Mark J Cox, mark@awe.com  
   
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A year ago I published a table of Security Features in Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Fedora Core. Since then we've released two more Fedora versions, and a Red Hat Enterprise Linux, so it's time to update the table.

Between releases there are lots of changes made to improve security and I've not listed everything; just a high-level overview of the things I think are most interesting that help mitigate security risk. We could go into much more detail, breaking out the number of daemons covered by the SELinux default policy, the number of binaries compiled PIE, and so on.

  Fedora Core Fedora Red Hat Enterprise Linux
123456 78 345
2003Nov2004May2004Nov2005Jun2006Mar2006Oct 2007May2007Nov 2003Oct2005Feb2007Mar
Firewall by default YYYYYY YY YY Y
Signed updates required by default YYYYYY YY YY Y
NX emulation using segment limits by default YYYYYY YY Y2Y Y
Support for Position Independent Executables (PIE) YYYYYYYY Y2YY
Address Randomization (ASLR) for Stack/mmap by default3 YYYYYYYY Y2YY
ASLR for vDSO (if vDSO enabled)3 no vDSOYYYYYYY no vDSOYY
Restricted access to kernel memory by default  YYYYYYY  YY
NX for supported processors/kernels by default  Y1YYYYYY Y2YY
Support for SELinux  YYYYYYY  YY
SELinux enabled with targeted policy by default   YYYYYY  YY
glibc heap/memory checks by default   YYYYYY  YY
Support for FORTIFY_SOURCE, used on selected packages   YYYYYY  YY
All packages compiled using FORTIFY_SOURCE    YYYYY   Y
Support for ELF Data Hardening    YYYYY  YY
All packages compiled with stack smashing protection     YYYY   Y
SELinux Executable Memory Protection      YYY   Y
glibc pointer encryption by default      YYY   Y
FORTIFY_SOURCE extensions including C++ coverage        Y    
1 Since June 2004, 2 Since September 2004, 3 Selected Architectures



Late last month I spent a day with the Red Hat Magazine team talking about vulnerability response. The first video is now available and talks about the role of Red Hat in dealing with vulnerabilities in third party software. The video was shot in my home office which explains the calming green paint; it's hard to get too stressed in a pale green room.



Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.1 was released today, around 8 months since the release of 5.0 in March 2007. So let's use this opportunity to take a quick look back over the vulnerabilities and security updates we've made in that time, specifically for Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 Server.

The graph below shows the total number of security updates issued for Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 Server up to and including the 5.1 release, broken down by severity. I've split it into two columns, one for the packages you'd get if you did a default install, and the other if you installed every single package (which is unlikely as it would involve a bit of manual effort to select every one). So, for a given installation, the number of packages and vulnerabilities will be somewhere between the two extremes.

missing graph

So for all packages, from release up to and including 5.1, we shipped 94 updates to address 218 vulnerabilities. 7 advisories were rated critical, 36 were important, and the remaining 51 were moderate and low.

For a default install, from release up to and including 5.1, we shipped 60 updates to address 135 vulnerabilities. 7 advisories were rated critical, 26 were important, and the remaining 27 were moderate and low.

  • These figures include ten updates we released on the day we shipped 5.0. This was because we froze package updates some months before releasing the product. Only one of those updates was rated critical, an update to Firefox.
  • The six other critical updates were:

    1. Three more updates to Firefox (May, July, October) where a malicious web site could potentially run arbitrary code as the user running Firefox. Given the nature of the flaws, ExecShield protections in RHEL5 should make exploiting these memory flaws harder.
    2. An update to the Kerberos telnet deamon (April) A remote attacker who can access the telnet port of a target machine could log in as root without requiring a password. None of the standard protection mechanisms help prevent exploitation of this issue, however the krb5 telnet daemon is not enabled by default in Enterprise Linux 5 and the default firewall rules block remote access to the telnet port. This flaw did not affect the more common telnet daemon distributed in the telnet-server package.
    3. An update to Samba (May) where a remote attacker could cause a heap overflow. In addition to ExecShield making this harder to exploit, the impact of any sucessful exploit would be reduced as Samba is constrained by an SELinux targeted policy (enabled by default).
    4. An update to the PCRE library (November). This was labelled critical because the Konqueror web browser uses PCRE to handle regular expressions in JavaScript, and therefore a user browsing a malicious site in Konqueror could trigger this issue. (Konqueror is not part of a default install, but I've left this issue as critical in the results).
  • Updates to correct all of these critical issues were available via Red Hat Network within a day of the issues being public.

Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 shipped with a number of security technologies designed to make it harder to exploit vulnerabilities and in some cases block exploits for certain flaw types completely. For the period of this study there were two flaws blocked that would otherwise have required critical updates:

  1. A stack buffer overflow flaw in the RPC library in Kerberos. This flaw was blocked by FORTIFY_SOURCE which removed the possibility of remote code execution. We still issued an update, as a remote attacker could trigger this flaw and cause Kerberos to crash.
  2. Another flaw in Kerberos, this time due to the free of an invalid pointer. This flaw was blocked by glibc, although a remote attacker could still cause a crash, so we issued an update.

