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Beta version 0.7; May 17, 1998
by Simson Garfinkel, Gene Spafford
The authors compile a vast amount of available material on UNIX security into quite a readable volume written in a very good (for an introductory book) style. The emphasis is on understanding areas in which security is compromised, but some general information about UNIX is also provided. After the map of such areas is constructed one can do own research. The list of the "support stuff" is really impressive and includes Dan Farmer and Wietse Venema (the latter reviewed chapter on wrappers).
The book is very good in providing history of UNIX in general and particular subsystem. For example it is one of the few books I read, that provides some information on Multix (p.9) as a predecessor of UNIX. Most just mention this fact.
Although almost all information from the book (and much more) is available on the WEB and conference proceedings, it would take some time to get it and systemize the way the authors did. There are summaries after each chapter -- a plus for an introductory book. The book covers a large number of topics, although some of them are slightly remote from the subject (computer crime law, physical security, personnel security, etc.). As an introductory book it is fairy good in providing some basic UNIX system administration information.
The threats to a UNIX system used as a server in the commercial environment vary greatly in terms of intent, sophistication, technical means, and potential impact. In order of diminishing probability threats can be categorized into the following groups:
Based on validated incidents the first three category are most common, while the last three are getting most media coverage.
Chapters are very uneven. Generally they can be read in any order. I would like to recommend to read chapter 4 (Users, Groups. and the Superuser), chapter 5 (The UNIX filesystem), chapter 6 (defending Your Accounts), chapter 7 (TCP/IP services), chapter8 (Defending Your Accounts), chapter 10 (Auditing and Logging) chapter 20 (NFS Security) and chapter 23 (Wrappers and Proxies). They contain useful material and can serve as a good starting point for collecting additional information on the Net.
I see the following shortcomings in the second edition:
Other interesting "revelation" in on page XV "... But the truth is, UNIX hasn't became significantly more secure with its increase in popularity, That's because fundamental flaws still remain in the interaction of the operating system and its users. The UNIX Superuser remains a single point of attack: any intruder or insider who can became the UNIX Superuser can take over the system, booby-trap its program...".
Simple question. What if UNIX is installed on CD -- they are really cheap now and one can make a new version each day ;-). How much damage to programs on CD can this evil Superuser inflict ? One does not even need CD. Just SCSI disk with read-only switch can help. Probably even BSD immutable attributes can be enough in most situations.
OK, let's assume that Unix is insecure, but what alternative is better. NT? I doubt, and authors need facts to prove that. NT is a very complex and controversial (driver model, Win32 subsystem, etc.) operating system. The behavior of the NT security system in such a complex environment is difficult to predict -- with BackOffice installed it looks like another "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" story. Service packs break applications, and vice versa. If is always a mystery what version of DLL is installed, because each application can update them during installation. The system registry is an excellent illustration of the idea that the hell is paved with good intentions ;-). MVS? VM/CMS? VMS ? They all have problems. I am not a big UNIX specialist, but I know that Unix is much more dynamic in this respect that other OSes. Several new features that improve UNIX security were introduced in recent years. Among them pluggable password security modules that prevent user from selecting weak passwords, new configuration errors checking tools (Solaris now have one built-in), access control lists, new attributes (immutable and append only -- for sequentially written logs; on BSD once set, these flags can be reset only in a single-user mode), better protection against some attacks (for example FreeBSD 2.2.6. contains protection against various buffer overruns and "LAND attacks").
I was really surprised to read the "The many faces of 'Free Unix'" on page XXIV. It contains another "revelation" as "The Linux operating system makes things even more complicated. That's because Linux is an anarchic, moving target. There are many different versions of Linux. Some have minor differences, such as the installation of a patch or two. Other are drastically different, with different kernels, different driver software, and radically different security models". After reading about "radically different security models" and stances like "Today, the world of free Unix is a maelstrom. It's like if commercial UNIX was being promoted and developed by several thousand different vendors" I was ready to recycle the book. I beleave SUN does not need such advocates ;-). If they refer to MKLinux this is not fare. If they refer to x86 Linux this in simply wrong. IMHO official patches of the kernel are common for all x86 Linux distributions (this is the nature of Linux project -- kernel code is controlled by Linus Torvalds and he is the final authority that approved patches to the kernel, see for example his letter on the latest patch-2.0.33 ) and all versions of Linux come with GNU utilities which are more crash-resistant than implementations of commercial vendors. See for example:
The most important problem is that the authors do not explain what tools to use and how to use them and what are reasonable priorities in UNIX security. For example they do mention that most of security problems are configuration problems, but only in passing. IMHO this should be the central theme of the book. I was unable to find The most difficult issue in UNIX security is to avoid introducing arbitrary and often unnecessary measures(for example "password fascism") that makes users less productive without influencing (or even making it worse) an overall security.
The book does not have Web page with updated WEB resources, but this is a minor fault as COAST archive can be used instead (there is a standard page on O'Reilly WEB site, it should be probably ignored). I would like to recommend course notes to the course LT 468 -- Internet and System Security, Dept. of Computer Sciences, Purdue University.
There are also some minor points. For example they consider UUCP not suitable for 14.4Kb or faster lines, which is not true. In Europe it is widely used (Taylor UUCP is probably the most common type of Internet connection in xUSSR and works well at 14.4Kb or faster lines). There is no "Recommended Supplementary Reading" information after each chapter.
The main question that needs to be answered is how well the book fare in comparison with RFCs and other materials freely available on the Net. The answer is that it is a useful starting point and contains basic information on a lot of aspects of UNIX security. One can get almost all information from the WEB, but with additional efforts.
The second question is how well the book fairs among other similar book. I would like to say that it is above average as for UNIX security (compare with Unix System Security by David A. Curry) and below average as for Internet/Web security.
