TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Mac OS X Security Volume Number: 17 (2001)
Issue Number: 4
Column Tag: Mac Security

Mac OS X Security

By Jesse Corbeil, Montréal Québec

Securing a Mac OS X workstation for stand-alone or home use out of the box

Note: Mac OS X is currently in Public Beta. The final version may invalidate any or all of this paper. That's just a chance we take when we write how-tos about beta operating systems

In the world of operating systems, the Macintosh platform has traditionally been everybody else's secure neighbour. Not many virii or cracks affected the Mac (unless we counted cross-platform Word macros), and we were generally spared the heaps of abuse that were laid onto our Windows-using brethren. Whether this has been due to the brotherly Mac community or the simple fact that there aren't enough Mac OS computers out there to make it worthwhile is up for debate. The truth will become clear when we all trash our old Macs and buy brand-new Cubes to run Apple's swank new OS. Why is that? Because Mac OS X is nothing more than a shiny interface on top of a tweaked BSD core, and BSD is very much slugging it out at the centre of the cracks and exploits blattleground. With that in mind, this article will discuss how to secure the default installation for a workstation or for home use.

BSD

Unix-cowboys have it all over us Mac users. They trade in the ease-of-use and smooth operation to which we are accustomed on the Mac side for raw, unlimited power over their machines. The easy Mac or Windows click-to-install approach is shunned in favour of the ability to tweak the code of an app that didn't install properly; cutting, thwacking, and generally forcing the code until the app clicks smoothly into place. Further, whereas we tend to troubleshoot by twiddling the knobs and banging the pipes, Unix-gurus crawl under the sink to pull the works apart. They know their machines better than we know our mothers.

Now, all that is about to change- at least for those of us who actually want to dig about under the hood and still enjoy the Mac OS experience.

With the change to Mac OS X, Apple reduces the number of major-player non-Unix OSes by one, while simaultaneously giving the Unix world something it has been trying to develop with imperfect solutions like KDE and Gnome: a distro with a polished and usable GUI.

What the BSD core (fetchingly called 'Darwin') gives back to the Mac is a rock-solid OS with all the buzz-technologies incorporated: multi-this, protected-that, and the new-to-Mac concept of an application crashing without taking down the OS. Unfortunately, what else we get is a security headache. Suddenly, all those Unix-savvy hacks and virii are mac-savvy too. Added to that (and I feel safe in going out on this particular limb), the country-bumpkin image that the Mac OS has enjoyed in hacker circles is about to be replaced by a perception of the OS as the sexy new Unix. Eager crackers will want to try out all the exploits and probe the nooks and crannies.

The Swiss-Cheese OS

Once they've been properly set up, the BSDs are generally pretty secure. They are developed by security-conscious communities and tend to be deployed in sensitive areas like networking and databasing. The Calgary-based OpenBSD is regarded as the most secure BSD distribution, incorporating many crypto and security features that would be non-exportable had it been an American distro subject to US export laws. Obviously, Apple could not have based Mac OS X in Open BSD and still sold the OS outside the US, but the more freely-exportable BSDs are still very secure, and the choice to base Mac OS X on the platform is still a solid one.

OpenBSD aside, any distro must be properly hardened to close up some of the dozens of holes left open by a default installation. This is where Darwin shows its BSD roots, and where a certain familiarity with Unix system hardening comes in. On a typical BSD system, one of the things an admin would do to secure the system is to edit the inetd.conf file to disable unneeded services. Mac OS X comes with the inetd.conf file already set up in a pretty secure configuration, but that doesn't mean that the OS is completely tight. There are other security holes in the default setup (such as services not covered by inetd.conf) that must be addressed before deploying the OS in a secured environment. When configuring services, the general rule of thumb is If you're not using it, turn it off.

There are some cool gewgaws in Mac OS X, though their default configurations can be pretty insecure. Running dmesg, for instance, reveals that there is an IP packet filter initialised but that it's wide open; The NFS daemon is active by default, which opens up a security hole, as does the Portmap daemon. There's an NTP daemon enabled, which opens a very slight security risk: though one wouldn't generally try to compromise the system through NTP, it is theoretically possible to muck about with it to make time-sensitive apps do one's bidding. But by far the coolest feature of the OS in terms of un-fubar-ability is the separation of admin accounts from the central, all-powerful root user. As part of the OS installation, I was asked to create an administrator account for myself. I set the system up as "jcorbeil," which is the account I generally use. From there I can administer just about anything on the machine - so long as the function is GUI accessible. However, if I try to enter rm -rf * in a Terminal window, the system will tell me to stuff myself. Why is this? It's due to Apple's approach to Mac OSX's design. Apple has made it as difficult as possible to hose your system by limiting GUI access to most of the really dangerous functions. That's a smart move on Apple's part, as it effectively stops non-gurus from inadvertently committing atrocities.

