Managing Operating System (OS) Lock Down

Managing Operating System (OS) Lock Down
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Managing Operating System (OS) Lock Down
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Author Retains Full Rights
Sponsored by Trusted Computer Solutions (TCS)
Managing Operating System (OS) Lock Down:
Trusted Computer Solutions’
Security Blanket Review
A SANS Whitepaper – March 2010
Written by Dave Shackleford
Overview and Setup
Installation, Clients,
and Groups
Security Profiles and
Scheduling, and
Any IT/Security Manager worth his salt knows that configuration management is a mainstay of
secure network operations. This year (2010), “Secure configurations for hardware and software
on laptops, workstations, and servers ” was again on SANS list of top 20 critical security controls.
Nowhere is this more critical than at the operating system (OS) level, where default passwords
and vulnerable services and ports are known to be huge exposures. Although organizations are
generally good at locking down critical server operating systems initially, these “gold builds” fall
out of configuration over time, particularly in distributed organizations where local resources are
scarce. For example, when a system is used to test a new application that is never uninstalled,
it exposes all the data and vulnerabilities associated with that new application to attackers. In
other cases, certain system updates and patches are forgotten or deliberately not applied; new
users are added or deleted without updating; or systems are moved and are no longer listed on
the active system inventory list.
In the case of OS lock down, organizations need policies to follow throughout the life of their critical server systems that are able to meet differing requirements for specific business uses, including provisions to unlock a system when required. For example, certain configuration changes
may lead to application instability or impact performance; having a process to simply rollback
these changes would be beneficial. Adding and removing configuration changes comprises the
overall configuration management lifecycle.
Configuration management (CM) tools aid in performing assessments and making recommendations for remediation across all systems and applications they are programmed to, including
noting whether they find vulnerabilities in operating systems. However, this is not the same as
actually locking down the OS to policy, consistently monitoring the configuration for unspecified
changes, and other specific OS maintenance and management requirements.
In this paper, we look at a tool specific to OS lock down from Trusted Computer Solutions (TCS)
called Security Blanket, which automates OS configuration for a wide variety of UNIX and Linux
platforms. Security Blanket can automatically lock down these operating systems based on
industry standards and ensure lock down remains in effect following patches, updates and application changes. Through its management console, undoing lock down was as easy to achieve as
locking down a system. It also provides auditing and compliance reporting features and
guidelines for both OS and service details.
SANS Analyst Program
Trusted Computer Solutions’ Security Blanket Review
Overview and Setup
This paper is an operational review of Security Blanket, which is deceptively simple to use, yet
provides a granular list of controls that can be configured on servers. The product consists of
clients running on servers, which can then be placed into groups. An administrator defines a
series of profiles (some pre-built profiles come out of the box) that are then configured with
a number of individual security configuration modules representing individual control elements like password policies, management of specific services, user controls, and so on.
We evaluated Security Blanket Enterprise version 4.0.1-r8726 for this review. The purpose of
the review was to determine what security features Security Blanket could provide in Linux
and Solaris environments to establish and maintain continuous compliance for these systems
over time.
A VMware-based test environment was used to create both the console and client systems as
virtual machines for this review. Figure 1 and Table 1 define the testing environment employed.
Figure 1: Security Blanket Review Environment
SANS Analyst Program
Trusted Computer Solutions’ Security Blanket Review
Security Blanket’s current release supports Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 and 5 (32- and 64-bit),
CentOS 4 and 5 (32- and 64-bit and Desktop), Oracle Enterprise Linux versions 4 and 5, Solaris
10, Fedora 10 and 11, Novell 11 and OpenSUSE 11. For this review, we tested the client versions
listed in Table 1.
Operating System
OS/Kernel Version
Client Version
CentOS 5 (console VM)
Security Blanket 4.0.1 -r8710
CentOS 5 (client VM)
Security Blanket 4.0.1 -r8710
Security Blanket 4.0.1 -r8710
Fedora 11
Security Blanket 4.0.1 -r8710
Table 1: Security Blanket Clients and OS Versions
Note that Security Blanket is also available in a standalone version, which seems to have the
same configuration management features and web-based console as the Enterprise version,
but is intended for use on a single system. This version, however, was not assessed during this
SANS Analyst Program
Trusted Computer Solutions’ Security Blanket Review
Installation, Clients, and Groups
Installation of the product was generally straightforward. The same executable is used for both
client and console (management server) installation, making it simple to manage. The license
was based on the console system’s MAC address, and the license received from TCS was easy
to integrate. The setup process consisted of running an executable that assesses the system
for compatibility and then prompts the user to move through a very fast installation process.
