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Subject: Secure UNIX Programming FAQ

This article was archived around: 12 Nov 2001 10:57:20 GMT

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Secure UNIX Programming FAQ --------------------------- Version 0.5 Sun May 16 21:31:40 PDT 1999 The master copy of this FAQ is currently kept at http://www.whitefang.com/sup/ The webpage has a more spiffy version of the FAQ in html. This FAQ is also posted to comp.security.unix (c.s.u) , comp.answers , news.answers. Please do not mirror this FAQ without prior permission. Due to the high volume of readers I'm worried that old versions of the FAQ are left to grow stale, consequently receive email based on fixed errors/omissions. Additional Resources -------------------- After receiving many comments, and suggestions I decided to make some more SUP FAQ related resources available. A change log can be found at: http://www.whitefang.com/sup/sec-changes.txt A moderated mailing list has been setup for the discussion of Secure UNIX programming. You can find a copy of the announcement at: http://www.whitefang.com/sup/announcement.txt I'm currently working on a terse reference guide. It will be made available Real Soon Now in PostScript format. The reference can be printed out and kept handy next to your can of cola. It contains, tables, diagrams, and step by step instructions for various operations mentioned in the FAQ. It will not be posted to Usenet, and downloadable from the FAQ's website. Its "Real Soon Now" status is very Real Soon Now. Copyright --------- I, Thamer Al-Herbish reserve a collective copyright on this FAQ. Individual contributions made to this FAQ are the intellectual property of the contributor. I am responsible for the validity of all information found in this FAQ. This FAQ may contain errors, or inaccurate material. Use it at your own risk. Although an effort is made to keep all the material presented here accurate, the contributors and maintainer of this FAQ will not be held responsible for any damage -- direct or indirect -- which may result from inaccuracies. You may redistribute this document as long as you keep it in its current form, without any modifications. Read -- keep it up to date please!! :-) Introduction ------------ This FAQ answers questions about secure programming in the UNIX environment. It is a guide for programmers and not administrators. Keep this in mind because I do not tackle any administrative issues. Try to read it as a guide if possible. I'm sorry it sounds like a bad day on jeopardy. At the risk of sounding too philosophical, this FAQ is also a call to arms. Over almost the last decade, a good six years, a movement took place where security advisories would hit mailing lists and other forums at astonishing speed. I think the veterans are all to familiar with the repetitive nature of these security advisories, and the small amount of literature that has been published to help avoid insecure programming. This text is a condensation of this movement and a contribution made to it, placed in a technical context to better serve the UNIX security community. As the Usenet phrase goes: "Hope this helps." Additions and Contributions --------------------------- The current FAQ is not complete. I will continue to work on it as I find time. Feel free to send in material for the Todo sections, and for the small notes I've left around. Also, compatibility is an issue I struggle with sometimes. The best I can do for some UNIX flavors is read man pages. Corrections/addendums for compatibility notes is greatly appreciated, and easily done as a collective effort. All contributions, comments, and criticisms can be sent to: Secure UNIX Programming FAQ <sup@whitefang.com> Please don't send them to my personal mailbox, because I can keep things organized better with the above e-mail address. Also please try to be as concise as possible. Remember I will usually quote you directly if you have something to add. Finally, although the contributors list is currently short, the material in this FAQ did not pop out of my head in a pig-flying fashion. Attribution is given where applicable. If you feel any of this is unfair to something you have published, do let me know. The bibliography is found at the end. Special thanks to John W. Temples, Darius Bacon, Brian Spilsbury, Elias Levy, who had looked at some of the drafts of past material that made it into this FAQ. As usual, all mistakes are mine and only mine. Also kudos to the people at netspace.org for hosting Bugtraq all these years. The archive is invaluable to my research. Table of Contents ----------------- 1) General Questions: 1.1) What is a secure program? 1.2) What is a security hole? 1.3) How do I find security holes? 1.4) What types of attacks exist? 1.5) How do I fix a security hole? 2) The Flow Of Information: 2.1) What is the flow of information? 2.2) What is trust? 2.3) What is validation? 3) Privileges and Credentials 3.1) What is a privilege and a credential? 3.2) What is the least privilege principle? 3.3) How do I apply the least privilege principle safely? 4) Local Process Interaction: 4.1) What is process attribute inheritance? Or why should I not write SUID programs? 4.2) How can I limit access to a SUID/SGID process-image safely? 4.3) How do I authenticate a parent process? 4.4) How do I authenticate a non-parent process? 5) Accessing The File System Securely: 5.1) How do I avoid race condition attacks? 5.2) How do I create/open files safely? 5.3) How do I delete files safely? 5.4) Is chroot() safe? 6) Handling Input: 6.1) What is a "buffer overrun/overflow attack" and how do I avoid it? 6.2) How do I hand integer values safely? 6.3) How do I safely pass input to an external program? 7) Handling Resources Limits: [ Todo ] 8) Bibliography 9) List of Contributors 1) General Questions -------------------- 1.1) What is a secure program? ------------------------------ The simplest definition would be : a program that is capable of performing its task withstanding any attempts to subvert it. This extends to the attribute of "robustness." Most importantly the program should be able to perform its task without jeopardizing the security policies of the system it is running on. This is done by making sure it adheres to local security policies at all times. To draw an analogy, a locksmith will install a lock, and the home owner will decide whether or not he will lock the door at any given time. It is the lock smith's responsibility to make sure the lock performs its function of keeping an intruder out. It is just as much the responsibility of the programmer to make sure the program adheres to the local security policies. Thus returning to the introduction, this FAQ is about the programmer's responsibilities and not the administrator. The problem with that analogy is that when it is translated back into UNIX terms one thinks of an authentication program. By all means 'login' needs to be secure, but so do all the system components. To quote the U.S. Department of Defense Trusted Computer System Evaluation Criteria (a.k.a The Orange Book): "No computer system can be considered truly secure if the basic hardware and software mechanisms that enforce the security policy are themselves subject to unauthorized modification or subversion." Unfortunately this doesn't really help because we are sadly left thinking of firewalls, access control lists, persistent authentication systems etc. and we miss out on the other system components that must also be considered. So the quote can be re-written as such: "No computer system can be considered truly secure if the basic hardware and software mechanisms that _can affect_ the security policies are themselves subject to unauthorized modification or subversion." This gives us a much better view of what a secure program is, and places a distinction between a secure program and a security program. The security program enforces security policies; however, the secure program does not enforce any policies but must also co-exist with the security policies. This allows a much broader view of every program on the system. All the applications, and all the servers, and all the clients must be implemented securely. Granted that this approach is a bit extremist, it is actually quite reasonable. Programming securely should always be done as will be seen by some of the points brought up in this FAQ. Finally, to finish this definition, consider a Mail User Agent (MUA), such a 'pine' or 'elm.' Both have to be written securely because they can affect the security policies if they were not. In light of an advisory posted to Bugtraq (Zalewski 1999), pine was reported to have a security hole. Even though it is not enforcing security policies it still failed to adhere to them. 1.2) What is a security hole? ----------------------------- The term is somewhat colloquial but it has been used in technical context enough times to warrant common usage in security advisories. It just means the program has a flaw that allows an attacker to "exploit it." Thus comes the "exploit" that denotes a program, or technique to take advantage of the flaw, or "vulnerability." The terms mentioned here will be found in many advisories, and in this FAQ so familiarity with them is essential. 