Hacking Time & Linux Appliances

By Doug Gaff

One of the curses of being an Engineer is that we have the knack
for hacking things, not just computers, but pretty much anything around
the house, garage, or office. It’s a curse because none of the products
we buy ever work quite the way we want them to. If only my cordless phone had this one extra button. Why did they build the closet organizer that way? If I take out this wall, move these stairs, and raise the ceiling… Well, you get the idea. I often envy people who just buy a house, car, or piece of technology and use it as is. They must have a lot more free
time.

Lately, I’ve found myself hacking my D-Link DNS-323
NAS box. This appliance is an empty two drive bay with a Gig-E port.
You buy it and two of your favorite SATA drives, open the cover and
slide the drives in, and then go through a simple web setup…instant NAS
with RAID. If I was a normal person, I would leave it alone at this
point because it works perfectly without any modifications. But this is
really a geek toy in disguise. It runs Linux, and if you put a script
with the correct name on one of the drives, the appliance executes that
script at startup. There’s an entire DNS-323 wiki
dedicated to turning it into whatever you want to make it. You can even
mod the hardware to get access to the JTAG pins and the serial port. So
far, I’ve only enabled the command line and SFTP, but I’m really
tempted to make a web server, even though I have absolutely no need for
one.

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