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Xsecurity - X display access control
provides mechanism for implementing many access control systems. The sample
implementation includes five mechanisms:
Host Access Simple host-based access control.
MIT-MAGIC-COOKIE-1 Shared plain-text "cookies".
XDM-AUTHORIZATION-1 Secure DES based private-keys.
SUN-DES-1 Based on Sun's secure rpc system.
MIT-KERBEROS-5 Kerberos Version 5 user-to-user.
- Host Access
- Any client on a host in the host access
control list is allowed access to the X server. This system can work reasonably
well in an environment where everyone trusts everyone, or when only a single
person can log in to a given machine, and is easy to use when the list
of hosts used is small. This system does not work well when multiple people
can log in to a single machine and mutual trust does not exist. The list
of allowed hosts is stored in the X server and can be changed with the
xhost command. When using the more secure mechanisms listed below, the host
list is normally configured to be the empty list, so that only authorized
programs can connect to the display.
- When using MIT-MAGIC-COOKIE-1,
the client sends a 128 bit "cookie" along with the connection setup information.
If the cookie presented by the client matches one that the X server has,
the connection is allowed access. The cookie is chosen so that it is hard
to guess; xdm generates such cookies automatically when this form of access
control is used. The user's copy of the cookie is usually stored in the .Xauthority
file in the home directory, although the environment variable XAUTHORITY
can be used to specify an alternate location. Xdm automatically passes a
cookie to the server for each new login session, and stores the cookie
in the user file at login.
- The cookie is transmitted on the network without
- there is nothing to prevent a network snooper from obtaining
the data and using it to gain access to the X server. This system is useful
in an environment where many users are running applications on the same
machine and want to avoid interference from each other, with the caveat
that this control is only as good as the access control to the physical
network. In environments where network-level snooping is difficult, this
system can work reasonably well.
- Sites in the United States
can use a DES-based access control mechanism called XDM-AUTHORIZATION-1. It
is similar in usage to MIT-MAGIC-COOKIE-1 in that a key is stored in the .Xauthority
file and is shared with the X server. However, this key consists of two
parts - a 56 bit DES encryption key and 64 bits of random data used as the
- When connecting to the X server, the application generates
192 bits of data
- by combining the current time in seconds (since 00:00
1/1/1970 GMT) along with 48 bits of "identifier". For TCP/IP connections,
the identifier is the address plus port number; for local connections it
is the process ID and 32 bits to form a unique id (in case multiple connections
to the same server are made from a single process). This 192 bit packet
is then encrypted using the DES key and sent to the X server, which is
able to verify if the requestor is authorized to connect by decrypting
with the same DES key and validating the authenticator and additional data.
This system is useful in many environments where host-based access control
is inappropriate and where network security cannot be ensured.
versions of SunOS (and some other systems) have included a secure public
key remote procedure call system. This system is based on the notion of
a network principal; a user name and NIS domain pair. Using this system,
the X server can securely discover the actual user name of the requesting
process. It involves encrypting data with the X server's public key, and
so the identity of the user who started the X server is needed for this;
this identity is stored in the .Xauthority file. By extending the semantics
of "host address" to include this notion of network principal, this form
of access control is very easy to use.
- To allow access by a new user, use
xhost. For example,
xhost keith@ firstname.lastname@example.org
adds "keith" from the NIS domain of the local machine, and "ruth" in the
"mit.edu" NIS domain. For keith or ruth to successfully connect to the display,
they must add the principal who started the server to their .Xauthority
file. For example:
xauth add expo.lcs.mit.edu:0 SUN-DES-1 email@example.com
This system only works on machines which support Secure RPC, and only for
users which have set up the appropriate public/private key pairs on their
system. See the Secure RPC documentation for details. To access the display
from a remote host, you may have to do a keylogin on the remote host first.
- Kerberos is a network-based authentication scheme developed
by MIT for Project Athena. It allows mutually suspicious principals to
authenticate each other as long as each trusts a third party, Kerberos.
