4.2. Controlling Root Access
When administering a home machine, the user must perform some tasks as the
rootuser or by acquiring effective
rootprivileges using a setuid program, such as
su. A setuid program is one that operates with the user ID (UID) of the program's owner rather than the user operating the program. Such programs are denoted by an
sin the owner section of a long format listing, as in the following example:
ls -l /bin/su-rwsr-xr-x. 1 root root 34904 Mar 10 2011 /bin/su
smay be upper case or lower case. If it appears as upper case, it means that the underlying permission bit has not been set.
For the system administrator of an organization, however, choices must be made as to how much administrative access users within the organization should have to their machines. Through a PAM module called
pam_console.so, some activities normally reserved only for the root user, such as rebooting and mounting removable media, are allowed for the first user that logs in at the physical console. However, other important system administration tasks, such as altering network settings, configuring a new mouse, or mounting network devices, are not possible without administrative privileges. As a result, system administrators must decide how much access the users on their network should receive.
4.2.1. Disallowing Root Access
If an administrator is uncomfortable allowing users to log in as
rootfor these or other reasons, the root password should be kept secret, and access to runlevel one or single user mode should be disallowed through boot loader password protection (see Section 4.2.5, “Securing the Boot Loader” for more information on this topic.)
The following are four different ways that an administrator can further ensure that
rootlogins are disallowed:
- Changing the root shell
- To prevent users from logging in directly as
root, the system administrator can set the
rootaccount's shell to
Table 4.2. Disabling the Root Shell
Effects Does Not AffectPrevents access to a
rootshell and logs any such attempts. The following programs are prevented from accessing the
Programs that do not require a shell, such as FTP clients, mail clients, and many setuid programs. The following programs are not prevented from accessing the
- FTP clients
- Email clients
- Disabling root access using any console device (tty)
- To further limit access to the
rootaccount, administrators can disable
rootlogins at the console by editing the
/etc/securettyfile. This file lists all devices the
rootuser is allowed to log into. If the file does not exist at all, the
rootuser can log in through any communication device on the system, whether through the console or a raw network interface. This is dangerous, because a user can log in to their machine as
rootusing Telnet, which transmits the password in plain text over the network.By default, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7's
/etc/securettyfile only allows the
rootuser to log in at the console physically attached to the machine. To prevent the
rootuser from logging in, remove the contents of this file by typing the following command at a shell prompt as
echo > /etc/securettyTo enable
securettysupport in the KDM, GDM, and XDM login managers, add the following line:
auth [user_unknown=ignore success=ok ignore=ignore default=bad] pam_securetty.soto the files listed below:
/etc/securettyfile does not prevent the
rootuser from logging in remotely using the OpenSSH suite of tools because the console is not opened until after authentication.
Table 4.3. Disabling Root Logins
Effects Does Not AffectPrevents access to the
rootaccount using the console or the network. The following programs are prevented from accessing the
Programs that do not log in as
- Other network services that open a tty
root, but perform administrative tasks through setuid or other mechanisms. The following programs are not prevented from accessing the
- Disabling root SSH logins
- To prevent
rootlogins through the SSH protocol, edit the SSH daemon's configuration file,
/etc/ssh/sshd_config, and change the line that reads:
#PermitRootLogin yesto read as follows:
Table 4.4. Disabling Root SSH Logins
Effects Does Not AffectPrevents
rootaccess using the OpenSSH suite of tools. The following programs are prevented from accessing the
Programs that are not part of the OpenSSH suite of tools.
- Using PAM to limit root access to services
- PAM, through the
/lib/security/pam_listfile.somodule, allows great flexibility in denying specific accounts. The administrator can use this module to reference a list of users who are not allowed to log in. To limit
rootaccess to a system service, edit the file for the target service in the
/etc/pam.d/directory and make sure the
pam_listfile.somodule is required for authentication.The following is an example of how the module is used for the
vsftpdFTP server in the
/etc/pam.d/vsftpdPAM configuration file (the
\character at the end of the first line is not necessary if the directive is on a single line):
auth required /lib/security/pam_listfile.so item=user \ sense=deny file=/etc/vsftpd.ftpusers onerr=succeedThis instructs PAM to consult the
/etc/vsftpd.ftpusersfile and deny access to the service for any listed user. The administrator can change the name of this file, and can keep separate lists for each service or use one central list to deny access to multiple services.If the administrator wants to deny access to multiple services, a similar line can be added to the PAM configuration files, such as
/etc/pam.d/imapfor mail clients, or
/etc/pam.d/sshfor SSH clients.For more information about PAM, see The Linux-PAM System Administrator's Guide, located in the
Table 4.5. Disabling Root Using PAM
Effects Does Not AffectPrevents
rootaccess to network services that are PAM aware. The following services are prevented from accessing the
Programs and services that are not PAM aware.
- FTP clients
- Email clients
- Any PAM aware services
4.2.2. Allowing Root Access
If the users within an organization are trusted and computer-literate, then allowing them
rootaccess may not be an issue. Allowing
rootaccess by users means that minor activities, like adding devices or configuring network interfaces, can be handled by the individual users, leaving system administrators free to deal with network security and other important issues.