This data is interesting to get a feel for the risk of running Enterprise Linux 5 Server, but isn't really useful for comparisons with other versions or distributions -- for example, a default install of Red Hat Enterprise 4AS did not include Firefox. You can get the results I presented above for yourself by using our public security measurement data and tools, and run your own metrics for any given Red Hat product, package set, timescales, and severities.



Although Red Hat is well known for Red Hat Enterprise Linux we actually have a large number of other supported products, both layered on top of Enterprise Linux (like Red Hat Application Stack) and stand-alone (like Red Hat Directory Server). The majority of these products are serviced through the Red Hat Network and get our security advisories in a standard way and are included in the Security Response Team metrics. But our analysis scripts were not particularly consistent in dealing with product names.

Common Platform Enumeration (CPE) is a naming scheme designed to combat these inconsistencies, and is part of the 'making security measurable' initiative from Mitre. From today we're supporting CPE in our Security Response Team metrics: we publish a mapping of Red Hat advisories to both CVE and CPE platforms (updated daily) and you can use CPE to filter the metrics. Some examples of CPE names:

cpe://redhat:enterprise_linux:5:server/firefox -- the Firefox browser package on Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 server.
cpe://redhat:enterprise_linux:3 -- Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3
cpe://redhat/xpdf -- the xpdf package in any Red Hat product.
cpe://redhat:rhel_application_stack:1 -- Red Hat Application Stack version 1



For the past 12 months I've been keeping metrics on the types of issues that get reported to the private Apache Software Foundation security alert email address. Here's the summary for Jul 2006-Jun 2007 based on 154 reports:

User reports a security vulnerability
(this includes things later found not to be vulnerabilities)
47 (30%)
User is confused because they visited a site "powered by Apache"
(happens a lot when some phishing or spam points to a site that is taken down and replaced with the default Apache httpd page)
39 (25%)
User asks a general product support question
 
38 (25%)
User asks a question about old security vulnerabilities
 
21 (14%)
User reports being compromised, although non-ASF software was at fault
(For example through PHP, CGI, other web applications)
9 (6%)

That last one is worth restating: in the last 12 months no one who contacted the ASF security team reported a compromise that was found to be caused by ASF software.



The National Vulnerability Database provides a public severity rating for all CVE named vulnerabilities, "Low" "Medium" and "High", which they generate automatically based on the CVSS score their analysts calculate for each issue. I've been interested for some time to see how well those map to the severity ratings that Red Hat give to issues. We use the same ratings and methodology as Microsoft and others use, assigning "Critical" for things that have the ability to be remotely exploited automatically through "Important", "Moderate", to "Low".

Given a thundery Sunday afternoon I took the last 12 months of all possible vulnerabilities affecting Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 (from 126 advisories across all components) from my metrics page and compared to NVD using their provided XML data files. The result broke down like this:

Red Hat
13% Crit 24% Important 39% Moderate 24% Low
NVD
30% High 20% Moderate 50% Low

So that looked okay on the surface; but the diagram above implies that all the issues Red Hat rated as Critical got mapped in NVD to High. But that's not actually the case, and when you look at the breakdown you get this result: (in number of vulnerabilities)

 NVD: High
23 Critical
24 Important
35 Moderate
8 Low

 NVD: Moderate
9 Crit
18 Important
22 Moderate
12 Low

 NVD: Low
7 C
32 Important
62 Moderate
51 Low

That shows nearly half of the issues that NVD rated as High actually only affected Red Hat with Moderate or Low severity. Given our policy is to fix the things that are Critical and Important the fastest (and we have a pretty impressive record for fixing critical issues), it's no wonder that recent vulnerability studies that use the NVD mapping when analysing Red Hat vulnerabilities have some significant data errors.

I wasn't actually surprised that there are so many differences: my hypothesis is that many of the errors are due to the nature of how vulnerabilities affect open source software. Take for example the Apache HTTP server. Lots of companies ship Apache in their products, but all ship different versions with different defaults on different operating systems for different architecture compiled with different compilers using different compiler options. Many Apache vulnerabilities over the years have affected different platforms in significantly different ways. We've seen an Apache vulnerability that leads to arbitrary code execution on older FreeBSD, that causes a denial of service on Windows, but that was unexploitable on Linux for example. But it has a single CVE identifier.

So if you're using a version of the Apache web server you got with your Red Hat Enterprise Linux distribution then you need to rely on Red Hat to tell you how the issue affects the version they gave you -- in the same way you rely on them to give you an update to correct the issue.

I did also spot a few instances where the CVSS score for a given vulnerability was not correctly coded. CVSS version 2 was released last week and once NVD is based on the new version I'll redo this analysis and spend more time submitting corrections to any obvious mistakes.

But in summary: for multi-vendor software the severity rating for a given vulnerability may very well be different for each vendors version. This is a level of detail that vulnerability databases such as NVD don't currently capture; so you need to be careful if you are relying on the accuracy of third party severity ratings.



