15.3 Securing FreeBSD

Command Versus Protocol: Throughout this document, we will use bold text to refer to an application, and a monospaced font to refer to specific commands. Protocols will use a normal font. This typographical distinction is useful for instances such as ssh, since it is a protocol as well as command.

The sections that follow will cover the methods of securing your FreeBSD system that were mentioned in the last section of this chapter.

15.3.1 Securing the root Account and Staff Accounts

First off, do not bother securing staff accounts if you have not secured the root account. Most systems have a password assigned to the root account. The first thing you do is assume that the password is always compromised. This does not mean that you should remove the password. The password is almost always necessary for console access to the machine. What it does mean is that you should not make it possible to use the password outside of the console or possibly even with the su(1) command. For example, make sure that your ptys are specified as being insecure in the /etc/ttys file so that direct root logins via telnet or rlogin are disallowed. If using other login services such as sshd, make sure that direct root logins are disabled there as well. You can do this by editing your /etc/ssh/sshd_config file, and making sure that PermitRootLogin is set to no. Consider every access method — services such as FTP often fall through the cracks. Direct root logins should only be allowed via the system console.

Of course, as a sysadmin you have to be able to get to root, so we open up a few holes. But we make sure these holes require additional password verification to operate. One way to make root accessible is to add appropriate staff accounts to the wheel group (in /etc/group). The staff members placed in the wheel group are allowed to su to root. You should never give staff members native wheel access by putting them in the wheel group in their password entry. Staff accounts should be placed in a staff group, and then added to the wheel group via the /etc/group file. Only those staff members who actually need to have root access should be placed in the wheel group. It is also possible, when using an authentication method such as Kerberos, to use Kerberos' .k5login file in the root account to allow a ksu(1) to root without having to place anyone at all in the wheel group. This may be the better solution since the wheel mechanism still allows an intruder to break root if the intruder has gotten hold of your password file and can break into a staff account. While having the wheel mechanism is better than having nothing at all, it is not necessarily the safest option.

To lock an account completely, the pw(8) command should be used:

# pw lock staff

This will prevent the user from logging in using any mechanism, including ssh(1).

Another method of blocking access to accounts would be to replace the encrypted password with a single “*” character. This character would never match the encrypted password and thus block user access. For example, the following staff account:

foobar:R9DT/Fa1/LV9U:1000:1000::0:0:Foo Bar:/home/foobar:/usr/local/bin/tcsh

Should be changed to this:

foobar:*:1000:1000::0:0:Foo Bar:/home/foobar:/usr/local/bin/tcsh

This will prevent the foobar user from logging in using conventional methods. This method for access restriction is flawed on sites using Kerberos or in situations where the user has set up keys with ssh(1).

These security mechanisms also assume that you are logging in from a more restrictive server to a less restrictive server. For example, if your main box is running all sorts of servers, your workstation should not be running any. In order for your workstation to be reasonably secure you should run as few servers as possible, up to and including no servers at all, and you should run a password-protected screen blanker. Of course, given physical access to a workstation an attacker can break any sort of security you put on it. This is definitely a problem that you should consider, but you should also consider the fact that the vast majority of break-ins occur remotely, over a network, from people who do not have physical access to your workstation or servers.

Using something like Kerberos also gives you the ability to disable or change the password for a staff account in one place, and have it immediately affect all the machines on which the staff member may have an account. If a staff member's account gets compromised, the ability to instantly change his password on all machines should not be underrated. With discrete passwords, changing a password on N machines can be a mess. You can also impose re-passwording restrictions with Kerberos: not only can a Kerberos ticket be made to timeout after a while, but the Kerberos system can require that the user choose a new password after a certain period of time (say, once a month).

15.3.2 Securing Root-run Servers and SUID/SGID Binaries

The prudent sysadmin only runs the servers he needs to, no more, no less. Be aware that third party servers are often the most bug-prone. For example, running an old version of imapd or popper is like giving a universal root ticket out to the entire world. Never run a server that you have not checked out carefully. Many servers do not need to be run as root. For example, the ntalk, comsat, and finger daemons can be run in special user sandboxes. A sandbox is not perfect, unless you go through a large amount of trouble, but the onion approach to security still stands: If someone is able to break in through a server running in a sandbox, they still have to break out of the sandbox. The more layers the attacker must break through, the lower the likelihood of his success. Root holes have historically been found in virtually every server ever run as root, including basic system servers. If you are running a machine through which people only login via sshd and never login via telnetd or rshd or rlogind, then turn off those services!

