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Debian Security

More Info on Security Breach 545

mbanck writes "James Troup (part of the Debian System administration team) has published more information on the recent compromise of four machines. The attack vector seemed to be a sniffed password of an unprivileged account, from which the attacker somehow managed to gain root and install the suckit rootkit and crack the other machines. As the machines were fairly uptodate with respect to security, an as-of-yet unknown local root exploit might be in the wild, so keep an eye on your boxen.Note that the main ftp archive running on a sparc machine was not compromised, so the exploit might not yet be ported to non-i386 architectures."
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More Info on Security Breach

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  • Boxen.. (Score:3, Funny)

    by WeblionX ( 675030 ) on Friday November 28, 2003 @01:20AM (#7580346) Homepage Journal
    Here come the comments about the word "boxen..."
    • Re:Boxen.. (Score:4, Funny)

      by Chuck Chunder ( 21021 ) on Friday November 28, 2003 @01:22AM (#7580352) Homepage Journal
      Someone needs their ears boxen.
    • Re:Boxen.. (Score:5, Funny)

      by Stormie ( 708 ) on Friday November 28, 2003 @01:32AM (#7580386) Homepage
      If you call your computers "boxen", I hope they get cracked and rootkitted.
    • Re:Boxen.. (Score:5, Funny)

      by AndroidCat ( 229562 ) on Friday November 28, 2003 @01:46AM (#7580431) Homepage
      It's a perfectly good middle-english plural. Perhaps they just have rather olde boxen to develop on?
      • Re:Boxen.. (Score:3, Funny)

        by Mattcelt ( 454751 )
        No kidding? I had just assumed that someone had taken up on Brian Regan's [] pluralizations, like boxen and moosen.

        Another of my favorites:
        "I before E except after C
        and when sounding like A as in neighbor and weigh
        or on weekends or holidays or all throughout May
        and you'll always be wrong no matter what you say!"

        He's a very funny comic. There's a fan site that's worth checking out too. []
    • Damn... I was just recovering from all those 20-year-old "virii"...
    • It's a perfectly cromulent word. A noble linux emboxens the smallest geek.
    • by Taco Cowboy ( 5327 ) on Friday November 28, 2003 @04:21AM (#7580798) Journal

      Here are two useful utilities to flush out the SucKIT rootkit:

      Kernel Security Therapy Anti-Trolls []


      Kernel Security Checker []

      Have a nice day !

  • Human Error (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jefbed ( 666411 ) on Friday November 28, 2003 @01:27AM (#7580366) Homepage
    This incident reminds us of the importance of password security. It is sad to see one weak password responsible for such a breach. I think that it would be a good idea for the future to move away from the traditional unix password. An appropriate replacement would be something similar to RSA passphrase mechanism used by secure shell. A random passphrase with a minimum lenght would be idea. The user is the greatest security hole.
    • by Tyler Eaves ( 344284 ) on Friday November 28, 2003 @01:31AM (#7580384)
      Random passphrase?

      Repeat after me: The best password is the one that isn't stikie'd to the monitor and/or keyboard.
      • Re: Human Error (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Friday November 28, 2003 @03:24AM (#7580692)

        > Random passphrase? Repeat after me: The best password is the one that isn't stikie'd to the monitor and/or keyboard.

        When it comes to internet-based attacks, my yellow stickies are the securest files on my system!

        • Re: Human Error (Score:3, Insightful)

          by cperciva ( 102828 )
          When it comes to internet-based attacks, my yellow stickies are the securest files on my system!

          Well, you'd want to make sure they weren't stuck somewhere visible to random passers-by.

          But you always have to keep in mind that any form of security is only as strong as its user interface; if someone can access a password stickied to the bottom of your keyboard, they can probably attach a keylogger as well.
    • by SugoiMonkey ( 648879 ) on Friday November 28, 2003 @01:33AM (#7580392) Homepage Journal
      I say we cut out the user.
    • Re:Human Error (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ctr2sprt ( 574731 ) on Friday November 28, 2003 @01:37AM (#7580400)
      Clearly we need some way to move away from traditional passwords, but RSA keys isn't the way to go. They're impossible to remember, which means you need to store them on a computer. That makes them vulnerable to copying. You can password-protect them, of course, but then you're in the same situation as before (actually worse, for the same reason /etc/passwd is less secure than /etc/shadow).

      That's not to say that RSA or some similar system won't be part of a good solution... but there definitely needs to be some other component. (For example, the private key might be encrypted by a biometric signature or keycard or similar. While that still leaves the system vulnerable to physical attacks, it more or less eliminates network-based ones as long as you use secure protocols.)

      • Re:Human Error (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jkrise ( 535370 )
        While that still leaves the system vulnerable to physical attacks, it more or less eliminates network-based ones as long as you use secure protocols.

