Hack 2 Scan for SUID and SGID Programs

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Quickly check for potential root-exploitable programs and backdoors.

One potential way for a user to escalate her privileges on a system is to exploit a vulnerability in an SUID or SGID program. SUID and SGID are legitimately used when programs need special permissions above and beyond those that are available to the user who is running them. One such program is passwd. Simultaneously allowing a user to change her password while not allowing any user to modify the system password file means that the passwd program must be run with root privileges. Thus the program has its SUID bit set, which causes it to be executed with the privileges of the program file's owner. Similarly, when the SGID bit is set, the program is executed with the privileges of the file's group owner.

Running ls -l on a binary that has its SUID bit set should look like this:

-r-s--x--x    1 root     root        16336 Feb 13  2003 /usr/bin/passwd

Notice that instead of an execute bit (x) for the owner bits, it has an s. This signifies an SUID file.

Unfortunately, a poorly written SUID or SGID binary can be used to quickly and easily escalate a user's privileges. Also, an attacker who has already gained root access may hide SUID binaries throughout your system in order to leave a backdoor for future access. This leads us to the need for scanning systems for SUID and SGID binaries. This is a simple process and can be done with the following command:

# find / \( -perm -4000 -o -perm -2000 \) -type f -exec ls -la {} \;

One important thing to consider is whether an SUID program is in fact a shell script rather than an executable, since it's trivial for someone to change an otherwise innocuous script into a backdoor. Most operating systems will ignore any SUID or SGID bits on a shell script, but if you want to find all SUID or SGID scripts on a system, change the argument to the -exec option in the last command and add a pipe so that the command reads:

# find / \( -perm -4000 -o -perm -2000 \) \

  -type f -exec file {} \; | grep -v ELF

Now every time an SUID or SGID file is encountered, the file command will run and determine what type of file is being examined. If it's an executable, grep will filter it out; otherwise, it will be printed to the screen with some information about what kind of file it is. Most operating systems use ELF-format executables, but if you're running an operating system that doesn't (older versions of Linux used a.out, and AIX uses XCOFF), you'll need to replace the ELF in the previous grep command with the binary format used by your operating system and architecture. If you're unsure of what to look for, run the file command on any binary executable, and it will report the string you're looking for.

For example, here's an example of running file on a binary in Mac OS X:

$ file /bin/sh

/bin/sh: Mach-O executable ppc

To go one step further, you could even queue the command to run once a day using cron and have it redirect the output to a file. For instance, this crontab entry would scan for files that have either the SUID or SGID bits set, compare the current list to the one from the day before, and then email the differences to the owner of the crontab (make sure this is all on one line):

0 4 * * * find / \( -perm -4000 -o -perm -2000 \) -type f \

  > /var/log/sidlog.new && 

  diff /var/log/sidlog.new /var/log/sidlog &&

  mv /var/log/sidlog.new /var/log/sidlog

This example will also leave a current list of SUID and SGID files in /var/log/sidlog.