FreeBSD now defaults to running ntalkd, comsat, and finger in a sandbox. Another program which may be a candidate for running in a sandbox is named(8). /etc/defaults/rc.conf includes the arguments necessary to run named in a sandbox in a commented-out form. Depending on whether you are installing a new system or upgrading an existing system, the special user accounts used by these sandboxes may not be installed. The prudent sysadmin would research and implement sandboxes for servers whenever possible.

There are a number of other servers that typically do not run in sandboxes: sendmail, popper, imapd, ftpd, and others. There are alternatives to some of these, but installing them may require more work than you are willing to perform (the convenience factor strikes again). You may have to run these servers as root and rely on other mechanisms to detect break-ins that might occur through them.

The other big potential root holes in a system are the suid-root and sgid binaries installed on the system. Most of these binaries, such as rlogin, reside in /bin, /sbin, /usr/bin, or /usr/sbin. While nothing is 100% safe, the system-default suid and sgid binaries can be considered reasonably safe. Still, root holes are occasionally found in these binaries. A root hole was found in Xlib in 1998 that made xterm (which is typically suid) vulnerable. It is better to be safe than sorry and the prudent sysadmin will restrict suid binaries, that only staff should run, to a special group that only staff can access, and get rid of (chmod 000) any suid binaries that nobody uses. A server with no display generally does not need an xterm binary. Sgid binaries can be almost as dangerous. If an intruder can break an sgid-kmem binary, the intruder might be able to read /dev/kmem and thus read the encrypted password file, potentially compromising any passworded account. Alternatively an intruder who breaks group kmem can monitor keystrokes sent through ptys, including ptys used by users who login through secure methods. An intruder that breaks the tty group can write to almost any user's tty. If a user is running a terminal program or emulator with a keyboard-simulation feature, the intruder can potentially generate a data stream that causes the user's terminal to echo a command, which is then run as that user.

15.3.3 Securing User Accounts

User accounts are usually the most difficult to secure. While you can impose draconian access restrictions on your staff and “star” out their passwords, you may not be able to do so with any general user accounts you might have. If you do have sufficient control, then you may win out and be able to secure the user accounts properly. If not, you simply have to be more vigilant in your monitoring of those accounts. Use of ssh and Kerberos for user accounts is more problematic, due to the extra administration and technical support required, but still a very good solution compared to a encrypted password file.

15.3.4 Securing the Password File

The only sure fire way is to star out as many passwords as you can and use ssh or Kerberos for access to those accounts. Even though the encrypted password file (/etc/spwd.db) can only be read by root, it may be possible for an intruder to obtain read access to that file even if the attacker cannot obtain root-write access.

Your security scripts should always check for and report changes to the password file (see the Checking file integrity section below).

15.3.5 Securing the Kernel Core, Raw Devices, and File Systems

If an attacker breaks root he can do just about anything, but there are certain conveniences. For example, most modern kernels have a packet sniffing device driver built in. Under FreeBSD it is called the bpf device. An intruder will commonly attempt to run a packet sniffer on a compromised machine. You do not need to give the intruder the capability and most systems do not have the need for the bpf device compiled in.

But even if you turn off the bpf device, you still have /dev/mem and /dev/kmem to worry about. For that matter, the intruder can still write to raw disk devices. Also, there is another kernel feature called the module loader, kldload(8). An enterprising intruder can use a KLD module to install his own bpf device, or other sniffing device, on a running kernel. To avoid these problems you have to run the kernel at a higher secure level, at least securelevel 1.

