Click here to close now.

Welcome!

Linux Containers Authors: Pat Romanski, Jason Bloomberg, Liz McMillan, Carmen Gonzalez, Michael Kanasoot

Related Topics: Linux Containers

Linux Containers: Article

The Challenges of the Linux Audit

Steps for a secure system

As a decision maker in your IT organization, you're aware that your Linux systems share is growing (if your enterprise follows today's business trend). Linux installations are now available on every major hardware platform. New projects in development include Linux systems in an increasing share, and you're challenged with incorporating these Linux systems seamlessly into your operations and business processing.

These Linux systems must also now be included as part of your IT audit. IT audits are increasingly performed by cross-functional teams rather than by operations, networks, applications, or database management teams. The cross-functional audit teams have the scope and purview to examine each area of operations. Since your skilled operations teams aren't responsible for policing their own house, they can remain focused on their core skill sets.

The audit teams make scheduled passes, with strategic focus on physical security, network security, applications security, systems security, and whatever else is part of your enterprise security plan. The report is digested and parsed by the audit team leader or information security manager, who tactfully disseminates the information to the appropriate team leaders.

The first challenge emerging from this vision of corporate information systems unity is that the operations teams will potentially mistrust, hate, fear, or otherwise loathe the audit teams. This humanistic certainty is based on the perception that someone is trying to find something wrong so that blame can be assigned. Overcoming this challenge, while not a typical strategic audit goal, is important since you want the audit teams to have unfettered access, and you want their work to be supported and adopted by the operations teams. The audit teams' reports must become meaningful input for operations teams, who will review a report and mitigate the threats instead of putting out fires later because important audit information was not heeded.

Using your vision, sensibility, and other executive powers, you've attained respectful buy-in from the teams - you can now move forward to meet other challenges.

The Audit

One problem identified during Linux audits is that too many people know the root password and other elevated-privilege account passwords. These passwords are the electronic keys to the kingdom in Linux, and taking back control of these accounts is a top audit priority. Typically, everyone who has the root password knows why they shouldn't pass it out or overuse it.

There's limited accountability in most native Linux operating systems, including the lack of a cogent audit trail. The native auditability is primarily centered around the syslog and sulog facilities, which cannot describe the interactive actions of the root user with the system at the level required by the HIPPA, Sarbanes-Oxley, and NISPOM Chapter 8 requirements, to mention only a few. For example, Figure 1 shows a sample sulog, revealing a not very detailed snapshot of users using su on a system.

While they're better than nothing, the sample log entries don't describe what actions were taken after the SU command occurred. (For the uninitiated, the + or - tells you if the SU request was successful.)

The syslog example may be roughly equivalent (see Figure 2).

The example in Figure 2 also indicates privilege being elevated, but does not describe (or require) a reason. Additionally, the file(s) produced by the syslog daemon may contain information not germane to your audit, but again, some information is certainly better than nothing. You can significantly improve the auditability in your enterprise by adding third-party software that captures all standard input, output, and errors, including everything the user does with the elevated privilege.

The example below is from a policy created on a Linux system (salmon.mydomain. com), using a Symark product called PowerBroker, (version 3.2.1). It provides a root shell for any user authorized to run the command pbrun GIMMIEROOT. The policy creates an audit file akin to others available in some third-party products to give you more auditability when users gain or use elevated privilege. This particular product will log all standard input, output, and errors, as well as a complete report regarding the secured task:

$ pbrun GIMMIEROOT
Enter your reason for accessing this policy:
I need to edit the /etc/passwd file

Figure 3 shows what the resultant logfile includes. Note that the "who, what, when, where, and why" are evident in the log output.

I truncated the log file, but you can see that your audit team has the ability to see it, and to tell the who, what, when, where, and why for any elevated-privilege or vital-asset access. In addition to third-party products, Linux vendors are working hard to provide this functionality. This functionality significantly improves your teams' ability to take back the root and other elevated-privilege accounts by granting elevated privilege only when the user accesses certain commands or assets (within their normal job descriptions, for example). When access is complete, normal privilege resumes, and the user never knows the elevated password.