1.3) How do I find security holes? ---------------------------------- Careful auditing of source code is usually the way. One way of doing it is going through this FAQ in its treatment toward specific security holes and attempt to find them throughout the code in question. I will attempt to give tips toward finding a said security hole where applicable. However, if you really really need to find that security hole, disassemble the binary image of the program, grok the asm output into your head, run it slowly but carefully keeping track of registers, stacks etc -- and yes grasshopper, that is the One True Way. 1.4) What types of attacks exist? --------------------------------- There are three main types of attacks (Saltzer 1975): Unauthorized release of privileged information. Unauthorized modification of privileged information. Denial of service. The word unauthorized speaks for itself. If information can be read, or modified when it should not have been, security has been breached. A denial of service attack is any attack that stops a program from performing its function. When considering whether a program is secure from its design, provisions for these three attacks need to be accounted for. Obviously these attacks are aggregates of the more specific ones that exploit security holes. But that should give you an idea of what you're looking out for. 1.5) How do I fix a security hole? ---------------------------------- Traditionally there are three approaches to fixing a security hole. At the risk of going slightly off topic, let us go back to the heyday of the SYN flood attack (daemon9 1997). SYN flooding is when a host sends out a large number of TCP/IP packets with an unreachable source address, and a TCP flag of SYN. The receiving host responds and awaits for the SYN-ACK to complete the three-way handshake. Since the source address is unreachable the receiving host never receives a response to complete the handshake. Instead it is left in a "half open" state till it times out. The problem is that there is a finite number of "slots" per connection received on the listening socket. This is because the host needs to store information in order to recognize the last part of the TCP three-way handshake. This results in a denial of service where the receiving host would simply stop accepting new connections till the bogus half-open connections timed out. They are called half-open connections because the handshake is never completed. Interestingly enough several different approaches were used to solve this problem: Cisco Systems Inc., implemented a TCP Intercept feature on its routers. The router would act as a transparent TCP proxy between the real server, and the client. When a connection request was made from the client, the router would complete the handshake for the server, and open the real connection only after the handshake has completed. This allowed the router to impose a very aggressive strategy for accepting new connections. It would place a threshold on the amount of connection requests it would handle: If the amount of half-open connections exceeded the threshold it would lower the timeout period interval, thus dropping the half-open connections faster. The real servers were completely shielded while the routers took the brunt and handled it aggressively. The OpenBSD developers implemented a work-around that caused old half-open TCP connections to be randomly dropped when new connection requests arrived on a full backlog. This allowed new connections to be established even with a constant SYN-flood taking place. The old bogus connections would be dropped at the behest of a new connection, legitimate or not. The randomness was implemented to be fair to all incoming connections. Although arguably with a large enough flood this technique may fail, it did have good results as tested by the developers. Dan Bernstein (Bernstein 1996; Schenk 1996) proposed SYN cookies, which would eliminate the need to store information per half open connection. When a connection is initiated, the server generates a cookie with the initial TCP packet information. The server would then respond with the cookie. When the client responded with a SYN-ACK to complete the handshake, the server would redo the hash, this time with the information taken from the recent SYN-ACK packet. This would of course entail decrementing the sequence numbers since they have been incremented in the client response. If the new hash matched that of the returned sequence numbers, the server would have completed the three-way handshake. Only the secret was stored, the rest of the information is gathered from the incoming packets during the handshake. This meant only one datum for all incoming connections. Thus an infinite amount of half open connections could exist. Three different methods were used. Cisco used a "wrapper." The actual UNIX system was completely unconcerned with what the router did and required no modification. This is good for a scalable solution, but does not remove the problem entirely. The wrapper just acts as a canvas. The OpenBSD solution was to fix the problem in the implementation itself. This is usually the case with most security holes, especially the less complicated ones. The solution presented by Dan Bernstein was more of a design change. The system's responses were changed, but remained reasonably well in conformance with the TCP standard. Some compromises were made however (see Schenk 1996). There is no one True Way of fixing security holes. Approach the problem first in the code, then design, and finally by wrapping it if you really must. 2) The Flow Of Information -------------------------- Although what is presented here is a bit cross platform and not UNIX dependent, it is so essential that I had to put it in its own section. 2.1) What is the flow of information? ------------------------------------- Every program can be considered to follow a simple design: it accepts input, processes it, and produces output. Input may come from the keyboard, a file, or the network. As long as it is gained from an external source that is not part of the program, it is considered input. Output is not necessarily information printed on the screen, or in a log file, it may be an affect like the creation of a file. The processing may be any work from simple arithmetic, to parsing strings. Mathematically speaking, at least, your program should really be a function taking variables and producing results. This cycle may happen more than once during a program's lifetime. Most programmers, for purposes of keeping things simple, will make assumptions about input. Particularly its format, and whether to apply sanity checks. There are probably entire books on doing this correctly: designing your program correctly, picking the right data formats and so on. This FAQ isn't interested in that aspect of processing information. Instead it is interested in three things: trust, validation, and acting on input. 2.2) What is trust? ------------------- When trust is given to an external source of input, a program accepts information from it while considering the information valid. Secure programs need to be very untrusting and always validate information gained from external sources. Some programs, such as Dan Bernstein's 'qmail' distrust information gained from within. Usually trust is only given to an external source after it has been authenticated. Take the login program under UNIX. Once authenticated the user is trusted to do whatever he wishes to do under his own credentials. Although this example fails because the login program vanishes and is replaced by a shell, you get the idea. As a general rule: any information than an attacker can manipulate cannot be given trust. For example: In March 1994 Sun Microsystems released a security update for SunOS 4.1.x that fixed a security hole related to "/etc/utmp". The file acted as a database that keeps track of current users logged onto the system with additional information such as the terminal, and time of login. Certain daemons such as comsat, and talkd, would access the file to retrieve the terminal name associated with a user. The terminal name would consist of the path to the terminal device. The daemons would open the file specified by the path, and write to it. Users could modify the file, because it was world writable, and set arbitrary file names for the terminal. This resulted in potentially having the daemons open sensitive files while running with special privileges, and writing to them at the behest of the attacker. This is a good example of trusting information that can be manipulated by an attacker. 2.3) What is validation? ------------------------ When information is received from an untrusted source it must be validated prior to processing it. In the case of the aforementioned talkd hole, the daemon should have made sure the path to the terminal file was indeed correct. This could have been done by simply checking the password database, making sure the ownership matched, and that the terminal path did indeed point to a terminal. Later in the FAQ, the concept of the least privilege principle is explained, and it would have worked wonders with the aforementioned security hole. There are several ways you can validate information depending on what it is supposed to be. A good place to start is by defining its attributes. Is it supposed to hold a file name? Does the file exist? Is the user allowed access to that file? That as mentioned previously is what the talkd daemon should have done. In the "Handling Input" section a security hole found in SSH(van der Wijk 1997; Al-Herbish 1997)) will be brought up where privileged ports could be bound to by normal users. In that particular case the function binding to a port did not properly check to make sure the port number was not > 1024, and as such the attacker could bind to privileged ports; however, the security hole entailed another error on the part of the program that is discussed in more detail in the coming section. 