Open Source Software and Linux

Feb 17 2009   10:40PM GMT

Linux security basics aka don’t do this!

John Little Profile: Xjlittle

I mention Linux security in the title but these best practices apply to any operating system.

There are many excellent 3rd party security tools out there for you to install on your system. Prior to installing these though you should review the tools that are already on your system. There is probably already a package included with the system that will accomplish what you need.

Why not use these tools? The major Linux distributions have gone to considerable expense to test these tools and make sure that they will not break anything on your system. When you consider the many 3rd party applications that are certified for a distribution such as Lotus Domino and JBoss this becomes even more critical. These applications are generally installed because they are mission critical. You don’t want to install a non certified security application only to find that it breaks or creates a security flaw in your certified mission critical application. Don’t do this.

A pet peeve of mine has always been the idea of “point and click and know not what I just did” that many administrators perform. While this seems to be more prevalent in the Windows world it exists in the *nix world as well. Generally the idea of text configuration files can overcome this but not always. Take, for example, the website (not affiliated with CentOS). One of the things that they want you to do is patch your kernel with a patch from Doing something like this should raise a red flag immediately. Do you know what the patch is fixing and/or how it is making your machine more secure? If you can’t answer yes to this then don’t do it with this or any other patch except one from your vendor.

Aside from that when your vendor releases a kernel update you are going to have to go and redo the whole process again. This can quite quickly become heavy with administrative costs. If your machines are duplicated across the network now you have to go and install this on all of them. And again when you run a kernel update. Don’t do this.

You should never download a configuration file that affects the core of your machine without knowing exactly what it does. Using the same site above they have many configuration files that they want you to download and put into production on your machine(s). There is even a sysctl.conf file which affects many core processes of your machine and how they operate. At the time of this post comments in this file are non existent. This amounts to the notion of “point and click and know not what I just did” mentioned above. Don’t do this.

I don’t mean to single out It just happens to be the one that I ran across today among the many out there asking administrators to do some things that they should think twice about.. I’m sure that they mean well. If I got out my sysctl manual I could find out what each of those changes would to do to my machine. However I’m not going to..if they want me to use their product/advice then those should be clearly documented either in the file or with a url embedded in the file that leads to that information.

Be smart with your machines! Don’t go putting configuration files in service, clicking on buttons that affect the security or core services of your machine or installing 3rd party applications that may already have the equivalent tested on your machine without knowing exactly what other files and applications they are going to affect.


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