Another safety feature was revealed when I checked out the NetInfo application, which is where all system and user information is centralised. I discovered (and verified via a quick etc/passwd check) that even though my account is an administrator account, the system still pledges its allegiance to a separate root account that was automatically generated during installation. In other words, "jcorbeil" may be the system admin, but he doesn't have the same set of priviledges as the bonafide root user. To do something that only the root can (like erase the works), I have to su to root in Terminal, then do my damage. It's not hard, as the root account shares jcorbeil's password by default, but there's a certain level of know-how involved in getting to the 'destroy-the-OS' point that is beyond the ken of most new users coming from a classic Mac OS background.

Openings and Closings

To get a bit of an aperçu of what ports are open on your system, open a Terminal window and enter netstat -an (Figure 1). This will display your machine's ports and whether they are listening, established, or closed. If you want to see the ports' names, use the netstat -a command. It's a safe bet that you'll find ports you don't recognise. That's normal, but for for those who want to know all about ports, http://www.doshelp.com/trojanports.htm has some resources for the inquisutive firewall admin.


Figure 1. What comes up when you type netstat -an

Chances are, you'll find two local addresses near the bottom of the list, called *.111 and *.514. These are our first two security issues. *.111 is portmap, which is a daemon for making RPC calls. It is also lousy for security, and is best turned off. *.514 is the syslog daemon, which listens on UDP and receives log broadcasts from other servers. Sounds pretty innocuous, right? Well, UDP is not a two-way protocol, so there's no way for syslog to verify whether or not the sender of a given datum is who he says he is, which opens up the potential for a denial of service attack. Nasty stuff. Tighten *.514 up by using IPF to stop connections other than 127.0.0.1 (more on this later).

After that, run a search for any files that are either world-writeable or owned by the "nobody" user or group. Every one of these opens up a little security hole, and should therefore be viewed with great circumspection. You might need a couple of them, you might not. Look about and clean up what you can by tightening up the access control to world-writeable files or files with 'nobody' ownership.

IPFilter: Built-in Security

IPFilter is a firewall that gets installed with the kernel, and is where some of the power of a BSD-based OS comes to the fore. IPFilter alone warrants a book or two, but there are some basics that everyone can use as a springboard to using IPF fairly quickly.

IPF works by processing a rules file. The rules file is a text file of conditions and actions for IPF to take when those conditions come to pass, for example blocking packets, letting packets through, and logging them. Set up IPF's rules file for blocking, passing, and logging based upon the criteria you want to employ. For example, say you don't want TCP packets coming in. You would edit the ipf.rules file by entering the following line of text:

block in on ed0 proto tcp from any to any

If you wanted the above to block only one port (say *.514), you would change the text to read:

block in on ed0 proto tcp from any to any port = 514.

Fiddle with the file, blocking and unblocking ports until you have a tight system from which you can still run the transactions you need. It is generally a good idea to start off your rules file with a command to block all ports. That way, any port that doesn't have a rule expressly attributed to it is covered by the first rule, and is blocked.

IPF is quite powerful, and it's a good idea to become well-acquainted with it. More in-depth information can be found at http://coombs.anu.edu.au/ipfilter.

SSH and Kerberos

Two things that I haven't touched on in this article are SSH and Kerberos. That has been done on purpose, as there is very little to be done with either of them for a home or standalone system set-up. SSH comes as part of the standard installation and is an extremely effective tool for keeping your system tight. For our purposes, you won't need to change the configuration. Just be serene in the knowledge that it's running and it has your safety in mind. Accordingly, you don't need to run services like rsh, telnet, rlogin, or ftp. They represent unneeded security risks, so unless you expressly need one of them for something, shut them down.

Kerberos uses a client/server setup, and you would only worry about Kerberos if you were on a network that uses the protocol. Since we're securing a home machine, we'll leave Kerberos alone.

Take it to the Bone

These solutions are not the be-all, end-all secret to how to secure your home system from a brilliant hacker, but they do form a solid foundation from which you can do further research into the methods and tools available to secure your computer. If you want to read further, check out the IP FilterFAQ at http://coombs.anu.edu.au/ipfilter/ipfilfaq.html, or read O'Reilly's Practical UNIX & Internet Security by Garfinkel and Spafford.

Whether or not you decide to delve into the deep, dark depths of computer security, a basic knowledge will still help you understand the basics. Basic knowledge will at least let you understand the theory behind a security breach that might nail your machine, and understanding will hand you the keys you need to get the problem fixed. Computer security doesn't have to be scary, indeed, it can even sometimes be fun. Getting caught unawares by a cracker, on the other hand, can cause you immeasurable pain.


Jesse Corbeil is the Director of Documentation at SecureOps, a network security consulting firm in Montréal, Canada. He has written for beoscentral.com and several other information sites, and is involved in the Marathon Open Source project.