2.4) What do you mean by "acting on input"? --------------------------------------------- [ I need a more formal term for it. Unfortunately I'm lost for words. ] When you pass input directly to a system call, external program, memory copying routine etc. Basically you perform an operation with the aid of the information. In the aforementioned talkd hole the pathname read from the utmp database was passed to a file opening system call directly. The program assumed it was valid, and would not be malicious. This is a wrong assumption. PERL supports "tainting" (Wall, Schwartz 1992). All input passed from an external source is tainted unless explicitly untainted. Any tainted input that is passed directly to a system call results in an error. This method of validation is quite ingenious. Regardless of whether or not you are using PERL, the methodology is a good one to follow. 3) Privileges and Credentials ----------------------------- 3.1) What are privileges and credentials? ----------------------------------------- Every process under UNIX has three sets of credentials: Real credentials, effective credentials, and saved credentials. The credentials are split into two groups, user and group credentials. Additionally the process has a list of supplemental group credentials. The different "set*id()" system calls allow a process to change the values in these sets. Only the root user can change them arbitrarily. Non-root users are limited to what they may change their credentials to. It is essential to know how the system calls work on the credential sets (see Stevens 1992 for a more exhaustive reference). The following table lists each system call, what credential set it affects, and what credentials it will allow the process to change into. The credential sets are abbreviated with RUID standing for real user ID, EGID for effective group ID, SVUID for the saved user ID. ( Self explanatory really.) System Call Changes Can change to setuid RUID EUID SVUID RUID EUID SVUID setgid RGID RGID SVGID RGID RGID SVGID setreuid RUID EUID RUID EUID setregid RGID EGID RGID EGID setruid RUID RUID EUID setrgid GUID RGID EGID seteuid EUID RUID EUID setegid EGID RGID EGID Make sure you've read the man pages, and just use the table for reference. When changing credentials make sure you change the right ones. The credentials are checked by the kernel for access control. A process is considered privileged if its credentials give it access to privileged information, or privileged facilities. This FAQ will make use of three main privilege levels: Special User -- The root user. Normal User -- A local user without root privileges. Anonymous User -- A user that has not been authenticated, or logged, into the local system. The definitions above are a bit misleading without some elaboration. The root user is considered special because the kernel gives him special abilities; his access to files is not limited by file permissions; he can bind to privileged ports; he can change resource limits; he can arbitrarily change his own credentials lowering them to any other credential; he can send signals to any other process, and on some UNIX flavors trace any other process. Although there are some other special abilities the root user has, the list consisted of some of the more important abilities. However, on certain systems privileged information is accessible by non-root users. For example, on SCO 5.0.4 the passwd database is accessible by any user in group "auth." Thus non-root users in that group can still access privileged information. In the case of SCO 5.0.4 it is also modifiable by users in that group. The astute reader will note that modifying the password database can effectively lead to modifying one's credentials. So keep in mind that the usage of special privileges in this FAQ is meant to encompass any user who has special abilities that are not conferred upon other local users. This may seem ambiguous but I hope the definition serves its purpose well. The normal user has been authenticated, but is regarded as normal without any special privileges. The traditional UNIX kernel itself without any augmentation will not recognize any user except for the root user. The special user and the normal user have both been authenticated, but the special user is recognized to have higher privileges. The anonymous user is one who has not been authenticated. It is very important to recognize this user when network applications are written. For example, consider an FTP server using the "anonymous" user open to everyone. In the same way consider the FTP client that connects to the FTP server. The client is run by a local "normal user," (or special user if the admin is nutty enough) but it is connecting to a completely anonymous entity. It must not give the server any special abilities on the local system, and allow only a set of abilities such as writing to a predefined file (downloading from the server). Indeed some advisories discussed the simplest of programs such as 'tar' (Tarreau 1998;Der Mouse 1998) where the tar archive itself could subvert the application into unauthorized modification of privileged information. Depending on the privilege level, the application must take into account what the privilege allows the entity to do. Consider a web server that allows clients to browse the entire file system under a normal user ID (or the username 'www'). The web server should still not allow the client to browse just any file or it has given away part of the normal privileges to every user on the net. 3.2) What is the least privilege principle? ------------------------------------------- When an application runs with higher privileges than the source of input, it can prevent the occurrence of security holes by only using the higher privileges for specific tasks. This is known as the least privilege principle (Saltzer 1975), because the lowest privileges are used during the program's execution. If the attacker is able to trick the program into accomplishing a specific task, it will do so with his privileges. Most UNIX flavors come with a utility that allows the user to change his personal information. It is usually called chfn. The information is copied to a temporary file from the password database. The utility then forks a child process which executes an editor on the temporary copy. The user is subsequently given control of the editor and is free to modify the copy. Once the user completes modifying the copy and exits from the editor, the utility reads the temporary copy, performs any sanity checks on the input, and copies it back to the password database. The least privilege principle must be applied in this case. The child process running the editor cannot do so with special privileges. The editor may allow the user to run a shell, or open other files. chfn must revert the privilege to that of the user in the child process before executing the editor. A security hole that was reported concerning XFree86 (plaguez 1997) The server would run with root privileges and read any configuration file specified from a command line option. The advisory demonstrated how the shadowed password database could be read by pointing the server to it as its configuration file. Since the server ran with root privileges it could open the database, and would inadvertently output its contents as part of its error reporting. Thus an attacker could read files he would not normally be able to. Had the X server used the same privileges as the end user when attempting to read the configuration file, it would not have been able to. The attacker would only be able to access files readable by him. The file opening operation should have been done with the least privilege principle. 3.3) How do I apply the least privilege principle safely? --------------------------------------------------------- The least privilege principle can be applied by either lowering privileges temporarily, or completely dropping privileges so that they will never be regained again. However, there are viable attacks that can occur from both operations. Also lowering privileges is not always enough without doing away with privileged information. Note on saved credentials ------------------------- Before discussing the details of lowering credentials properly, the saved credential set needs to be elaborated upon. The saved credential set is initialized to the effective credentials of the process at the time of its execution. So if the process-image has a set-id-on-execution (SUID) or set-group-id-on-execution (SGID) bit set, the saved credentials will match that credential. This is very useful if the program wishes to temporarily drop its effective credentials and then regain them. Lowering privileges temporarily entails changing one of the credential sets, usually the effective credentials because they are most often checked by the kernel. The seteuid() and setegid() system calls allow a process to set its effective credentials to its real credentials or its saved credentials. This is where the switching between the two credential sets becomes very useful. A SUID or SGID process can change its effective credentials to its real credentials, which are inherited from the parent process, and then switch them back to its saved credentials which it inherits from the SUID or SGID file permission. In doing so the SUID or SGID program is toggling its privileges between