Correctly Configure PAM to Avoid Compromise

It is very important to test all changes carefully when changing a service s PAM configuration files.

Remove Obsolete PAM Configuration File

Originally, PAM used /etc/pam.conf as its configuration file. This is no longer the case unless the PAM default configuration directory does not exist. Therefore, you should either remove pam.conf if it exists on your system, or ensure that its directives match your security requirements. These days, PAM has all of its configuration information in a directory called /etc/pam.d.

Removing the file will ensure that a misconfigured system won t allow unauthorized access. Simply changing the default file to match your security policy will ensure that if the /etc/pam.d directory is corrupted or accidentally removed, you ll still be able to access the system without having to reboot into single user mode.

Also, if you administer lots of similar systems where older PAM configuration files are necessary, it may be easier to keep them all the same; however, upgrading to recent versions of PAM is strongly recommended.

Each service has its own configuration file in /etc/pam.d, named after the program or service. For example, the login application (/bin/login) is configured in /etc/pam.d/login. Application programmers define the service names of their applications ”each service should install its own configuration file when you install that service. The operating system installers normally do this for you.

Configuration File Format

Each non-comment line of a PAM configuration file consists of four possible arguments: a module interface, control flag, module path , and module arguments. Comments begin with a # symbol and continue to the end of the line.

So each line has the structure

 interface    control_flag    module_path    [module_arguments] 

The module arguments field is optional and depends on the module and setup.

Here s an example line that has only the first three fields:

 auth    required 

Module Interface

Module interface is the PAM jargon for the type of authorization a module does.

A PAM module may do just one or all four possible interfaces. Those interfaces are account , auth , password , and session . Each interface will be specified in the configuration file for a service if it s appropriate for the module and the administrator wishes to use that interface.

  • account The account interface checks to see if an account is authorized to use the system, which could mean checking to see if it exists, has expired , or is allowed access at a particular time or via a particular service.

  • auth The auth interface authenticates a user. That can be by prompting for and then checking a password, a database, or another mechanism. auth modules are also allowed to set credentials such as group memberships or Kerberos tickets.

  • password The password interface is for checking and setting password authentication.

  • session The session interface configures and manages a user s session. This may include housekeeping tasks like mounting directories, creating files, and so on.

Control Flags

For each interface, the configuration file specifies a control flag, which determines what PAM does next based upon the result of the check performed. There are four control flags: optional , required , requisite , and sufficient .

  • optional Optional modules do not affect the success or failure of the authentication unless there are no other modules for a particular interface.

  • required A successful result must be returned for the user to continue. User notification doesn t happen until all modules for an interface are satisfied.

  • requisite A successful result must be returned for the user to continue. User notification happens immediately for failure of the first requisite or required module for an interface.

  • sufficient A successful result combined with no failures of required or requisite modules allow for a good authentication, assuming no other modules follow. Failure of a sufficient module is ignored.

Module Path

The module path tells PAM the location of the module. It is normally a full pathname, including the module name and extension, such as /lib/security/ If no path is specified, PAM defaults to /lib/security to find the module. Please note that the module path may include the variable $ISA as shipped from the vendor. This variable is an artifact of Solaris PAM originally, where 32- and 64-bit modules would both be shipped, and it would be replaced at load time with the correct architecture value. Linux may use this value in the near future with the ia64 architecture machines, so if you remove it, document its removal. It is best to fully qualify the path to each module.

Module Arguments

If a module requires arguments, this is where they will go, such as db=/etc/login.db . Invalid arguments do not affect the login process and are simply logged to syslog .

This information is important for understanding PAM, but fortunately you don t have to remember much of it once you ve got things set up.

Backing Up the Configuration Before Making Changes

If you have a pam.conf file, back it up by copying it to a new name. It s easier to figure out who did the changes and when if you include initials and a date in the new filename.

