Web Server Secrets, Part 1: About This Series of Articles

I wrote this series under the title Server Secrets more than a decade ago. I wrote this article as a means of gaining credibility while investigating groups of pay site hackers. I published my results as How to Hack a Pay Site and I Can Hack You.

By time my articles were published, I was “sysadmin” for various hackers’ boards, and amongst at least one “elite” circle. When my investigations were published, I was thrown out of everywhere, of course, though one hacker in Denmark wrote to tell me he’d been laughing for days. He was very impressed!

Internet Billing Companies Learned

File system secrets

Coding behind the web page

Two internet billing companies did change their software as a result of my published investigations and techniques.

If you have grown up around Windows and PCs, as most people have, you will find the “ins and outs” of Unix and Linux file permissions mystifying. This article explains the rationale — it really does make sense once you understand the rationale — and why this makes a real difference to you.

At the turn of the millennium, Unix/Linux servers were fairly rare. This article had a small audience, namely, would-be hackers in High School and College. They had lots of time on their hands and no Unix/Linux knowledge. These days, of course, all that time is taken up with video games!

Unix and Linux More Relevant Today

Strangely enough, this article is more relevant today. There are a lot of Unix/Linux servers out there, with a lot of Web sites running Apache servers on Unix or Linux. If you need to know what’s going on, here is a large piece of the puzzle.

File permissions, to be sure, are a minor detail — unless you get them wrong. Now, you can be confident of getting them right. As your web business grows bigger and bigger, you will probably need to begin using other peoples’ software. You might install a shopping cart, or use a gallery page builder… but sooner or later, you’ll have to learn more about scripts and files.

I’ll be explaining several Web Server Secrets along the way. The “permissions problem” is only one of those secrets. For our purposes, I’ll use Unix and Linux interchangeably. If you use a Unix-like server, this essay applies to you. FreeBSD, Darwin, Mac OS X, Red Hat, Slackware, Solaris, Ubuntu, etc., are all flavors of Unix or Linux.

Finally, I am not here to teach you Unix or Linux. I am here to help you survive Unix/Linux as a webmaster.