Several minor questions came up surrounding dependencies and the setup of certificates
(required for console–client communications). Issues were quickly resolved with help from TCS’
responsive support team. Overall, the setup was painless, and the documentation was very
All communications between the administrator’s browser and the console, as well as the console and client systems, is encrypted for security. Figure 2 demonstrates the default configuration, which is the configuration SANS reviewed.
Figure 2: Encrypted Communications and Components
SANS Analyst Program
Trusted Computer Solutions’ Security Blanket Review
The license file is only applied to the console system, which is also the system that generates certificates for console–client communications. The setup process on each client was even
easier, because it wasn’t necessary to configure any web services, and the certificates from the
console were simply imported. Setting up the console and three (3) separate clients took a
total of one hour after resolving dependencies and several other questions.
Upon logging into the console for the first time, we noted that all of the major product functions were neatly laid out within the browser window. There are tabs along the top for each
product function: client and group creation, profile definition, viewing of notifications and
reports, and task scheduling, as shown in Figure 3.
Figure 3: The Main Security Blanket Console
Our first task was to define clients, which we accomplished by clicking the Clients tab. Selecting
New gets you to a screen with five (5) possible fields, as shown in Figure 4.
Figure 3: The Main Security Blanket Console
SANS Analyst Program
Trusted Computer Solutions’ Security Blanket Review
Our first task was to define clients, which we accomplished by clicking the Clients tab. Selecting
New gets you to a screen with five (5) possible fields, as shown in Figure 4.
Figure 4: Client Definition Page
After defining all the clients to be assessed, it was time to create test groups for them. Two identical CentOS 5 images were included, one of which was running the Security Blanket Console.
These were placed into a specific group called CentOS, and the Red Hat and Fedora systems
were placed into a group called Test. When these groups are defined, a profile can be assigned
to them. To start the assessment, built-in groups were chosen: The Test group was assigned the
CIS benchmarks profile, while the CentOS group was assigned the DISA UNIX STIG profile as
shown in Figure 5. These configuration settings weren’t actually tested or applied until later in
the review; however, at this point in the process they were associated with the particular group
and clients.
Figure 5: Assigning Clients and Profiles to Groups
SANS Analyst Program
Trusted Computer Solutions’ Security Blanket Review
Security Profiles and Modules
The most fundamental element of Security Blanket’s configuration capabilities is the profile.
The default profiles available with the product are a “Who’s Who” of well-known configuration
hardening guidance, including the following:
• CIS Benchmarks: Configuration guides for a wide number of platforms from the Center for Internet Security.
• DISA UNIX STIGs: The Defense Information Systems Agency’s Security Technical
Implementation Guides, often considered the most detailed configuration guides
• Web Services Protection: A hybrid guide from CIS, DISA, and SANS that addresses
configuration guidance for Linux and Solaris systems running Apache, MySQL and
PHP for web services.
In addition to these, several compliance- and accreditation-specific profiles are available
including DCID 6/3 (certification and accreditation for U.S. federal intelligence agencies), Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) guidance,
Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), and others. Each of these comes prepopulated with a number of security modules, which are groups of OS and application security
settings configured to match the hardening guidance or compliance mandate setting requirements. For example, if an organization wants to use warning banners at employee login for
legal reasons, there’s a security module for creating a login warning banner as shown in Figure
6. We applied this setting as part of the review. It was present after the change took effect.
Figure 6: Login Warning Banner Security Module
SANS Analyst Program
Trusted Computer Solutions’ Security Blanket Review
The variety of predefined modules include long and complex lock down profiles, as well as
streamlined standards and guides. For example, the DISA UNIX STIG and CIS Benchmarks profiles are very comprehensive, with extensive lists of configured modules available. The profile
for the National Industrial Security Program Operating Manual (NISPOM) is not nearly as long,
but meets that particular standard. The level of detail provided for each profile and security
module is impressive — each control is explained when it’s selected, and controls with specific
settings or additional details have a View button next to them for the administrator to see how
the control is configured.
