The NFS environment is a powerful and convenient way to share file systems on a network of different computer architectures and operating systems. However, the same features that make sharing file systems through NFS operation convenient also pose some security problems. Historically, most NFS implementations have used UNIX (or AUTH_SYS) authentication, but stronger authentication methods such as AUTH_DH have also been available. When using UNIX authentication, an NFS server authenticates a file request by authenticating the computer that makes the request but not the user. Therefore, a client user can run su to become superuser and impersonate the owner of a file. If DH authentication is used, the NFS server authenticates the user, making this sort of impersonation much harder.
With root access and a knowledge of network programming, anyone can introduce arbitrary data into the network and extract any data from the network. The most dangerous attacks involve the introduction of data. An example is the impersonation of a user by generating the right packets or by recording “conversations” and replaying them later. These attacks affect data integrity. Attacks that involve passive eavesdropping, which is merely listening to network traffic without impersonating anybody, are not as dangerous because data integrity is not compromised. Users can protect the privacy of sensitive information by encrypting data that is sent over the network.
A common approach to network security problems is to leave the solution to each application. A better approach is to implement a standard authentication system at a level that covers all applications.
The Oracle Solaris operating system includes an authentication system at the level of the RPC, which is the mechanism on which the NFS operation is built. This system, known as Secure RPC, greatly improves the security of network environments and provides additional security to services such as the NFS system. An NFS system that uses the facilities that are provided by Secure RPC is known as a Secure NFS system.
Secure RPC is fundamental to the Secure NFS system. The goal of Secure RPC is to build a system that is at minimum as secure as a time-sharing system. In a time-sharing system all users share a single computer and users are authenticated through login passwords. With Data Encryption Standard (DES) authentication, the same authentication process is completed. Users can log in on any remote computer just as users can log in on a local terminal. The users' login passwords are their assurance of network security. In a time-sharing environment, the system administrator has an ethical obligation not to change a password to impersonate someone. In Secure RPC, the network administrator is trusted not to alter entries in a database that stores public keys.
An RPC authentication system uses credentials and verifiers. Using ID badges as an example, the credential is what identifies a person: a name, address, and birthday. The verifier is the photo that is attached to the badge. You can be sure that the badge has not been stolen by checking the photo on the badge against the person who is carrying the badge. In RPC, the client process sends both a credential and a verifier to the server with each RPC request. The server sends back only a verifier because the client already “knows” the server's credentials.
When UNIX authentication is used by a network service, the credentials contain the client's host name, UID, GID, and group-access list. However, because no verifier exists, a superuser could falsify appropriate credentials by using commands such as su. Another problem is that UNIX authentication assumes all computers on a network are UNIX computers. UNIX authentication breaks down when applied to other operating systems in a heterogeneous network.
To overcome the problems of UNIX authentication, Secure RPC uses DH authentication.
DH authentication uses the Data Encryption Standard (DES) and Diffie-Hellman public-key cryptography to authenticate both users and computers in the network. DES is a standard encryption mechanism. Diffie-Hellman public-key cryptography is a cipher system that involves two keys: one public and one secret. The public keys and secret keys are stored in the namespace. NIS stores the keys in the public-key map. These maps contain the public key and secret key for all potential users. For more information about how to set up the maps, see the Working With Oracle Solaris 11.2 Directory and Naming Services: DNS and NIS .
The security of DH authentication is based on a sender's ability to encrypt the current time, which the receiver can then decrypt and check against its own clock. The timestamp is encrypted with DES. The two agents must agree on the current time, and sender and receiver must be using the same encryption key.
If a network runs a time-synchronization program, the time on the client and the server is synchronized automatically. If a time-synchronization program is not available, timestamps can be computed by using the server's time instead of the network time. The client asks the server for the time before starting the RPC session, then computes the time difference between its own clock and the server's. This difference is used to offset the client's clock when computing timestamps. If the client and server clocks become unsynchronized, the server begins to reject the client's requests. The DH authentication system on the client resynchronizes with the server.
The client and server arrive at the same encryption key by generating a random conversation key, also known as the session key, and by using public-key cryptography to deduce a common key. The common key is a key that only the client and server are capable of deducing. The conversation key is used to encrypt and decrypt the client's timestamp. The common key is used to encrypt and decrypt the conversation key.
If a server crashes when no system administrator is available (after a power failure, for example), all the secret keys that are stored on the system are deleted. No process can access secure network services or mount an NFS file system. The important processes during a reboot are usually run as root. Therefore, these processes would work if root's secret key were stored away, but nobody is available to type the password that decrypts it. keylogin -r allows root to store the clear secret key in /etc/.rootkey, which keyserv reads.
Diskless computer booting is not totally secure. Somebody could impersonate the boot server and boot a devious kernel that, for example, makes a record of the secret key on a remote computer. The Secure NFS system provides protection only after the kernel and the key server are running. Otherwise, no way exists to authenticate the replies that are given by the boot server. This limitation could be a serious problem, but the limitation requires a sophisticated attack using kernel source code. Also, the crime would leave evidence. If you polled the network for boot servers, you would discover the devious boot server's location.
Most setuid programs are owned by root. If the secret key for root is stored in /etc/.rootkey, these programs behave as they always have. If a setuid program is owned by a user, however, the setuid program might not always work. For example, suppose that a setuid program is owned by dave and dave has not logged into the computer since it booted. The program would not be able to access secure network services.
If you log in to a remote computer (using login, rlogin, or telnet) and use keylogin to gain access, you provide access to your account. Your secret key is passed to that computer's key server, which then stores your secret key. This process is only a concern if you do not trust the remote computer. If you have doubts, however, do not log in to a remote computer if the remote computer requires a password. Instead, use the NFS environment to mount file systems that are shared by the remote computer. As an alternative, you can use keylogout to delete the secret key from the key server.
If a home directory is shared with the –o sec=dh option, remote logins can be a problem. If the /etc/hosts.equiv or ~/.rhosts files are not set to prompt for a password, the login succeeds. However, the users cannot access their home directories because no authentication has occurred locally. If users are prompted for a password, they have access to their home directories if the password matches the network password.