        In other words, you've achieved nothing. The issue here is the protocols, NOT passwords. Since these are not unnder the control of users, we should assume that any netwroked resource is insecure by design.

      • Re:Human Error (Score:5, Insightful)

        by God! Awful 2 ( 631283 ) on Friday November 28, 2003 @04:07AM (#7580773) Journal

        (For example, the private key might be encrypted by a biometric signature or keycard or similar.

        I have yet to see a biometric signature that would solve this problem. Generally speaking, in biometric identification, information about the fingerprint/retina is stored on the disk and then compared against the data that is read in. The biometric information is not used *AS* the encryption key. So a biometric signature is just like a really big password, except that if someone cracks your password you can change it, but you can't (easily) change your fingerprints.

        • Re:Human Error (Score:4, Interesting)

          by swillden ( 191260 ) * <> on Friday November 28, 2003 @11:24AM (#7582149) Homepage Journal

          The biometric information is not used *AS* the encryption key.

          And there's a good reason for that: It wouldn't work. Every time a biometric is scanned, the result is different. Biometric matching is hard because it's a process of evaluating the "closeness" of the livescan to the stored template and then deciding whether the two are close enough to be considered the same.

          This means that trying to extract a set of bits from the scan which you could be sure would be the same every time is very difficult, and likely wouldn't net you many bits to use as a key. A set of bits that changes a little every time doesn't make a useful key.

          Given some sort of a secure processor, you can store the key and the biometric template in there, and program it to refuse to use the key until it has been presented with a biometric scan which it considers to be close enough to the template. That gets you about half way to security, now you just need to find a way for the secure processor to verify that the livescan it receives is fresh, and not replayed. Oh, and it would be good if you could also be sure the livescan is a *live* scan. And don't forget to secure that template database well.

          Making biometrics secure is hard. In practice, this means biometrics are only useful in two situations. The first is very low security, where the biometric is being used to raise the level of security from very, very low to very low. The second is very high security, where the biometric is to augment some other authentication methods, or when verification is only done in a very controlled environment, i.e. where you're watched closely by a human guard who knows how to ensure you're not trying to fool the scanner.

      • Re:Human Error (Score:5, Interesting)

        by dasunt ( 249686 ) on Friday November 28, 2003 @04:21AM (#7580800)

        Er, the problem with biometric identification is that (1) its not testing who you are, just that the digital input matches some value and (2) you can't change what its testing.

        You can't change who you are. Thus, once the key is compromised, it stays compromised.

      • Re:Human Error (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Xerithane ( 13482 ) <xerithane@nerd[ ] ['far' in gap]> on Friday November 28, 2003 @07:31AM (#7581260) Homepage Journal
        A good method: Easy mental ciphers.

        You pick a passphrase that you use for all of your systems. You then pick a unique seed for each system. Then, you do some quick mental math on it (pick an algo of your choice, just make it simple) and then you have the effective security of two passwords + unknown algorithm. It will make all of your passwords invulnerable to dictionary attacks (unless a rare circumstance has your resulting password being "password" or something)

        For example, if you have a pass phrase of "MYBOXISSECURE" then you can use the box name as a seed, lets call the box "DEBIAN" and have the algorithm block the seed and then subtract, modulo 26.

        I'm too tired to do this and I'm on my windows sytem without perl.

        Then reverse it or something. Walla! Pseudo-random passwords. Works great, and after a few times you will memorize the keystrokes and you won't need to do it by hand. You can even have a standard system for the passphrases amongst an entire group for the root password, so each system can have a different root password that everybody can just figure out as long as they know the passphrase. In addition, if you want to remove someone from the loop, just change the passphrases and redistribute to the trusted source.

        It's a hack solution for the weak-password problem.
    • Re:Human Error (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 28, 2003 @01:41AM (#7580418)
      Uhh, I dunno if you noticed, but it wasn't a password alone that did this much damage. The account broken into was unprivellaged, meaning it was just a simple user account.

      In theory, a secured system can have this happen to it and the attacker will have fun deleting a single home directory before they run out of damage to do.

      In practice, a single local privelage escalation attack is all it takes. Maybe this will end up being a good thing in the end, we get to find a previously unknown local root exploit, fix it and improve the Debian security practices, all in one move.
    • by enosys ( 705759 ) on Friday November 28, 2003 @01:45AM (#7580427) Homepage
      Apparently the password was sniffed []. This generally implies that it was obtained through monitoring network traffic and seeing it trasmitted in cleartext. A strong password wouldn't help here; only a good protocol would.

      This was both user and admin stupidity I guess. Admins who care about security shouldn't permit access through cleartext passwords and users shouldn't send their password in cleartext if they care about their account. Unfortunately many users don't know about this risk.