its caller and the process-image owner. Because a process cannot get its saved credentials via any system call, it is recommended to do a geteuid() and getegid() at the beginning of execution and store them internally. This works because the saved credentials are an exact copy of the effective credentials at the start of a process' execution. This will work: saved_uid = geteuid(); saved_gid = getegid(); To change effective credentials to the saved credentials do a setegid(saved_gid); seteuid(saved_uid); Now to switch them back to match the real credentials do a setegid(getgid()); seteuid(getuid); Simple and straight forward. The second method of applying the least privilege principle is to completely drop privileges and never regain them again. Recall the chfn example mentioned in question 3.2? It would have to drop the privileges in its child process completely because it gave the user control of the child process. This is done by calling setgid() and then setuid(). A common mistake is to drop the user ID first, and this will fail if the process is relying on the fact that it has root privileges! There are, as mentioned earlier, viable attacks. The first is the signal attack. BSD derived operating systems allow a process to send a signal to another process if: The real user ID of process A is that of the root user. The real user ID of process A matches the real user ID of process B. The effective user ID of process A matches the effective user ID of process B. The real user ID of process A matches the effective user ID of process B. The effective user ID of process A matches the real user ID of process B. Both processes share the same session ID. With those semantics it is obvious that if a process lowered its effective credentials to that of the user, he would be able to send it a signal. In the event that the process begins to run with the same real credentials as the user (all SUID or SGID processes start out this way), it should change its credentials if it expects to trust signals. Keep in mind that by lowering its effective credentials to that of the user's real credentials it _is_ susceptible. This access check on signals is quite a mishmash. Also, change the session ID via setsid(). In April 1998, a Bugtraq posting discussed the circumvention of a protection scheme employed by implementations of the BSD ping utility (Sanfilippo 1998) The ping utility would use the alarm routine to synchronize the periodical sending of Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP) echo requests to a remote host, and would not allow the normal user to send requests repeatedly in a flooding manner. The protection scheme was simply there to prevent abusive users from flooding other hosts with a large number of ICMP echo requests. The normal user, of course, cannot send an ICMP packet because performing this task requires the use of a raw socket. Only the root user can open a raw socket because of the security implications associated with raw network access -- receiving incoming packets rawly from the network, and sending raw packets into the network. Thus the ping utility is normally installed as SUID to root. The technique Sanfilippo used to get around ping's security mechanism was to constantly send the SIGALRM signal to it, subverting the protection scheme it attempted to implement. Since the alarm routine would schedule an occurrence of SIGALRM after a specified interval, the ping utility would have a signal handler for it, that sends the ICMP echo request. Obviously the process may not install handlers and act on them blindly if an attacker can trigger the signal handlers. Some UNIX flavors support the SA_SIGINFO option that can set when setting the signal handler via 'sigaction'. This passes the handler additional information with regards to who sent the signal, and whether or not it is kernel generated. Another method is by using internal sanity checks. In the case of 'ping' this could have been done by simply keeping track of the time that passed in between signals being generated and not honoring them unless a sufficient amount of time had passed. However, a worse case would be a SIGTERM or SIGKILL that halts a process when it is in between a critical state. In the case of 'chfn' it would be downright despicable of a user to halt it just as it was writing out the new password file. If a process is in an "unclean state" it should not allow itself to be halted by an attacker and retain higher privileges untill the point whence it can afford to be halted. A common mistake is to assume that a process with lowered credentials is no longer a security hazard. In fact it just might be, even with the previous attacks accounted for. A well known, but ancient, technique of getting the password file from an old SunOS box was to cause its ftp daemon to dump core. Similar security holes were later reported (Temmingh 1997). If a privileged process reads the password database into memory and is then caused to dump core because of a signal attack, the core image may hold a copy of the password file which is then easily readable by the attacker. But cleaning up internal memory may not be enough. A security hole was found on OpenBSD's chpass utility with file descriptor leakage (Network Associates Inc. 1998). The child process was passed a privileged file descriptor because the descriptor was never properly closed before giving the user control over the process. Finally, process tracing attacks may take place. FreeBSD, and NetBSD both allow a process to trace any process with a matching real user ID. Tracing implies complete control over the process, including the file descriptors, memory, and executable instructions etc; however, a process may not be traced if it is SUID or SGID. Here's a check list for lowering real and effective credentials: Lowering Effective Credentials ------------------------------ The process should not have any cleaning up to do. The state of external objects should be in a form that is suitable for reuse. This includes lock files, updates to databases, and even temporary files. All signal handlers that may be triggered should not be trusted; they must be validated for authenticity. All privileged information held in the process memory should be cleared so that a core dump will not contain them (don't just free up dynamic privileged memory, clean it out before freeing). Lowering Real Credentials: -------------------------- Previous steps must be followed as well. Additional steps take into account the process tracing attacks which are not viable on all systems. Privileged information may not be held by the process. This includes file descriptors or sockets referencing privileged information. The effective credentials should be dropped to the real credentials as well, since a process that is traced can be forced to execute arbitrary code under this effective credential. 4) Local Process Interaction: ----------------------------- 4.1) What is process attribute inheritance? Or why should I not write SUID/SGID programs? ---------------------------------------------------------------- Process attribute inheritance (AFAIK a term I coined), is when a child process inherits attributes from the parent process' environment. I did see this referred to as "state variables", but I forgot by who and all searching has led nowhere. The problems with process attribute inheritance were fore shadowed by the 'ping' security hole mentioned in question 3.3, as well as the OpenBSD 'chpass' hole mentioned in that section. A child process is an exact copy of its parent except for the process ID and the parent process ID. These change for obvious reasons. However, all other attributes are the copied with the exception of file descriptors. File descriptors, however, are shared. (For a more exhaustive explanation see Stevens 1992). A process is executed after a call to execve() or one of the other routines in its family. This system call filters out many of the process attributes, but lets some through. This is considered a UNIX "feature" and is relied upon by daemons such as inetd. Keep in mind that a SUID process is a child that has been execve()'d, so it does inherit these attributes. Before I present a list of process attributes (albeit probably an incomplete list), some known security holes will be discussed to illustrate the types of attacks that can occur (Bishop 1986). A post was made to Bugtraq that discussed a weakness in a popular Mail User Agent package elm because it trusted an environment (Jensen 1994) variable. An autoreply utility was packaged with elm that would run with special privileges, and perform its own internal checks to prevent exploitation by the user. One of the checks included making sure a user did have read access to an arbitrary file before allowing him to read it (can you see what's wrong with this picture?). If the full path to the file was not specified, the utility simply prepended whatever was in the HOME environment variable, and opened the file for reading, without performing any checks. This allowed users to read files with the same privileges as the autoreply process. The mistake was to assume that environment variables can be trusted for valid information, and that the files in a user's home directory are his to read. Both these assumptions are false. Environment variables are inherited from a parent process, and thus can contain arbitrary information. The attacker can manipulate environment variables before forking the child process. It is also not true that the user would have access to the files in