What is the Security Problem?



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The Security Problem

 In many applications, ensuring the security of the computer system is worth considerable effort. Large commercial systems containing payroll or other financial data are inviting targets to thieves. Systems that contain data pertaining to corporate operations may be of interest to unscrupulous competitors. Furthermore, loss of such data, whether by accident or fraud, can seriously impair the ability of the corporation to function.

We discussed mechanisms that the operating system can provide (with appropriate aid from the hardware) that allow users to protect 559 560 Chapter 15 Security their resources, including programs and data. These mechanisms work well only as long as the users conform to the intended use of and access to these resources.

 We say that a system is secure if its resources are used and accessed as intended under all circumstances. Unfortunately, total security cannot be achieved. Nonetheless, we must have mechanisms to make security breaches a rare occurrence, rather than the norm. Security violations (or misuse) of the system can be categorized as intentional (malicious) or accidental. It is easier to protect against accidental misuse than against malicious misuse.

 For the most part, protection mechanisms are the core of protection from accidents. The following list includes forms of accidental and malicious security violations. We should note that in our discussion of security, we vise the terms intruder and cracker for those attempting to breach security.

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 In addition, a threat is the potential for a security violation, stich as the discovery of a vulnerability, whereas an attack is the attempt to break secvirity.

Breach of confidentiality. This type of violation involves unauthorized reading of data (or theft of information). Typically, a breach of confidentiality is the goal of an intruder. Capturing secret data from a system or a data stream, such as credit-card information or identity information for identity theft, can result directly in money for the intruder.

 • Breach of integrity. This violation involves unauthorized modification of data. Such attacks can, for example, result in passing of liability to an innocent party or modification of the source code of an important commercial application.

• Breach of availability. This violation involves unauthorized destruction of data. Some crackers would rather wreak havoc and gain status or bragging rights than gain financially. Web-site defacement is a common example of this type of security breach.

• Theft of service. This violation involves unauthorized use of resources. For example, an intruder (or intrusion program) may install a daemon on a system that acts as a file server.

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 • Denial of service. This violation involves preventing legitimate use of the system. Denial-of-service, or DOS, attacks are sometimes accidental. The original Internet worm turned into a DOS attack when a bug failed to delay its rapid spread. We discuss DOS attacks further in Section 15.3.3. Attackers use several standard methods in their attempts to breach security.

The most common is masquerading, in which one participant in a communication pretends to be someone else (another host or another person). By masquerading, attackers breach authentication, the correctness of identification; they can then can gain access that they would not normally be allowed or escalate their privileges—obtain privileges to which they would not normally be entitled.

Another common attack is to replay a captured exchange of data. A replay attack consists of the malicious or fraudulent repeat of a valid data transmission. Sometimes the replay comprises the entire attack— for example, in a repeat of a request to transfer money.

But frequently it is done along with message modification, again to escalate privileges. Consider the damage that could be done if a request for authentication had a legitimate 15.1 The Security Problem 561 user's information replaced with an unauthorized user's. Yet another kind of attack is the man-in-the-middle attack, in which an attacker sits in the data flow of a communication, masquerading as the sender to the receiver, and vice versa.

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 In a network communication, a man-in-the-middle attack may be preceded by a session hijacking, in which an active communication session is intercepted. Several attack methods are depicted in Figure 15.1. As we have already suggested, absolute protection of the system from malicious abuse is not possible, but the cost to the perpetrator can be made sufficiently high to deter most intruders. In some cases, such as a denial-ofservice attack, it is preferable to prevent the attack but sufficient to detect the attack so that countermeasures can be taken.

To protect a system, we must take security measures at four levels:

1. Physical. The site or sites containing the computer systems must be physically secured against armed or surreptitious entry by intruders. Both the machine rooms and the terminals or workstations that have access to the machines must be secured.

 2. Human. Authorizing users must be done carefully to assure that only appropriate users have access to the system. Even authorized users, however, may be "encouraged" to let others use their access (in exchange for a bribe, for example). They may also be tricked into allowing access via social engineering. One type of social-engineering attack is phishing. Here, a legitimate-looking e-mail or web page misleads a user into entering confidential information. Another technique is dumpster diving, a general term for attempting to gather information in order to gain unauthorized access to the computer (by looking through trash, finding phone books, or finding notes containing passwords, for example). These security problems are management and personnel issues, not problems pertaining to operating systems.

 3. Operating system. The system must protect itself from accidental or purposeful security breaches. A runaway process could constitute an accidental denial-of-service attack. A query to a service could reveal passwords. A stack overflow could allow the launching of an unauthorized process. The list of possible breaches is almost endless.

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4. Network. Much computer data in modern systems travels over private leased lines, shared lines like the Internet, wireless connections, or dial-up lines. Intercepting these data could be just as harmful as breaking into a computer; and interruption of communications could constitute a remote denial-of-service attack, diminishing users' use of and trust in the system. Security at the first two levels must be maintained if operating-system security is to be ensured.

 A weakness at a high level of security (physical or human) allows circumvention of strict low-level (operating-system) security measures. Thus, the old adage that a chain is as weak as its weakest link is especially true of system security. All of these aspects must be addressed for security to be maintained. Furthermore, the system must provide protection (Chapter 14) to allow the implementation of security features. Without the ability to authorize users and processes, to control their access, and to log their activities, it would be impossible for an operating system to implement security measures or to run securely.

 Hardware protection features are needed to support an overall protection scheme. For example, a system without memory protection cannot be secure. New hardware features are allowing systems to be made more secure, as we shall discuss. Unfortunately, little in security is straightforward. As intruders exploit security vulnerabilities, security countermeasures are created and deployed. This causes intruders to become more sophisticated in their attacks.

For example, recent security incidents include the use of spyware to provide a conduit for spam through innocent systems (we discuss this practice in 15.2 Program Threats 563 Section 15.2). This cat-and-mouse game is likely to continue, with more security tools needed to block the escalating intruder techniques and activities. In the remainder of this chapter, we address security at the network and operating-system levels.

Security at the physical and human levels, although important, is for the most part beyond the scope of this text. Security within the operating system and between operating systems is implemented in several ways, ranging from passwords for authentication through guarding against viruses to detecting intrusions. We start with an exploration of security threats.

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