      • by TheRedHorse ( 559375 ) on Friday November 28, 2003 @01:51AM (#7580443)
        Why assume it was a cleartext password? It could of been encrypted, captured and crack via brute force or some other method.
        • by Anonymous Coward
          The password was sniffed by the trojaned sshd on an unrelated machine.
        • "cleartext" implies a situation where the letters a user is typing in on his keyboard are being sent unencrypted over the network, like over a normal telnet connection.

          The state of the password being sent really isn't what's being discussed, since once the connection is unencrypted, it doesn't matter.
      • by radargeek ( 695110 ) on Friday November 28, 2003 @02:32AM (#7580573)
        Ah, but the SucKIT rootkit is particularly useful as it captures all tty i/o at the kernel level: all interaction with sshd is captured in a "sniffer" file. No decryption or packet sniffing needed- the attacker owns the system completely if they have installed SucKIT. If you don't trust a computer that you have ssh'd into, never ssh or scp from the untrusted computer back into your trusted systems. If the untrusted computer has been compromised, any login sessions that you have from the untrusted computer will expose the passwords if a SucKIT rootkit has been installed.
      • Thank you. I was reading parent posts going, "Umm, I don't remember hearing anything about any pw cracking being possible since it was an encrypted connection or whatever, so if it was sniffed it obviously was done in clear-text. The people who did the foresnics on those boxes (and who wrote the paper) simply would have stated that. I have the utmost faith in said sysadmins. And I applaud their open-source approach to the attack. You really wouldn't ever see something like that coming anyone

    • > This incident reminds us of the importance of password security. It is sad to see one weak password responsible for such a breach.

      I'm apologize - I never imagined that they would guess 'mydebian'.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 28, 2003 @02:03AM (#7580479)
      SELinux would likely have prevented the root exploit from allowing this individual from doing as much harm as was done.

      I think that it's time for the big names like Debian, Slackware, Red Hat etc to start implementing it on their network connected machines. It's being incorporated into the stock kernel for a reason. Use it!
      • 2.6 does indeed have the LSM integrated in - that's step of abstraction up from the original SELinux. It is essentially a set of appropriate hooks into the kernel for running SELinux style security. There are actually other packages (LIDS for instance) that use this system.

        The end result is: We will soon have a very strong security model built in to the standard stable kernel. The sad thing is that it will be off by default, and you will still need the set of userland tools that use it.

        We have an excel
    • by t0ny ( 590331 ) on Friday November 28, 2003 @02:16AM (#7580519)
      Im sure glad my network runs on Windows!
    • Re:Human Error (Score:3, Insightful)

      by blanks ( 108019 )
      It wasn't a weak password, it was from a sniffed password. But then again no matter how good your password is, if your not encrypted (and in some cases even if) your password is weak.
    • Re:Human Error (Score:3, Insightful)

      by pkaral ( 104322 )
      Where information security work really breaks down is when password theory meets the average user. Personally, I had to try approx. 15 times to come up with a password that would be accepted by the system at my university, and by then it was so complex that I had to write it down to remember it. (As usual, there had to be 3 types of characters, but in addition, there where heaps of rules saying such things as "caps at the start or end of the word don't count".

      We must find a systemic solution that includes
    • Um, what? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by bonch ( 38532 )
      They said the password was sniffed.

      Try to shunt this off to a "weak password" all you want, but let's face facts here. A beloved Linux network was clobbered.

      Yes, Virgina, Linux is not invincible. You have rootkits and exploits too. Just see Linuxsecurity [] sometime.

      And, yes, it makes all the Linux loonies who rail on about Microsoft insecurities look like religious hypocrites.

      Karma Bonus unchecked, because I don't expect this to be well-received by biased moderators.
    • Re:Human Error (Score:3, Informative)

      by hdw ( 564237 )
      It is sad to see one weak password responsible for such a breach.

      Eh? Why is everyone talking about a weak password?
      The article says sniffed password.

      I assume that they're not using cleartext password authentication which means that it wasn't sniffed on the wire, it's was sniffed on a (compromised) box the some user used to log in.
      And if the clientbox is compromised it doesn't matter if you use password or a passphrased key.
      Even keeping your key on something removable (like an USB keychain) doesn't h
  • by evil_roy ( 241455 ) on Friday November 28, 2003 @01:33AM (#7580389)
    Quote from the article:

    "Somehow they got root on klecker and installed

    What follows is an interesting read - but the guts are in that 'somehow'.
    • by Kulic ( 122255 ) on Friday November 28, 2003 @01:48AM (#7580435) Homepage
      You're absolutely right. For some reason, everyone else seems to be overlooking the fact that there is (or appears to be) an unknown root exploit out there.

      Yes, you can probably guess/crack/social engineer a password if you try hard enough. That's why security is about layers, compartmentalisation and multiple types of protection, not just a single password.