On the other hand, giving
rootaccess to individual users can lead to the following issues:
- Machine Misconfiguration — Users with
rootaccess can misconfigure their machines and require assistance to resolve issues. Even worse, they might open up security holes without knowing it.
- Running Insecure Services — Users with
rootaccess might run insecure servers on their machine, such as FTP or Telnet, potentially putting usernames and passwords at risk. These services transmit this information over the network in plain text.
- Running Email Attachments As Root — Although rare, email viruses that affect Linux do exist. A malicious program poses the greatest threat when run by the
- Keeping the audit trail intact — Because the
rootaccount is often shared by multiple users, so that multiple system administrators can maintain the system, it is impossible to figure out which of those users was
rootat a given time. When using separate logins, the account a user logs in with, as well as a unique number for session tracking purposes, is put into the task structure, which is inherited by every process that the user starts. When using concurrent logins, the unique number can be used to trace actions to specific logins. When an action generates an audit event, it is recorded with the login account and the session associated with that unique number. Use the
aulastcommand to view these logins and sessions. The
--proofoption of the
aulastcommand can be used suggest a specific
ausearchquery to isolate auditable events generated by a particular session. For more information about the Audit system, see Chapter 7, System Auditing.
4.2.3. Limiting Root Access
Rather than completely denying access to the
rootuser, the administrator may want to allow access only through setuid programs, such as
sudo. For more information on
sudo, see the Gaining Privileges chapter in Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7 System Administrator's Guide, and the
4.2.4. Enabling Automatic Logouts
When the user is logged in as
root, an unattended login session may pose a significant security risk. To reduce this risk, you can configure the system to automatically log out idle users after a fixed period of time.
root, add the following line at the beginning of the
/etc/profilefile to make sure the processing of this file cannot be interrupted:
trap "" 1 2 3 15
root, insert the following lines to the
/etc/profilefile to automatically log out after 120 seconds:
export TMOUT=120 readonly TMOUTThe
TMOUTvariable terminates the shell if there is no activity for the specified number of seconds (set to
120in the above example). You can change the limit according to the needs of the particular installation.
4.2.5. Securing the Boot Loader
The primary reasons for password protecting a Linux boot loader are as follows:
- Preventing Access to Single User Mode — If attackers can boot the system into single user mode, they are logged in automatically as
rootwithout being prompted for the
WarningProtecting access to single user mode with a password by editing the
SINGLEparameter in the
/etc/sysconfig/initfile is not recommended. An attacker can bypass the password by specifying a custom initial command (using the
init=parameter) on the kernel command line in GRUB 2. It is recommended to password-protect the GRUB 2 boot loader, as described in the Protecting GRUB 2 with a Password chapter in Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7 System Administrator's Guide.
- Preventing Access to the GRUB 2 Console — If the machine uses GRUB 2 as its boot loader, an attacker can use the GRUB 2 editor interface to change its configuration or to gather information using the
- Preventing Access to Insecure Operating Systems — If it is a dual-boot system, an attacker can select an operating system at boot time, for example DOS, which ignores access controls and file permissions.
Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7 includes the GRUB 2 boot loader on the Intel 64 and AMD64 platform. For a detailed look at GRUB 2, see the Working With the GRUB 2 Boot Loader chapter in Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7 System Administrator's Guide.
18.104.22.168. Disabling Interactive Startup
Pressing the I key at the beginning of the boot sequence allows you to start up your system interactively. During an interactive startup, the system prompts you to start up each service one by one. However, this may allow an attacker who gains physical access to your system to disable the security-related services and gain access to the system.
To prevent users from starting up the system interactively, as
root, disable the
PROMPTparameter in the
4.2.6. Protecting Hard and Symbolic Links
To prevent malicious users from exploiting potential vulnerabilities caused by unprotected hard and symbolic links, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7 includes a feature that only allows links to be created or followed provided certain conditions are met.
In case of hard links, one of the following needs to be true:
- The user owns the file to which they link.
- The user already has read and write access to the file to which they link.
In case of symbolic links, processes are only permitted to follow links when outside of world-writeable directories with sticky bits, or one of the following needs to be true:
- The process following the symbolic link is the owner of the symbolic link.
- The owner of the directory is the same as the owner of the symbolic link.
This protection is turned on by default. It is controlled by the following options in the
fs.protected_hardlinks = 1 fs.protected_symlinks = 1
To override the default settings and disable the protection, create a new configuration file called, for example,
/etc/sysctl.d/directory with the following content:
fs.protected_hardlinks = 0 fs.protected_symlinks = 0
Note that in order to override the default system settings, the new configuration file needs to have the
.confextension, and it needs to be read after the default system file (the files are read in lexicographic order, therefore settings contained in a file with a higher number at the beginning of the file name take precedence).
See the sysctl.d(5) manual page for more detailed information about the configuration of kernel parameters at boot using the