his home directory, necessarily. This was a tragic case of giving trust to information that can be manipulated by an attacker. In December 1993, Sun Microsystems released a security bulletin, which among other subjects brought up a weakness in the modload and loadmod system utilities. The weakness was trusting the Internal Field Separator (IFS) environment variable. Since the shell would use the IFS to split the contents of variables after they are expanded, the attacker can specify how the contents are split. A path name such as "/bin/cat" , could indeed cause the file "bin" to be executed if the IFS is set to '/'. This is because the character '/' would be recognized as a field to separate the other strings in the variable. Since both these utilities would call upon a shell during their execution, the attacker could arbitrarily trick the utilities to run his process-images with their privileges by modifying the IFS variable. We might think that shells should not make use of the IFS variable if the shell is not run in interactive mode. This is not a solution, since this only canvases the problem of passing down harmful process attribute. The solution is not to pass the variable in the first place. If the aforementioned utility would not have called a shell, it may still have encountered problems with other child processes. For example the LD_PRELOAD environment variable is used by the run-time linker to load code from any shared library the variable specifies. Although the run-time linker will ignore such environment variables for SUID or SGID processes, the child process of a privileged process may inherit them nonetheless and not have such protection. Since the child process in turn inherits its parent's privileges, the parent is effectively compromised through the child process. So remember, the SUID process may have children that are passed down harmful environment variables that would not affect the SUID program necessarily but affect its children. At this point I must concede that there may very well be implementations of run-time linkers (read: haven't done the research yet) that do not make the mistake of using the LD_PRELOAD variable even in the child process of a SUID or SGID process. Nonetheless, why risk it on an old box? Finally a reminder of the OpenBSD chpass hole, and the descriptor leak. If you haven't read it in section 3.3, go and read it. Thus four types of attacks are viable: Child process trusts process attribute to contain valid information. (elm hole) The process attribute affects the child process directly. (ping hole) A process inherits an attribute and passes it down to a child process that is affected by it. This is the same as the second attack, but it is the child process of the secure process that is affected. (or the grandchild of the attacker). (LD_PRELOAD attack) The child process of the secure process is passed an attribute containing privileged information. (chpass hole) Now for the list of process attributes and how to go about avoiding any security holes. Credentials: Just a review of section 3. Processes running with the same credentials, or similar (see section 3!) can be attacked by process tracing, or sent signals that affect them. File Descriptors: The 'chpass' security hole had a file descriptor leak. A quick and easy way of avoiding file descriptor leaks is by setting the FD_CLOEXEC flag on the descriptor (again, see Stevens 1992 as he discusses this rather well). But that's not the end of it. In 1998 the OpenBSD team released a patch for OpenBSD which would not allow a SUID or SGID program from inheriting empty file descriptors in the first three slots. It would instead set them pointing to /dev/null. Theo deRaadt mentioned to me one of the problems that could occur: if the inherited descriptor would be opened as a raw socket, and error reporting by the standard C library (standard error) would be sent through it, bogus packets could be sent to the socket. Although he did mention for other reasons programs such as traceroute were not susceptible. As a workaround for systems without this security feature, doing a stat on the first three file descriptors to check their availability and opening them to "/dev/null" should do. It just adds bloat to your code, and should really be handled by the kernel. Environment Variables: Don't trust environment variables to contain valid information. In the case of the above mentioned 'elm' hole, it would have been wiser to look up the home directory in the password database. Another more subtle issue is not placing privileged information in an environment variable (Smith 1998). Specifically, a security hole related to FreeBSD's 'ps' utility. The utility would allow users to view another process' environment variables. Consequently applications like pppd that accepted passwords via environment variables became vulnerable to unauthorized release of privileged information attacks. In fact, the hole was not related to 'ps' if you think about it critically. The application that places privileged information in the environment variable is at fault. Finally comes the security hole related to having an environment variable affect an external program. IFS and LD_PRELOAD, as discussed previously, are viable environment variables, but a secure program should remove all environment variables except the ones it chooses to use and knows will not affect it. A good idea is to get rid of every environment variable you don't need and keep the ones you know are useful and actually have a use for. File Mode Creation Mask: Although it is very common for a robust program to reset its file mode creation mask by calling umask(), it should still be noted as a viable security concern. An attacker can pass a mask that would affect the file permissions of files created by open() and mkdir(). Resetting the mask to 0 suffices to prevent a file mode creation mask attack. Working and Root Directories Both the current working directory, and the root directory are inherited from the parent process. The working directory affects file system calls if they are not passed a full path name. This can be made into an attack. Thus it is advisable to both set the current working directory, and use full paths when making file system calls. The root directory should not be a concern. Only the root user can change the root directory. Resource Limits The setrlimit() system call allows a process to set soft or hard limits on its consumption of resources. When a process reaches its soft limit a signal is sent depending on which limit is reached. SIGSEV for the maximum stack size, SIGXFSZ for an I/O operation that exceeded a file size limit etc. The list is left till the section on resource limits, but the signals if not handled will result in the process being terminated. A careful attacker may trigger a denial of service attack where the process is terminated in the middle of performing a critical operation. When the hard limit is reached, the process is prevented from executing any further. The soft limits may be raised or lowered at the process' own discretion. Thus by setting all limits to infinity, the process can relieve itself of any resource limit attacks. However, the hard limit can be lowered by a normal user, but cannot be raised except by root. A viable attack is to lower the hard resource limits, and have the child process choke from underneath. The most obvious solution is not to begin execution if the hard limits are too low, and to heighten the soft limits to infinity. Raising the soft limits over the hard limits will not work. Thus the process will begin by specifying how much of the individual resources it requires, and if the setrlimit() system call returns an error it will not begin execution as to avoid resource starvation. This is not very helpful though, and better treatment of resource limits is given in its own section below. Scheduling Priority The scheduling priority on a process can be modified by a call to nice() or setpriority(). This is usually done to tell the scheduler how important the process is. A very low priority may cause the process to execute slower, which can aid an attacker if he is attempting to exploit a race condition.The semantics of setpriority() requires the user to have an effective user ID matching the real or effective user ID of the peer process. So this may not necessarily be inherited. However, the priority of a process can only help an attacker exploit a race condition more easily. It does not really constitute a denial of resource attack unless the process has time constraints. Regardless of the speed of a process, a race condition can always be exploited. Even with the element of luck, or by slowing down the system as a whole. Race conditions need to be eliminated and not made harder to exploit. Keep an eye out for this scheduling priority in the rare case that it actually does matter. Interval Timers Three interval timers that can be manipulated by the setitimer() system call. The alarm facility is usually wrapped around a call to setitimer(). Since the interval timers are inherited, a parent process could set a timer to send its child process SIGALRM, SIGVTALRM or the SIGPROF signal. These could be used to either subvert a program if it were to handle them, or terminate it. These signals should be ignored at the beginning of the process' execution or the timers should be reset. Signal Handlers Although all signal handlers are reset to their defaults, blocked signals remain blocked and so do ignored signals. This could be a problem if our program design is built around receiving a signal before carrying on, and assumes it is not blocked or ignored. Resetting the state of the signal mask, and resetting signal handlers should also be done without any preconceptions of default settings. With all of this SUID/SGID programming is daunting at best. A better technique (proposed by Thomas Ptacek on the newsgroup) would be to use a server-client model where the server is privileged but does not inherit the environment of its parent process -- a would be attacker. That way the client runs with no privileges, connects to the privileged server and passes the relevant information through the IPC channel. 