      If this was your box, would you be more worried that someone had managed to sniff an (unprivileged) password? Or that any one of your users can now root your box? I know which one I would lose sleep over.

      Here's to hoping that the root exploit is found and patched nice and quick. Even better if it something else that's been missed and is fixed in the latest patch.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 28, 2003 @03:51AM (#7580740)
        For some reason, everyone else seems to be overlooking the fact that there is (or appears to be) an unknown root exploit out there.

        Uhm, did you read James' post? Here's a quote:

        Unfortunately due to the fact there is (I believe) an unknown local root exploit in the wild, we can't yet unlock the Debian accounts.

        Surely this constitues something else than "overlooking" the root exploit? Deciding to keep the Debian accounts disables effectively stops the entire developement of Debian. Nobody has been able to upload packages in the last week, and lots of services are down.

        James could have unlocked the accounts to make the developement pick up again rapidly (which would probably would be the only option in a corporate setting -- there's a release schedule that must be kept at all costs), but the admins are being thorough on this one.

        In summary: James (and the other admins) are keeping the entire Debian Project in suspense for the purpose of tracking down this local root compromise and preventing it from being exploited again. You might want to think about that for a second, and see if "overlooking [the] unknown root exploit" is applicable here.

        • Your conclusions are absolutely right. In a corporate setting, this may be more of a hazard than it is now, because Debian can afford the downtime.

          Yet you may have overlooked detail: development has not stopped. People keep working on updated packages, they just cannot submit them. If the problem can be solved, the productivity lost won't be that great.

          This is actually one of the great benefits that open source offers, at least for succesful OS projects. It is not just a benefit of the excellent project m
      • It's worth bearing in mind tho that this may not necessarily be a bug in the OS. The wrong permissions on a sudoer's file for example could have caused this. The assumption going around here is that there is an unknown root exploit going around which involves buffer over runs, kernel exploits, etc. It's just as likely that someone has made a mistake with their config and mistakenly left their server wide open
  • Diebold, take note (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RealProgrammer ( 723725 ) on Friday November 28, 2003 @01:33AM (#7580390) Homepage Journal

    All vendors and site administrators should take note of the openness with which the problem was dealt.

    When I go to buy a car, a computer, or a stereo, and the saleslizard is cagey about any problems that come up, my trust level goes down. If they tell me all about all the problems with the thing they're selling before I even notice them, my trust level goes up. It's like a cool drink on a hot summer day.

    Contrasting with Debian, how long did it take to find out that Diebold ATMs had been hit by the Nachi worm?

    I'm now more inclined to trust Debian, and less inclined to trust Diebold.

    • by jkrise ( 535370 ) on Friday November 28, 2003 @02:16AM (#7580520) Journal
      More importantly, the openness of Debian is a much more important factor here. When I read these lines in the article:
      The attack vector seemed to be a sniffed password of an unprivileged account, from which the attacker somehow managed to gain root and install the suckit rootkit and crack the other machines. As the machines were fairly uptodate with respect to security, an as-of-yet unknown local root exploit might be in the wild, so keep an eye on your boxen.
      I got the distinct impression that Slashdot is transformig into a FUD channel for unsuspecting readers.

      The fact that a 'clean' Linux system can be backed up and restored from any media, is of more relevance and importance to users. EVERY system connected to the internet has potential unknown vulns, those running Windows are often unpatched and have no disaster control system as well.

      Viewed from this perspective, I don't think we need to keep an eye on our boxen just the backup tapes / disks/ CDs.

  • Since Debian (even for those smart ones out there using slackware, like i do) is really considered one of the real distros, if we hear that redhat has been atacked, we would just say that they diserve it and go on, it would be delivered in the respective mail list, and that was it.
    But this attack has a psicological impact. Debian itself has been attacked, and it seems to be a bug exploited just in part, on the other side, there are updates that the compromised machines never got aplied, and other big mistakes like a non-tared backup lying arround, with the original owner / permissions mask. This is really more that enough to get any netadmin running Debian to get paranoid.
  • One recommendation (Score:5, Insightful)

    by heironymouscoward ( 683461 ) <heironymouscoward AT yahoo DOT com> on Friday November 28, 2003 @01:39AM (#7580408) Journal
    Off-site logging of all accesses.

    One of the first things that get wiped in an intrusion are the logs. All access logs should be copied in as near real-time as possible to a remote server that is not accessible from the machine being logged, i.e. a drop-box.

  • Great (Score:3, Interesting)

    by headbulb ( 534102 ) on Friday November 28, 2003 @01:43AM (#7580422)
    Right as I am downloading Debian.
    I will check the md5sum.

    Anyways Something to be said about passwords.. I am getting sick of passwords.. I have looked at the RSA keychains, But they cost too much.