So you're familiar with elevated-access audit control; is your audit team is as well? Basic audit tenants include reading the documentation to determine what to audit, but what documentation do you have that describes who can access what, when, where, and why?

Your systems, applications, and networks team can collaborate to create a document like Table 1.

Your teams may have used any visualization method, but the output is a matrix of your systems (vertical axis), and your user community (horizontal axis). Notice that each login/access method is described, as well as which system each user can access, from which system, by which method. Once users are on the systems, executable commands are listed, as well as any elevated privilege required. With this documentation, your audit team now knows which systems to go to, which accounts to scrutinize, which commands should normally be allowed as the user, and which commands require elevated privilege. This documentation is simple but effective in meeting the requirement to report upward and manage outward.

Another important problem that surfaces in a Linux audit is the publication of passwords, which often happens inadvertently via secure applications scripts (Web startup or shutdown, middleware startup or shutdown, database startup or shutdown, etc.).

Information synchronization routines (such as NIS or LDAP v2) also place assets at risk, as they pass account, system, and other enterprise information around the LAN or WAN in clear case. (In the case of passwords specifically, the encrypted value is sent, but agile information bandits know the difference between a crypt, bigcrypt, or MD-5 hash. When the rest of the information is in clear case, encrypting only the password may provide little safety.)

Once passwords are obtained by a nontrusted source (someone leaves a file containing a password world-readable, for example), valuable assets are at risk on numerous fronts, including easy access to critical files/data. When an asset can be accessed by a user in masquerade, the asset is at risk. The insertion of a Trojan program, the destruction of an application, and the alteration of data are all undesirable options. Whether compromised by the pad of paper in the machine room, the e-mail to the group alias with a defunct (but still receptive) recipient, the generic account password used by consultants nationwide when installing the new software on your enterprise server, or some other method, the untrusted source now has the ability to log in to one or more systems as someone other than themselves. No audit could save you at this point, as activity performed under the guise of a trusted user is now suspect.

Fortunately, your systems audit includes the regular checking for ownership, permissions, checksums, and other embedded safety mechanisms to keep data and applications in a known good state. Program files, executables, even operating system and patch levels are being recorded and compared from audit to audit, and maintained at the most current secure levels. The LDAP directory is scrutinized for the dysfunction that occurs between Human Resources and Information Systems, causing transferred or even terminated employees to be removed to systems, but allowed to remain in the LDAP directory. This step eliminates the ability for a transferred or terminated employee to gain access to assets via an LDAP-credentialed application. You have delegated and empowered effectively, your audit team is passing back the appropriate report to the systems managers, and the integrity of the systems and programs is secure.

Conclusion

As a quick summary, your internal teams periodically perform these audits:
  • Physical security
  • Operating system
  • Network security
  • Others as you require
Each team has a specific focus and reports to you for dissemination and mitigation. A periodic review of your documentation will reveal newly emerging systems, network components, or applications requiring audits, and your appropriate team will incorporate them as needed. The process feeds itself, as each successive audit both addresses issues and reveals an emerging strength of operations as a cohesive unit, with assets protected in concentric rings of recurring audits.

Your charter to your auditors is multifold, as they assess each aspect of today's increasingly complex information systems nervous system. The audits should be periodic, focused on a specific aspect of the larger picture, and as unintrusive as possible. They should yield a systematic and repeatable report, which is then passed back into the system for assessment and mitigation. Your audit teams use a documentation tool to determine who, what, and how to audit your assets, and the result is that the external audit becomes a quality checkpoint rather than an item causing worry, fear, or loathing.

More Stories By Richard Williams

Richard Williams is director of education for Symark Software in Agoura Hills, California. With over 20 years of experience in systems administration, architecture, and design, Richard oversees the development and delivery of Symark's University Training Program in providing customer support to global enterprise customers.

Comments (2) View Comments

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


Most Recent Comments
John Legg 05/13/04 08:26:22 PM EDT

An impressive solution to Linux (as well as Unix) audits is at www.mase.com Many standard policies as well as customized ones can be monitored very quick and painlessly.