 cp  -pr /etc/pam.conf /etc/pam.conf.040404.pdr 

This will back up pam.conf to a file named pam.conf.040404.pdr. Copying the file back over the original will restore the original, which is accomplished like this:

 cp pr /etc/pam.conf.040404.pdr /etc/pam.conf 

The same technique works for backing up the /etc/pam.d directory:

 cp pr /etc/pam.d /etc/pam.d.040404.pdr 

For restoring the directory, if you ve added additional service configuration files, you can copy individual files back to the original /etc/pam.d directory, copy all the files back over (which won t overwrite any new files), or simply move the entire backup directory to restore to the original configuration. The last option would simply require the following command:

 mv /etc/pam.d.040404.pdr /etc/pam.d 

Recovering from Catastrophic Errors

If you accidentally delete your configuration files, you ll find out that you can t log on to your system anymore. If you don t have backup files, don t panic, simply boot into single user mode, and follow these steps:

 cd /etc mv pam.conf pam.conf.backup mv pam.d pam.d.backup mkdir pam.d cd pam.d vi other 

Then type the following lines in insert mode (by pressing the I key):

 auth     required account  required password required session  required 

Then use the ESC key to get back to command mode, type :wq , and press the RETUR n or ENTER key.

This is the simplest PAM configuration. You can save the file other , then reboot the system and log on normally. At that point, you can restore your configuration from backups or reinstall the PAM collection from your distribution to regain the default configuration. It s useful to back up the original settings prior to making changes, so that restoring a working configuration is easy.

Now we ll do three things: check the framework, harden the basic services that we expect to authenticate to, and look at new PAM modules that might make our systems more secure.

PAM Framework

First make sure that /etc/pam.conf doesn t exist unless this is an old system running an older version of PAM.

Next, make sure that /etc/pam.d exists, and contains PAM configuration files.

The first user to log in at the console of a Linux box can get ownership of many hardware devices, depending on how PAM is configured. Traditionally, Unix systems let the superuser (root) own the hardware, but to make it easy for desktop users to access devices such as sound cards, CD drives , and the like, the first console user can be set up to have ownership of these devices. Ownership reverts to root when the console user logs out. The device list is in /etc/security/console.perms, and ownership is changed by the PAM module .

The console user is also allowed to access PAM-aware applications with their names in the /etc/security/console.apps directory. Halting and rebooting the machine are typically controlled by .

Ensure that the /etc/pam.d/other and /etc/pam.d/common-* or /etc/pam.d/system-* configuration files contain acceptable values. These are the files that are referenced for any PAM application where there isn t a specific configuration file, so they re like default settings for PAM services.

Different distributions may handle this differently, the /etc/pam.d/other file is the fallback name for PAM to use if it can t find a service name specifically . It may reference /etc/pam.d/common-* or /etc/pam.d/system-* a set of files for each interface, such as /etc/pam.d/common-auth, /etc/pam.d/system-auth, etc/pam.d/system-password, and so on.

Alternately, you can strengthen your Linux system to not allow unknown programs to authenticate. This is highly recommended. Here s a sample /etc/pam.d/other file that does not allow unknown services to authenticate a user:

 auth        required        /lib/security/ auth        required        /lib/security/ account     required        /lib/security/ account     required        /lib/security/ password    required        /lib/security/ password    required        /lib/security/ session     required        /lib/security/ session     required        /lib/security/ 

This configuration allows you to follow the default deny rule of security for unknown services. As with all PAM changes, you ll want to ensure that /lib/security/ and /lib/security/ exist prior to implementing this configuration.

Traditional Services

The /bin/login program is the traditional Unix console/terminal authentication mechanism. Linux s /bin/login uses PAM.

Here s the default /etc/pam.d/login from Red Hat Enterprise Linux AS 3.0:

 #%PAM-1.0 auth       required auth       required service=system-auth auth       required account    required service=system-auth password   required service=system-auth session    required service=system-auth session    optional 

This configuration file calls four different modules: , , , and . The module is called for four different interfaces: auth , account , password , and session .

The authentication stack first checks to see if the user is logging on from a device listed in /etc/ securetty . Next it uses the normal password authenticator, pam_stack . The service argument tells PAM to use the /etc/pam.d/system-auth configuration file, which looks like this:

 #%PAM-1.0  # This file is auto-generated.    # User changes will be destroyed the next time authconfig is run.    auth        required      /lib/security/$ISA/   auth        sufficient    /lib/security/$ISA/ likeauth nullok   auth        required      /lib/security/$ISA/   account     required      /lib/security/$ISA/   password    required      /lib/security/$ISA/ retry=3   password    sufficient    /lib/security/$ISA/ nullok  use_authtok md5 + password    required      /lib/security/$ISA/   session     required      /lib/security/$ISA/   session     required      /lib/security/$ISA/ 

For auth , we can see that the first thing that is required is passing through , which sets up the user s environment using variables specified in /etc/security/pam_env.conf. Typically, it s not used, but could be used to have PAM set the DISPLAY environment variable, for instance. There are many commented-out examples in the default file. This module is required.

