eRacks Open Source Systems Blog

Making the world safe for Open Source

There may be situations where you’d like to login to a remote machine via SSH and not have to enter a password to do it. Perhaps you have some sort of automated file transfer that makes use of SCP. Or, perhaps you frequently login to the same machine and get tired of having to enter a password each time. Whatever the reason may be, an attractive alternative to using passwords involves making use of cryptographic keys.

To give you a general idea of what’s involved, you’ll first generate a public/private key pair. Your public key is what you would copy to every machine you want to be able to log into. You can think of the public key as the lock on a door to a house. The reason why we call this a public key is that it’s safe to share it with the public, just as the lock on your door is safe to display from the outside. By contrast, your private key can be thought of as the key that fits into the lock. Unlike your public key, you should never copy it to machines that are either untrusted or to machines that you yourself don’t administer — this would be a bit like placing the key to your front door outside your house for strangers to use! Anybody who possesses your private key can access every machine to which you’ve made your public key accessible, so exercise extreme caution and guard your private key with your life.

SSH makes generating your keys very simple. From the command line, you’ll simply enter the following command:

$ssh-keygen

You’ll then be asked a series of questions. Accept all the defaults. If you don’t desire to password protect your key pair (which would require you to enter a password when you use it), hit enter when asked for the password, without typing anything in. At the end of the process, you should discover two new files in ~/.ssh, id_rsa and id_rsa.pub, where ~ stands for your home directory. From here, you’ll copy your public key (id_rsa.pub) to every machine you wish to log into and append its contents to a file called ~/.ssh/authorized_keys, where ~ stands for the home directory of the account you wish to log into.

To test your newly generated key pair, try to connect to one or more of the remote machines you copied your public key to. You’ll find that you’re sent straight to a command prompt, without the need for a password.

Now, there are situations where using keys without passwords can potentially be hazardous, so some significant thought should be given to the circumstances in which your key pair will be used. For example, I will never copy my laptop’s public key to my personal server at home, because if my laptop is ever stolen, the thief (if he knew how to use *NIX) would not only have access to all my local data, but would also have complete SSH access to my network at home, since he would have my laptop’s private key. Thus, I choose to sacrifice convenience for security in that particular situation. As with all things in life, the amount of relative security versus convenience is a trade off, so make sure you choose wisely.

Enjoy!

November 21st, 2008

Posted In: authentication, security, ssh, unix

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Leave a Comment

A secure environment is absolutely crucial for a virtualization server connected to the Internet. If the host is compromised, all its virtual machines are at risk and their services will be affected.


eRacks virtualization experts have put together a useful list of security considerations for virtualization migration planners. TIP #1. Use an open source virtualizer if possible. Open source software vulnerabilities are documented clearly, are well-known, and fixed quickly.
Proprietary-software bugs usually take longer to get fixed, and are even sold on black markets for illicit hacking. In fact, there are documented cases of closed source software companies purchasing security hole information of their own applications. Open source software vulnerabilities have less value on the black market, because of their shorter shelf-life.
TIP #2. Use open source guests wherever possible. New drivers for open source applications improve security as well as performance. Open source guests are more cooperative with the host, leaving less room for attack. Windows is inherently less secure, since a – it is closed source and updated less frequently. b – widely used and thus a big target. c – statistically has more severe vulnerabilities than open source OSes which take longer to fix.
TIP #3. Minimize the host footprint, making less surface area available for hackers. A small target is harder to hit than a large one. eRacks typically recommends KVM because of its small footprint, simple design, and ease of use.
The virtualization host provides services in the form of ports and packages, which should only include those required by the VMs. An effective security plan should minimize the number of open ports, narrowing the possibilities of illicit entry.
TIP #5. Use an external physical firewall. It is also possible to use a virtualized firewall, running as a guest, but it can only protect the downstream systems, and not the host. A virtualized IP-less bridging firewall is also possible but it is more difficult to implement, and still doesn’t protect the host. The safest solution is an external firewall, such as the eRacks/TWINGUARD, a redundant 1U system, with failover, running a very secure OpenBSD.
TIP #6. Assess your security level, including regular port scans (Nmap), and OS fingerprinting, keeping track of any changes. A hardened system will not give out versions of running services, otherwise it would be too easy to know exactly where the vulnerabilities lie. eRacks can give you a head start by building, installing, and configuring your system for you. Your physical host server can be configured with your choice of a virtualization host, including the freely available version of VMWare or Linux-native KVM (Kernel-based Virtual Machine), as well as a large number of possible virtual operating systems and applications, including web, DNS, email, proxy and other infrastructure services.
virtualizer description complexity level of open source
KVM built into the kernel, uses the standard Linux scheduler, memory management and other services simple, non-intrusive, very stable, easy to administrate –
KVM hypervisor about 10-12K lines of code (2007)
released under the GNU GPL
free
Xen external hypervisor, supports both paravirtualization and full virtualization, has its own scheduler, memory manager, timer handling, and machine initialization. specially modified kernel – has 10x more lines of code as KVM => raises the vulnerability level released under the GNU GPL
free
VMware fully virtualizes using software techniques only, very good performance, stability. very large and complex; more than 10x lines of code of Xen proprietary,
player open (teaser-ware),
fees

July 9th, 2008

Posted In: News, security, virtualization

Tags: , , , , ,

Leave a Comment