The secure level of the kernel can be set in a variety of ways. The simplest way of raising the secure level of a running kernel is through a sysctl on the kern.securelevel kernel variable:

# sysctl kern.securelevel=1

By default, the FreeBSD kernel boots with a secure level of -1. The secure level will remain at -1 unless it is altered, either by the administrator or by init(8) because of a setting in the start up scripts. The secure level may be raised during system startup by setting the kern_securelevel_enable variable to YES in the /etc/rc.conf file, and the value of the kern_securelevel variable to the desired secure level.

The default secure level of a FreeBSD system right after the startup scripts are done is -1. This is called “insecure mode” because immutable file flags may be turned off, all devices may be read from or written to, and so on.

Once the secure level is set to 1 or a higher value, the append-only and immutable files are honored, they cannot be turned off, and access to raw devices will be denied. Higher levels restrict even more operations. For a full description of the effect of various secure levels, please read the security(7) manual page (or the manual page of init(8) in releases older than FreeBSD 7.0).

Note: Bumping the secure level to 1 or higher may cause a few problems to X11 (access to /dev/io will be blocked), or to the installation of FreeBSD built from source (the installworld part of the process needs to temporarily reset the append-only and immutable flags of some files), and in a few other cases. Sometimes, as in the case of X11, it may be possible to work around this by starting xdm(1) pretty early in the boot process, when the securelevel is still low enough. Workarounds like this may not be possible for all secure levels or for all the potential restrictions they enforce. A bit of forward planning is a good idea. Understanding the restrictions imposed by each secure level is important as they severely diminish the ease of system use. It will also make choosing a default setting much simpler and prevent any surprises.

If the kernel's secure level is raised to 1 or a higher value, it may be useful to set the schg flag on critical startup binaries, directories, and script files (i.e., everything that gets run up to the point where the securelevel is set). This might be overdoing it, and upgrading the system is much more difficult when it operates at a high secure level. A less strict compromise is to run the system at a higher secure level but skip setting the schg flag for every system file and directory under the sun. Another possibility is to simply mount / and /usr read-only. It should be noted that being too draconian about what is permitted may prevent the all-important detection of an intrusion.

15.3.6 Checking File Integrity: Binaries, Configuration Files, Etc.

When it comes right down to it, you can only protect your core system configuration and control files so much before the convenience factor rears its ugly head. For example, using chflags to set the schg bit on most of the files in / and /usr is probably counterproductive, because while it may protect the files, it also closes a detection window. The last layer of your security onion is perhaps the most important — detection. The rest of your security is pretty much useless (or, worse, presents you with a false sense of security) if you cannot detect potential intrusions. Half the job of the onion is to slow down the attacker, rather than stop him, in order to be able to catch him in the act.

The best way to detect an intrusion is to look for modified, missing, or unexpected files. The best way to look for modified files is from another (often centralized) limited-access system. Writing your security scripts on the extra-secure limited-access system makes them mostly invisible to potential attackers, and this is important. In order to take maximum advantage you generally have to give the limited-access box significant access to the other machines in the business, usually either by doing a read-only NFS export of the other machines to the limited-access box, or by setting up ssh key-pairs to allow the limited-access box to ssh to the other machines. Except for its network traffic, NFS is the least visible method — allowing you to monitor the file systems on each client box virtually undetected. If your limited-access server is connected to the client boxes through a switch, the NFS method is often the better choice. If your limited-access server is connected to the client boxes through a hub, or through several layers of routing, the NFS method may be too insecure (network-wise) and using ssh may be the better choice even with the audit-trail tracks that ssh lays.

Once you have given a limited-access box at least read access to the client systems it is supposed to monitor, you must write scripts to do the actual monitoring. Given an NFS mount, you can write scripts out of simple system utilities such as find(1) and md5(1). It is best to physically md5 the client-box files at least once a day, and to test control files such as those found in /etc and /usr/local/etc even more often. When mismatches are found, relative to the base md5 information the limited-access machine knows is valid, it should scream at a sysadmin to go check it out. A good security script will also check for inappropriate suid binaries and for new or deleted files on system partitions such as / and /usr.

When using ssh rather than NFS, writing the security script is much more difficult. You essentially have to scp the scripts to the client box in order to run them, making them visible, and for safety you also need to scp the binaries (such as find) that those scripts use. The ssh client on the client box may already be compromised. All in all, using ssh may be necessary when running over insecure links, but it is also a lot harder to deal with.

