FOSSCell reviving…

There were many inventions that happened due to accidents. In our case the accident resulted in the second life for FOSSCell at our campus. Now I cannot even remember how our small discussions grew up into this.

Earlier the FOSSCell was started by few of our seniors of which I remember(maybe, only know) is Praveen. It was born at a time “long long ago…”. The kind of vision these people had was very clear and solid when this group formed in our college. Later it had grown a lot. But as everything that has a start has an end, there were bad and gloomy days for FOSSCell also.
Even when people getting into the college are intelligent and wise, they have less awareness about these kind of topics that is something like “must know” in the case of a Computer Science graduate (this is just my personal opinion, I dint mean to hurt anyone’s feeling 😉 ). When ever a workshop is conducted, the irony that is observed is, even when there is lot of participation from the juniors, but people knowing the basic idea(even heard) about these topics are very less. Not only this, the main coding competitions that others outside die to get in, like Google Summer of Code, ACM ICPC etc are all unknown for them.

I personally has seen a speaker reducing the number of topics that he has to present, only because people din’t know the basics. Here I am not trying to tell the point that, not knowing the basics initially is the problem. The problem is actually not with the freshers that come into this college, but with their seniors who are already in the college.
One of the main problem here is that “seniors” just minds their own business and completes the four years at college. They don’t take much time to teach or talk to juniors about technical matters. May be till this year I was also in that group. But there are exceptions.

Few of us in final and pre-final year had discussions on these matters for like three, four days. It was some serious discussions we had. Everyone had something to say and wanted to do something to make a change. Then we decided to take the Software Freedom Day that was coming up as chance to start our work. We clearly knew that the fresh minds, that is second years should be given a very good orientation about what we really intent to do, about our view, aims and working style. We planned on the main point that we have to put up during our talk with the juniors. We spent most of our time in making the presentation for the orientation.

During the SFD celebrations we tried to make all the talks, as much interactive and interesting as possible. We all who were into conducting these talks and workshops really worked hard to make it ass simple as possible and we followed a practical approach. Hands-on work could give them a clear cut idea on the issues that they will face in during the development of any big projects. We believe that this is very important to learn new things. One cannot learn swimming by just reading a book which says “Swimming for Dummies” :P.

Later after that we had arranged for doing some hands-on projects which are still going on. The topics for the projects were mainly divided into two parts people who liked web-development and others. Web development was taken as a separate topic, was to encourage students to contribute to the Content Management System made for Tathva and Ragam by people from my year.

Another idea behind doing all these was that introducing students to open source communities and the methodology that are made use of by the community. In simple words we wanted to encourage students to use mailing lists rather than social networking sites for all kind of discussions, and wanted them to learn about version control systems, basics to intermediate usage and administration of Linux based operating systems. The replies that our mailing list got  for the first post after these discussion was the highest for any post ever got, in that mailing list. This was really appreciated by many of our seniors. And then we got lucky that one of our alumni had come for the SFD celebrations, after he read about it on the mailing list.

This try is meant for inculcating “free and open source” values to our juniors mainly students who are yet to come. Starting the efforts by orienting the current second years is just a small step toward a bigger leap in the future. Currently everything is going in a positive slop. We hope this streak never fails again like what happened in the near past. We people who will be graduating this academic year is expecting that our juniors will continue bearing the torch that we have lit together. 🙂

I know that its not yet the time to tell this, but I should do it.: Thank you all for giving me this great experience.

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Hacking at InCTF-Part2

This post a continuation of my older post Hacking at InCTF-Part1.

When the organizers of the event called us for announcing the winners, they requested that one person from each team to talk about our experience at InCTF. I was the person who went from my team. Actually I had many thing to say but when I got there I didn’t talk much. Out of 11-13 teams participated we were able to make it to the fifth position. The first thought that came to me when I write this post is that this event had given me a good experience in a totally different field which altogether changed my interests.

Final round of InCTF was conducted at Amrita College, Amritapuri Campus for two days, on June 1, June 2.  First of all it was a great experience reaching there. I took the tickets and was waiting for my friends in front of the train. But they got into the train before calling me and the train started. When the train was at a distance that I could not catch I called them up and said that I didn’t get and made them jump back to the platform :P. Then we had to catch a bus to Kayamkulam and we reached very late, on the last bus to the college.

Next day was a practice session where we were given a vulnerable Ubuntu image. First we had to bypass the login and change the root password. As we were newbies in this area we were only able to bypass this login. But inside we had to start few custom made services and exploit its vulnerabilities. There were three services that we had to start. The source code of the vulnerable services were also provided. It would basically be written in either of Python, C, and C++. We could actually understand what will be the work flow of the program. But even with our basic understanding that we should use a buffer-overflow attack to retrieve whatever data we need, we could not put that into practice. This was when I really felt that our seniors could have helped us a bit more. I don’t want to put blame on them because they were the people who intimated us that there is a competition like this is being conducted. I am really thankful to them for it.

