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I only have 2 spare machines and both are very old, but I really want to set up an environment so that I can start practicing security. One of these machines has a Pentium 4 processor and 512 MB RAM; the other is older (and I don't know the specs off the top of my head).

I want to set up a VM environment on these machines, if possible.
What would be the best way to do it, to keep the rest of my network secure? Would a better option be to leave them as they are (Windows XP box and a Ubuntu 10.04 server) and change some settings/install vulnerable software (burp suite, web goat, etc)?

What other issues should I consider, from a security point of view?

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Asking whether you can run a VM on them is probably a better fit for the Super User stack exchange. –  D.W. Jul 18 '11 at 2:10
    
Hi @Eric, welcome to the site! I do have to agree with @D.W., though your intent is a "security testing environment", the specific question is more aimed towards Super User... Any reason I shouldnt move it over for you? –  AviD Jul 18 '11 at 11:27
    
Sure, I see your point. Thanks! –  EGr Jul 18 '11 at 15:43
    
Eric, I edited your question, to focus more on security issues that you should consider (such as @this.josh's answer). Feel free to update it more, but keep it on security :) –  AviD Jul 21 '11 at 9:07
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3 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

You should still be able to run VM's quite successfully on these boxes. The key issue is that they will be slow, so if you want to run brute forcing on them (eg with John the Ripper) they will take a lot longer than recent machines.

I have a couple of VM's running quite successfully on kit much older than that - for basic victim VM's (one has an app similar to webgoat) they work perfectly well.

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Okay, should I use KVM or something else (VirtualBox, VMWare, etc)? Also, I've never done VM networking. Is there a certain setup to make these VMs isolated from my regular network? –  EGr Jul 17 '11 at 17:04
    
I use VMWare, but that is just because I am familiar with it. The servers I run my virtualised vulnerable servers on are in a separate dmz to the rest of the network. General good practices should apply with the caveat that you can only do what your budget will allow. –  Rory Alsop Jul 17 '11 at 18:51
    
Okay, thanks a lot for all the help! –  EGr Jul 17 '11 at 20:07
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I agree with Rory, those machines will run VMs, if not very fast.

First however, I would make sure that your testing machines are not connected to the internet. If you are making vulnerable machines for your own use, don't let someone else compromise them first. Give the two machines their own hub or switch.

Second, when you connect any other machine to the test network, disconnect the new machine from the internet. You don't want attacks on your test network accidently going out to the real world.

I personally would just use real systems instead of VMs for practice. Hopefully you mess them up. Then you get to reinstall the OS, applications, etc. Reinstalling can be a good exercize, learning all the configuration options and steps taken by someone setting up the system. Incorrect configurations and default settings are the types of vulnerabilites you are looking to attack. On top of that the VMs will run slower. The nice part of the VM is you only have to set up a machine once, then after your break it, you restore a copy of the image. Try installing different operating systems. Tweak them, break them, and then try a new one.

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So, would I put the two machines and a wireless router on the same switch? Or would I just put the two machines on a switch? –  EGr Jul 18 '11 at 15:42
    
I would just put them on a switch unless you are testing wireless vulnerabilities. –  this.josh Jul 18 '11 at 17:04
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With that type of computer I would recommend that you only install and test one VM at a time and run it using 256ram (or higher if you can). Use virtual box is free and easy to use. Install it on a windows xp host then install vulnerable VMs in vbox (called guests).

There is a list of vulnerable VM's here, I recommend metasploitable:

http://r00tsec.blogspot.com/2011/02/pentest-lab-vulnerable-servers.html

As for the network if you are using a wireless router you should be safe because of NAT and port forwarding. In vbox you should configure the guest to use bridged settings and it should pick up its own IP on your subnet. for example:

Testing PC: 192.168.1.10 (tools can be installed on the host or in a guest VM)

Optional VM: 192.168.15 (backtrack 5)

Old PC with vbox: 192.168.1.20

Guest: 192.168.1.30 (bridged network setting)

Happy hacking.

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