Next, we have a call to pam_unix , the PAM password authenticator. The first argument is likeauth , which makes the module return the same value for credential (password) changes as for authentication, ensuring equivalent security in both cases. The next argument, nullok , should be removed for a hardened system, as it allows null passwords to be set for accounts. This module is marked as sufficient so that the next module can be tested .

This brings us to . This module disallows access, so this line is a default deny line unless the sufficient pam_unix passes success back.

Next, we have an account method, which uses the module. This module checks to see if the user has a valid account and that the account hasn t expired. This module is required because we obviously don t want people authenticating who don t have accounts on the system.

Next, we have three password methods . The first, , checks the password against common words and disallows them as passwords. We have it set to allow three attempts to find a non-dictionary password; this method is set to required . After checking the word, pam_unix is used with this method. For hardening a system, we ll want to remove nullok , which would allow a blank password. We re also set up for using an authentication token (already supplied password), md5, and shadow passwords. The use_authtok parameter tells the module to use the already supplied password instead of prompting for it. Since the user was already prompted for a password, this is obviously good behavior, and ensures that the password has been through pam The md5 parameter says that the system should have the password using the Message Digest 5 hashing function. This function is more secure than the traditional DES-based Unix password hashing method. Finally, the shadow parameter tells the module to store the password hash in the /etc/shadow file, which should only be accessible to the root user ID, rather than in the traditional /etc/password file, which is world-readable. This module is marked as sufficient , because it s followed by the default deny of .

Next, we have the session methods and . The pam_limits module sets resource limits based upon the file /etc/security/limits.conf.

By default, all the entries in /etc/security/limits.conf are commented out for most distributions, but you can control things like the size of core files, memory used, CPU used, number of processes, and maximum number of logins by user, group, or default. Finally, we see the pam_unix module for this method. This method updates the lastlog file with the last login time, and provides the last time the user logged in, which is printed by some programs like /bin/login. It is also set up to log the start and finish of a session at the INFO level in syslog. Common distributions set this to be /var/log/messages.

Now we re back to the original file again, but since the same pam_stack module was used for each method, we simply have to check out what pam_console does. As we discussed earlier, this module generally deals with device ownership for the user logged in at the physical console.

As you can see, there s a lot of complexity and intertwining dependencies when dealing with PAM. Before you modify your configuration, you should trace through the stack of modules to ensure you understand what happens normally for that service. Backing up the files before modification is also critical. I recommend changing only one configuration file at a time, and testing that change fully prior to making new changes. Testing should include testing a valid account with no password, an invalid password, and a correct password, and testing an invalid account with any password and no password. Whenever possible, testing should be done in a controlled network environment, or with ipchains or iptables filtering protecting the service if it s a network service.

You should examine login , passwd , sshd , su , and any other PAM modules you expect to use regularly to ensure they re set up correctly. In general, the distribution defaults are fine for the default modules, other than any special purpose modules you might want to add.

Now let s look at adding some PAM modules to enhance your system s security.

A BSD-Like wheel Group

The module is included by default in the PAM package. It allows you to specify which users may su to root. Typically, on BSD systems, only users who are in the wheel group, typically group 0, are permitted to use the su command to gain root privileges. This means that even if a user knows the root password, they re not permitted to use it to gain root access from their account. Obviously, enforcement of this requires that root be not allowed to directly access the system s login methods. Typically, this means not allowing root to use SSH remotely.

To enable wheel group in Linux, insert the following line to the top of your PAM configuration for su (/etc/pam.d/su):

 Auth       required use_uid group=wheel 

If you want to use the default group that s set up for root, with a group ID of 0, you don t need to use group=wheel . Renaming the group ID 0 group in /etc/group to wheel will make your configuration easier to understand for administrators used to BSD systems.