After the first round we three team members did run behind the organizers to give give us some tips on how and what to do. They were very helpful and gave us tips on how to crack this competition. I think we utilized all the chance that we got to talk to the organizers especially Bithin. Seshagiri Prabhu, Aravind S Raj. More than the competition we had a friendly conversation and exchanged our views on various topics not like professionals but as people who want to learn new things.

That night we decided that we read some related materials. But the the situation was against us. No range to get Internet connection… tiredness due to travel… everything came together :(. Even then we sat for some time just talking on what to do the next day. From the inspiration from our seniors and the fact that they were the winners last time, we were looking to forward to doing a good performance at the event.
On the second day when we started there was only one method that was in our mind to get a remote connection, SSH. But the irony was that we could not use it as the password was reset at the beginning. It may be that we did not have knowledge on how bypass it. Initially nobody did get any points. But later one started to score. After sometime we got a different method of attack and we were able to use it effectively. From what my seniors have told, automating the task could fetch us more points. So we automated the task. With this we were in the top three for about half of the event.

But everything reversed within a few minutes…. Some guy used the vulnerability in the service to inject “rm -rf” command to the root directory of the service. By the time we solved this issue by copying files from the backup we had… we lost many points for lagging behind and we came down the scoreboard. Even then we were confident that we could make it to the top by the end of the day. Again problem came in. We could not make the script run correctly. The original one was not backed-up. Solving this issue was like a NP-Hard problem for us at that time. By the time we figured out few new methods time was finished and we had to wind the event. We had to satisfy with fifth position in the event. This was decided on the basis of our performance in both second and the final round.

Even though we could not win the competition, it was a great learning opportunity and a chance to meet many new people. I would like to recommend students or people who are interested in security field to attend this kind of CTF competitions. This could give you a exposure to different kind of techniques and methods that other experts use. And an opportunity to talk to them as well.
Anyway now I am hopping to be a part of future verions of InCTF and many other events of similar kind. 🙂

New link can be found at abijith-kp.github.io

the “great” travel….

A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it – John Steinbeck

…..you will never know what comes in front of you. But always enjoy the excitment that it brings along with it….

Three down, One more to go

The new acadamic year starts again. After 4 years enjoying and not thinking about anything to KG school where some teachers becoming your worst nightmare. Then 12 years of schoolling where we met the most wonderful people you have ever come accross in your life, your friends. The great teachers who taught and guided you throughout two by third of your life. Then after a rat race “ENGINEERING ENTRANCE EXAMINATION” comming to NIT, Calicut. Now when I see my juniors comming here and taking admissions, those nostalgic thoughts come to my mind again. In the first year, not thinking about acadamics, trying to hide from seniors, going for a tour around the campus and what not….

My life here really has affected me – on a positive sense, and has gone beyond what I thought 3 years ago when I first came to this college. Now its just less than a year to graduation; The old anxiousness returns: “What is going to happen after this????”

The entropy change when a person shifts from a system a newer or different system is what this is all about. I am aware that these feeling are only relative. May be only a very few people will be or is going to think in this manner. May be many more people wanted to get out of this system ASAP. Some people may get trapped in this system and get stuck, some never escape.

When we joined here togather we thought that we all will leave togather, but we all know that it is not going to happen.
Some who were not even remotely connected became our best of friends. Some who were so close are are getting separated.

All people who has spent time here at NITC will never be forgetting any of those days….anything that this college life has taught them. I will anyway be there at the top of the list. There is everything that you find outside, in here. You name it we have it.

There is only limited time left now…. The clock is ticking very fast… Now will be a good time to look back at what I have done and gained and lost….

Hacking at InCTF-Part1

Usually I just skim through my NITC mail, and checks only those send by my Class Representative or teachers. One day I read a mail forwarded by one of my seniors Karthik. It was about a hacking competition conducted by Amrutha University called InCTF which had 2 preliminary rounds and a final round. It was a Capture The Flag kind of competition. At that time I wasn’t in the mood of doing anything as I had to complete my lab assignments (which I was in a bad situation) and also if by any chance I got selected, the second round will be at the time of our exams so I ignored it. Later when I was searching for some thing I again came across this competition. This was the first time that this kind of an event comes into my notice(It was pretty interesting one… One that I know I will surely enjoy.. 🙂 ). Then I called one of my friend to tell him about this. I couldn’t make any decision then as I wanted to put my leg on both the boats – do it and not do it. He was very much excited to do the event. So we decided to meet one of seniors Jerin Shaji for getting the details of the event.

Oh….I forgot to tell, last year(2012) for sCTF, a variant of InCTF, the first prize was bagged by our college team consisting of Karthik, Jerin and Nithin.

Jerin told us many things : How they prepared, how they participated in the event, about the event format. He also gave us tips on how to attack the questions and also told us the techniques they used in the final CTF round.  We collected their last year’s question paper also. He was very supportive in all ways.