Alternatives include combining one book on Unix security with a book on Internet security. I would reccomend the following book on Unix seciruty:
Unix System Security: A Guide for Users and System Administrators (Addison-Wesley Professional Computing Series) by David A. Curry. See also Improving the Security of Your UNIX System The "SRI Paper" that has been widely distributed around the Internet. It was written in 1990 and was a predecessor to the UNIX System Security book. David A. Curry is the author of UNIX Systems Programming for SVR4 and is also active tool developer (see his home page for the complete list). Among them are(description are borrowed from the author's page):
As for Internet Security I would like to recommend:
Generally there are now a lot of comprehensive books on Internet/Web Security. Often books written by a specialist in a particular protocol can be a better deal that the book from security professionals (paraphrasing old saying about teaching one can say that "those who can -- write programs, those who cannot go to system administration and those who neither can write program nor perform system administration write books about computer security" :-). For example TCP/IP Network Administration by Craig Hunt contains a lot more information about how properly configure TCP/IP than PUIS and in Chapter 12 has a very decent overview of security in just 40 pages.
IMHO the book is best suited to the users with little or no programming experience (students, hobbyists, probably IS managers, etc.) and a limited exposure to UNIX. It is not the best book for professional UNIX system administrators, but still it's a well-written introductory book. IMHO to pretend that this is a professional reference was a major mistake made by the authors. All in all I would like to mark it with 7 on 10 grade scale.
Examples are available via FTP ftp.ora
Simson Garfinkel of The UNIX-Haters Handbook fame is a gifted journalist, columnist at WIRED Magazine. He recently created own his own ISP company(see www.www.vineyard.net) that in April, 1998 has approximately a hundred customers. So now he probably has some experience "from the trenches" unless due to his "unix_hatism" he use NT (see for example his "unix_hatist" essay The Fundamental Flaws of Unix -- the essay that surprisingly superficial and lucks understanding of current trends in UNIX architecture -- cornerstone of any such explore). Currently he is a a freelance technology writer working mainly in Wired. Some years ago he was an editor at SunExpert magazine. He graduated from MIT in '87 then was a Ph.D. candidate at the Media Lab from 90-91. Now he is resident of a little island off Massachusetts -- Martha's Vineyard. It isn't as exciting as everyone thinks to live of such an island, however. They don't even have a mall, and it probably gets mighty boring in the winter ;-).
He is the author of several other books:
See also Amazon.com Author Interview -- Amazon.com talks to Simson L. Garfinkel. In this interview to amazon.com he told "...I think that the biggest issue facing our society today is the lack of rational design, peer review, and common sense that is going into technological systems.". This is of course true, but to a certain extent applied to his books ;-).
Eugene H. Spafford (Dept. of Computer Sciences, Purdue University) probably belong to the "computer security establishment". He is a professor of Computer Sciences (according to his vita since 1979 he has taught courses in OS, compiler and language design, computer security, computer architecture, software engineering, networking and data communications, and somewhat alarming ;-) on issues of ethics and professional responsibility), the founder and director of the Computer Operations, Audit, and Security Technology (COAST) Laboratory (that maintains the world's largest archive on computer security).
He seems published all his books with co-authors, most frequently with Simson Garfinkel. Some materials on his page are rather outdated (probably 1996) but it seems that till 1996 he lead Purdue Security Seminar -- semi-regular, informal seminar on issues of computer security and taught course CS 590T -- Penetration Analysis. His resume shows that he probably switched to mainly managerial duties connected with COAST approximately from 1993. An interesting project that he was involved was the Spyder Project concerned with research into new methods of debugging software. He was also participated in design of the current naming structure of Usenet. For 11 years, he updated the news.announce.newuser and posted them to the Usenet. In 1993, he retired from the task. Here is the collection of quotes that can probably give some insights into his personality. He also manage Web-head list. He definitely has a good sense of humor.
Somewhat alarming is the fact that he claims to be a co-author of a book on computer viruses (Eugene H. Spafford, Kathleen A. Heaphy, and D. J. Ferbrache; Computer Viruses: Dealing with Electronic Vandalism and Programmed Threats; ADAPSO, Arlington, VA; 123 pages; 1989). I am generally very skeptical about people who ever wrote a book about computer viruses, especially if they have co-authors ;-). But while probably not an active fighter and definitely not an active writer (all books published with co-authors), Prof. Spafford seems to be an eminent collector of security-related information and his major achievement -- the COAST archive is really important.
Other reviews available:
GTER Vol. 4, Issue 4, May 1, 1997
DDJ December '94Practical Unix and Internet Security Second Edition -- review by Dan Wilder Linux Journal #34 Feb.1997
Table of Contents
I. Computer Security Basics
2. Policies and Guidelines
II. User Responsibilities
3. Users and Passwords
4. Users, Groups, and the Superuser
5. The UNIX Filesystem
III. System Security
8. Defending Your Accounts
9. Integrity Management
10. Auditing and Logging
11. Protecting Against Programmed Threats
12. Physical Security
13. Personnel Security
IV. Network and Internet Security
14. Telephone Security
16. TCP/IP Networks
17. TCP/IP Services
18. WWW Security
19. RPC, NIS, NIS+, and Kerberos
V. Advanced Topics
22. Wrappers and Proxies
23. Writing Secure SUID and Network Programs
VI. Handling Security Incidents
24. Discovering a Break-in
25. Denial of Service Attacks and Solutions
26. Computer Security and U.S. Law
27. Who Do You Trust?
App. A: UNIX Security Checklist
App. B: Important Files
App. C: UNIX Processes
App. D: Paper Sources
App. E: Electronic Resources
App. F: Organizations
App. G: Table of IP Services
Full Table of content
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