Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Davix: Review

From Davix's main site -

DAVIX, a live CD for data analysis and visualization, brings the most important free tools for data processing and visualization to your desk. There's no hassle with installing an operating system or struggle to build the necessary tools to get started with visualization. You can completely dedicate your time to data analysis.

The clause above is definitely right above Davix liveCD!!!!!

When people ask me which liveCD I use frequently, I always advocate these 3 -

1. HeX liveCD (Network Based Forensics)
2. BackTrack liveCD (Penetration Testing)
3. Helix liveCD (Digital Forensics)

I have mentioned many times that I prefer liveCD which focuses on specific domain very well, and Davix is really one of those. Undoubtedly I would love to include Davix to my CD folder.

Before I start anything serious, lets view the screenshot after startup from the liveCD -

It's based on SLAX, and I guess most of people know how good SLAX is after trying out BackTrack, DAVIX takes advantage of SLAX modularity, stability and hardware supports, I have tested it with my own hardwares and it works pretty well.

If you are familiar with linux desktop solution, you will definitely recognize that it is using KDE from the screenshot. Though I'm not fan of KDE, but KDE is always simple and easy to use for general users. Many of system configuration can be done via gui so it saves a lot of hassle figuring how to get the system working for you.

On top of that, DAVIX offers very informative resources for users to have great kickstart in learning data capturing, processing and visualization by providing a set of firefox bookmark toolbars, you can easily access all the information requires to study the topic, this can reduce time in studying certain tools and learning visualization techniques, and it also saves you from googling hassle. I like the idea of toolbars organization in firefox.

On the other hand, DAVIX also comes with its own manual which is about 108 pages, you can access it via KDE menu -> DAVIX -> DAVIX Manual. If you are serious about learning data visualization with DAVIX, I suggest you to start with its manual instead of playing around with the desktop without knowing what to do. It contains the basic guide of how to use all the tools that are delivered in DAVIX, the best part is you can follow the manual and learn it practically with all the tools available in DAVIX.

There are 3 main categories listed in Kde menu, they are Capture, Process, and Visualize. The Capture contains tools for you to perform data logging, especially network data. The Process contains tools to perform data processing so that the output of data processed can be parsed by visualization tools. The Visualize mainly contains all the tools for you to visualize the data set by generating different kind of images, diagrams or graphs. As I have mentioned you can just learn all the tools shipped by DAVIX with the comprehensive manual itself.

So what are the tools shipped with DAVIX, there are way too many that I can cover here, however here are my favourites -

1. Rumint
2. Tnv
3. Afterglow
4. Inetvis
5. Etherape
6. Gnuplot
7. Rrdtools
8. Mrtg
9. Wireshark

This is more to preference thingy as I have used those tools previously and familiar with them, I will need to explore the potential of other tools which I never use before. If you want to learn how those tools work, you can actually refer to the DAVIX manual, and then refer to the data set example which you can properly find in /usr/local/share/*, different tools may support different kind of data formats so that may require some learning curves. But the real question lies in what kind of visualization techniques should be applied to the data set you have so that it makes most sense.

After talking about all the good things, I still think there are few things worth improved.

1. Log sample
As this is the liveCD for data analysis and visualization, except that it has the example data set in /usr/local/share/*, it should provide a set of sample logs(apache, postfix, exim, proftpd and etc). Then demonstrating how to format them to feed those visualization tools will be great.

2. Fat taskbar
You may notice in the screenshot that the taskbar is quite big(double taskbar), this is nothing wrong, but if I have to offer a liveCD for visualization purpose, I would prefer to have everything slicker to give bigger space to display the images that I have generated from the data.

3. Unified keyboard shortcut
This is just my idea, when I work with images, I always like to zoom in and out. Zooming in allows you to focus on detail, zooming out on the other hand can improve macro view to understand the ratio or distribution of data. I do know different tools have always defined different keyboard shortcut layout. If zoom(in/out) uses same set of shortcut key settings across all the tools in DAVIX, that would be really great. I'm glad DAVIX offers gqview as the main application to display images as that's my favorite one with its ease of use interface.

4. Installer
Currently it comes with BackTrack Installer which is quite experimental, it needs some works to get it installed, I have tested the installer and it works fine(if you know what you are doing), I'm looking forward for easy installer in future.

By the way, one might ask why should I use DAVIX, simple enough. Take the old cliche "A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words". Using correct visualization techniques to process your thousand lines log files, to be honest you can do more with less, it saves your times and brain power to focus on something more important.

Guess I should end my review about DAVIX here, in case you are interested to try out DAVIX -

DAVIX is also part of Raffael's upcoming book Applied Security Visualization which will be published by Addision Wesley.

Currently, DAVIX is only available to beta testers. To participate in testing, please contact jan.monsch at

Thanks to DAVIX development team for allowing me to participate in beta testing, later is better than never. I do know developing a liveCD require hard works if you want to build a solid one, kudos!

Update Note:
DAVIX developer Jan. P. Monsch has informed me that he has actually making the taskbar more slicker now in new version of Davix, thanks for taking positively on my input.

Enjoy (;])


fryshadow said...

Hope Hex also will have embedded manual :)

gud luck dude!

Anonymous said...

Since you "prefer liveCD which focuses on specific domain very well"...

Review Ask to beta test for their most recent.

Anonymous said...

Thanks dude, Your information is really useful.