Mark Post 04/22/04 04:42:51 PM EDT

The author apparently isn't familiar with SSL/TLS support in OpenLDAP. Nothing has to pass in clear text when using that feature.

@ThingsExpo Stories
With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing IoT strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @ThingsExpo in Silicon Valley. Learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is as "IoT-Ready" as it can be! Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place Nov 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 17th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the most profound change in personal an...
The worldwide cellular network will be the backbone of the future IoT, and the telecom industry is clamoring to get on board as more than just a data pipe. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Evan McGee, CTO of Ring Plus, Inc., discussed what service operators can offer that would benefit IoT entrepreneurs, inventors, and consumers. Evan McGee is the CTO of RingPlus, a leading innovative U.S. MVNO and wireless enabler. His focus is on combining web technologies with traditional telecom to create a new breed of unified communication that is easily accessible to the general consumer. With over a de...
SYS-CON Events announced today that MetraTech, now part of Ericsson, has been named “Silver Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9–11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York, NY. Ericsson is the driving force behind the Networked Society- a world leader in communications infrastructure, software and services. Some 40% of the world’s mobile traffic runs through networks Ericsson has supplied, serving more than 2.5 billion subscribers.
Disruptive macro trends in technology are impacting and dramatically changing the "art of the possible" relative to supply chain management practices through the innovative use of IoT, cloud, machine learning and Big Data to enable connected ecosystems of engagement. Enterprise informatics can now move beyond point solutions that merely monitor the past and implement integrated enterprise fabrics that enable end-to-end supply chain visibility to improve customer service delivery and optimize supplier management. Learn about enterprise architecture strategies for designing connected systems tha...
From telemedicine to smart cars, digital homes and industrial monitoring, the explosive growth of IoT has created exciting new business opportunities for real time calls and messaging. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Ivelin Ivanov, CEO and Co-Founder of Telestax, shared some of the new revenue sources that IoT created for Restcomm – the open source telephony platform from Telestax. Ivelin Ivanov is a technology entrepreneur who founded Mobicents, an Open Source VoIP Platform, to help create, deploy, and manage applications integrating voice, video and data. He is the co-founder of TeleStax, a...
The Internet of Things (IoT) promises to evolve the way the world does business; however, understanding how to apply it to your company can be a mystery. Most people struggle with understanding the potential business uses or tend to get caught up in the technology, resulting in solutions that fail to meet even minimum business goals. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jesse Shiah, CEO / President / Co-Founder of AgilePoint Inc., showed what is needed to leverage the IoT to transform your business. He discussed opportunities and challenges ahead for the IoT from a market and technical point of vie...
Grow your business with enterprise wearable apps using SAP Platforms and Google Glass. SAP and Google just launched the SAP and Google Glass Challenge, an opportunity for you to innovate and develop the best Enterprise Wearable App using SAP Platforms and Google Glass and gain valuable market exposure. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Brian McPhail, Senior Director of Business Development, ISVs & Digital Commerce at SAP, outlined the timeline of the SAP Google Glass Challenge and the opportunity for developers, start-ups, and companies of all sizes to engage with SAP today.
Cultural, regulatory, environmental, political and economic (CREPE) conditions over the past decade are creating cross-industry solution spaces that require processes and technologies from both the Internet of Things (IoT), and Data Management and Analytics (DMA). These solution spaces are evolving into Sensor Analytics Ecosystems (SAE) that represent significant new opportunities for organizations of all types. Public Utilities throughout the world, providing electricity, natural gas and water, are pursuing SmartGrid initiatives that represent one of the more mature examples of SAE. We have s...
The Internet of Things will put IT to its ultimate test by creating infinite new opportunities to digitize products and services, generate and analyze new data to improve customer satisfaction, and discover new ways to gain a competitive advantage across nearly every industry. In order to help corporate business units to capitalize on the rapidly evolving IoT opportunities, IT must stand up to a new set of challenges. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jeff Kaplan, Managing Director of THINKstrategies, will examine why IT must finally fulfill its role in support of its SBUs or face a new round of...