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Black Hole Joyrider (Games)
Black Hole Joyrider 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Guide your spacecraft through the gravity well of a powerful black hole using only your retro-thrusters and dwindling fuel... | Read more »
My Koi (Games)
My Koi 1.0 Device: iOS iPhone Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: My Koi is a beautiful and relaxing fish pond app. Customise and name each fish. Feed them daily. Watch them grow. Collect new fish.... | Read more »
Never Gone (Games)
Never Gone 1.0.2 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0.2 (iTunes) Description: ###IMPPORTANT### Never Gone's HD art resources require devices with more than 1GB RAM, so please note that iPhone 4/4s, iPad 2/... | Read more »
INKS. (Games)
INKS. 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: From the makers of BAFTA-winning Lumino City comes INKS. INKS updates pinball for a new generation. It combines the joy of pinball with... | Read more »
How to maximise your profits in Bakery B...
Running a bakery can be an expensive venture. You’ll need to continuously upgrade your oven, your kitchen supplies, and even your ingredients to keep customers happy. Most of these renovations in Bakery Blitz cost a pretty penny, but we have a few... | Read more »
How to manage your time in Bakery Blitz
It can be tricky, especially when you risk burning your kitchen to the ground if you forget a cake in the oven, so make sure to use these time management tricks to keep your bakery running smoothly. Don’t collect the money right away [Read more] | Read more »
Model 15 (Music)
Model 15 1.0 Device: iOS iPhone Category: Music Price: $29.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: The Moog Model 15 App is the first Moog modular synthesizer and synthesis educational tool created exclusively for iPad, iPhone and... | Read more »
How to deal with wind in Angry Birds Act...
Angry Birds Action! is a physics-based puzzler in which you're tasked with dragging and launching birds around an obstacle-littered field to achieve a set objective. It's simple enough at first, but when wind gets introduced things can get pretty... | Read more »
How to get three stars in every level of...
Angry Birds Action! is, essentially, a pinball-style take on the pull-and-fling action of the original games. When you first boot it up, you'll likely be wondering exactly what it is you have to do to get a good score. Well, never fear as 148Apps... | Read more »
The beginner's guide to Warbits
Warbits is a turn-based strategy that's clearly inspired by Nintendo's Advance Wars series. Since turn-based strategy games can be kind of tricky to dive into, see below for a few tips to help you in the beginning. Positioning is crucial [Read... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

12-inch 128GB iPad Pros on sale for up to $10...
B&H Photo has 12″ 128GB WiFi iPad Pros on sale for up to $100 off MSRP, each including free shipping. B&H charges sales tax in NY only: - 12″ Space Gray 128GB WiFi iPad Pro: $899 $50 off MSRP... Read more
Global Tablet Sales Slump Continues, iPad’s F...
Another miserable showing for the global slate tablet category in calendar Q1/16, with global tablet shipments falling another 1ten percent to 46.5 million units during the according to Strategy... Read more
Revel Systems to Showcase iPad POS Platform w...
Revel Systems, specialists in iPad Point of Sale management solution for brick-and-mortar retail, food businesses and more, today announced that it will showcase its innovative iPad Point of Sale... Read more
13-inch 2.5GHz MacBook Pro on sale for $999,...
B&H Photo has the 13″ 2.5GHz MacBook Pro on sale for $999 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $100 off MSRP. Read more
Apple refurbished 2015 iMacs available for up...
Apple now has a full line of Certified Refurbished 2015 21″ & 27″ iMacs available for up to $350 off MSRP. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and shipping is free. The following models are... Read more
Indian Smartphone Market Grows Annually by 12...
India’s smartphone market grew by 12 percent year-over-year, with 24.4 million units shipping in Q1 2016. The top five vendors stayed the same, with Samsung in the lead, followed by Micromax, Intex... Read more
Get Notifications When Your Friend’s Phone Ba...
Calgary, Canada based Stonelight Pictures has announced the release of Battery Share 1.0.1, its new utility for iOS 9 supported devices. The company notes that people are spending more time on their... Read more
11-inch 1.6GHz/128GB MacBook Air on sale for...
Amazon has the current-generation 11″ 1.6GHz/128GB MacBook Air (sku MJVM2LL/A) on sale for $749.99 for a limited time. Their price is $150 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available for this model... Read more
Price drops on clearance 2015 13-inch MacBook...
B&H Photo has dropped prices on clearance 2015 13″ MacBook Airs by up to $250. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 13″ 1.6GHz/4GB/128GB MacBook Air (MJVE2LL/A): $799, $200... Read more
Mac minis on sale for up to $100 off MSRP
B&H Photo has Mac minis on sale for up to $100 off MSRP including free shipping plus NY sales tax only: - 1.4GHz Mac mini: $449 $50 off MSRP - 2.6GHz Mac mini: $649 $50 off MSRP - 2.8GHz Mac mini... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
Restaurant Manager (Neighborhood Captain) - A...
…in every aspect of daily operation. WHY YOU'LL LIKE IT: You'll be the Big Apple . You'll solve problems. You'll get to show your ability to handle the stress and Read more
Automotive Sales Consultant - Apple Ford Linc...
…you. The best candidates are smart, technologically savvy and are customer focused. Apple Ford Lincoln Apple Valley is different, because: $30,000 annual salary Read more
Restaurant Manager (Neighborhood Captain) - A...
…in every aspect of daily operation. WHY YOU'LL LIKE IT: You'll be the Big Apple . You'll solve problems. You'll get to show your ability to handle the stress and Read more
Simply Mac *Apple* Specialist- Service Repa...
Simply Mac is the largest premier retailer of Apple products in the nation. In order to support our growing customer base, we are currently looking for a driven Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.