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Secure Mount Points Hack #1 - Security

Security isn't a noun, it's a verb; not a product, but a process. Today, learn the hacks involved in reducing the risks involved in offering services on a Unix-based system. This the first part of chapter one in Network Security Hacks, by Andrew Lockhart (ISBN 0-596-00643-8, O'Reilly & Associates, 2004).

  1. Unix Host Security: Hacks 1-10
  2. Secure Mount Points Hack #1
  3. Scan for SUID and SGID Programs Hack #2
  4. Scan For World- and Group-Writable Directories Hack #3
  5. Create Flexible Permissions Hierarchies w/ith POSIX ACLs Hack #4
  6. Protect Your Logs from Tampering Hack #5
  7. Delegate Administrative Roles Hack #6
  8. Automate Cryptographic Signature Verification Hack #7
  9. Check for Listening Services Hack #8
  10. Prevent Services from Binding to an Interface Hack #9
  11. Restrict Services with Sandboxed Environments Hack #10
By: O'Reilly Media
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May 04, 2004

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Use mount options to help prevent intruders from further escalating a compromise.

The primary way of interacting with a Unix machine is through its filesystem. Thus, when an intruder has gained access to a system, it is desirable to limit what he can do with the files available to him. One way to accomplish this is with the use of restrictive mount options.

A mount option is a flag that controls how the filesystem may be accessed. It is passed to the operating system kernelís code when the filesystem is brought online. Mount options can be used to prevent files from being interpreted as device nodes, to disallow binaries from being executed, and to disallow the SUID bit from taking affect (by using the nodev, noexec, and nosuid flags). Filesystems can also be mounted read-only with the ro option.

These options are specified from the command line by running mount with the -o flag. For example, if you have a separate partition for /tmp that is on the third partition of your first IDE hard disk, you can mount with the nodev, noexec, and nosuid flags, which are enabled by running the following command:

# mount -o nodev,noexec,nosuid /dev/hda3 /tmp

An equivalent entry in your /etc/fstab would look something like this:

/dev/hda3  /tmp  ext3  defaults,nodev,noexec,nosuid 1 2

By carefully considering your requirements and dividing up your storage into multiple filesystems, you can utilize these mount options to increase the work that an attacker will have to do in order to further compromise your system. A quick way to do this is to first categorize your directory tree into areas that need write access for the system to function and those that donít. You should consider using the read-only flag on any part of the filesystem where the contents do not change regularly. A good candidate for this might be /usr, depending on how often updates are made to system software.

Obviously, many directories (such as /home) will need to be mounted as read-write. However, it is unlikely that users on an average multiuser system will need to run SUID binaries or create device files within their home directories. Therefore, a separate filesystem, mounted with the nodev and nosuid options, could be created to house the usersí home directories. In addition, if youíve determined that your users will not need to execute programs stored in their home directories, you can use the noexec mount option as well. Similar situations also arise when looking at /tmp and /var, where it is highly unlikely that any process will legitimately need to execute SUID or  non-SUID binaries or access device files. This helps prevent the possibility of an attacker leaving a Trojan horse in common directories, such as /tmp or a userís home directory. The attacker may be able to install the program, but it cannot actually run, with or without the proper chmod bits.

Note that services running in a chroot( ) environment [Hack #10] may be broken if nodev is specified on the filesystem running under the chroot. This is because device nodes such as /dev/log and /dev/null must be available within the chroot( ) environment.

There are a number of ways that an attacker can still circumvent these mount restrictions. For example, the noexec option on Linux can be bypassed by using /lib/ld-linux.so to execute binaries residing on such filesystems. At first glance, youíd think that this can be remedied by making ld-linux.so nonexecutable, but this would render all dynamically linked binaries unexecutable. So, unless all of the programs you rely on are statically linked (theyíre probably not), then the noexec option is of little use in Linux. In addition, an attacker who has already gained root privileges will not be significantly hampered by filesystems mounted with special options, since these can often be remounted with the -o remount option. But by using mount flags, you can easily limit the possible attacks available to a hostile user before he gains root privileges.

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