Security is everyone's responsibility. A weak entry point in any system could allow intruders to gain access to critical information and cause havoc on an entire network. One of the core principles of information security is the CIA triad, which stands for the Confidentiality, Integrity, and Availability of information systems.
The CIA triad is a bedrock concept of computer security as customers and users expect their data to be protected. For example, a customer expects that their credit card information is securely stored (confidentiality), that their orders are not changed behind the scenes (integrity), and that they have access to their order information at all times (availablility).
To provide CIA, security professionals apply a defense in depth strategy. The idea of defense in depth is to add several layers of security to prevent one single layer failing and the entire security system collapsing. For example, a system administrator cannot simply turn on a firewall and consider the network or system secure. One must also audit accounts, check the integrity of binaries, and ensure malicious tools are not installed. To implement an effective security strategy, one must understand threats and how to defend against them.
What is a threat as it pertains to computer security? Threats are not limited to remote attackers who attempt to access a system without permission from a remote location. Threats also include employees, malicious software, unauthorized network devices, natural disasters, security vulnerabilities, and even competing corporations.
Systems and networks can be accessed without permission, sometimes by accident, or by remote attackers, and in some cases, via corporate espionage or former employees. As a user, it is important to prepare for and admit when a mistake has led to a security breach and report possible issues to the security team. As an administrator, it is important to know of the threats and be prepared to mitigate them.
When applying security to systems, it is recommended to start by securing the basic accounts and system configuration, and then to secure the network layer so that it adheres to the system policy and the organization's security procedures. Many organizations already have a security policy that covers the configuration of technology devices. The policy should include the security configuration of workstations, desktops, mobile devices, phones, production servers, and development servers. In many cases, standard operating procedures (SOPs) already exist. When in doubt, ask the security team.
The rest of this introduction describes how some of these basic security configurations are performed on a FreeBSD system. The rest of this chapter describes some specific tools which can be used when implementing a security policy on a FreeBSD system.
In securing a system, a good starting point is an audit of
accounts. Ensure that
root has a strong password and
that this password is not shared. Disable any accounts that
do not need login access.
To deny login access to accounts, two methods exist. The
first is to lock the account. This example locks the
The second method is to prevent login access by changing
the shell to
/sbin/nologin. Only the
superuser can change the shell for other users:
chsh -s /usr/sbin/nologin
/usr/sbin/nologin shell prevents
the system from assigning a shell to the user when they
attempt to login.
In some cases, system administration needs to be shared
with other users. FreeBSD has two methods to handle this. The
first one, which is not recommended, is a shared root password
used by members of the
wheel group. With this
method, a user types
su and enters the
whenever superuser access is needed. The user should then
exit to leave privileged access after
finishing the commands that required administrative access.
To add a user to this group, edit
/etc/group and add the user to the end of
wheel entry. The user must be
separated by a comma character with no space.
The second, and recommended, method to permit privilege escalation is to install the security/sudo package or port. This software provides additional auditing, more fine-grained user control, and can be configured to lock users into running only the specified privileged commands.
After installation, use
visudo to edit
/usr/local/etc/sudoers. This example
creates a new
webadmin group, adds the
trhodes account to
that group, and configures that group access to restart
pw groupadd webadmin -M trhodes -g 6000
visudo%webadmin ALL=(ALL) /usr/sbin/service apache24 *
Passwords are a necessary evil of technology. When they
must be used, they should be complex and a powerful hash
mechanism should be used to encrypt the version that is stored
in the password database. FreeBSD supports the
SHA256, SHA512, and
Blowfish hash algorithms in its
library. The default of SHA512 should not
be changed to a less secure hashing algorithm, but can be
changed to the more secure Blowfish algorithm.
Blowfish is not part of AES and is not considered compliant with any Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS). Its use may not be permitted in some environments.
To determine which hash algorithm is used to encrypt a
user's password, the superuser can view the hash for the user
in the FreeBSD password database. Each hash starts with a symbol
which indicates the type of hash mechanism used to encrypt the
password. If DES is used, there is no
beginning symbol. For MD5, the symbol is
$. For SHA256 and
SHA512, the symbol is
$6$. For Blowfish, the symbol is
$2a$. In this example, the password for
dru is hashed using
the default SHA512 algorithm as the hash
$6$. Note that the encrypted
hash, not the password itself, is stored in the password
grep dru /etc/master.passwddru:$6$pzIjSvCAn.PBYQBA$PXpSeWPx3g5kscj3IMiM7tUEUSPmGexxta.8Lt9TGSi2lNQqYGKszsBPuGME0:1001:1001::0:0:dru:/usr/home/dru:/bin/csh
The hash mechanism is set in the user's login class. For
this example, the user is in the
login class and the hash algorithm is set with this line in
To change the algorithm to Blowfish, modify that line to look like this:
cap_mkdb /etc/login.conf as
described in Section13.13.1, “Configuring Login Classes”. Note that this
change will not affect any existing password hashes. This
means that all passwords should be re-hashed by asking users
passwd in order to change their
For remote logins, two-factor authentication should be used. An example of two-factor authentication is “something you have”, such as a key, and “something you know”, such as the passphrase for that key. Since OpenSSH is part of the FreeBSD base system, all network logins should be over an encrypted connection and use key-based authentication instead of passwords. For more information, refer to Section13.8, “OpenSSH”. Kerberos users may need to make additional changes to implement OpenSSH in their network. These changes are described in Section13.5, “Kerberos”.