A good security script will also check for changes to user and staff members access configuration files: .rhosts, .shosts, .ssh/authorized_keys and so forth, files that might fall outside the purview of the MD5 check.

If you have a huge amount of user disk space, it may take too long to run through every file on those partitions. In this case, setting mount flags to disallow suid binaries is a good idea. The nosuid option (see mount(8)) is what you want to look into. You should probably scan them anyway, at least once a week, since the object of this layer is to detect a break-in attempt, whether or not the attempt succeeds.

Process accounting (see accton(8)) is a relatively low-overhead feature of the operating system which might help as a post-break-in evaluation mechanism. It is especially useful in tracking down how an intruder has actually broken into a system, assuming the file is still intact after the break-in has occurred.

Finally, security scripts should process the log files, and the logs themselves should be generated in as secure a manner as possible — remote syslog can be very useful. An intruder will try to cover his tracks, and log files are critical to the sysadmin trying to track down the time and method of the initial break-in. One way to keep a permanent record of the log files is to run the system console to a serial port and collect the information to a secure machine monitoring the consoles.

15.3.7 Paranoia

A little paranoia never hurts. As a rule, a sysadmin can add any number of security features, as long as they do not affect convenience, and can add security features that do affect convenience with some added thought. Even more importantly, a security administrator should mix it up a bit — if you use recommendations such as those given by this document verbatim, you give away your methodologies to the prospective attacker who also has access to this document.

15.3.8 Denial of Service Attacks

This section covers Denial of Service attacks. A DoS attack is typically a packet attack. While there is not much you can do about modern spoofed packet attacks that saturate your network, you can generally limit the damage by ensuring that the attacks cannot take down your servers by:

  1. Limiting server forks.

  2. Limiting springboard attacks (ICMP response attacks, ping broadcast, etc.).

  3. Overloading the Kernel Route Cache.

A common DoS attack scenario is attacking a forking server and making it spawn so many child processes that the host system eventually runs out of memory, file descriptors, etc. and then grinds to a halt. inetd (see inetd(8)) has several options to limit this sort of attack. It should be noted that while it is possible to prevent a machine from going down, it is not generally possible to prevent a service from being disrupted by the attack. Read the inetd manual page carefully and pay specific attention to the -c, -C, and -R options. Note that spoofed-IP attacks will circumvent the -C option to inetd, so typically a combination of options must be used. Some standalone servers have self-fork-limitation parameters.

Sendmail has its -OMaxDaemonChildren option, which tends to work much better than trying to use Sendmail's load limiting options due to the load lag. You should specify a MaxDaemonChildren parameter, when you start sendmail; high enough to handle your expected load, but not so high that the computer cannot handle that number of Sendmail instances without falling on its face. It is also prudent to run Sendmail in queued mode (-ODeliveryMode=queued) and to run the daemon (sendmail -bd) separate from the queue-runs (sendmail -q15m). If you still want real-time delivery you can run the queue at a much lower interval, such as -q1m, but be sure to specify a reasonable MaxDaemonChildren option for that Sendmail to prevent cascade failures.

Syslogd can be attacked directly and it is strongly recommended that you use the -s option whenever possible, and the -a option otherwise.

You should also be fairly careful with connect-back services such as TCP Wrapper's reverse-identd, which can be attacked directly. You generally do not want to use the reverse-ident feature of TCP Wrapper for this reason.

It is a very good idea to protect internal services from external access by firewalling them off at your border routers. The idea here is to prevent saturation attacks from outside your LAN, not so much to protect internal services from network-based root compromise. Always configure an exclusive firewall, i.e., “firewall everything except ports A, B, C, D, and M-Z”. This way you can firewall off all of your low ports except for certain specific services such as named (if you are primary for a zone), ntalkd, sendmail, and other Internet-accessible services. If you try to configure the firewall the other way — as an inclusive or permissive firewall, there is a good chance that you will forget to “close” a couple of services, or that you will add a new internal service and forget to update the firewall. You can still open up the high-numbered port range on the firewall, to allow permissive-like operation, without compromising your low ports. Also take note that FreeBSD allows you to control the range of port numbers used for dynamic binding, via the various net.inet.ip.portrange sysctl's (sysctl -a | fgrep portrange), which can also ease the complexity of your firewall's configuration. For example, you might use a normal first/last range of 4000 to 5000, and a hiport range of 49152 to 65535, then block off everything under 4000 in your firewall (except for certain specific Internet-accessible ports, of course).

