System Administration Guide: Naming and Directory Services (NIS+)

NIS+ Security Overview

NIS+ security is an integral part of the NIS+ namespace. You cannot set up security and the namespace independently. For this reason, instructions for setting up security are woven through the steps used to set up the other components of the namespace. Once an NIS+ security environment has been set up, you can add and remove users, change permissions, reassign group members, and all other routine administrative tasks needed to manage an evolving network.

The security features of NIS+ protect the information in the namespace, as well as the structure of the namespace itself, from unauthorized access. Without these security features, any NIS+ client could obtain and change information stored in the namespace or even damage it.

NIS+ security does two things:

    In essence, then, NIS+ security is a two-step process:

  1. Authentication. NIS+ uses credentials to confirm that you are who you claim to be.

  2. Authorization. Once your identity is established by the authentication process, NIS+ determines your class. What you can do with a given NIS+ object or service depends on which class you belong to. This is similar in concept to the standard UNIX file and directory permissions system. (See NIS+ Authorization Classes for more information on classes.)

This process, for example, prevents someone with root privileges on machine A from using the su command to assume the identity of a second user and then accessing NIS+ objects with the second user's NIS+ access privileges.

Note, however, that NIS+ cannot prevent someone who knows another user's login password from assuming that other user's identity and NIS+ access privileges. Nor can NIS+ prevent a user with root privileges from assuming the identity of another user who is logged in from the same machine.

Figure 11–2 details this process.

Figure 11–2 Summary of the NIS+ Security Process

Diagram shows client sending request for directory object and credentials to server

NIS+ Principals

NIS+ principals are the entities (clients) that submit requests for NIS+ services. An NIS+ principal may be someone who is logged in to a client machine as a regular user, someone who is logged in as superuser, or any process that runs with superuser permission on an NIS+ client machine. Thus, an NIS+ principal can be a client user or a client machine.

An NIS+ principal can also be the entity that supplies an NIS+ service from an NIS+ server. Since all NIS+ servers are also NIS+ clients, much of this discussion also applies to servers.

NIS+ Security Levels

NIS+ servers operate at one of two security levels. These levels determine the type of credential principals that must submit for their requests to be authenticated. NIS+ is designed to run at the most secure level, which is security level 2. Level 0 is provided only for testing, setup, and debugging purposes. These security levels are summarized in Table 11–1.

Table 11–1 List of NIS+ Security Levels

Security Level 


Security level 0 is designed for testing and setting up the initial NIS+ namespace. An NIS+ server running at security level 0 grants any NIS+ principal full access rights to all NIS+ objects in the domain. Level 0 is for setup purposes only and should only be used by administrators for that purpose. Level 0 should not be used on networks in normal operation by regular users. 

Security level 1 uses AUTH_SYS security. This level is not supported by NIS+ and should not be used. 

Security level 2 is the default. It is the highest level of security currently provided by NIS+. It authenticates only requests that use DES credentials. Requests with no credentials are assigned to the nobody class and have whatever access rights that have been granted to that class. Requests that use invalid DES credentials are retried. After repeated failure to obtain a valid DES credential, requests with invalid credentials fail with an authentication error. (A credential might be invalid for a variety of reasons such as the principal making the request is not keylogged in on that machine, the clocks are out of synch, there is a key mismatch, and so forth.) 

NIS+ Security Levels and Password Commands

In Solaris releases 2.0 through 2.4, you used the nispasswd command to change your password. However, nispasswd could not function without credentials. (In other words, it could not function under security level 0 unless there were credentials existing from some previous higher level.) Starting with the Solaris 2.5 release, the passwd command must be used to change your own password regardless of security level or credential status.