[ISN] Out of the box, Linux is 'dreadfully insecure'

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Fri Feb 01 2002 - 02:47:30 PST

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    By Tina Gasperson, Newsforge.com
    Posted: 31/01/2002 at 13:56 GMT
    Jay Beale, the lead developer of Bastille Linux and an independent
    security consultant, says it's not the Unix-based systems with
    interesting stuff on them that get hacked, it's the vulnerable ones.  
    And if you're not prepared to tighten up what you get from the vendor,
    it's just a matter of time.
    Beale shared his philosophy for building a secure system Tuesday at a
    LinuxWorld Expo tutorial on securing Linux/Unix systems. "The purpose
    of tightening a system is just to make it hard to attack," he says.
    As the development of Linux progresses, many people set up systems
    that are running lots of features. For instance, in the Mandrake Linux
    setup, you can choose to install software that makes your computer an
    FTP server, a Web server, or even an email server.
    "If there's a bug in any one of these features," says Beale, "then the
    chances are that someone can exploit one of those features. If you've
    left your system as it is, from the vendor, you're going to be
    The problem happens when people think that they don't need extra
    security measures because their system "just isn't interesting."  
    Beale's example is the average university mathematics department. "If
    I'm the system administrator, I'm thinking, 'what could a hacker
    possibly want with my system?' so, why worry?" But, Beale says, even
    the math department he was a part of was continuously cracked.
    "The issue is, while you can target a system, an attack more than
    likely isn't targeting you specifically," he says. A script kiddie
    looks for and downloads exploit code that tells him what to look for.  
    "He sets up a scanner with a huge block of IP addresses. Out of the
    tens of thousands of addresses, he'll get a list of a few hundred that
    are vulnerable. In that list is perhaps my home machine, perhaps the
    university math department.
    "They're not coming after us because we're interesting, they're coming
    after us because we're vulnerable."
    The way to stop hackers, says Beale, is to employ what he calls
    minimalism. "If you can bring your system down from 10 functions to
    three functions, there's less of a chance to be exploited. This is why
    we tighten."
    Beales lists five things that sysadmins can do to lock down their
    1. Set up a firewall. "This is not the end of the security process,"  
    Beale says. "But it is a good start."
    2. Decrease the number of privileged programs. By this Beale means
    don't run too many applications that give the user power to make
    changes to the system.
    3. Tighten configurations on the remaining programs. Most network
    daemons can be set to reduce their access and the kinds of
    interactions they permit.
    4. Reduce the number of paths to root. Every user on the system is
    assigned a number, or UID. Root is assigned the number zero. Some
    programs automatically run with the root UID, a potential
    vulnerability. Reducing these kinds of programs reduces the "paths to
    5. Deploy intrusion detection. "Tripwire (an application to detect
    intruders) can be amazingly effective," says Beale.
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