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Selinux on FC5

© May 2006 Anthony Lawrence
May 2006

Selinux can be confusing, but it's ordinary and default configuration is actually pretty simple. We'll examine it on Fedora Core 5.

By default, FC5 installs Selinux in "targeted" mode. You can see this in /etc/selinux/config:

# This file controls the state of SELinux on the system.
# SELINUX= can take one of these three values:
#       enforcing - SELinux security policy is enforced.
#       permissive - SELinux prints warnings instead of enforcing.
#       disabled - SELinux is fully disabled.
# SELINUXTYPE= type of policy in use. Possible values are:
#       targeted - Only targeted network daemons are protected.
#       strict - Full SELinux protection.

# SETLOCALDEFS= Check local definition changes

As the comments imply, only certain network daemons are affected by Selinux in this configuration. You can see which daemons are included and modify the security policies for them in a graphical tool ( System->Administration->Security Level and Firewall).

The idea here is that Selinux can prevent these daemons from misbehaving even if they escape from the ordinary permissions and controls that surround them. We'll use the httpd daemon to demonstrate this.

First, we need to turn httpd on if it isn't already:

# chkconfig httpd on
# /etc/init.d/httpd start

Next, I want to create a data directory:

# cd /var/www
# mkdir data
# chmod o+w data

Then we'll create a silly little cgi script to write something in that directory:

# this is /var/www/cgi-bin/se.pl
use CGI qw(:standard);
print header;

print "hello";
open(O, ">/var/www/data/foo");
print O "foo" or print "<br />Cannot $!";
print end_html;

Be sure to "chmod 755" that script. If you then visit "https://localhost/cgi-bin/se.pl", "hello" will apear on the browser screen and the file "foo" will be created in the data directory. You'd expect that, of course. But there's more going on underneath.

To see what that is, use the new "-Z" flag with "ls":

[root@localhost www]# ls -Z
drwxr-xr-x root root system_u:object_r:httpd_sys_script_exec_t cgi-bin
drwxr-xrwx root root user_u:object_r:httpd_sys_content_t data
drwxr-xr-x root root system_u:object_r:httpd_sys_content_t error
drwxr-xr-x root root system_u:object_r:httpd_sys_content_t html
drwxr-xr-x root root system_u:object_r:httpd_sys_content_t icons
drwxr-xr-x root root system_u:object_r:httpd_sys_content_t manual
drwxr-xr-x webalize root system_u:object_r:httpd_sys_content_t usage

"-Z" shows Selinux context for files. We don't need to entirely understand what this all means yet; just accept that -Z shows the details. You can also use -Z with ps:

[root@localhost www]# ps auxwZ | grep httpd
user_u:system_r:httpd_t root 27529 0.0 3.7 22616 9732 ? Ss 19:59 0:00 /usr/sbin/httpd

This shows that httpd is running in a specific selinux context (user_u:system_r:httpd_t). Again, we don't need to understand the specifics of what that means at this point.

If we look at the file "foo" that our script created, we see that it also has a context:

-rw-r--r-- apache apache user_u:object_r:httpd_sys_content_t foo

By default, files inherit selinux context from their parent directories. That's why "foo" has "user_u:object_r:httpd_sys_content_t". However, we can change it:

# cd /var/www
# chcon system_u:object_r:httpd_sys_script_exec_t data

All I'm doing there is making "data" match the "cgi-bin" directory's context.Selinux wouldn't allow httpd to write into its cgi-bin directory, so I just used that as a pattern.

If we reload the "https://localhost/cgi-bin/se.pl", it still works. The file "foo" already exists, and still has "user_u:object_r:httpd_sys_content_t". However, if we remove foo, the se.pl will now fail and complain "Cannot Bad file descriptor". Nothing else has changed: the directory permissions still allow Apache to create the file, but Selinux does not because we gave the directory a security context that httpd is not allowed to write to.

Remember, these contexts only affect daemons targetted by Selinux. Nothing else is constrained: root can still do anything it likes. However, if Selinux were NOT running just targeted daemons, even root could not bypass its security. Setting up system like that can be a little tricky (Selinux has a well deserved reputation for complexity), but if you'd like to read more about it, see these on-line books:


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-> Selinux on FC5

1 comment

Inexpensive and informative Apple related e-books:

Take Control of Pages

Take Control of iCloud

Take Control of the Mac Command Line with Terminal, Second Edition

Are Your Bits Flipped?

Take Control of High Sierra

More Articles by © Anthony Lawrence

Wed May 17 10:20:03 2006: 2027   anonymous

Excellent intro! Thanks.


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