4.2) How can I limit access to a SUID/SGID process-image safely? ---------------------------------------------------------------- The question may seem vague but sometimes it would seem attractive to have a SUID process that is only executable by a particular set of users. Some time ago I implemented a distributed network monitoring package that had java clients talk to it remotely, and sniffers running on different servers (a very ambitious undertaking). The actual servers where run under a special group called "sly" that would in turn have access to a SUID process-image to do all the sniffing. The child process ran as root, but could only be executed by users in the group "sly." At first this looks good. The actual server does not run with special privileges, and it would seem that if it got exploited the attacker would not gain root privileges. However, he would gain privileges for the group "sly" that would let him sniff the local network. If he was then able to exploit the sniffer, he would gain root privileges. But he needs to exploit the server to the point of executing arbitrary code on the machine. Creating a file, or tricking it into sending privileged information would not equate to gaining the privileges of group "sly" necessarily. So this does not lessen the need for secure code, but it _could_ in the long run lessen the chances of complete compromise. I'm going to call this technique, at the risk of coining yet another term, privilege segmentation. The attacker may gain privileges to a specific group but has more work to do in order to gain higher privileges. Fair warning that security via "chance" or "hope" is not good. I don't particularly like hearing about "risk management," and the above technique is just that: risk management. 4.3) How do I authenticate a parent process? -------------------------------------------- Since the child process inherits the parent's real user ID, a call to getuid() does the trick. Unfortunately due to a misconception, some programmers are led to believe that getuid() is not sufficient. This stems from the thinking that if a user managed in exploiting a SUID process into running another process, the child would have a real user ID matching the parent process' effective user ID. This is not true, because the real user ID keeps propagating from parent to child regardless of the SUID feature. As mentioned in 2.1, the child process inherits the credentials directly, a perfect copy with the exception of the effective credentials if the SGID or SUID feature. The saved credentials are also reset. But this exception does not extend to the real credentials which are directly inherited. However, if the exploited SUID process was to change its real user ID to match its effective user ID, which is easily done with setuid(), then getuid() is not sufficient. There is a logical fallacy here: if the parent process has already been exploited to the point where the attacker can cause it to switch credentials what's the point in faking it anymore? Nonetheless, additional steps can be taken but not portably. On systems where login information is stored in the kernel, and not on the file system, by setlogin(), getlogin() will always return the username associated with the session. [ FreeBSD stores login information in kernel. ] On OpenBSD, and FreeBSD the issetugid() system calls can be used to find out if the current process is a SUID or GUID process. This propagation continues unless a child process clears all its privileges, to quote the OpenBSD man page "uid != euid or gid != egid". So this system call may be used in conjunction with getuid to be even more paranoid. A good suggestion is to do a getuid(), check getlogin() if the information is stored in the kernel, and finally do a issetugid(). If all tests pass, you know you are talking to the Real McCoy. In saying that, caution should not be thrown to the wind. Using passwords, cookies, insert-fancy-authentication-mechanism-here etc. is always recommended, but the previous approach is the more light weight kernel supported method. 4.4) How do I authenticate a non-parent process? ------------------------------------------------ [ I could use writing on SO_PEERCRED (Linux) doors (Solaris) and LOCAL_CREDS (NetBSD). Also I have some example code for the techniques discussed below. If you tackle the any of the issues above, you would be a very nice contributor to provide example source. Also this is advanced stuff so I'll elaborate more when I fix it up] It is possible to authenticate processes via IPC channels (Bernstein 1999). However the methods differ on different UNIX flavors making it a very non-portable mess to write. BSD derived systems support the concept of access rights (Stevens 1990). The facility allows a process to pass a file descriptor through a UNIX domain socket, and with a small hack it can be used to authenticate a local process. The term hack is only used because the facility was not intended for authentication. However, if the client sends a descriptor referencing a file that has read permissions only for its owner,the receiver knows the sender is the owner. Thus the file acts as an identifier. However, on systems where a user may give away files with chown() this method cannot be used. The attacker can simply create a file with read permissions only for himself, open it, and then chown it to another user. Fortunately this is a System V "feature," and on many systems can be turned off as a kernel configuration option. A similar technique is found under System V derived systems. This is done by receiving file descriptors via a STREAMS file. Only the file descriptor is discarded because the UID is passed along with it. This is done by using an ioctl call with the I_SENDFD and I_RECVFD flags on a streams file used as an IPC channel. This technique does not suffer from the chown attack because the credentials are passed _along_ with the descriptor. BSD/OS, FreeBSD and other BSD derived operating systems also have SCM_CREDS that sends credential information through a UNIX domain socket. [ Ok, someone point me to some standard that documents the semantics. Every BSD camp is doing it differently ":( ] 5) Using The File System Securely --------------------------------- [ The first contributor to find a better solution to 5.2 gets a donut ] Sadly too many past security holes show that the average programmer fails to note that the file system is a database with links pointing to resources, and that filenames act only as identifiers. File names, which are stored in directories (considered special files), point to inodes. Indeed that is how we get race condition attacks, and symlink attacks. Both are given treatment below, but keep in mind that the principles are open to other databases that follow the same model as the file system. In particular race conditions may occur in non-file-system related operations. 5.1) How do I avoid race condition attacks? ------------------------------------------- A race condition occurs when two or more operations occur in an undefined manner (McKusick et al. 1996). Specifically in file system races the attacker attempts to change the state of the file system in between two file system operations on the part of the program. Usually the program expects the two operations to apply to the same file, or expects the information retrieved to be the same. If the file operations are not atomic, or do not reference the same file this cannot be guaranteed without proper care. As an added note see Bishop 1996 for a more exhaustive and but more theoretical discussion. Solaris 2.x's 'ps' utility had a security hole that was caused by a race condition (Chasin 1995). The utility would open a temporary file, and then use the chown() system call with the file's full path to change its ownership to root. This was easily exploitable by slowing the system down, finding the file created, deleting it, and then slipping in a new SUID word writable file. After the file was created with that mode and chowned to root by the insecure process, the attacker simply copies a shell into the file. Viola, instant root shell. (The exploit itself made use of symlinks to slip in the new file, but I'm leaving the concept of symlinks untill the next 5.2) At first glance, to the less perceptive reader, it may seem that if the original file was not created world writable the attacker could not delete it. Well it was not world writable and he could. The file was created under the temporary directory (usually "/var/tmp" or "/tmp") which had world writable permissions. Global temporary directories are setup this way or they aren't usable, hence the world global. It's a completely different issue to argue whether having global temporary directories is a good idea. [For a similar security hole see Hull 1996] The problem was that the second operation used the file name and not the file descriptor. If a call to fchown() would have been used on the file descriptor returned from the original open() operation, the security hole would have been avoided. File names are _not_ unique. The file name "/tmp/foo" is really just an entry in the directory "/tmp". Directories are special files. If an attacker can create, and delete files from a directory the program cannot trust file names taken from it. Or to look at it in a more critical way: because the directory is modifiable by the attacker, a program cannot trust it as a source of valid input. Instead it should use file descriptors to perform its operations. One solution is to use the sticky bit. This will prevent the attacker from removing the file, but not prevent the attacker from creating files in the directory. See below for a treatment toward symbolic link attacks. There are other race conditions that can occur. Using stat() and instead of fstat(). Using access() and thinking that the information will persist untill the next few lines of code. It may not persist if the directory can be modified by an attacker, so don't expect it to. The only way to make sure the file permissions will not change, and that you have the file you want is to fstat() after an open(). 