    So I ask are there any good one time password systems out there. That are opensource.. I have looked at going with smart cards but again with the money. (not to mention overkill for me)

    I have found a few but none with a keychain.. I don't mind paying for a keychain, but I want the software to be opensource.

    • Re:Great (Score:4, Informative)

      by Qzukk ( 229616 ) on Friday November 28, 2003 @02:08AM (#7580492) Journal
      Probably the closest you'll get to a "good" system would be something like S/Key or Opie (debian packages: opie-server, opie-client, libpam-opie - Use OTP's for PAM authentication) for generating and using a one-time-pad of password systems. The issue in this is that you must generate the pad in some secure fashion, if someone sniffs your pad because you downloaded it over the network, you've lost.

      You could easily keep a pre-generated giant pad itself on a usb drive or something similar.
  • Root password (Score:5, Interesting)

    by phorm ( 591458 ) on Friday November 28, 2003 @01:47AM (#7580434) Journal
    Once an infiltrator is in a machine, it is often just a matter of time before he acquires root access - unless monitoring or disablement are standard procedure.

    Depending on the power of the box and the time from which the lower-level account was compromized, it could just be that a password-cracking procedure gained root access. Of course, it's also possible that the attacker managed to nab control of a process running as root, but again the initial compromise still required cracking a password to gain access to the machine.

    First rule, secure your passwords... and it's probably not a bad idea to use a password cracklib to ensure that any semi-privileged (can SSH) users have somewhat secure passwords as well.
    • Also, make sure those users can SSH *will not* submit passwords as clear, plain text, even for use inside the network! I know places that insists on using SSH, but don't care so much about FTP, even if the FTP account is the same user name AND password as the SSH account. One admin there even told me to telnet(!!!) to another remote machine within the network.

      Motto: don't [write|send|communicate] your passwords in plain text, ever! If you do, change it! (always change the password root gives you, which usu
  • by therufus ( 677843 ) on Friday November 28, 2003 @01:55AM (#7580453)
    Install windows. You'll never have to wonder if your system is being compromised, you'll know it is.

    Oh, and "password" is not really a "password".
  • by Saint Stephen ( 19450 ) on Friday November 28, 2003 @01:58AM (#7580464) Homepage Journal
    I worked at Microsoft, so Microsoft's list [] is my frame of reference:
    Law #1: If a bad guy can persuade you to run his program on your computer, it's not your computer anymore.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 28, 2003 @02:03AM (#7580481)
      Law #1: If Bill can persuade you to run his program on your computer, it's not your computer anymore.
    • Law #1: If a bad guy can persuade you to run his program on your computer, it's not your computer anymore.

      Two words: Outlook, IE.

      Oh the irony.
    • by prockcore ( 543967 ) on Friday November 28, 2003 @02:13AM (#7580510)
      Law #1: If a bad guy can persuade you to run his program on your computer, it's not your computer anymore.

      That's why I've been saying for years that all my computers are owned by Bill Gates.
    • by Gleef ( 86 ) * on Friday November 28, 2003 @02:44AM (#7580608) Homepage
      Not that I even like Microsoft's security list, since it's very Windows-centric, I'll bite.

      Law #1 doesn't apply here. The intruder sniffed a password, and ran his own software. As far as I know, nobody was tricked into running malicious software. Law #1 should read, for real OS's
      "Law #1: If a bad guy can persuade you to run his program on your account, its not your account anymore."

      The first failure, as per this list was Law #5 "Weak passwords trump strong security." Someone didn't properly protect their password, this gave the attacker their foot in the door.

      The second failure was the unidentified privilege escalation. This doesn't appear to fit any of the laws (they appear to be written assuming privilege escallation is trivial, I guess that says something about Windows). Except perhaps, Law #10: "Technology is not a panacaea". Just because we run well designed software that has few security holes doesn't mean that we run perfectly designed software that has no security holes.

      Occasionally something slips through the cracks, like here, and it's good to know that real people are paying real attention, and that there are effective ways of bringing necessary systems back up in a trusted fashion. Eventually, this escallation will be found, fixed, and machines patched.
  • by jkrise ( 535370 ) on Friday November 28, 2003 @01:58AM (#7580468) Journal
    Since Linux has no use for hidden files, registry, active directory, complicated booting procecdures and other useless features that come standard with Windows - I see no point getting worked up about these so-called Security Warnings.

    99% of Slashdot readers, I believe, treat viruses, worms and other 'security' attacks as a NUISANCE rather than a PRIVACY hazard. A Service Pack or bug fix a week for Windows merely highlights the fact that data privacy on a 'personal' computer is a joke. The nuisance of reinstalling the Windows OS from CD, and reinstalling each and every app with the zillions of settings OR buying expensive, uunreliable 3rd party s/w for disaster recovery can be intolerable.

    With Linux, OTOH, simple tools exist that can take backups of disk data (not disk images, just the files), AFTRER installing the apps. A simple restore of these files gets the system back, with all settings and screen-savers intact.

