but they're next to useless if an intruder can touch the computer hardware. Two obvious methods of attack, when given such access, are to steal the hard disk and to boot the system with the intruder's own boot medium.
If a thief takes your hard disk, that thief has access to all the data on the disk. Linux's password protection mechanisms are under the control of the OS, so all the burglar needs to do is install the disk in a system the burglar controls to gain access to your computer's files. Indeed, a spy could conceivably copy your hard disk's contents and you'd be none the wiser.
Even short of stealing a hard disk, if a computer can boot from a floppy disk, an intruder can gain access to your system. The miscreant need only bring a Linux emergency boot floppy and boot that. The end result is full access to your files. If the goal is destruction, the intruder need not even be versed in Linux—a DOS boot floppy with a few disk utilities can quite effectively wipe out your data.
Theft of the entire computer is also a possibility, of course. Such a theft might not even be motivated by a desire to steal your data or do you harm personally—the burglar might be after the hardware.
Was this article helpful?