5.2) How do I create/open files safely? --------------------------------------- Several attacks have made use of symbolic links to fool the process into opening a different file. A symbolic link is a convenient method of creating a file that references a different file. It is not a hard link, because it does not reference a particular inode. Instead it holds a path to another file. This is convenient because the path could be point to a non-existent file. A process can be tricked into opening or creating a file it did not intend to via a symbolic link attack. For example: A security hole reported for SUN's license manager stemmed from the creation of a file without checking for symbolic links (or soft links) (Eriksson 1996). An open() call was made to either create the file if it did not exist, or open it if it did exist. The problem with a symbolic link is that an open call will follow it and not consider the link to constitute a created file. So if you had "/tmp/foo" symlinked to "/.rhosts" (or "/root/.rhosts" depending on your cultural background), the latter file would be transparently opened. The license manager seemed to have used the O_CREAT flag with the open call making it create the file if it did not exist. To make matters worse, it created the file with world writable permissions. Since it ran as root, the ".rhosts" file could be created, written to, and root privileges attained. I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to work out how a world writable ".rhosts" file can be used to get root privileges. (Back in those days a world writable ".rhosts" was OK on the part of rlogind) The problem is two fold, since it requires the following conditions to solve it: "If file does not exist, and no symbolic link exists in its place, then create file." And remember: we can only use one system call to do this, in order to avoid race conditions (see 5.1). At first glance it would seem that using an O_EXCL should solve this problem. Unfortunately it does not. Here's a quote from the FreeBSD man page: "If O_EXCL is set and the last component of the pathname is a symbolic link, open() will fail even if the symbolic link points to a non-existent name." Because O_EXCL, on FreeBSD, only checks the last component, symbolic links between directories are still viable attacks. Consider the path "/usr/foo/bar/footest" to the file "footest" now make a symbolic link with "/usr/foo2" pointing to "/usr/foo/bar." Opening "/usr/foo2/footest" will translate to opening "/usr/foo/bar/test." The only way to avoid this is to make sure that the full path does not consist of symbolic links. One method to is chdir() down the path to the current directory. Once the directory is reached, check to make sure it matches the path specified previously. If it does, create the file, knowing that you are using O_EXCL and relying on the last component to be checked by the system call. The semantics of O_EXCL as mentioned in the FreeBSD man page is not found in the UNIX98 standard. This means some systems are broken inherently. We'll proceed without taking these semantics into consideration, and look for other work arounds. One of the other work arounds is to create a file with write only permissions for the program's real user ID. Then an fstat() can be made and the program will know the full path to the file it has opened. If it is the correct file, go about business as usual, fchmod() if you want as well. However, if it is the wrong file it needs to be deleted. See below for treatment toward deleting files safely. Again, we find the safest method to avoid attacks while accessing the file system is to do it in a directory that is only accessible by the program. If the directory can be modified by an attacker, or any of its parent directories for that matter, the program may be tricked into creating the wrong file. A final note: when applying the aforementioned work around of creating, checking, and deleting files, _do not_ use O_TRUNC or you may wind up truncating the password database among other things. 5.3) How do I delete files safely? ---------------------------------- You cannot delete files from a directory safely unless the directory is writable only by the secure process. The problem relates to the discussion in 5.1 regarding race conditions. Since the unlink() system call requires a file name, and does not accept a file descriptor, there is no way to atomically delete files from the file system. Also as mentioned in 5.2, make sure that the secure directory (writable only by the secure process) is accessed from a path that does not contain any symbolic links. 5.4) Is chroot() safe? ---------------------- chroot() only limits the file system scope and nothing else. This means that the process will not have access to files outside of its root file system; however, it does have access to the kernel, and all the system calls any other process has access to. This can lead to complications. Consider the attacks mentioned in the "Process Interaction" section. If a process has the same real user ID as another process it can hijack it via ptrace() on certain BSD derived operating systems that allow ptrace() without consent from the targeted process. Same goes for kill(), setpriority(). Thus the process, even if not privileged may still break out of the chroot() environment. Other attacks include mknod(), but need root privileges. The aforementioned attacks do not. What this boils down to is that the root directory is only checked by the file system calls, and not other system calls. The chroot() call itself will only change the root file system in the process' context. A chroot() call must be followed by a chdir("/") call in order to reset the current working directory. Here are a list of recommended guidelines to make sure the chroot() environment is indeed a "jail". I may have missed some items, especially those that may pertain to more exotic UNIX flavors. Credentials and Privileges -------------------------- The chrooted process should not run with root credentials, or have any special privileges. It should also not share credentials with any other process outside of the chrooted environment. If it does share credentials it will be able to send signals and possibly even ptrace() other processes. Other attacks may exist such as setpriority() etc. By segregating the credentials, the process will not be able to pass credential checks when making use of process interacting system calls. If there exists no SUID to root process-image in the chrooted environment, after calling chroot() and dropping privileges, the process cannot gain root privileges without breaking out of the chroot environment. It is a highly recommended to do away with SUID process images completely in a chroot jail. Privileged Information ---------------------- The chrooted environment should not contain privileged information. Password databases, confidential data etc. should not be placed within the chrooted environment. In the case of passwords, this can lead to the system being compromised as a whole. No devices should be present in the chrooted environment. Especially devices that can be mounted as a file system, or a Berkeley Packet Filter (BPF) device etc. [ Send in more if I missed any. ] 6) Handling Input ----------------- This section should be read with section 2 "The Flow Of Information" 6.1) What is a "buffer overrun/overflow attack" and how do I avoid it? ---------------------------------------------------------------- The term can be misleading if one thinks about buffers filling up in a modem. The problem is not lossage of data, but the ability for the attacker to point the process to execute arbitrary code. This FAQ will not cover the various ways of exploiting this security hole, since it has become an art form in itself; however, understanding how the security hole can be exploited will help avoid some of the common myths circulating about work arounds for it. The traditional method is to pass a memory copying routine (string copying included) data larger than the targeted memory, which is usually holding data for an automatic variable (local variable in a C function), and thus spilling the excess data on the other local variables and eventually onto the instruction stack itself. The end spillage would ideally cause a pointer on the stack to point to arbitrary