One of the biggest challenges when developing connected devices is identifying user value and delivering it through successful user experiences. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Mike Kuniavsky, Principal Scientist, Innovation Services at PARC, described an IoT-specific approach to user experience design that combines approaches from interaction design, industrial design and service design to create experiences that go beyond simple connected gadgets to create lasting, multi-device experiences grounded in people's real needs and desires.
The true value of the Internet of Things (IoT) lies not just in the data, but through the services that protect the data, perform the analysis and present findings in a usable way. With many IoT elements rooted in traditional IT components, Big Data and IoT isn’t just a play for enterprise. In fact, the IoT presents SMBs with the prospect of launching entirely new activities and exploring innovative areas. CompTIA research identifies several areas where IoT is expected to have the greatest impact.
Can call centers hang up the phones for good? Intuitive Solutions did. WebRTC enabled this contact center provider to eliminate antiquated telephony and desktop phone infrastructure with a pure web-based solution, allowing them to expand beyond brick-and-mortar confines to a home-based agent model. It also ensured scalability and better service for customers, including MUY! Companies, one of the country's largest franchise restaurant companies with 232 Pizza Hut locations. This is one example of WebRTC adoption today, but the potential is limitless when powered by IoT.
The Internet of Things will greatly expand the opportunities for data collection and new business models driven off of that data. In her session at @ThingsExpo, Esmeralda Swartz, CMO of MetraTech, discussed how for this to be effective you not only need to have infrastructure and operational models capable of utilizing this new phenomenon, but increasingly service providers will need to convince a skeptical public to participate. Get ready to show them the money!
The Internet of Things is not only adding billions of sensors and billions of terabytes to the Internet. It is also forcing a fundamental change in the way we envision Information Technology. For the first time, more data is being created by devices at the edge of the Internet rather than from centralized systems. What does this mean for today's IT professional? In this Power Panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists will addresses this very serious issue of profound change in the industry.
SYS-CON Events announced today that BMC will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. BMC delivers software solutions that help IT transform digital enterprises for the ultimate competitive business advantage. BMC has worked with thousands of leading companies to create and deliver powerful IT management services. From mainframe to cloud to mobile, BMC pairs high-speed digital innovation with robust IT industrialization – allowing customers to provide amazing user experiences with optimized IT per...
The Internet of Things is not new. Historically, smart businesses have used its basic concept of leveraging data to drive better decision making and have capitalized on those insights to realize additional revenue opportunities. So, what has changed to make the Internet of Things one of the hottest topics in tech? In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Gray, Director, Embedded and Internet of Things, discussed the underlying factors that are driving the economics of intelligent systems. Discover how hardware commoditization, the ubiquitous nature of connectivity, and the emergence of Big Data a...
SYS-CON Events announced today that O'Reilly Media has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9–11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. O'Reilly Media spreads the knowledge of innovators through its books, online services, magazines, and conferences. Since 1978, O'Reilly Media has been a chronicler and catalyst of cutting-edge development, homing in on the technology trends that really matter and spurring their adoption by amplifying "faint signals" from the alpha geeks who are creating the future. An active participa...
The world is at a tipping point where the technology, the device and global adoption are converging to such a point that we will see an explosion of a world where smartphone devices not only allow us to talk to each other, but allow for communication between everything – serving as a central hub from which we control our world – MediaTek is at the heart of both driving this and allowing the markets to drive this reality forward themselves. The next wave of consumer gadgets is here – smart, connected, and small. If your ambitions are big, so are ours. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jack Hu, D...
The 4th International Internet of @ThingsExpo, co-located with the 17th International Cloud Expo - to be held November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA - announces that its Call for Papers is open. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the biggest idea since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago.
SYS-CON Events announced today that DragonGlass, an enterprise search platform, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. After eleven years of designing and building custom applications, OpenCrowd has launched DragonGlass, a cloud-based platform that enables the development of search-based applications. These are a new breed of applications that utilize a search index as their backbone for data retrieval. They can easily adapt to new data sets and provide access to both structured and unstruc...