With more in-person hacking conferences starting up again, I found myself wanting a cheap and inconsequential laptop. I needed a computer I could take with me to cons without worrying about what might happen to it. Something that would be light to carry around. Something that--if it were compromised, stolen, or run over--wouldn’t be much of a loss. I needed a basic pentesting and CTF machine.

Then I remembered I had a 2012 MacBook Air (MacBookAir5,1) sitting around that I hadn’t used in years. The battery was dead, to the point that if the adapter came off of the machine it would immediately shut down. The disk was also messed up. I had formatted the disk years ago with Ubuntu, and when I would use it I would continuously get nagging alerts that there was a critical disk error. It still worked OK, but I had given up on trying to fix the disk troubles. It needed to be replaced.

This Apple device was from a different era, an era where you could actually take out your hard drive and replace it. These days the Air SSD is soldered on to the motherboard, which is kind of gross and certainly not very Right-to-Repair friendly.

My old Air had a 64 GB Toshiba SSD with an odd looking connector. Turns out this was a proprietary connector that was used by Apple at the time, with a 26 pin layout. Great, so because this is a proprietary connector specifically made for MacBook Airs I’d have to buy another disk with the same connector to replace it, right? Wrong. Turns out some vendors sell adapters that allow you to attach a SATA SSD instead.

So I bought a 500 GB SATA SSD, the adapter, and a battery replacement for approximately $120.00. A replacement 128 GB Toshiba SSD with the proprietary connector would have cost $135!

Here is a picture of the new disk installed in the adapter, with the old disk placed next to it:

Two different disks

Once those components were installed, I created a live USB of the latest LTS version of Ubuntu and installed that on the new disk. I considered Kali, but figured I’d like to have better control over what tools I put on the machine. Now I can install nmap, aircrack-ng, bettercap, Ghidra, smbclient, Burp Suite, and anything else I may need for CTFs and other hacking activities.

The final product:

New components installed

This is an especially sick rig with the right wireless adapter.