The real power of this tool comes from the ability to define custom profiles and add specific
sets of security modules. Any of the predefined profiles can be cloned as a starting point by
using the Copy command under the Profiles tab. Once cloned, the profile can be modified
as needed. This can be very helpful for organizations that want to modify the best practice
standards to better suit their organization’s evolving policies. For example, the DISA STIGs are
known to be comprehensive and somewhat rigid in locking down UNIX systems. Commercial financial institutions may want to start with the original STIG, but then modify or change
some of the modules to be less restrictive. Custom profiles can be created from scratch, too.
The administrator simply adds modules as needed. In this review, several profiles were cloned,
modified and then applied. For example, the CIS UNIX benchmark was cloned, and in the new
profile, multiple settings were changed from the defaults for OS lock down. For testing, specific
warning banners were written, permissions on the /etc/shadow file were changed from 400
to 777, and so on. All of these settings were correctly applied in the new profile.
The range of modules is broad and provides great coverage of UNIX and Linux security controls.
The following is a sample of some of the types of configuration actions users can implement:
• Disabling vulnerable services such as Remote Shell (rsh), NIS, NFS, SNMP, and others
• Setting home directory contents, ownership and permissions
• Setting account controls, such as setting the shell to /bin/nologin, disabling
accounts with empty password fields, locking nonroot accounts with UID 0, and
removing generic system accounts
• Setting a variety of password policies, such as password complexity and re-use, setting
single-user mode and GRUB bootloader passwords, and setting permissions on password files like /etc/passwd and /etc/shadow
• Setting a number of SSHD parameters, such as root login, protocol selection, X11 forwarding, and warning banners
SANS Analyst Program
Trusted Computer Solutions’ Security Blanket Review
After applying the configuration settings noted above (among many others), we performed a
manual examination at the command line to ensure they were all properly set. In every case,
the OS lock down setting was accurately applied, which was later reflected in scan reports, as
well. An example of the detailed help available for a security module is shown in Figure 7. Note
the inclusion of compliance and best practice standards sections to which this control maps.
Figure 7: Detailed Information on a Security Module
SANS Analyst Program
Trusted Computer Solutions’ Security Blanket Review
Management, Scheduling, and Reporting
Now that we’ve taken a look at what kinds of profiles and security settings can be controlled
with Security Blanket, how does it work? Security Blanket enables a number of different actions
that can be taken for each client or group:
• Quick Scan Assessment: The client or group is scanned and assessed against its
selected profile, but any system-intensive security modules are skipped.
• Scan: The entire range of security modules applied to the profile is analyzed.
• Apply: The client or group’s selected profile is actually applied to the system. In essence,
this automates the application of numerous configuration settings at one time.
• Undo: This action reverses a previous Apply action, allowing an administrator to
reverse any overly stringent security settings that may have resulted from configuring
a system.
• Baseline: This action allows an administrator to take a snapshot of a system’s current
state, capturing numerous details about its configuration for comparison to previous
baselines and other systems’ baselines.
In this review, we tested the following actions:
• Scan, Apply, and Undo: Multiple clients had the DISA UNIX STIG and CIS Benchmarks
applied and removed (via the Undo action). After these actions, the clients were evaluated at the console command line to determine whether security settings had been
applied and then removed. In both cases, Security Blanket performed the specific
actions as requested. See an example of a full scan against the DISA UNIX STIG profile
in Figure 8.
• Compare Baselines: The CentOS group members each had baselines run at various
times. Comparisons between the two systems’ baselines were run, as was a baseline
comparison for one of the systems before and after the DISA UNIX STIG was applied.
• Customize Profiles: A custom profile was created with several test security modules
added and configured. The profile was applied to a CentOS system as well as to the
Test group, and the changes were validated at the command line on each
SANS Analyst Program
Trusted Computer Solutions’ Security Blanket Review
Figure 8: Full Scan Using the DISA UNIX STIG Profile
The ability to create baselines and reports, and then compare them at later times, gives Security
Blanket the ability to act as a continuous compliance management tool, ensuring each system
remains at the desired security level, all while auditing any changes that may have occurred.
Figure 9 demonstrates the results of a baseline comparison between a CentOS system prior to
applying the DISA UNIX STIG and after the application. Note the timestamps and notifications
on modifications.