Each principal has a secret key known only to it and Kerberos. Principals
includes servers, such as an FTP server or X server, and human users, whose
key is their password. Users gain access to services by getting Kerberos
tickets for those services from a Kerberos server. Since the X server has
no place to store a secret key, it shares keys with the user who logs in.
X authentication thus uses the user-to-user scheme of Kerberos version 5.
- When you log in via xdm, xdm will use your password to
- obtain the initial
Kerberos tickets. xdm stores the tickets in a credentials cache file and
sets the environment variable KRB5CCNAME to point to the file. The credentials
cache is destroyed when the session ends to reduce the chance of the tickets
being stolen before they expire.
- Since Kerberos is a user-based authorization
protocol, like the
- SUN-DES-1 protocol, the owner of a display can enable
and disable specific users, or Kerberos principals. The xhost client is
used to enable or disable authorization. For example,
xhost krb5:judy krb5:firstname.lastname@example.org
adds "judy" from the Kerberos realm of the local machine, and "gildea"
from the "x.org" realm.
Except for Host Access control,
each of these systems uses data stored in the .Xauthority file to generate
the correct authorization information to pass along to the X server at
connection setup. MIT-MAGIC-COOKIE-1 and XDM-AUTHORIZATION-1 store secret data
in the file; so anyone who can read the file can gain access to the X server.
SUN-DES-1 stores only the identity of the principal who started the server
(unix.hostname@domain when the server is started by xdm), and so it is not
useful to anyone not authorized to connect to the server.
Each entry in
the .Xauthority file matches a certain connection family (TCP/IP, DECnet
or local connections) and X display name (hostname plus display number).
This allows multiple authorization entries for different displays to share
the same data file. A special connection family (FamilyWild, value 65535)
causes an entry to match every display, allowing the entry to be used for
all connections. Each entry additionally contains the authorization name
and whatever private authorization data is needed by that authorization
type to generate the correct information at connection setup time.
program manipulates the .Xauthority file format. It understands the semantics
of the connection families and address formats, displaying them in an easy
to understand format. It also understands that SUN-DES-1 and MIT-KERBEROS-5
use string values for the authorization data, and displays them appropriately.
The X server (when running on a workstation) reads authorization information
from a file name passed on the command line with the -auth option (see the
Xserver manual page). The authorization entries in the file are used to
control access to the server. In each of the authorization schemes listed
above, the data needed by the server to initialize an authorization scheme
is identical to the data needed by the client to generate the appropriate
authorization information, so the same file can be used by both processes.
This is especially useful when xinit is used.
- This system
uses 128 bits of data shared between the user and the X server. Any collection
of bits can be used. Xdm generates these keys using a cryptographically
secure pseudo random number generator, and so the key to the next session
cannot be computed from the current session key.
- This system
uses two pieces of information. First, 64 bits of random data, second a
56 bit DES encryption key (again, random data) stored in 8 bytes, the last
byte of which is ignored. Xdm generates these keys using the same random
number generator as is used for MIT-MAGIC-COOKIE-1.
- This system needs
a string representation of the principal which identifies the associated
X server. This information is used to encrypt the client's authority information
when it is sent to the X server. When xdm starts the X server, it uses the
root principal for the machine on which it is running (unix.hostname@domain,
e.g., "email@example.com"). Putting the correct principal
name in the .Xauthority file causes Xlib to generate the appropriate authorization
information using the secure RPC library.
- Kerberos reads tickets
from the cache pointed to by the KRB5CCNAME environment variable, so does
not use any data from the .Xauthority file. An entry with no data must still
exist to tell clients that MIT-KERBEROS-5 is available.
- Unlike the .Xauthority
file for clients, the authority file
- passed by xdm to a local X server
(with ``-auth filename'', see xdm(1)
) does contain the name of the credentials
cache, since the X server will not have the KRB5CCNAME environment variable
set. The data of the MIT-KERBEROS-5 entry is the credentials cache name and
has the form ``UU:FILE:filename'', where filename is the name of the credentials
cache file created by xdm. Note again that this form is not used by clients.
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