By Kurt Seifried [email protected]
One integral part of any UNIX system are the logging facilities. The majority
of logging in Linux is provided by two main programs, sysklogd and klogd, the
first providing logging services to programs and applications, the second
providing logging capability to the Linux kernel. Klogd actually sends most
messages to the syslogd facility but will on occasion pop up messages at the
console (i.e. kernel panics). Sysklogd actually handles the task of processing
most messages and sending them to the appropriate file or device, this is
configured from within /etc/syslog.conf. By default most logging to files takes
place in /var/log/, and generally speaking programs that handle their own
logging (most httpd servers handle their logging internally) log to
/var/log/program-name/, which allows you to centralize the log files and makes
it easier to place them on a separate partition (some attacks can fill your logs
quite quickly, and a full / partition is no fun). Additionally there are
programs that handle their own interval logging, one of the more interesting
being the bash command shell. By default bash keeps a history file of commands
executed in ~username/.bash_history, this file can make for extremely
interesting reading, as oftentimes many admins will accidentally type their
passwords in at the command line. Apache handles all of its logging internally,
configurable from httpd.conf and extremely flexible with the release of Apache
1.3.6 (it supports conditional logging). Sendmail handles its logging
requirements via syslogd but also has the option (via the command line -X
switch) of logging all SMTP transactions straight to a file. This is highly
inadvisable as the file will grow enormous in a short span of time, but is
useful for debugging. See the sections in network security on Apache and
Sendmail for more information.
General log security
Generally speaking you do not want to allow users to see the log files of a
server, and you especially don't want them to be able to modify or delete them.
Generally speaking most log files are owned by the root user and group, and have
no permissions assigned for other, so in most cases the only user able to modify
the logs will be the root user (and if someone cracks the root account all bets
are off). There are a few extra security precautions you can take however, the
simplest being to use the chattr (CHange ATTTRibutes command) to set the log
files to append only. This way in the event of a problem like a /tmp race that
allows people to overwrite files on the system they cannot significantly damage
the log files. To set a file to append only use:
chattr +a filename
only the superuser has access to this function of chattr. If you set all your
log files to append only you must remember that log rotation programs will fail
as they will not be able to zero the log file. Add a line to the script to unset
the append only attribute:
chattr -a filename
and add a line after the log rotation script to reset the append only flag.
If you keep log files on the system you may also wish to set them immutable so
they cannot be tampered with as easily, to set the file immutable simply:
chattr +i filename
and this will prevent any changes (due to /tmp races, etc.) to the file
unless the attacker has root access (in which case you’re already in a world of
chattr -i filename
only the root user has access to the immutable flag.
One feature of Linux (and most unices) is the syslog and klog facilities
which allow software to generate log messages that are then passed to alog
daemon and handled (written to a local file, a remote server, given to aprogram,
and so on).
sysklogd / klogd
In a nutshell klogd handles kernel messages, depending on your setup this can
range from almost none to a great deal if for example you turn on process
accounting. It then passes most messages to syslogd for actual handling (that is
it places the data in a physical file). The man pages for sysklogd, klogd and
syslog.conf are pretty good with clear examples. One exceedingly powerful and
often overlooked ability of syslog is to log messages to a remote host running
syslog. Since you can define multiple locations for syslog messages (i.e. send
all kern messages to the /var/log/messages file, and to console, and to a remote
host or multiple remote hosts) this allows you to centralize logging to a single
host and easily check log files for security violations and other strangeness.
There are several problems with syslogd and klogd however, the primary ones
being the ease of which once an attacker has gained root access to
deleting/modifying log files, there is no authentication built into the standard
The standard log files that are usually defined in syslog.conf are:
The first one (messages) gets the majority of information typically; user
logins, TCP_WRAPPERS dumps information here, IP firewall packet logging
typically dumps information here and so on. The second typically records entries
for events like users changing their UID/GID (via su, sudo, etc.), failed
attempts when passwords are required and so on. The maillog file typically holds
entries for every pop/imap connection (user login and logout), and the header of
each piece of email that goes in or out of the system (from whom, to where,
msgid, status, and so on). The spooler file is not often used anymore as the
number of people running usenet or uucp has plummeted, uucp has been basically
replaced with ftp and email, and most usenet servers are typically extremely
powerful machines to handle a full, or even partial newsfeed, meaning there
aren't many of them (typically one per ISP or more depending on size). Most home
users and small/medium sized business will not (and should not in my opinion)
run a usenet server, the amount of bandwidth and machine power required is
phenomenal, let alone the security risks.