Another common DoS attack is called a springboard attack — to attack a server in a manner that causes the server to generate responses which overloads the server, the local network, or some other machine. The most common attack of this nature is the ICMP ping broadcast attack. The attacker spoofs ping packets sent to your LAN's broadcast address with the source IP address set to the actual machine they wish to attack. If your border routers are not configured to stomp on ping packets to broadcast addresses, your LAN winds up generating sufficient responses to the spoofed source address to saturate the victim, especially when the attacker uses the same trick on several dozen broadcast addresses over several dozen different networks at once. Broadcast attacks of over a hundred and twenty megabits have been measured. A second common springboard attack is against the ICMP error reporting system. By constructing packets that generate ICMP error responses, an attacker can saturate a server's incoming network and cause the server to saturate its outgoing network with ICMP responses. This type of attack can also crash the server by running it out of memory, especially if the server cannot drain the ICMP responses it generates fast enough. Use the sysctl variable net.inet.icmp.icmplim to limit these attacks. The last major class of springboard attacks is related to certain internal inetd services such as the udp echo service. An attacker simply spoofs a UDP packet with the source address being server A's echo port, and the destination address being server B's echo port, where server A and B are both on your LAN. The two servers then bounce this one packet back and forth between each other. The attacker can overload both servers and their LANs simply by injecting a few packets in this manner. Similar problems exist with the internal chargen port. A competent sysadmin will turn off all of these inetd-internal test services.

Spoofed packet attacks may also be used to overload the kernel route cache. Refer to the net.inet.ip.rtexpire, rtminexpire, and rtmaxcache sysctl parameters. A spoofed packet attack that uses a random source IP will cause the kernel to generate a temporary cached route in the route table, viewable with netstat -rna | fgrep W3. These routes typically timeout in 1600 seconds or so. If the kernel detects that the cached route table has gotten too big it will dynamically reduce the rtexpire but will never decrease it to less than rtminexpire. There are two problems:

  1. The kernel does not react quickly enough when a lightly loaded server is suddenly attacked.

  2. The rtminexpire is not low enough for the kernel to survive a sustained attack.

If your servers are connected to the Internet via a T3 or better, it may be prudent to manually override both rtexpire and rtminexpire via sysctl(8). Never set either parameter to zero (unless you want to crash the machine). Setting both parameters to 2 seconds should be sufficient to protect the route table from attack.

15.3.9 Access Issues with Kerberos and SSH

There are a few issues with both Kerberos and ssh that need to be addressed if you intend to use them. Kerberos 5 is an excellent authentication protocol, but there are bugs in the kerberized telnet and rlogin applications that make them unsuitable for dealing with binary streams. Also, by default Kerberos does not encrypt a session unless you use the -x option. ssh encrypts everything by default.

Ssh works quite well in every respect except that it forwards encryption keys by default. What this means is that if you have a secure workstation holding keys that give you access to the rest of the system, and you ssh to an insecure machine, your keys are usable. The actual keys themselves are not exposed, but ssh installs a forwarding port for the duration of your login, and if an attacker has broken root on the insecure machine he can utilize that port to use your keys to gain access to any other machine that your keys unlock.

We recommend that you use ssh in combination with Kerberos whenever possible for staff logins. Ssh can be compiled with Kerberos support. This reduces your reliance on potentially exposed ssh keys while at the same time protecting passwords via Kerberos. Ssh keys should only be used for automated tasks from secure machines (something that Kerberos is unsuited to do). We also recommend that you either turn off key-forwarding in the ssh configuration, or that you make use of the from=IP/DOMAIN option that ssh allows in its authorized_keys file to make the key only usable to entities logging in from specific machines.