Figure 9: Baseline Comparison Before and After DISA UNIX STIG Application
SANS Analyst Program
Trusted Computer Solutions’ Security Blanket Review
To help accomplish the goal of ongoing compliance, Security Blanket provides an easy-to-use
scheduler capability. Administrators can schedule individual daily, weekly or monthly actions
(or a series of actions) that can help automate the process of scanning, configuring (applying),
or baselining a group of systems, as shown in Figure 10. In our review, several scheduled scans
and baseline tasks were initiated, and the resulting reports were available for review afterward.
This is a very handy utility that could be used in conjunction with other monitoring solutions
to help maintain a steady state of OS lock down in any environment.
Figure 10: Scheduling Actions for a Group
Security Blanket provides two additional report types as audit trails for the Security Blanket
Console system itself and any UNIX/Linux clients. Under the Reports tab are sections for both
Console Audit Log and Client Application Logs, which can be leveraged to show that operational tasks have been performed, who performed them, and when they were completed. This
can help organizations demonstrate compliance by showing auditors that configuration tasks
have been completed in a timely manner (via console activities or on the client itself ), meeting
policies and compliance requirements. Figure 11 shows the pattern highlighting feature in the
Console Audit Log report.
SANS Analyst Program
Trusted Computer Solutions’ Security Blanket Review
Figure 11: Search String Highlighting in Console Audit Logs
In particular, the Undo feature was very useful. There are many cases in which organizations
need to test configuration changes on new and existing systems. In some situations, these
changes could have adverse effects on the systems. When they do, the configuration needs
to be rolled back to prevent interruption of business services and overall functionality. In this
review, we tested the Undo feature multiple times for simple, unique changes as well as entire
profile applications. In all cases, the Undo feature successfully removed the changes within a
minute or two. For organizations trying to develop new policies and standards for OS security
settings, this feature is invaluable.
Security Blanket allows organizations to define configuration policies, apply and remove them,
and report on the state of systems at any given time. In addition, the ability to monitor changes
to systems is invaluable, helping many administrators keep up with exactly what is happening
in their environments.
Security Blanket was simple to use. The review environment was set up and running in a short
period of time, and test cases were easy to generate and test. In a number of specific instances,
using multiple different compliance and configuration profiles, Security Blanket locked the platforms down to the specifications in the profile, and also
undid them on demand. Custom profiles were created and tested, and
they were equally as effective. Baseline reports were generated, and
comparisons against former baselines and different system’s baselines were run with clear, obvious results of what differed between
the two. In short, for the features it advertises, Security Blanket
worked as it says it does.
SANS Analyst Program
Trusted Computer Solutions’ Security Blanket Review
It is often said that each UNIX or Linux system is like a snowflake — unique and unlike any
other. This is not a flattering description when considering locking down or hardening the
many operating systems used in our enterprises today.
Security Blanket makes managing lock down of these systems appear easy. Starting with baseline assessment, the tool also applies and monitors lock down rules for complex systems and
keeps systems in continuous compliance. Should systems need to be unlocked for any reason
(including adverse effects, changing policies or procedures, or installation of new applications
and services), the Undo feature in Security Blanket provides simple and effective capabilities
to remove configuration lock down settings easily.
Overall, Security Blanket is a critical layer of defense-in-depth that meets a singular need in
enterprises — the protection of critical server operating systems. As such, Security Blanket
plays into the larger assessment and configuration management story at the foundational
layer — the OS — while at the same time allowing granular control of configuration policies
across all critical and sensitive UNIX and Linux systems.
SANS Analyst Program
Trusted Computer Solutions’ Security Blanket Review
About the Author
Dave Shackleford, Director of Security Assessments and Risk & Compliance at
Sword & Shield Enterprise Security, is a SANS Analyst, instructor and GIAC technical director. He has consulted with hundreds of organizations in the areas of
regulatory compliance, security, and network architecture and engineering. He’s
worked as CSO for Configuresoft, CTO for the Center for Internet Security, and
as a security architect, analyst, and manager for several Fortune 500 companies.
SANS Analyst Program
Trusted Computer Solutions’ Security Blanket Review
SANS would like to thank this paper’s sponsor:
SANS Analyst Program
Trusted Computer Solutions’ Security Blanket Review
Last Updated: July 28th, 2017
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