12.2. The tcpd Access Control Facility

Since opening a computer to network access involves many security risks, applications are designed to guard against several types of attacks. Some security features, however, may be flawed (most drastically demonstrated by the RTM Internet worm, which exploited a hole in a number of programs, including old versions of the sendmail mail daemon), or do not distinguish between secure hosts from which requests for a particular service will be accepted and insecure hosts whose requests should be rejected. We've already briefly discussed the finger and tftp services. Network Administrator would want to limit access to these services to “trusted hosts” only, which is impossible with the usual setup, for which inetd provides this service either to all clients or not at all.

A useful tool for managing host-specific access is tcpd, often called the daemon “wrapper.”[1] For TCP services you want to monitor or protect, it is invoked instead of the server program. tcpd checks if the remote host is allowed to use that service, and only if this succeeds will it execute the real server program. tcpd also logs the request to the syslog daemon. Note that this does not work with UDP-based services.

For example, to wrap the finger daemon, you have to change the corresponding line in inetd.conf from this:

# unwrapped finger daemon
finger    stream tcp nowait bin    /usr/sbin/fingerd in.fingerd
to this:
# wrap finger daemon
finger  stream  tcp     nowait  root    /usr/sbin/tcpd   in.fingerd

Without adding any access control, this will appear to the client as the usual finger setup, except that any requests are logged to syslog's auth facility.

Two files called /etc/hosts.allow and /etc/hosts.deny implement access control. They contain entries that allow and deny access to certain services and hosts. When tcpd handles a request for a service such as finger from a client host named biff.foobar.com, it scans hosts.allow and hosts.deny (in this order) for an entry matching both the service and client host. If a matching entry is found in hosts.allow, access is granted and tcpd doesn't consult the hosts.deny file. If no match is found in the hosts.allow file, but a match is found in hosts.deny, the request is rejected by closing down the connection. The request is accepted if no match is found at all.

Entries in the access files look like this:

servicelist: hostlist [:shellcmd]

servicelist is a list of service names from /etc/services, or the keyword ALL. To match all services except finger and tftp, use ALL EXCEPT finger, tftp.

hostlist is a list of hostnames, IP addresses, or the keywords ALL, LOCAL, UNKNOWN or PARANOID. ALL matches any host, while LOCAL matches hostnames that don't contain a dot.[2] UNKNOWN matches any hosts whose name or address lookup failed. PARANOID matches any host whose hostname does not resolve back to its IP address.[3] A name starting with a dot matches all hosts whose domain is equal to this name. For example, .foobar.com matches biff.foobar.com, but not nurks.fredsville.com. A pattern that ends with a dot matches any host whose IP address begins with the supplied pattern, so 172.16. matches, but not A pattern of the form n.n.n.n/m.m.m.m is treated as an IP address and network mask, so we could specify our previous example as instead. Lastly, any pattern beginning with a “/” character allows you to specify a file that is presumed to contain a list of hostname or IP address patterns, any of which are allowed to match. So a pattern that looked like /var/access/trustedhosts would cause the tcpd daemon to read that file, testing if any of the lines in it matched the connecting host.

To deny access to the finger and tftp services to all but the local hosts, put the following in /etc/hosts.deny and leave /etc/hosts.allow empty:

in.tftpd, in.fingerd: ALL EXCEPT LOCAL, .your.domain

The optional shellcmd field may contain a shell command to be invoked when the entry is matched. This is useful to set up traps that may expose potential attackers. The following example creates a log file listing the user and host connecting, and if the host is not vlager.vbrew.com it will append the output of a finger to that host:

in.ftpd: ALL EXCEPT LOCAL, .vbrew.com : \
      echo "request from %d@%h: >> /var/log/finger.log; \
      if [ %h != "vlager.vbrew.com:" ]; then \ 
          finger -l @%h >> /var/log/finger.log \

The %h and %d arguments are expanded by tcpd to the client hostname and service name, respectively. Please refer to the hosts_access(5) manual page for details.



Written by Wietse Venema, wietse@wzv.win.tue.nl.


Usually only local hostnames obtained from lookups in /etc/hosts contain no dots.


While its name suggests it is an extreme measure, the PARANOID keyword is a good default, as it protects you against mailicious hosts pretending to be someone they are not. Not all tcpd are supplied with PARANOID compiled in; if yours is not, you need to recompile tcpd to use it.