You can also define additional log files, for example you could add:
And you can selectively log to a separate log host:
Which would result in all kernel messages being logged to
/var/log/kernel-log, this is useful on headless servers since by default kernel
messages go to /dev/console (i.e. someone logged in at the machines). In the
second case all emergency messages would be logged to the host syslog-host,
and all the mail log files would be sent to the mail-log-host server, allowing
you to easily maintain centralized log files of various services. The default
syslogd that ships with most Linux distributions is horribly insecure, log files
are easily tampered with (or outright destroyed), and logging across the network
is completely insecure as well as dangerous for the servers involved. I do not
advise using syslog if you actually have a need for reliable logging (i.e. the
ability to later view log files in the event of a break-in).
The default file permissions on the log files are usually read / write for
root, and nothing for anyone else. In addition to this you can (and should) set
the files append only (remember to take logrotate into account though, it needs
to zero the files). This will prevent any deletion / modifications to the log
files unless root unsets the append only attribute first.
The major problem with syslog however is that tampering with log files is
trivial (setting the log files append only with chattr +a helps, but if an
attacker gains root, they can unset the attribute). There is however a secure
version of syslogd, available at https://www.core-sdi.com/download/download1_modular.html (these
guys generally make good tools and have a good reputation, in any case it is
open source software for those of you who are truly paranoid). This allows you
to cryptographically sign logs to ensure they haven't been tampered with.
Ultimately, however, an attacker can still delete the log files so it is a good
idea to send them to another host, especially in the case of a firewall to
prevent the hard drive being filled up.
next generation syslog
Another alternative is syslog-ng (Next Generation Syslog), which seems much
more customizable then either syslog or secure-syslog, it supports digital
signatures to prevent log tampering, and can filter based on content of the
message, not just the facility it comes from or priority (something that is very
useful for cutting down on volume). Syslog-ng is available at: https://www.balabit.hu/products/syslog-ng/.
Nsyslogd supports tcp, and SSL for logging to remote systems. It runs on a
variety of UNIX platforms and you can download it from: https://coombs.anu.edu.au/~avalon/nsyslog.html.
Log files are not much good unless you actually check them once in a while,
this is an almost impossible task for most of us however due to the sheer volume
of log files. There are a variety of tools to automate these tasks however.
Psionic Logcheck will go through the messages file (and others) on a regular
basis (invoked via crontab usually) and email out a report of any suspicious
activity. It is easily configurable with several classes of items, active
penetration attempts which is screams about immediately, bad activity, and
activity to be ignored (for example DNS server statistics or SSH rekeying).
Psionic Logcheck is available from: https://www.psionic.com/abacus/logcheck/.
colorlogs will color code log files allowing you to easily spot suspicious
activity. Based on a config file it looks for keywords and colors the lines
(red, cyan, etc.), it takes input from STDIN so you can use it to review log
files quickly (by using cat, tail or other utilities to feed the log file
through the program). You can get it at: https://www.resentment.org/projects/colorlogs/.
WOTS collects log files from multiple sources and will generate reports or
take action based on what you tell it to do. WOTS looks for regular expressions
you define and then executes the commands you list (mail a report, sound an
alert, etc.). WOTS requires you have Perl installed and is available from: https://www.hpcc.uh.edu/~tonyc/tools/
swatch is very similar to WOTS, and the log files configuration is very
similar. You can download swatch from: ftp://ftp.stanford.edu/general/security-tools/swatch/.
The lowest level of logging possible is at the kernel level. Generally
speaking users cannot disabled of avoid this type of logging, and also are
usually not even aware it exists (a definite advantage).
<a href="../kernel/index.html#auditd">Information is available here.
A variety of command shells have built in logging capabilities.
I will also cover bash since it is the default shell in most Linux
installations, and thus its logging facilities are generally used. bash has a
large number of variables you can configure at run time or during it's use that
modify how it behaves. Everything from the command prompt style to how many
lines to keep in the log file.
name of the history file, by default it is
maximum number of commands to keep in the file, it rotates
them as needed.
the number of commands to remember (i.e. when you use the up
The variables are typically set in /etc/profile, which configures bash
globally for all users, however, the values can be over-ridden by users with the
~username/.bash_profile file, and/or by manually using the export command to set
variables such as export EDITOR=emacs. This is one of the reasons that user
directories should not be world readable; the .bash_history file can contain a
lot of valuable information to a hostile party. You can also set the file itself
non world readable, set your .bash_profile not to log, set the file non
writeable (thus denying bash the ability to write and log to it) or link it to
/dev/null (this is almost always a sure sign of suspicious user activity, or a
paranoid user). For the root account I would highly recommend setting the
HISTFILESIZE and HISTSIZE to a low value such as 10. On the other hand if you
want to log users shell history and otherwise tighten up security I would
recommend setting the configuration files in the user's home directory to
immutable using the chattr command, and set the log files (such as
.bash_history) to append only. Doing this however opens up some legal issues, so
make sure your users are aware they are being logged and have agreed to it,
otherwise you could get into trouble. Don't forget to set
/hom/username/.bash_history append only (chattr +A).