    To sum up, 99% of Slashdot readers do not need to care about these security risks, if they choose Linux for their personal or office systems.Those with Windows - a switch to Linux is cheaper than anti-virus s/w PLUS OS cost PLUS frequent updates PLUS frequent reinstalls PLUS loss of data PLUS nuisance.

  • by rxed ( 634882 ) on Friday November 28, 2003 @02:09AM (#7580499)
    Quote: "All the compromised machines were running recent kernels[1] and were
    up-to-date with almost all security updates[2]."

    Well, it seems that 'almost' just isn't good enough. Perhaps there is more to the break in (like unknown holes)?

    Sniffing passwords? They must be using 'almost patched' version of SSHd.
  • I like how when debian's servers are cracked they tell you about it and furthermore, remind you again later with the details. If a similar thing happened with Microsoft it would be hushed down and certainly no details about it would be publicized later. Come to think of it, even a commercial Linux company like Red Hat might be weary in dealing with a similar issue as well -- I think they'd be likely to be open about it, but you never know what's going to happen when money and stock prices are involved.
  • clearly this is the work of a DX fan. (wwf reference)
  • by Markus Registrada ( 642224 ) on Friday November 28, 2003 @02:21AM (#7580538)
    This is a good demonstration that the distinction always made between local privilege-elevation bugs and remote exploits is academic hair-splitting. It's rarely difficult to get unprivileged access through a buggy non-privileged service. (Web-server plug-ins are a reliable source of entry points.) Once you're in, privilege elevation takes you the rest of the way.

    Certainly the distinction is useful to security students and analysts, but it's misleading for everybody else. "Oh, that one's just a local exploit; not so bad." The OpenBSD advocates promote the fallacy: "only one remote exploit in this millennium!" (or something like that), encouraging us to ignore almost equally damaging exploits in non-core services that provide access to local accounts and more damaging attacks.

    There's a similar fallacy in distinguishing security holes from other bugs. Without a depth of analysis that hardly anybody can ever afford, almost any bug might actually be a security hole, too. The OpenBSD people get this one right -- to them, any bug is a security hole until proven otherwise, and they encourage running latest versions -- but almost everybody else gets it wrong. When I fixed a double-free segfault in lib[mumble], nobody posted security warnings about every program that relies on it. despite that double-free bugs can often be exploited.

    Debian gets this wrong, and very selectively backports only proven security holes, ignoring the myriad bugfixes that might just as easily be security holes as well. To find holes in stable-branch services, just look for bug fixes in later versions, particularly in libraries used by those services. Failing that, look at new features added shortly before the library-version used. Chances are the last new feature added has bugs that haven't been noted yet, and that might be exploitable.

    This might be a good place to mention that the CVS codebase is almost irreparably insecure. The practical implications are: (1) A remotely-accessible CVS server should never be run on a host that does anything else that matters, or that has access to anything else; (2) An anonymous CVS server should never be the same CVS server that is used for checkins, or even run on the same machine. The pserver should be a slave that only gets read access to a copy of the archive. (3) Checkins on remotely-accessible servers should result in patches logged to another archive kept on another, not-remotely-accessible machine. Patches from that server should be posted to the mailing list.

    • by placeclicker ( 709182 ) on Friday November 28, 2003 @02:26AM (#7580551) Journal
      Huge diffrence.

      You still need a local account to make use of a local root exploit.

      You don't for remote root exploits.

      Remote root exploits can be used in worms, local (for the most part) cannot.

      Not to say that local root exploits should be overlooked, especially when they seem realtivly simple to create (e.g., bad symlinks)

      Besides, this is supposedly an *UNKNOWN* local root exploit..
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Friday November 28, 2003 @02:35AM (#7580580) Homepage
    The serious attackers don't publicize the ones they develop. They save them for use on worthwhile targets.

    This is why security by patching is fundamentally ineffective against enemies, as opposed to nusances.

  • Sad day for Debian (Score:5, Interesting)

    by swordsaintzero ( 665343 ) on Friday November 28, 2003 @02:36AM (#7580584)
    As long as a machine is connected to the internet there is going to be a method to compromise it. My question is this why Debian? They are the only Linux distribution that is truly built by volunteers to gain any mindshare of real note. (not sure about slack so please dont sick bob dobs on me) This is not imhop the work of rank amatuer crackers with there first root kit. These were servers being run by experienced admins using a distro known for stability which when patched and up to date usually means somewhat difficult to hack. I seriously doubt these guys were running winders attempting this either. Wtf is happening to the community when people with talent are attacking a distro that yet again imhop doesnt suck. These guys need to be found and buried. Not by the police but by the commmunity. Last but not least (places tinfoil hat on head) could this have been funded by M$ trying to discredit linux. I cant see the glory angle so its got to be money or power. (no glory in getting called a dick when you tell your friends what you did)
    • by trick-knee ( 645386 ) on Friday November 28, 2003 @03:08AM (#7580656) Homepage
      > Wtf is happening to the community when people with talent are attacking
      > a distro that yet again imhop doesnt suck. These guys need to be found and
      > buried. Not by the police but by the commmunity.