code, possibly held within an environment variable. When the function returns, the process executes the code pointed to by instruction stack. (Aleph One 1996). This is not the only method, among the others include writing to heap memory (dynamic memory) and overwriting structures such as stdio's FILE (Conover 1999). Like I said, it has become an art form. The previous paragraph was a gross over simplification, but that is really the best that can be done within the scope of this FAQ. The point that needs to be made is that bounds checking _must_ be performed on input. Bounds checking basically means keeping track of sizes and not overrunning any particular memory location with more than it should hold. If the concept of bounds checking is alien to you, I strongly urge you to pick up a C book. Even though, by all means, the concept is not native to C alone. Programs that do not perform bounds checking on internal data are bugged. Programs that do not perform bounds checking on input are insecure. Bugs cause programs to be insecure. So you want to perform bounds checking always. Obligatory warnings include: "Don't use strcpy() use strncpy()", "Don't use the stdio library when receiving input that may be malicious, it may be implemented without proper bounds checking." Indeed, I could recite a plethora of security holes that came from just this, but I'll leave the research this time as an exercise for the reader. The actual principle was brought up in the previous paragraphs and should be come easily to a programmer. Some myths need to be dispelled now. Not returning from a function and calling exit() will not act as a work around. Heap attacks can still be made, local variables can still be overwritten, and most importantly your program could easily be crashed by a segmentation fault signal (please don't mail in with "but I can catch that signal"). Using huge buffers to copy data about and expect things to magically work will not do. If you find a fellow programmer using these work arounds, please lock them up in a padded room till they get better. Certain languages provide bounds checking inherently. This is a good thing; however, some will argue that bounds checking at run time is too costly. This is also a good thing. If you want to use, and can use a language that supports bounds checking, go right ahead. In C you won't have any bounds checking unless you have a compiler that is patched to support it. Oddly enough there doesn't seem to be any mention in any standard that would outright forbid the usage of run time bounds checking, and as such there exist a patch for GCC to do just this. Richard Jones and Paul Kelley, who have done just this, have a page at: http://www-ala.doc.ic.ac.uk/~phjk/BoundsChecking.html Other work arounds include patching the kernel to _not_ execute code on the stack, which prevents some exploits but not all (heap attacks etc.). Several vendors and individuals have already taken this initiative. A quick search on Dejanews and even the Bugtraq archives should point you in the right direction. [ If I receive any submissions of URLs for patches, I will be happy to add them.] Unfortunately, this question could not be answered completely and thoroughly. It is too big of an exploit, and too simple of a problem, but yet so wide spread it requires awareness more than anything else. See Aleph One 1997 for a similar discussion on the prevention on bounds checking. 6.2) How do I hand integer values safely? ----------------------------------------- A problem reported in sshd 1.2.7 (van der Wijk 1997) allowed a normal user to bind to privileged ports. The daemon read the port number into a 32 bit value, and did the port privilege checks on the 32-bit integer. After it was satisfied that the value is not under 1024 (IPPORT_RESERVED), the daemon would then place the integer into a 16-bit unsigned integer ("short" on most systems). The value if over 65535 could wrap under 1024. This effectively allowed a user to bind to a privileged port. The fix is to check the value in its 16-bit form. Thus in sshd's case, check it in the sin_port member of the struct sockaddr_in. Any checks prior to that should be done with the assumption that 65535 (or negative values) can overflow in the 16-bit integer and not be valid. If you don't quite see why, pick up a C book and go over the way casting is done between different types of varying length. Similar problems were reported in the Linux kernel's system call interface (Solar Designer 1997). The fix, as mentioned previously, is to double check that the values are the same after any conversion between types. Luckily this is one of the more arcane security holes that don't pop up too often. 6.3) How do I safely pass input to an external program? ------------------------------------------------------- One of the biggest mistakes is to use a shell. Indeed the famous 'phf' security hole, a cgi program that came packaged with the NCSA httpd distribution, had a problem involving the use of a shell to execute an external program (CERT 1997). The security hole stemmed from a library routine it used, that was packaged with the NCSA cgi example distribution, called escape_shell(). The routine would take a command line, search for characters that would be interpreted by the shell, and remove them so the attacker can not invoke additional commands to the shell. At first glance it seems like a completely correct way to go about executing an external program. Escape the shell characters, and let the shell do the calling. It is completely and utterly wrong. In the rare case where you need to use a shell, a very rare and dangerous case, go ahead and do just that. But by removing characters you open yourself to a slew of mistakes. Indeed, escape_shell() forgot to strip certain characters that the shell would interpret. This allowed the attacker to send arbitrary commands to the shell. Instead of checking input for shell characters, don't use the shell Library routines such as system() and popen() invoke a shell. It is more secure, from the input handling perspective, to use execve() or one of its wrapper routines to call the process-image directly. The logic is that you can't mess up checking for special shell characters because you are not doing that. Also make sure you've read the section on process attribute inheritance. You may leak file descriptors as per the above mentioned chpass hole. 8) Bibliography --------------- Aleph One, "Smashing the Stack For Fun And Profit" Phrack, Vol.7, No. 49, Nov 1996, [ File 14 of 16 ] Al-Herbish, Thamer "Re: More ssh fun (sshd this time)" Online posting. 23 Aug. 1997. Bugtraq. Bernstein, Dan "Secure Interprocess Communication" 1998. <URL: //koobera.math.uic.edu/www/docs/secureipc.html> Bernstein, Dan "Re: A thought on TCP SYN attacks" Online posting. 26 Sept. 1996. SYN-Cookies Mailing List. Bishop, Matt "How to write a setuid program" login 12(1) Jan/Feb 1986. Bishop Matt, and M. Dilger "Checking for Race Conditions in File Accesses," Computing Systems 9(2) (Spring 1996) pp. 131-152. CERT (Computer Emergency Response Team) "CERT(*) Advisory CA-96.06" 20 March 1996. <URL: http://www.cert.org/ftp/cert_advisories/CA-96.06.cgi_example_code> Chasin, Scott "BUGTRAQ ALERT: Solaris 2.x vulnerability" Online posting. 14 Aug. 1995. Bugtraq. Conover, Matt "w00w00 on Heap overflows" Online posting. 27 Jan. Bugtraq. daemon9, route, infinity "Project Neptune "Phrack, Vol.7, No. 48, July 1996, [ File 13 of 18 ] Der Mouse "Re: Tar "features"" Online posting. 25 Sept. 1998. Bugtraq. Eriksson, Joel "License Manager's lockfiles (Solaris 2.5.1)" Online posting. 12 Oct. 1998. Bugtraq. Hull, Gregory "r00t advisory -- sol2.5 su(1M) vulnerability" Online posting. 26 Aug. 1996. Harrison, Roger "License Manager's lockfiles (Solaris 2.5.1)" Online posting. 23 Oct. 1998. Bugtraq Jensen, Geir Inge "Another autoreply security hole" Online posting, 12 Mar. 1994. Bugtraq. Network Associates Inc. "Network Associates Inc. Advisory (OpenBSD)" Online posting. 10 Aug. 1998. Bugtraq. plaguez shegget "XFree86 insecurity" Online posting. 21 Nov. 1997. Bugtraq. Saltzer, J.H., and M.D. Schroeder, "The Protection of Information in Computer Systems," Proc. IEEE, Vol. 63, No. 9, Sept. 1975, pp. 1278-1308. Sanfilippo, Salvatore "pingflood.c" Online posting. 9 Apr. 1998. Bugtraq. Schenk, Eric "A thought on TCP SYN attacks" Online posting. 25 Sept. 1996. SYN-Cookies Mailing List. Solar Designer "Integer Overflows" Online posting. 28 Aug. 1997. Bugtraq. Stevens, Richard W. "UNIX Network Programming" New Jersey, Prentice Hall, 1990. Stevens, Richard W. "Advanced Programming In The UNIX Environment" Reading, Massachusetts, Addison-Wesley, 1992. Smith, Ben "ps(1) for freebsd." Online posting. 12 Aug. 1998. Bugtraq. Tarreau, William "Tar "features"" Online posting. 22 Sept. 1998. Bugtraq. Temmingh, Roelof W "FreeBSD rlogin and coredumps" Online posting. 17 Feb. 1997. Bugtraq Wall, Larry and Schwartz, Randal L. "Programming Perl" : Sebastopol, California : O'Reilly And Associates, 1992. van der Wijk, Ivo "More ssh fun (sshd this time)" Online posting. 19 Aug. 1997. Bugtraq. Zalewski, Michal "ipop3d (x2) / pine (x2) / Linux kernel (x2) / Midnight Commander (x2)" Online posting. 7, March 1999. Bugtraq. 9) List of Contributors ----------------------- Thamer Al-Herbish <shadows@whitefang.com> Peter Roozemaal <mathfox@xs4all.nl> "Youth, Nature, and relenting Jove, To keep my lamp _in_ strongly strove, But Romanelli was so stout, He beat all three -- _and blew it out_." -- George Gordon Byron "My Epitaph" From "Occasional Pieces"