rwhoisd Security Considerations

Version 1.5.0


rwhoisd is in no way guaranteed to be secure. With that said, it also does not do many of the things that make other Internet services insecure, say, for instance, allowing users to download files onto a machine (like ftp) or allowing users to specify in data something that gets executed. Nonetheless, Network Solutions (NSI) strongly recommends that the user follows sound security practices. rwhoisd provides a number of built-in ways to be more secure.

Run the Server as an Unprivileged User

There is no need to run the rwhoisd process as root. The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) assigned port, 4321, is not in the restricted range, and rwhoisd needs no access to typically restricted files. If you run rwhoisd as root (say, from startup), it will attempt to setuid(2) and setgid(2) to the user specified in the 'userid' parameter in the main configuration file. It sets the group id to the group set for the user in /etc/passwd. It does all of this before creating the socket (and accepting input from the outside world).

Use TCP Wrappers

rwhoisd contains built-in calls to Weitse Venema's TCP Wrappers code. You can specify which files to use for the allow and deny files in the main configuration file (they default to the standard /etc/hosts.allow and /etc/hosts.deny files). You can wrap the server itself using the 'rwhoisd' tag, and you can protect individual directives by using the directive name. See the operations guide and the TCP Wrappers for more details.

Use chroot(2)

The chroot system call resets the file system root directory to another (non-root) directory. The operating system then protects the rest of the filesystem from the process that was chrooted. This limits what a possible intruder can do. An intruder may be able to trash your rwhoisd installation, but they will not be able to steal any other data and will not be able to damage any other part of your filesystem.

The use of chroot(2) is recommended. rwhoisd can be configured to do this by setting up the chrooted environment and by setting the main configuration variable 'chrooted' to TRUE or running rwhoisd with a '-s' option.

Since each operating system--and even each installation--can vary so widely, there is no universal method for setting up a chroot environment. Instead, these are considered general guidelines on setting up the environment. The specifics given here will undoubtedly need to be modified to fit your specific case. Also, a good reference for setting up chroot environments can often be found in the ftpd manpage of your system, which is also often chrooted.

  1. Make sure that there are dev, etc, tmp, and usr/lib directories off of the prefix directory ('root-dir') in the main configuration file.
  2. Make sure the necessary binaries exist in their expected location. rwhoisd uses the following extra binaries: sh, sort, pgp (possibly), plus any binaries used for extended directives (/bin/date for example). sh and sort, and the extended directive binaries should be placed in <root-dir/bin or whatever the rwhoisd.conf file sets as the 'bin-path'. sh should be where the exec(2) system call needs it (on Sun Solaris this is usr/bin). sort should be put somewhere in your PATH (usually bin or usr/bin).
  3. Make sure any shared libraries needed by the executables are accessible in <root-dir/usr/lib or <root-dir/usr/local/lib. On Sun operating systems (both SunOS 4 and Solaris 2.x), you can determine which shared libraries an executable uses with the 'ldd' command. On the Sun operating systems there is also a /usr/lib/ file that must be present for shared libraries to work at all. In addition, on Solaris, there is a host of other .so files that must be copied into the chroot area to allow the socket library to work (,,,, and are all in /usr/lib, according to the ftpd manpage).
  4. If you use /etc/resolv.conf to resolve hostnames, copy /etc/resolv.conf to <root-dir/etc. Note that, while in setting up chroot environments in general it is usually necessary to include the passwd file (and associated shadow passwd files as well), in this case, it is not necessary. rwhoisd performs all of its passwd file lookups before actually chrooting.
  5. Create <root-dir/dev/zero. First you must discover the major and minor device numbers of /dev/zero on your system. On SunOS,
  6. % ls -l /dev/zero 
    crw-rw-rw- 1 root 3, 12 Aug 11 1995 /dev/zero

    which indicates that the major number is three and the minor number is twelve. Then use the 'mknod' command to create the device file. You must be root to do this; /usr/rwhois.root is <root-dir in this example.

    % cd /usr/rwhois.root/dev
    % mknod zero c 3 12
  7. It may be necessary to create other devices. On Solaris, also (re)create /dev/tcp, /dev/udp, and /dev/ticotsord using a similar technique.

You should be able to test this chroot environment by (as root) using the chroot command and running the shell and by attempting to run sort and the other extended directive executables.

% chroot /usr/local/rwhois /usr/bin/sh