Tag Archives: tech

OpenSSH, PAM and user names

FreeBSD just published a security advisory for, amongst other issues, a piece of code in OpenSSH’s PAM integration which could allow an attacker to use one user’s credentials to impersonate another (CVE 2015-6563, original patch). I would like to clarify two things, one that is already mentioned in the advisory and one that isn’t.

The first is that in order to exploit this, the attacker must not only have valid credentials but also first compromise the unprivileged pre-authentication child process through a bug in OpenSSH itself or in a PAM service module.

The second is that this behavior, which is universally referred to in advisories and the trade press as a bug or flaw, is intentional and required by the PAM spec (such as it is). There are multiple legitimate use cases for this, such as:

  • Letting PAM, rather than the application, prompt for a user name; the spec allows passing NULL instead of a user name to pam_start(3), in which case it is the service module’s responsibility (in pam_sm_authenticate(3)) to prompt for a user name using pam_get_user(3). Note that OpenSSH does not support this.

  • Mapping multiple users with different identities and credentials in the authentication backend to a single “template” user when the application they need to access does not need to distinguish between them, or when this determination is made through other means (e.g. environment variable, which service modules are allowed to set).

  • Mapping Windows user names (which can contain spaces and non-ASCII characters that would trip up most Unix applications) to Unix user names.

That being said, I do not object to the patch, only to its characterization. Regarding the first issue, it is absolutely correct to consider the unprivileged child as possibly hostile; this is, after all, the entire point of privilege separation. Regarding the second issue, there are other (and probably better) ways to achieve the same result—performing the translation in the identity service, i.e. nsswitch, comes to mind—and the percentage of users affected by the change lies somewhere between zero and negligible.

One could argue that instead of silently ignoring the user name set by PAM, OpenSSH should compare it to the original user name and either emit a warning or drop the connection if it does not match, but that is a design choice which is entirely up to the OpenSSH developers.

Update 2015-08-27 NIST rates exploitability as “medium” rather than “low” because an attacker who is able to impersonate the UID used by the unprivileged child can use a debugger or other similar method to modify the username that the child passes back to the parent. In other words, an attacker can leverage elevated privileges into other elevated privileges. I disagree with the rating, but have never had any luck getting NIST to correct even blatantly false information in the past.


UPDATE 2014-10-14 23:40 UTC The details have been published: meet the SSL POODLE attack.

UPDATE 2014-10-15 11:15 UTC Simpler server test method, corrected info about browsers

UPDATE 2014-10-15 16:00 UTC More information about client testing

El Reg posted an article earlier today about a purported flaw in SSL 3.0 which may or may not be real, but it’s been a bad year for SSL, we’re all on edge, and we’d rather be safe than sorry. So let’s take it at face value and see what we can do to protect ourselves. If nothing else, it will force us to inspect our systems and make conscious decisions about their configuration instead of trusting the default settings. What can we do?

The answer is simple: there is no reason to support SSL 3.0 these days. TLS 1.0 is fifteen years old and supported by every browser that matters and over 99% of websites. TLS 1.1 and TLS 1.2 are eight and six years old, respectively, and are supported by the latest versions of all major browsers (except for Safari on Mac OS X 10.8 or older), but are not as widely supported on the server side. So let’s disable SSL 2.0 and 3.0 and make sure that TLS 1.0, 1.1 and 1.2 are enabled.

What to do next

Test your server

The Qualys SSL Labs SSL Server Test analyzes a server and calculates a score based on the list of supported protocols and algorithms, the strength and validity of the server certificate, which mitigation techniques are implemented, and many other factors. It takes a while, but is well worth it. Anything less than a B is a disgrace.

If you’re in a hurry, the following command will attempt to connect to your server using SSL 2.0 or 3.0:

:|openssl s_client -ssl3 -connect www.example.net:443

If the last line it prints is DONE, you have work to do.

Fix your server

Disable SSL 2.0 and 3.0 and enable TLS 1.0, 1.1 and 1.2 and forward secrecy (ephemeral Diffie-Hellman).

For Apache users, the following line goes a long way:

SSLProtocol ALL -SSLv3 -SSLv2

It disables SSL 2.0 and 3.0, but does not modify the algorithm preference list, so your server may still prefer older, weaker ciphers and hashes over more recent, stronger ones. Nor does it enable Forward Secrecy.

The Mozilla wiki has an excellent guide for the most widely used web servers and proxies.

Test your client

The Poodle Test website will show you a picture of a poodle if your browser is vulnerable and a terrier otherwise. It is the easiest, quickest way I know of to test your client.

Qualys SSL Labs also have an SSL Client Test which does much the same for your client as the SSL Server Test does for your server; unfortunately, it is not able to reliably determine whether your browser supports SSL 3.0.

Fix your client

On Windows, use the Advanced tab in the Internet Properties dialog (confusingly not searchable by that name, search for “internet options” or “proxy server” instead) to disable SSL 2.0 and 3.0 for all browsers.

On Linux and BSD:

  • Firefox: open and set security.tls.version.min to 1. You can force this setting for all users by adding lockPref("security.tls.version.min", 1); to your system-wide Mozilla configuration file. Support for SSL 3.0 will be removed in the next release.

  • Chrome: open and select “show advanced settings”. There should be an HTTP/SSL section which lets you disable SSL 3.0 is apparently no way to disable SSL 3.0. Support for SSL 3.0 will be removed in the next release.

I do not have any information about Safari and Opera. Please comment (or email me) if you know how to disable SSL 3.0 in these browsers.

Good luck, and stay safe.

DNS improvements in FreeBSD 11

Erwin Lansing just posted a summary of the DNS session at the FreeBSD DevSummit that was held in conjunction with BSDCan 2014 in May. It gives a good overview of the current state of affairs, including known bugs and plans for the future.

I’ve been working on some of these issues recently (in between $dayjob and other projects). I fixed two issues in the last 48 hours, and am working on two more.

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Dark Patterns

The term dark pattern was coined (I believe) by Harry Brignull to describe practices in user interface design intended to make it easy for your users to accidentally select a more profitable (for you) option and hard for them to revert, cancel or unsubscribe.

This is not news. We all know how, for instance, low-cost airlines try to trick you into ordering travel insurance, or software installers try to trick you into installing browser toolbars. But it’s something we usually associate with slightly dodgy outfits like RyanAir or Oracle.

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On standards (and testing)

RFC 4648 defines the Base16, Base32 and Base64 encodings. Base16 (aka hex) and Base64 are widely known and used, but Base32 is an odd duck. It is rarely used, and there are several incompatible variants, of which the RFC acknowledges two: [A-Z2-7] and [0-9A-V].

One of the uses of Base32, and the reason for my interest in it, is in Google’s otpauth URI scheme for exchanging HOTP and TOTP keys. I needed a Base32 codec for my OATH library, so when a cursory search for a lightweight permissive-licensed implementation failed to turn up anything, I wrote my own.

My OATH implementation is currently deployed in an environment in which OTP keys for new users (or new OTP keys for existing users) are generated by the primary provisioning system, which passes them on to a smaller provisioning system in charge of firewalls and authentication (codenamed Nexus), which passes them on to a RADIUS server, which uses my code to validate user responses. When we transitioned from generating OTP keys manually to having the provisioning system generate them for us, we ran into trouble: some keys worked, others didn’t. It turned out to be a combination of factors:

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