      hear, hear.

      it's not a sad day for Debian so much as it is for the community. if Debian can find this supposed new exploit, fix it and publish details, then Debian will rise a little higher in people's esteem.

      but why crack Debian in the first place? here I am stumped, but then I've never fully understood the cracker mentality.
  • ldap? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by rsax ( 603351 ) on Friday November 28, 2003 @02:40AM (#7580592)
    Obviously we can't continue without LDAP accounts for very long either.

    Can someone who's familiar with system administration on those debian boxes clarify the above statement? Have they disabled LDAP accounts or was it implied that they're going to set up authentication with a ldap backend in the future. If it's the latter then I'm curious as to how having ldap in the equation would have made cracking those system accounts harder.

  • SuckIt Exploit (Score:5, Informative)

    by Elik ( 12920 ) on Friday November 28, 2003 @03:17AM (#7580675)
    I have dealt with this rootkit for nearly 4 months when it first appeared. The fairly safe methods for avoiding this is by 3 steps which I have used and it works well since then.

    Move the /tmp to it own partition and set it as noexec, nosuid and give it plenty of space, around 200 to 500 megs for it.

    Patch the kernel with either Grsecurity or Openwall Patch on 2.4.22 kernel and set it as mononthlic kernel, not modular with no open hooks for adding additional modules.

    Then I installed the suphp module for PHP to run scripts as users instead of nobody, especially when people trying to exploit it. I get it at and it works extremely well. Since the changes, I haven't seen any rootkits being successfully implemented on the servers I admin. And note the fact that I manages over 260 servers for various clients points to the track records.
  • To me, this attack and the recent attempt to insert an exploit into the Linux kernel [] seem like possible evidence of a disturbing trend: skilled attacks against high-profile Linux sites (you can't get much higher-profile than or I'm pretty sure that these systems were secured against all known local root exploits; if they weren't, this probably would have happened long ago.

    So, what's going on here? Are these simply two unrelated attacks? Is it an attempt by an immature highschooler with some cracking talent to boast to his friends "LOL 1 hax0rred!?" Is it an attempt by some sort of anti-Linux commandoes to undermine Linux's public image? I almost suspect the latter, but the prime suspect there is Microsoft, who have far too much to lose by going that route and plenty of money for traditional FUD that will make it into "traditional" news channels better anyway. SCO might be crazy enough to do it, but they probably wouldn't want to divert resources away from spewing lawsuits at everyone in existence.

    From what I understand of the cracker community, Linux is held in fairly high regard (although I admit I don't try to keep up on the latest in the cracker community). You'd think that black-hats, who tend to be rather immature, when armed with a brand new exploit, would attack a site seen by the general public and post images on the front page, rather than subtly changing Debian packages. So, who's behind all this?

    • It was bitkeepers cvs, not which was compromised.
    • I'm pretty sure that these systems were secured against all known local root exploits; if they weren't, this probably would have happened long ago.

      Apparently not so secure they were now were they.

      So, what's going on here? Are these simply two unrelated attacks? Is it an attempt by an immature highschooler with some cracking talent to boast to his friends "LOL 1 hax0rred!?" Is it an attempt by some sort of anti-Linux commandoes to undermine Linux's public image? I almost suspect the latter, b

      • FYI if you took some vitamin clue you would know Linux is not that far behind MS on security exploits. Now now now, before the Linux zealots bash get real and look it up. Linux is the second most attacked machine ... but you'd be looking for an excuse to justify the shoddy security put into Linux.

        FYI, this has nothing to do with "shoddy security put into Linux". Fact is, a properly secured Linux server is overall more secure than a properly secured Windows server. The problem is that most *distros* (an
  • by identity0 ( 77976 ) on Friday November 28, 2003 @04:02AM (#7580763) Journal
    Okay, I read the article and it said that at least one machine was at a remote location that couldn't be accessed - can anyone tell me what kind of physical setup debian project uses? I always get the impression that they're based out of some dude's dorm or basement, like in this OpenBSD image []. Do they have any physical security measures at all around their boxes?
    • by amck ( 34780 ) on Friday November 28, 2003 @05:32AM (#7581008) Homepage
      The primary Debian machines are in colo facilities
      in the US and Netherlands (there are buildd machines available to debian developers in various locations). The machines are beefy enough - HP
      recently donated a server with 48 GB RAM, for example. I believe the bandwidth out of is Gigabit ethernet (and having only that to the mirrors will be a bottleneck
      when sarge is released!)