It sometimes seems like me and my team are pushing security updates every day, but actually a default installation of Enterprise Linux 4 AS was vulnerable to only 3 critical security issues in the first two years since release. But to get a picture of the risk you need to do more than count vulnerabilities. My full risk report was published today in Red Hat Magazine and reveals the state of security since the release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 including metrics, key vulnerabilities, and the most common ways users were affected by security issues. It's all about transparency, highlighting the bad along with the good, and rather than just giving statistics and headlines you can game using carefully selected initial conditions we also make all our raw data available too so we can be held accountable.



Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 was released back in March 2007 so let's take a quick look back over the first three months of security updates to the Server distribution:

  • We released updates to ten packages on the day we shipped the product. These is because we freeze packages some months before releasing the product (more information about this policy). Only one of those updates was rated critical, an update to Firefox.

  • For the three months following release we shipped 31 more advisories to address 56 vulnerabilities: 3 advisories were rated critical, 8 were important, and the remaining 20 were moderate and low.

  • The three critical advisories were:

    1. Another update to Firefox where a malicious web site could potentially run arbitrary code as the user running Firefox. Given the nature of the flaws, Execshield protections in RHEL5 should make exploiting these issues harder.

    2. An update to Samba where a remote attacker could cause a heap overflow. In addition to Execshield making this harder to exploit, the impact of any sucessful exploit would be reduced as Samba is constrained by an SELinux targeted policy (enabled by default).

    3. An update to the Kerberos telnet deamon. A remote attacker who can access the telnet port of a target machine could log in as root without requiring a password. None of the standard protection mechanisms help prevent exploitation of this issue, however the krb5 telnet daemon is not enabled by default in RHEL5 and the default firewall rules block remote access to the telnet port. This flaw did not affect the more common telnet daemon distributed in the telnet-server package.

  • Updates to correct all of these critical issues were available via Red Hat Network on the same day as the issues were made public.
This data is interesting to get a feel for the risk of running EL5, but isn't really useful for comparisons with other versions or distributions -- for example previous versions didn't include Firefox in a default Server installation.



As part of our security measurement work since March 2005 we've been tracking how the Red Hat Security Response Team first found out about each vulnerability we fix. This information is interesting as can show us which relationships matter the most, and identify trends in vulnerability disclosure. So for two years to March 2007 we get the following results (in percent):

20070410-relationships

I've separated the bars into two sections; the red sections are where we get notice of a security issue in advance of it being public (where we are told about the issue 'under embargo'). The grey sections are where we are reacting to issues that are already public.

The number of issues through researchers and co-ordination centers seem lower than perhaps expected, this is because in many cases the researcher will tell a group such as vendor-sec rather than each distributor separately, or the upstream project directly.



Red Hat has shipped products with randomization, stack protection, and other security mechanisms turned on by default since 2003. Vista recently shipped with similar protections and I read today an article about how the Microsoft Security Response Team were not treating Vista any differently when rating the severity of security issues. The Red Hat Security Response team use a similar guide for classification and I thought it would be worth clarifying how we handle this very situation.

We rate the impact of individual vulnerabilities on the same four point scale, designed to be an at-a-glance guide to how worried Red Hat is about each security issue. The scale takes into account the potential risk of a flaw based on a technical analysis of the exact flaw and it's type, but not the current threat level. Therefore the rating given to an issue will not change if an exploit or worm is later released for a flaw, or if one is available before release of a fix.

For the purpose of evaluating severities, our protection technologies fall into roughly three categories:

  1. Security innovations that completely block a particular type of security flaw. An example of this is Fortify Source. Given a particular vulnerability we can evaluate if the flaw would be caught at either compile time or run time and blocked. Because this is deterministic, we will adjust the security severity of an issue where we can prove it would not be exploitable.

  2. Security innovations that should block a particular security flaw from being remotely exploitable. Examples of this would be support for NX, Randomisation, and Stack canaries. Although these technologies can reduce the likelyhood of exploiting certain types of vulnerabilities, we don't take them into account and don't downgrade the security severity.

  3. Security innovations that try to contain an exploit for a vulnerability. I'm thinking here of SELinux. An attacker who can exploit a flaw in any of the remotely accessible daemons protected by a default SELinux policy will find themselves tightly constrained by that policy. We do not take SELinux into account when setting the security severity.

I've not been keeping a list of vulnerabilities that are deterministically blocked, but I have a couple of examples I recall where we did alter the severity:

  • In October 2005 a buffer overflow flaw was found in the authentication code of wget. On Fedora Core 4 this flaw was not exploitable it was caught by Fortify Source.

  • In August 2004, a double-free flaw in MIT Kerberos KDC was announced. For users of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 users we were able to downgrade the severity of this flaw from critical as glibc hardening prevented this double-free flaws being exploited. The flaw was rated important as it could still lead to a remote denial of service (KDC crash)

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Hi! I'm Mark Cox. This blog gives my thoughts and opinions on my security work, open source, fedora, home automation, and other topics.

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