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Insights Security Hardening Rules

Keith Grant published on 2018-07-12T13:30:00+00:00, last updated 2018-07-12T13:53:03+00:00

Many users of Red Hat Insights are familiar with the security rules we create to alert them about security vulnerabilities on their system, especially concerning high-profile issues such as Spectre/Meltdown or Heartbleed. In this post, I'd like to talk about the other category of security related rules, those related to security hardening.

In all of the products we ship, we make a concerted effort to ship thoughtful, secure default settings to minimize the amount of configuration needed to do the work you want to do. With complex packages such as Apache httpd, however, every installation will require some degree of customization before it's ready for deployment to production, and with more complex configurations, there's a chance that a setting or the interaction between several settings can have security implications which aren't immediately evident. Additionally, sometimes systems are configured in a manner that aids rapid development, but those configurations aren't suitable for production environments.

With our hardening rules, we detect some of the most common security-related configuration issues and provide context to help you understand the represented risks, as well as recommendations on how to remediate the issues.

Candidate Rule Sources

We use several sources to find candidates for new hardening rules, but our primary sources are our own Red Hat Enterprise Linux Security Guides. These guides are founded on Red Hat's own knowledge of its specific environment, past customer issues, and the domain expertise of Red Hat's engineers. These guides cover a broad spectrum of security concerns ranging from physical and operational security to specific recommendations for individual packages or services.

Additionally, the Product Security Insights team reviews other industry-standard benchmarks, best-practices guides, and news sources for their perspectives on secure configurations. One example is the Center for Internet Security's CIS Benchmark for RHEL specifically and Linux in general. Another valuable asset is SANS' Information Security Resources, which provides news about new research in information security.

From these sources, we select candidates based on a number of informal criteria, such as:

  • What risk does this configuration represent? Some misconfigurations can expose confidential information, while a less serious misconfiguration might cause loss of audit log data.
  • How common are vulnerable configurations? If an issue seems rare, then it may have a lower priority. Conversely, some issues are almost ubiquitous, which suggests that even further research into where our user communication or education could be improved.
  • How likely are false reports, positive or negative? Some system configurations, especially around networking, are intrinsically complex. Being able to assess whether a system has a vulnerable firewall in isolation is challenging, as users may have shifted the responsibility for a particular security check (e.g. packet filtering) to other devices. In some cases, heuristics can be used, but this is always weighed against the inconvenience of false reports.

With these factors in mind, we can prioritize our list of candidates. We can also identify areas where more information would make possible other rules, or would improve the specificity of rule recommendations.

An Example Rule

For a concrete example, one hardening rule we offer detects potentially insecure network-related settings in sysctl. Several parameters are tested by this rule, such as:

icmp_echo_ignore_broadcasts: This setting, which is on by default, will prevent the system from responding to ICMP requests sent to broadcast addresses. A user may have changed this setting while troubleshooting network issues, but it presents an opportunity for a bad actor to stage a denial-of-service attack against the system's network segment.

tcp_syncookies: Also on by default, syncookies provide protection against TCP SYN flood attacks. In this case, there aren't many reasons why it would be disabled, but some specialized hardware, legacy software, or software in development may have a minimal network stack which doesn't support syncookies. In this case, it's important to be aware of the issue and have other methods to protect the system from SYN flood attacks.

ip_forward: This setting, which allows packet forwarding, is disabled by default. However, since it must be enabled for the system to act as a router, it's also the most commonly detected setting. In this case, to prevent false positives, the rule uses supporting data such as the firewall configuration to determine if this system may be acting as a router. If it's not, it's possible the user has a particular purpose for having the system forward packets, or it's possible the system was used as a router at one point, but its configuration wasn't completely reexamined after it was put into use elsewhere. In any case, as above, it's important that the system's user is aware that the feature is enabled, and understands the security implications.

These are only a few of the parameters this rule examines. In some cases, such as this, several different but related issues are handled by a single rule, as the locations of the configuration and the logic used to detect problems is similar. In other cases, such as with httpd configuration, the problem domain is much larger, and warrants separate rules for separate areas of concern, such as data file permissions, cryptography configuration, or services exposed to public networks.


This is just a brief overview of the process that goes into choosing candidates for and creating security hardening rules. It is, in practice, a topic as large as the configuration space of systems in general. That there is so much information about how to securely configure your systems is testament to that. What might be insecure in one context is the intended state in another, and in the end, only the user will have sufficient knowledge of their context to know which is the case. Red Hat Insights, however, provides users with Red Hat's breadth and depth of understanding, applied to the actual, live configuration of their systems. In this way, users benefit not only from the automated nature of Insights, but also from the Product Security Insights team's participation in the wider Information Security community.

While we have an active backlog of security hardening rules, and likely will for some time due to the necessary prioritization of vulnerabilities in our rule creation, we're always interested in hearing about your security concerns. If there are issues you've faced that you'd like Insights to be able to tell you about, please let us know. Additionally, if you've had a problem with one of our rules, we'd like to work with you to address it. We may have substantial knowledge about how Red Hat products work, but you are the most knowledgeable about how you use them, and our objective is to give you all the information we can to help you do so securely.


About The Author

Keith Grant's picture Red Hat Newbie 2 points

Keith Grant

Keith works on Product Security's Process and Information Enablement team developing Security-related rules and remediation for Insights.