Use Kerberos Authentication

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Use Kerberos Authentication

One of the issues to consider when NIS is used for authentication is that whenever a user logs into a machine, a password hash from the /etc/shadow map is sent over the network. If an intruder gains access to an NIS domain and sniffs network traffic, they can collect usernames and password hashes. With enough time, a password cracking program can guess weak passwords, and an attacker can gain access to a valid account on the network. Kerberos uses secret-key cryptography, no password hashes are ever sent over the network, making the system far more secure.

How Kerberos Works

Kerberos differs from username/password authentication methods. Instead of authenticating each user to each network service, Kerberos uses symmetric encryption and a trusted third party (a KDC), to authenticate users to a suite of network services. When a user authenticates to the KDC, the KDC sends a ticket specific to that session back to the user's machine, and any Kerberos-aware services look for the ticket on the user's machine rather than requiring the user to authenticate using a password.

Kerberos and PAM

Kerberos-aware services do not currently make use of Pluggable Authentication Modules (PAM) these services bypass PAM completely. However, applications that use PAM can make use of Kerberos for authentication if the pam_krb5 module (provided in the pam_krb5 package) is installed. The pam_krb5 package contains sample configuration files that allow services such as login and gdm to authenticate users as well as obtain initial credentials using their passwords. If access to network servers is always performed using Kerberos-aware services or services that use GSS-API, such as IMAP, then the network can be considered reasonably safe.

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