Enforcing a strong password policy for local accounts is a fundamental aspect of system security. In FreeBSD, password length, password strength, and password complexity can be implemented using built-in Pluggable Authentication Modules (PAM).
This section demonstrates how to configure the minimum and
maximum password length and the enforcement of mixed
characters using the
module. This module is enforced when a user changes their
To configure this module, become the superuser and
uncomment the line containing
/etc/pam.d/passwd. Then, edit that line
to match the password policy:
password requisite pam_passwdqc.so
min=disabled,disabled,disabled,12,10 similar=deny retry=3enforce=users
This example sets several requirements for new passwords.
min setting controls the minimum
password length. It has five values because this module
defines five different types of passwords based on their
complexity. Complexity is defined by the type of characters
that must exist in a password, such as letters, numbers,
symbols, and case. The types of passwords are described in
pam_passwdqc(8). In this example, the first three types
of passwords are disabled, meaning that passwords that meet
those complexity requirements will not be accepted, regardless
of their length. The
12 sets a minimum
password policy of at least twelve characters, if the password
also contains characters with three types of complexity. The
10 sets the password policy to also allow
passwords of at least ten characters, if the password contains
characters with four types of complexity.
similar setting denies passwords
that are similar to the user's previous password. The
retry setting provides a user with three
opportunities to enter a new password.
Once this file is saved, a user changing their password will see a message similar to the following:
passwdChanging local password for trhodes Old Password: You can now choose the new password. A valid password should be a mix of upper and lower case letters, digits and other characters. You can use a 12 character long password with characters from at least 3 of these 4 classes, or a 10 character long password containing characters from all the classes. Characters that form a common pattern are discarded by the check. Alternatively, if noone else can see your terminal now, you can pick this as your password: "trait-useful&knob". Enter new password:
If a password that does not match the policy is entered, it will be rejected with a warning and the user will have an opportunity to try again, up to the configured number of retries.
Most password policies require passwords to expire after
so many days. To set a password age time in FreeBSD, set
passwordtime for the user's login class in
default login class contains an
So, to set an expiry of 90 days for this login class,
remove the comment symbol (
#), save the
edit, and run
To set the expiration on individual users, pass an
expiration date or the number of days to expiry and a username
pw usermod -p
As seen here, an expiration date is set in the form of day, month, and year. For more information, see pw(8).
A rootkit is any unauthorized
software that attempts to gain
root access to a system. Once
installed, this malicious software will normally open up
another avenue of entry for an attacker. Realistically, once
a system has been compromised by a rootkit and an
investigation has been performed, the system should be
reinstalled from scratch. There is tremendous risk that even
the most prudent security or systems engineer will miss
something an attacker left behind.
A rootkit does do one thing usefulfor administrators: once detected, it is a sign that a compromise happened at some point. But, these types of applications tend to be very well hidden. This section demonstrates a tool that can be used to detect rootkits, security/rkhunter.
After installation of this package or port, the system may be checked using the following command. It will produce a lot of information and will require some manual pressing of ENTER:
After the process completes, a status message will be printed to the screen. This message will include the amount of files checked, suspect files, possible rootkits, and more. During the check, some generic security warnings may be produced about hidden files, the OpenSSH protocol selection, and known vulnerable versions of installed software. These can be handled now or after a more detailed analysis has been performed.
Every administrator should know what is running on the
systems they are responsible for. Third-party tools like
sysutils/lsof, and native commands such
show a great deal of information on the system. Take notes on
what is normal, ask questions when something seems out of
place, and be paranoid. While preventing a compromise is
ideal, detecting a compromise is a must.
Verification of system files and binaries is important because it provides the system administration and security teams information about system changes. A software application that monitors the system for changes is called an Intrusion Detection System (IDS).