Per-User Temporary Directories

On multiuser systems, flaws in file handling are often exploited as race conditions. For systems where we expect multiple users, there s a PAM module, pam_mktemp , which makes a private per-user temporary directory and then assigns both the TEMP and TEMPDIR environment variables to that directory. Lack of a shared /tmp directory eliminates most of the exposure to symbolic link race conditions. Adding pam_mktem p to the module stack for interactive logins ( ssh , login , telnetd , and so on) will help limit race condition exploitation for root-executed and user-executed processes.

Require Strong Passwords

Many administrators like to require strong passwords. It s a tradeoff that should be considered carefully. Weak passwords are often easy for users to remember, but may be attackable . First of all, if a service is network available, such as the SSH daemon, an attacker can try to brute force or dictionary attack that service by using a program to try known user IDs and dictionary word passwords. If the administrator isn t paying attention to failed authentication in the logs, this may gain the attacker enough time to get into the system. Also, if an attacker can get the password hashes for the system, then a dictionary attacking program for passwords can match the hashes in a very short period of time, allowing the attacker access to the system. With enough fast computers, the attacker may be able to match even a relatively strong hash in minutes. The San Diego Supercomputer Center s Teracrack paper is worth reading for both the methodology and the surprisingly difficult passwords generated by their attempts: Teracrack: Password cracking using TeraFLOP and Petabyte Resources is available at publications /teracrack.pdf.

Adding strong passwords that require many different types of characters , or even passphrases, will help negate dictionary attacks. However, the tradeoff is that users will likely write down the passwords in a convenient place or will regularly forget their password. Note that just adding digits or special characters to a word will not make it less dictionary attackable, as most password cracking programs do a very good job of enumerating obvious modifications.

So the password password is obviously easily crackable, but so are password123 and 123password. Both pass and word are dictionary words, so pass123word is also easily cracked. Besides English words, most dictionaries used by attackers contain foreign words, common computer terms, and even common transformations, such as substituting the number 4 for an a character, or zero for an o character, so p4ssw0rd is no safer than password. The string I^34WxV2 is not normally considered dictionary attackable, but is difficult to remember (and may be added to a common dictionary once someone reads this).

The criteria for deciding if you want to enforce strong passwords should include what your primary purpose is for the passwords. If it s local, physical access to a system where there aren t network services available, then having the password written down is probably worse than allowing weak passwords (other than those easily guessed, such as password, secret, and the ID itself). That s because an attacker is more likely to be local to the system. For remote authentication where the authentication mechanism is open to a wide range of systems, like SSH open to the Internet, stronger passwords make much more sense.

Require Strong Passwords Using the pam_passwdqc Module

In any case, besides the pam_cracklib PAM module, there s a strong authentication module that allows you to require very strong non-guessable passwords from your users. That module is pam_passwdqc . This module is used for password changing programs like passwd , and it allows you to enforce strong passwords, and passphrases (a series of words, rather than just one), and can generate random passwords for users. This module is included in SUSE distributions, but must be added by the administrator for older Red Hat releases. Red Hat started including pam_passwdqc in Red Hat Enterprise Linux AS 3.0 in an update in May 2004.

Both pam_cracklib and pam_passwdqc should not be used in the same service configuration file. Therefore, pam_passwdqc should replace pam_cracklib in a configuration file if you want to use it.

The pam_passwfqc module should be inserted prior to pam_unix or pam_pwdb in the password method of a service s authentication stack. This module defines four character classes: digits, lowercase letters, uppercase letters , and all others. Non-ASCII characters are assumed to be non-digits. The module allows the administrator to set the minimum length limits for passwords made of each type of character, and disable completely a particular class. The parameter for minimum password length is min=N0,N1,N2,N 3,N4, which defaults to min=disabled, 24,12,8,7 .

  • N0 By default, this group is disabled. This group represents a password that consists of one character class, such as all lowercase letters.

  • N1 By default, this group requires 24 characters. This group represents a password that consists of two character classes and does not meet the requirements for a passphrase.

  • N2 By default, this group requires 12 characters. It is reserved for passphrases, which must contain a minimum number or words (see the passphrase option).

  • N3 By default, this group requires 8 characters. It represents a password that consists of three character classes.

  • N4 By default, this group requires 7 characters. It represents a password that contains four different character classes.

Note that this module does not count uppercase initial characters or trailing digits when counting the number of character classes. So Apassword99 will count only as one class, while ApaSSword99 counts as two, and A99PassworD counts as three.

