Hardening Linux - PDF

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Hardening Linux by James Turnbull

This book is a technical guide to hardening and securing Linux hosts and some of the common applications used on Linux hosts. It provides information on how to harden the base Linux operating system, including firewalling and securing connections to your hosts. It also looks at hardening and securing some of the applications commonly run on Linux hosts, such as e-mail, IMAP/POP, FTP, and DNS.


No single book on security, even a book on the security of a single operating system, will ever answer all the security questions or address all the possible threats. This book is about providing risk mitigation and minimization. I have set out to identify risks associated with running Linux and some of the applications that run on Linux hosts. I have then provided technical solutions—backed by frequent examples, code, and commands—that minimize, mitigate, or in some circumstances negate those risks. The configurations and examples I provide are designed to ensure your Linux hosts are hardened against attack while not limiting the functionality available to your users.


So why should you care about security? The answer to this is simple—because a significant portion of businesses today rely heavily on the security of their IT assets. To use a metaphor: running a computer host is like owning a house. When Unix-flavored operating systems and TCP/IP networking were in their infancy, it was like owning a house in a small country town. The emphasis was on making it easy for people to cooperate and communicate. People left their doors open and did not mind other people exploring their houses or borrowing a cup of sugar. You probably did not really keep anything too valuable in your house, and if you did, people respected it. Your neighborhood was friendly, everyone knew everyone else, and you trusted your neighbors. Your local neighborhood “hacker” was someone who showed expertise with programming, systems, or telecommunications. Security was a secondary consideration, if it was considered at all.


Times have changed. Now the little country town has a big interstate running right through it. You need to lock up your house, install a burglar alarm, and put up a big fence. Your neighbors have become considerably unfriendlier, and instead of borrowing a cup of sugar, they are more interested in stealing your DVD player or burning your house down. Additionally, the items you store in your house now have considerably more value to you, in terms of both their financial cost and their importance to you. Worse, your local neighborhood “hacker” has morphed into a variety of bad guys with skills ranging from the base to the brilliant.


Many people scoff at IT security. They claim IT security professionals are paranoid and are overstating the threat. Are we paranoid? Yes, probably we are. Is this paranoia justified? We believe so; in fact, a common refrain in the IT security industry is “Are we being paranoid enough?” IT assets have become absolutely critical to the functioning of most businesses, both large and small. They have also become the repositories of highly valuable commercial, research, customer, and financial information. The guys in the white hats are not the only ones who have noticed the increase in importance of IT assets and the increase in value of the information they contain. The guys in the black hats know exactly how important IT assets are. They know how much damage they can do and how much they can gain from attacking, penetrating, and compromising those assets.


The IT security skeptics claim that the threat of these attackers is overstated. They state that the vast majority of attackers are unskilled, use collections of prepackaged tools that exploit known vulnerabilities, and are no threat to most of your assets. That these make up a significant portion of attacks is indeed true. Take a look at your Internet-facing firewall or IDS logs, and you will see a considerable volume of attacks on your hosts with the patterns or signatures of automated attack tools. Does this lessen the threat to your hosts? Yes, sometimes. It can be easier to defend against the less-skilled attacker using a prepackaged tool. The vulnerabilities exploited by these tools and how to fix them are usually well-documented or can be easily patched. But if you do not know about the vulnerability or have not applied the patch, then an attacker using an automated or prepackaged attack tool becomes the same level of threat as a brilliant attacker with a hand-coded attack tool.


The danger posed by these unskilled attackers has also increased. New vulnerabilities are discovered daily. Exploits are frequently built on these vulnerabilities within hours of them being discovered. Some vulnerabilities are not even discovered until someone uses them to exploit a host. This means pre-packaged attack tools are often available to exploit a vulnerability before the application developer or vendor has even released a patch. The combination of the speed with which new methods of attack spread and the diminishing gap between the discovery of a vulnerability and the development of an exploit means the risk that one of these attacks gets through is significantly increased if you are not being vigilant. You must take serious, consistent, and systematic precautions to secure your hosts.


In addition to the vast majority of unskilled attackers, a smaller group of skilled attackers exists. These are either intelligent and cunning outsiders or internal staff with in-house knowledge. These attackers also pose a serious threat to your hosts, and you need to ensure that your hosts are protected from them, too. This requires that your hosts be hardened and locked down to ensure that only activities that you have authorized using functionality you have approved and installed are conducted.


To return to the metaphor of an IT asset as a house, securing your host is a bit like having home insurance. You hope you do not need it, but you would be foolish not to have it. Do not underestimate the potential damage an attacker can cause or envisage these threats as being somehow hypothetical. For example, imagine the response if you asked the staff of your organization to go without e-mail for a week? This happened to many organizations during the Netsky, Sobig, and Mimail virus attacks. Or imagine if your customers were denied access to your e-commerce site as happened to Amazon, eBay, and Yahoo as the result of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks in 1999, 2000, and 2001. Or imagine if an attacker penetrated your hosts and stole your organization’s bank account detail, the numbers of its corporate credit cards, or, worse, the credit card numbers of your customers.


You can see that the potential cost of attacks on IT assets is high. There is a potential monetary cost to your organization from theft, loss of revenue, or productivity. There is also a potential public relations cost through loss of customer or industry confidence. You need to understand how to simply, consistently, and practically secure your IT environment. For your Linux hosts and applications, this book provides this practical understanding.


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