What’s the plan with PAM?

Okay after quite a few days working on pambase, and a few discussions, I think I have a decent plan going forward to implement the new pambase. You can find the current status of the code in the repository but of course it is not really enough to get to test it; I’m still undecided whether I should add an overlay to the same repository, or get a PAM-only overlay where I can dump all the ebuilds for review.

So here is the rundown. First of all, as I said many times by now, I’ve replaced the C preprocessor with the M4 tool instead; this provides me a much more complete macro language, which means I can easily add further support, and mess around to disable/enable options as needed. Thanks to this, we now have a number of other authentication schemes, such as LDAP, PKCS#11 (via pam_pkcs11, I’m also going to add pam_p11 which is definitely simpler to set up even though it has less features).

But the main difference is in the services that it provides out of the box; there are now a number of new service files that will be used directly or indirectly by all the packages using PAM in the tree; while I didn’t like increasing the number of service files, there are slight differences in the behaviour of each that makes it necessary to split them around. For instance a remote login by default will not force root to login on a secure tty (although you might want to do that!), and as I said before you cannot easily use the same auth chain for both a login and a password-changer.

Another issue that I’m having trouble wrapping my head around is that you really cannot use the same authentication schemes for both interactive and automatic services; so for instance if you’re logging into a remote mail server you cannot provide an access token to do the login (since it requires it to be connected locally on the server). From one side, the same goes for ssh actually… I guess the only reason why I don’t feel as compelled to tackle it there is that I don’t use PAM for authenticating on SSH and neither should you in most cases.

What is now available in the repository is mostly working fine; although it remains a problem of interfacing it properly: I’m still unsure of the way the various modules stack up. For what it’s worth, one of the most obnoxious things I can think of is properly supporting pam_loginuid: it should be used by services both interactive and non-interactive to properly set auditing to log the user who’s acting (so even if there is privilege escalation you can track down who exploited it), but it should thus not be used by either sudo nor su, nor by things like PostgreSQL or Drizzle.

Right now what we’re going to have for certain are these services:

  • system-local-login (name kept for compatibility) will be used basically only by login — I’m actually tempted to provide /etc/pam.d/login directly as part of pambase, given that it is, yes, provided by shadow right now, but it’s also used by Busybox;
  • system-graphical-login will be used by all the graphical login managers: GDM, XDM, KDM, Slim, Qingy… the idea behind this one is that it is, by default, quiet; unlike what I originally planned, and what GDM now does, this one will not avoid running pam_mail, pam_lastlog and so on so forth; they will be, instead, put into their silent modes: the data will be updated, the variables will be set, but no output will come from them; unfortunately things like Qingy will cause double-setting of the same variables; that’s a problem for another time;
  • system-remote-login is the one service used by sshd (and theoretically by rsh/@rlogin@ if they made sense to be used);
  • system-services is the one used by the various cron daemons, atd, start-stop-daemon and so on: they have no authentication done, but they do have account validation and, most importantly, session support; as I said above, these should set the login uid to ensure that the audit framework knows who to blame for problems in here;
  • system-password is the service used by passwd and the other password changing tools; it only deals with the Unix stack and with (eventually) Gnome-Keyring;
  • system-auth-backends and system-login-backends are the two that give me more trouble to deal with; they have the actual calls to the backends used for authenticating; they are separate so that we can actually have them set up for optionality, so that only one is needed to succeed to allow the user to authenticate to the system, by using the substack option on the previous service; beside substack, the only other solution would have been to use the skip method I’ve been using up to now, and that I haven’t entirely stopped considering to be honest.

Also, among other things, I’ve removed the nullok option from the authentication and session support for pam_unix; this basically means that you can no longer have valid accounts without a password set; the idea is that this will not cause trouble with autologin features, but I’ll cross that bridge in due time. For now it should be enough to have an idea that the code is out there and how should be more or less be used.

Comments are, as usual, quite welcome.

2 thoughts on “What’s the plan with PAM?

  1. I have a machine which uses sldap login. Currently, I have not merged any pam related config files with etc-update, as I’m not sure on how things will look like.How should I go for it?Edit system-auth-backends and system-login-backends? If so, I probably should wait with merging even more right?Thanks

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  2. Boy am I going to be happy if ldap is finally automatically supported. It’s a pain to update dozens of machines when the default pam files have changed and I have to carefully look at the changes so that I do not break my authentication..

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