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The tcpd access control facility

Since opening a computer to network access involves many security risks, applications are designed to guard against several types of attacks. Some of these, however, may be flawed (most drastically demonstrated by the RTM Internet worm), or do not distinguish between secure hosts from which requests for a particular service will be accepted, and insecure hosts whose requests should be rejected. We already briefly discussed the finger and tftp services above. Thus, one would want to limit access to these services to ``trusted hosts'' only, which is impossible with the usual setup, where inetd either provides this service to all clients, or not at all.

A useful tool for this is tcpd,gif a so-called daemon wrapper. For TCP services you want to monitor or protect, it is invoked instead of the server program. tcpd logs the request to the syslog daemon, ckecks if the remote host is allowed to use that service, and only if this succeeds will it executes the real server program. Note that this does not work with UDP-based services.

For example, to wrap the finger daemon, you have to change the corresponding line in inetd.conf to

           # wrap finger daemon
           finger  stream  tcp     nowait  root    /usr/sbin/tcpd
Without adding any access control, this will appear to the client just as a usual finger setup, except that any requests are logged to syslog's auth facility.

Access control is implemented by means of two files called /etc/hosts.allow and /etc/hosts.deny. They contain entries allowing and denying access, respectively, to certain services and hosts. When tcpd handles a request for a service such as finger from a client host named, it scans hosts.allow and hosts.deny (in this order) for an entry matching both the service and client host. If a matching entry is found in hosts.allow, access is granted, regardless of any entry in hosts.deny. If a match is found in hosts.deny, the request is rejected by closing down the connection. If no match is found at all, the request is accepted.

Entries in the access files look like this:

           servicelist: hostlist [:shellcmd]
servicelist is a list of service names from /etc/services, or the keyword ALL. To match all services except finger and tftp, use ``ALL EXCEPT finger, tftp''.

hostlist is a list of host names or IP-addresses, or the keywords ALL, LOCAL, or UNKNOWN. ALL matches any host, while LOCAL matches host names not containing a dot.gif UNKNOWN matches any hosts whose name or address lookup failed. A name starting with a dot matches all hosts whose domain is equal to this name. For example, matches There are also provisions for IP-network addresses and subnet numbers. Please refer to the hosts_access(5) manual page for details.

To deny access to the finger and tftp services to all but the local hosts, put the following in /etc/hosts.deny, and leave /etc/hosts.allow empty:

           in.tftpd, in.fingerd: ALL EXCEPT LOCAL, .your.domain
The optional shellcmd field may contain a shell command to be invoked when the entry is matched. This is useful to set up traps that may expose potential attackers:
           in.ftpd: ALL EXCEPT LOCAL, :
           echo "request from %d@%h" >> /var/log/finger.log; 
           if [ %h != "" ]; then 
               finger -l @%h >> /var/log/finger.log 

The %h and %d arguments are expanded by tcpd to the client host name and service name, respectively. Please refer to the hosts_access(5) manual page for details.

Next: The services and protocols Up: Various Network Applications Previous: The inetd Super-Server

Andrew Anderson
Thu Mar 7 23:22:06 EST 1996