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Security is the mitigation of risk With every effort of mitigating risk, there is an associated cost Costs are not necessarily financial; they can take the form of restricted access, loss of functionality, or time Your job as an administrator is to balance the costs of mitigating risk with the potential damage that an exploited risk can cause An example of balancing risk is running a web server The risk of opening a service that can be probed, poked at, and possibly exploited is inherent in exposing any network accessibility However, you may find that the risk of exposure is low so long as the web server is maintained and immediately patched when security issues arise If the benefit of running a web server is great enough to justify your cost of maintaining it, then it is a worthwhile endeavor In this section, we look at common sources of risk and examine what things you can do to mitigate those risks
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SetUID programs are executables that have a special attribute (flag) set in their permission, which allows users to run the executable in the context of the executable s owner This enables administrators to make selected applications, programs, or files available, with higher privileges to normal users, without having to give those users any administrative rights An example of such a program is ping Because the creation of raw network packets is restricted to the root user (creation of raw packets allows the application to put any contents within the packet, including attacks), the ping application must run with the SetUID bit enabled and the owner set to root Thus, even though user yyang may start the program, the ping program can be run in the context of the root user for the purpose of placing an Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP) packet onto the network The ping utility in this example is said to be SetUID root The problem with programs that are running with root privileges is that they have an obligation to be highly conscious of their security as well It should not be possible for a normal user to do something dangerous on the system by using that program This means many checks need to be written into the program and potential bugs have to be carefully removed Ideally, these programs should be small and do one thing This makes it easier to evaluate the code for potential bugs that can harm the system or allow for the user to gain privileges that he should not have From a day-to-day perspective, it is in the administrator s best interest to keep as few SetUID root programs on the system as possible The risk balance here is the availability of features/functions to users versus the potential for bad things to happen For some common programs like ping, mount, traceroute, and su, the risk is low for the value they bring to the system Some well-known SetUID programs, like the X Window System, pose a low-to-moderate risk; however, given the exposure X Window has had, it is unlikely to be the root of any problems If you are running a pure server environment where you do not need X Window, it never hurts to remove it
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SetUID programs executed by web servers are almost always a bad thing Take great caution with these types of applications and look for alternatives The exposure is much greater, since it is possible for network input (which can come from anywhere) to trigger this application and affect its execution If you find that you must run an application SetUID with root privileges, another alternative is to find out if it is possible to run the application in a chroot environment (discussed later in this chapter)
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