Why Every Cyber Security Expert Should Learn Command Prompt

Stuart Gentry, Alumnus

I could not believe it when a coworker told me they were eliminating command prompt when Windows Millennium came out. He said, “Why do you need it?” Well, one reason is if you want to be a true ethical hacker/cyber security information assurance expert; the rest of the reasons are mentioned below.

I realize people today are all about convenience, and “point and click” is convenient. I agree, it’s convenient, until something bad happens. People say that if something does happen, just put in the recovery CD or USB and go into safe mode in Windows…OK, and if that doesn’t work? The majority of the actions you do on a “point and click” basis can be done via command prompt. After all, the GUI was designed to execute the commands behind the scenes.

With the new Windows 8, I had issues with locating programs, shutting down, etc. For example, I needed MS Paint one day for manipulating a photo, but did not want to go through the pain of finding it. Command prompt came in handy (and it’s located on my bottom panel for convenience). I simply typed, “mspaint” <Enter>…voila! Paint is up and running and I didn’t have to search for it! At the end of the day, I was teaching my coworkers how to shut down the PC by typing “shutdown –s” which means “shutdown the local machine”; again, no need to look for it on the menu selections! Calculator is another one--just type “calc” and the calculator pulls up. Command prompt can also tell you what systems are connected to you via “netstat”. For example, “netstat –a” can tell you what ports are actively listening.

One day I could not connect to the Internet via Linux. I went to command prompt and typed “ifconfig” and all of my network connections came up so I could see if I had an IP address. I could also do “ping www.somewebpage.com” and see if I had a connection or not. I had a file that I did not want anyone accessing other than myself (the owner) while I was working on it, so I typed, “chmod 700” to ensure only I have full access.

I had problems booting a Linux machine one day. It would boot up to the Fedora screen and then sit with no login screen present. I had an idea what was happening, so I booted with a USB thumb drive that had a version of Back Track Linux. I then made my way into the Linux hard drive via command prompt and deleted some unnecessary files. Lastly, I rebooted, and the machine came back to life!

So, you don’t want to type a lot? Well, the computer conveniently remembers what you typed, so if you closed a program and need it again, you can just hit the up arrow or down arrow for the last time you used it and hit <Enter>.

Another issue is updating applications and the operating system. I will typically do my updates in command prompt or go to the actual application and do updates from there, versus clicking the pop-up that states, “Update is ready”.

I have also taught myself some command prompt skills. I attended one of many online information assurance courses from Regis where I practiced and learned more about Unix. The nice thing with Linux/Unix is all of the tools that come with it. You can search for a filename by doing “ls | grep filename” which lists (ls) the current directory, then pipes (|) it into grep which “grabs” and shows you the filename you are looking for if it exists.

So, in the end, you ask, “Why learn command prompt?” There are many reasons why you should. You can even have a cheat sheet at your desk for the commands that may come in handy one day…like when the next version of Windows or your favorite operating system comes out and you don’t have the patience to search for something. Also, as I mentioned in the beginning, true ethical hackers know command prompt (among other “old school” skills).

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