FreeBSD provides native support for a basic IDS system. While the nightly security emails will notify an administrator of changes, the information is stored locally and there is a chance that a malicious user could modify this information in order to hide their changes to the system. As such, it is recommended to create a separate set of binary signatures and store them on a read-only, root-owned directory or, preferably, on a removable USB disk or remote rsync server.
mtree utility can be used
to generate a specification of the contents of a directory. A
seed, or a numeric constant, is used to generate the
specification and is required to check that the specification
has not changed. This makes it possible to determine if a
file or binary has been modified. Since the seed value is
unknown by an attacker, faking or checking the checksum values
of files will be difficult to impossible. The following
example generates a set of SHA256 hashes,
one for each system binary in
saves those values to a hidden file in
root's home directory,
3483151339707503-c -K cksum,sha256digest -p
#mtree: /bin checksum: 3427012225
the seed. This value should be remembered, but not
yield output similar to the following:
# user: root # machine: dreadnaught # tree: /bin # date: Mon Feb 3 10:19:53 2014 # . /set type=file uid=0 gid=0 mode=0555 nlink=1 flags=none . type=dir mode=0755 nlink=2 size=1024 \ time=1380277977.000000000 \133 nlink=2 size=11704 time=1380277977.000000000 \ cksum=484492447 \ sha256digest=6207490fbdb5ed1904441fbfa941279055c3e24d3a4049aeb45094596400662a cat size=12096 time=1380277975.000000000 cksum=3909216944 \ sha256digest=65ea347b9418760b247ab10244f47a7ca2a569c9836d77f074e7a306900c1e69 chflags size=8168 time=1380277975.000000000 cksum=3949425175 \ sha256digest=c99eb6fc1c92cac335c08be004a0a5b4c24a0c0ef3712017b12c89a978b2dac3 chio size=18520 time=1380277975.000000000 cksum=2208263309 \ sha256digest=ddf7c8cb92a58750a675328345560d8cc7fe14fb3ccd3690c34954cbe69fc964 chmod size=8640 time=1380277975.000000000 cksum=2214429708 \ sha256digest=a435972263bf814ad8df082c0752aa2a7bdd8b74ff01431ccbd52ed1e490bbe7
The machine's hostname, the date and time the specification was created, and the name of the user who created the specification are included in this report. There is a checksum, size, time, and SHA256 digest for each binary in the directory.
To verify that the binary signatures have not changed, compare the current contents of the directory to the previously generated specification, and save the results to a file. This command requires the seed that was used to generate the original specification:
#mtree: /bin checksum: 3427012225
This should produce the same checksum for
/bin that was produced when the
specification was created. If no changes have occurred to the
binaries in this directory, the
/root/.bin_chksum_output output file will
be empty. To simulate a change, change the date on
and run the verification command again:
more /root/.bin_chksum_outputcat changed modification time expected Fri Sep 27 06:32:55 2013 found Mon Feb 3 10:28:43 2014
It is recommended to create specifications for the
directories which contain binaries and configuration files, as
well as any directories containing sensitive data. Typically,
specifications are created for
More advanced IDS systems exist, such
as security/aide. In most cases,
mtree provides the functionality
administrators need. It is important to keep the seed value
and the checksum output hidden from malicious users. More
mtree can be found in
In FreeBSD, many system features can be tuned using
sysctl. A few of the security features
which can be tuned to prevent Denial of Service
(DoS) attacks will be covered in this
section. More information about using
sysctl, including how to temporarily change
values and how to make the changes permanent after testing,
can be found in Section11.9, “Tuning with sysctl(8)”.
Any time a setting is changed with
sysctl, the chance to cause undesired
harm is increased, affecting the availability of the system.
All changes should be monitored and, if possible, tried on a
testing system before being used on a production
By default, the FreeBSD kernel boots with a security level of
-1. This is called “insecure
mode” because immutable file flags may be turned off
and all devices may be read from or written to. The security
level will remain at
-1 unless it is
sysctl or by a setting in
the startup scripts. The security level may be increased
during system startup by setting
and the value of
kern_securelevel to the
desired security level. See security(7) and init(8)
for more information on these settings and the available
securelevel can break
Xorg and cause other issues. Be
prepared to do some debugging.
net.inet.udp.blackhole settings can be used
to drop incoming SYN packets on closed
ports without sending a return RST
response. The default behavior is to return an
RST to show a port is closed. Changing the
default provides some level of protection against ports scans,
which are used to determine which applications are running on
a system. Set
1. Refer to blackhole(4) for more
information about these settings.
net.inet.ip.redirect settings help prevent
against redirect attacks. A redirect
attack is a type of DoS which sends mass
numbers of ICMP type 5 packets. Since
these packets are not required, set
1 and set
Source routing is a method for detecting and accessing
non-routable addresses on the internal network. This should
be disabled as non-routable addresses are normally not
routable on purpose. To disable this feature, set
When a machine on the network needs to send messages to
all hosts on a subnet, an ICMP echo request
message is sent to the broadcast address. However, there is
no reason for an external host to perform such an action. To
reject all external broadcast requests, set
Some additional settings are documented in security(7).