War Stories: Unix Security

A different kind of war story this time: Unix security blunders. Old-school Unix-types will mutter about how much more secure Unix systems are than Windows, but that glosses over a lot. In a former life I worked as an HP-UX sysadmin, and I saw some shocking default configurations. I liked HP-UX – so much better laid out than Solaris – but it was very insecure by default. Here’s a few things I’ve come across:

Gaining Root

We’d lost the root password for a test HP-UX server. We had user access, but not root. The server was located in a different DC, and we didn’t really feel like going and plugging in a console cable to reset the root password. So we started looking around at how we might get access. After a while I found these two things:

  1. Root’s home directory was ‘/‘ – this was the default on HP-UX
  2. The Remote Login service was running

And now for the kicker:

Put those together, and you can see it’s easy to gain root. All we needed to do was create /.rhosts, and add whatever we wanted. We set it up to allow root login from another server, and bingo – remote access as root. Saved a trip out to the DC.

World-writable directories in $PATH

Another classic mistake was the permissions for /usr/local/bin:

Can you see the problem here? Yup – any user can add executable they like to /usr/local/bin, and then you just need to trick someone into running it. A classic typo is to run ‘mroe’ instead of ‘more’ – so what would happen if we put a script called ‘mroe’ into /usr/local/bin? We could put whatever commands we wanted in there.

The malicious commands might involve creating a new user, with UID 0. Now all we have to do is wait for an admin to make a typo, and we’ve got root access.

Chargen vs Echo

HP-UX shipped with both chargen and echo enabled by default. One service that responds to connections with a random character, the other one echoes back whatever it receives. So think about what happens if you fake a packet with a source of chargen and a destination of echo? Fun times. Lucky that one’s easy to see with an IPS Sure, things aren’t perfect with other Operating Systems. But next time someone starts going on about how great Unix security is, just remember that it wasn’t always true.

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