      So, no, they're not in some dudes basement; we have good facilities courtesy of our sponsors.

      - Alastair

  • by a_hofmann ( 253827 ) on Friday November 28, 2003 @04:55AM (#7580861) Homepage
    it's a sad thing that everyone seems to be so confident in their latest super secure linux setup, the power of fast and often patched open source software or the openess in such issues - so much that nobody takes these problems serious enough.

    for every exploit known (and fixed) publically you can bet there are two yet undisclosed and maybe in the hands of the wrong people...

    concepts like public key crypto (ssh, ssl), stack guarding (say no to buffer overflows) or process jail (try to escalate privileges from there) are thus essential to implement real security. still ease of setup or performance seems to be more important than safe networking.

    perhaps the big desaster has to happen before people understand that projects like openbsd or selinux are not your tinfoil-hat wearing neighbor's business but the only serious choice for any public, responsible service provider.
  • suckit ... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Pegasus ( 13291 ) on Friday November 28, 2003 @06:53AM (#7581186) Homepage
    This reminds me of a shit we had back in the april at the place where i work. We got a couple of production server r00ted with suckit, with the only possible attack vector being apache/php (only port 80 was open in the firewall), that were latest versions back then. The only way to stop it was to recompile a kernel without modules support and some minor patches to deny writes to /dev/kmem in any possible way ... therefore killing the method suckit uses to load itself. See point 6 here [] and here [].
    There were quite a lot of similiar reports from the folks all aronud at that time ...

    My big hairy conspiracy theory would be in the line of super zonda type of organization hiring some of the most skilled crackers and r00ting the boxen all around ... for spamming, ddosing or whatever ... welcome to the Wild Wild Net.

  • by Malc ( 1751 ) on Friday November 28, 2003 @10:33AM (#7581896)
    Everybody here is talking about an unknown exploit in Debian. What I haven't seen is a discussion on the probability that this might affect other distros too. Is it Debian specific, or Linux, or even UNIX (based on an app) specific? Let's not be complacent here.
  • the unknown (Score:4, Insightful)

    by maximilln ( 654768 ) on Friday November 28, 2003 @11:56AM (#7582284) Homepage Journal
    This is really the heart of the issue: the unknown exploits. I've often been at the forefront of theorizing about possible vectors for unknown exploits. I'm usually flamed severely for it. The fact of the matter is that these unknown exploits exist and people need to be ready to deal with them.

    If a "bad" hacker comes up with a new root exploit he's not going to e-mail all of the "good" hackers and let them know. He's going to make use of it mercilessly until he's noticed and caught. Microsoft ignores this issue outright and the OSS community tends to skate around it. If the computing public as a whole knew the facts about security then McAfee and Norton wouldn't even be in business. "Updating virus definitions" twice a week is still going to be ten weeks behind the hardcore caffeinated malicious hacker.

    The OSS community has dealt with this issue in the most productive manner possible: complete openness and timely notice. Microsoft, on the other hand, would happily allow millions of users to remain compromised for months or years until their internal programmers manage to find the "unknown local root exploit". This could easily result in identities and credit card numbers stolen, bank accounts infiltrated, and possibly even malicious interference with real life relationships and employers just for fun.

    Should the software manufacturer be liable? No. Should the user be entitled to know? Yes.

    The OSS community is the only solution which addresses this situation correctly.
  • by fw3 ( 523647 ) * on Friday November 28, 2003 @04:19PM (#7583736) Homepage Journal
    I beleive the additional details of this exploit are roughly:

    A debian developer (who I'm not going to name but it's not exactly a secret) revealed his password by logging into some machine that had been rooted. Shame on him for using the same password, and the Debian project for not policing that kind of thing. (That said, people do this all the time, even people who do/ought to know better.)

    The password 'sniffing' being referenced is not sniffing network packets but rather session IO. If you read the 'developer cleanup' instructions it will be clear that they beleive that the 4 dev boxes that were rooted were being used to collect account and password info from developer's sessions. (Another procedure error, the systems in question probably should not be allowing users with shell access to ssh out to other machines.)

    There has been a LOT of speculation that there's a privilege-escalation vulnerability in the kernel version running on the target systems and/or up to the 2.4.22 kernel (I'm dubious, however 2.4.23 has just been released today so who knows).

    As many here and elsewhere have wondered, it seems unlikely that a 'kiddie would have access to somthing not yet observed in the wild, and if this is the work of more capable 'bad guys' then it seems equally unlikely that they would have been so noisy as to have been caught in less than a day.

    Leaving us really not knowing much about the state of either debian or the kernel at this time. I certainly hope that a more complete complete 'explantaion' will be coming, hopefully soon.

10.0 times 0.1 is hardly ever 1.0.