The next parameter the module accepts is max= , which is the maximum password size. The default is max=40 . The value 8 has a special meaning, and passwords used will be truncated to 8 characters if that value is used to ensure compatibility with older Unix programs, which can t deal with longer passwords. This should only be used if absolutely necessary.

The next parameter is passphrase , which defaults to passphrase=3 . This is the minimum number of words allowed in a passphrase. A value of disables passphrase support.

Next, we have match , which defaults to match=4 . This is a case and direction insensitive substring-matching function that is used to determine if a substring is common. Passwords aren t rejected for having common substrings, the substring value is just removed from consideration when calculating the number of different character classes, just as leading capitals and trailing digits are.

Next, we have similar , which can be either similar=permit or similar=deny . The default is deny , which means the new password isn t allowed to be similar to the old password. Passwords are subject to the common substring test from match , and rejected if they re too similar. This stops users from using passwords similar to ones that may have been compromised. So, if the user s previous password was mypass1 they wouldn t be allowed to use mypass2 as their next password.

Next, we have random , which defaults to random=42 . This is the default length for randomly generated passwords. Random passwords are allowed no matter what other restrictions are in place. A value will disable this feature, and the string ,only appended to the length will disallow user- chosen passwords.

The next setting is enforce . This can have a value of none , users , or everyone . The default is enforce=everyone . none will warn of weak passwords only, but not enforce their rejection . users will enforce the restrictions for all non-root users on the system. everyone will enforce the restrictions for all users, including root.

Next, we have the non-unix option. This tells the module to not use the traditional getpwnam function call to get the user information. It s useful for services that don t use /etc/passwd for their authentication, such as some POP3 e-mail daemons. By default, this option is not specified.

The next parameter is retry , and defaults to retry=3 . This is the number of chances the user gets to enter a sufficiently strong password.

The last four parameters all default to not being specified. This is because the module expects to normally be used in conjunction with the pre-existing configuration.

The ask_oldauthok parameter has the module prompt for the old password during the preliminary check. If it s specified as ask_oldauthok=update , then the old password is asked for during the update phase.

The check_oldauthok parameter has the module check that the old password is valid prior to performing the update. This is usually left to other modules, but something in the module stack should do this, otherwise anyone could walk up to an already logged-in account and change the password.

The next two options are mutually exclusive: use_first_pass and use_authtok . Both of these options tell the module to use the password provided by a prior module in the stack, instead of interacting with the user. The use_first_pass option is incompatible with as k_oldauthok, otherwise they re functionally the same.

Using this module, the default options are acceptable for everything other than randomly generated passwords. Long random passwords will almost require the user to write down the password, and should only be used in situations where they re necessary.

The following line before the password line will add pam_passwdqc to a service:

 password required enforce=users ask_oldauthok=update check_oldauthok 

Modern distributions have lots of interdependencies for PAM, so for example, on Red Hat, the default system-auth service, which is referenced by many services through the pam_stack module, is auto-generated when the system is installed. Let s look at an example of replacing pam_cracklib with pam_passwdqc . Here s the original /etc/pam/d/system-auth file:

 #%PAM-1.0   # This file is auto-generated.   # User changes will be destroyed the next time authconfig is run.   auth        required      /lib/security/$ISA/   auth        sufficient    /lib/security/$ISA/ likeauth nullok   auth        required      /lib/security/$ISA/   account     required      /lib/security/$ISA/   password    required      /lib/security/$ISA/ retry=3   password    sufficient    /lib/security/$ISA/ nullok use_authtok md5 + password    required      /lib/security/$ISA/   session     required      /lib/security/$ISA/   session     required      /lib/security/$ISA/ 

This is the replacement:

 #%PAM-1.0   # This file is auto-generated.   # User changes will be destroyed the next time authconfig is run.   auth        required      /lib/security/$ISA/   auth        sufficient    /lib/security/$ISA/ likeauth nullok   auth        required      /lib/security/$ISA/   account     required      /lib/security/$ISA/     password required enforce=users ask_oldauthok=update check_oldauthok + password    sufficient    /lib/security/$ISA/ nullok use_authtok md5 + password    required      /lib/security/$ISA/   session     required      /lib/security/$ISA/   session     required      /lib/security/$ISA/ 

Hardening Linux
Hardening Linux
ISBN: 0072254971
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2004
Pages: 113

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