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Re: SSH / X11 auth: needless complexity -> security problems?
From: Peter W <peterw () usa net>
Date: Tue, 5 Jun 2001 15:21:32 -0400

On Mon, Jun 04, 2001 at 03:17:04PM -0700, sarnold () wirex com wrote:
On Mon, Jun 04, 2001 at 11:19:37AM -0400, David F. Skoll wrote:
I could not duplicate this with OpenSSH 2.9p1-1 on Red Hat 6.2

The problem code is invoked in the X forwarding of ssh. If you try
again, this time passing -X as a command line argument to the ssh
client, you may find different results. Depending upon the user's
combination of ssh_config and the server's sshd_config, this may or
may not be (quickly) exploitable on your system. [1] Running ssh -X
will create the /tmp/ssh-XXXXXXXX directory that is needed for the

The sshd documentation says that sshd wil not invoke 'xauth' if it finds and 
can execute either $HOME/.ssh/rc or /etc/ssh/sshrc. And you can get sshd to 
more safely write an xauthority cookie file using /etc/ssh/sshrc. But it 
still creates /tmp/ssh-XXXXXXXX/cookies -- in this case, making an empty 
file. Not only that, but sshd resets the XAUTHORITY value to point to this 
empty cookie, crippling the work done by /etc/ssh/sshrc. And then when the
user logs out, sshd wipes out the empty, useless /tmp/ssh-XXXXXXXX/cookies.

As for the patches that are more careful when creating 
/tmp/ssh-XXXXXXXX/cookies -- isn't there still an assumption that 
/tmp/ssh-XXXXXXXX/cookies won't be removed before the ssh session ends? Many 
system use tools like 'tmpwatch' to prune unused files while the system is 
running (instead of depending on things like tmpfs cleaning /tmp at reboot 
time). On those systems, if someone logs in with X forwarding enabled, but 
never runs any apps that need to read $XAUTHORITY, and stays on log enough
that 'tmpwatch' removes the whole /tmp/ssh-XXXXXXXX directory, then don't 
you have another attack vector -- regardless of how careful you were when 
creating the cookies file & its parent directory?

It seems to me this whole xauthority business may be adding complexity for
no good reason. Since the DISPLAY name changes, and an Xauthority file can
hold multiple X cookie credentials, is there any good reason why OpenSSH
need to make, and then, wipe out, a special xauthority file? why it can't
just add credentials to the default xauthority file? Wouldn't that be 
simpler and, almost by definition, more secure? If you really want to be 
polite/clean, you can use the xauth "remove" command to purge the cookie 
from ~/.Xauthority


Cheap X "run as" hack available at http://www.tux.org/~peterw/

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