Till date two round of InCTF is completed. First round was a “learning round”. They gave us something like 2-3 months to learn few concepts and complete a question paper. The second round was a hands-on hacking round. It had different varieties of questions and most of which were of very high quality. Thanks to the support of all my friends our team “dcoder” got selected into the final round. We finished at 24th position out of 158 teams registered and the end of second round.

It was really great experience in participating in the event. The main thing I have to mention is that I learned few methods and techniques during this event. We also had to stay overnight in our lab during the second round, those were great. Those are the points in your life were you start thinking philosophically and talk like a philosopher. The main reason is that at some point we may be half asleep and wanted to answer to all the questions asked to you. These will be few moments that I will forever keep in my memories.

The more interesting part was that the second round was overlapping our exam time. So we had to it in between the exams. For my last exam I couldn’t even prepare much because I was very much involved in this. After I came back to my room I had a mild fewer also. Everything happened was indicating that I shouldn’t write my exams well(Omen kind of, just saying – I don’t believe in those).

Just excited in participating in the final round… 🙂

New link can be found at abijith-kp.github.io

here at NITC….

For the past few days I was searching for blog posts written by my seniors here at NITC, about their experience here at the college. I found that most of them, were very happy and anxious in sharing their views experiences about their college life., and if I write something about it now some of the things would be a repetition but some of them would be unique to me.

Actually I started to hear about NITs only during the last few weeks of schooling life. Till that date I was aware of only few nationally renowned colleges which includes IITs.
After my JEE results came, I was about to fix one of the colleges in Kerala itself and started to search for it and without any reason I expected that I will not be getting admission in NITs also.

But at last due to some good deeds that I had done before  I got an admission at NIT, Calicut. As all other students who got into this great institute, I also had lot of dreams….

One funny experience that happens regularly after this was that when I tell about the college to some people in my neighbourhood, the first question that a arised was “Are you in NIIT?”.
For first few times I used to correct them but later I changed my style of answering these questions as : “Studying engineering in Calicut.”

The one thing that most NITC’ians (I have to research about other people) is that after two years they study in this college they feel that something is not going right.

One specific fact that I started to understand by the end of my first year and is fully convinced now(after about 3 years of survival in this college 🙂 ) is that once you get into something, it is pretty hard to get out it, till you have passed out of this college. Be it any any habit, or any any other field. This information is particularly aimed at people who are a little dedicated to their work. Now you must be thinking that obviously, all the people who like their work do it without a break….. but here the situation is a little different. In a group of people, most of them were dragged into doing it by their seniors(may be during ragging or their school seniors) during their first year, even if they are not interested.

I am telling all this is only to give you an idea of the circumstances, a (“normal”) first year is going through in the beginning. He is not given much chances to try out different things. But later when they go to their senior years, then these people have to take the initiative to move on to other things, which usually never happens.

Next thing that I found very interesting but also disappointing is the Clubs of NITC. These people can make great changes to the views and interests and also give the students a great platform to express and review their talents. But that never happens here. All of them just wanted their name to get publicised but never looks at what the majority wants. I really have to quote my friend here: “Club activities should be taken as a service to the society”. I just wished that even if it couldn’t do anything good to the whole community it could have done something good to the students at the college.

In most students here, all kinds of development happens but the development in terms of engineering skills has never changed from the point he/she had entered into the college. From my experience till now I really have a feeling that any person who had got out from this college must have acquired some skills to survive. I hope that I also have got something to survive with, when I get out of this college.

Aakash tablet

Last year I got an opportunity to go for the FOSS.IN programme conducted in Banglore which is one of India’s largest event relating opensource technologies. One among many talks conducted there was one by people from IIT-Bombay on Aakash tablets. This was the first time I got to hear something about the technology, motive and the development process behind this tablet. You can read more about the specifications and all about Aakash here. One talk was by a faculty from IITB who is one of the people in-charge of the project, about the history of its development and the hacks done on Aakash tablet. The second one by one of its developers about how they ran a Linux kernel on top of android and the addition of few programming languages and porting of Scilab to be used in tablet.

When one hears about the mission of this project, the first thing that comes to mind would: “Why should we have something of this sort, when we can use books for education?”. With the idea of Aakash the people behind had a a clear cut idea on why it should be implemented.
When you think for a minute you will get all the disadvantages for this idea. But Government is trying to bring technology to every underprivileged students in India,at comparatively very low cost, which should be considered as a great achievement.

The main aim of Aakash project is giving the students a great learning tool which can be used for programming including C/C++, Python Scilab etc, general purpose reading, watching  videos and many more. I heard that the people behind this programme is comming up with a repository of tutorial videos. These videos will be converted into different local languages. This specific idea is to take the tablet to even the remote areas of the country where people have difficulties in communicating in English language. They are also planning to hire few people in transilating the videos to any local languages.