TCP Wrapper is a host-based Networking ACL system, used to filter network access to Internet Protocol servers on (Unix-like) operating systems such as Linux or BSD. It allows host or subnetwork IP addresses, names and/or ident query replies, to be used as tokens on which to filter for access control purposes.
TCP Wrappers Configuration Files
To determine if a client machine is allowed to connect to a service, TCP wrappers reference the following two files, which are commonly referred to as hosts access files:
When a client request is received by a TCP wrapped service, it takes the following basic steps:
The service references /etc/hosts.allow. — The TCP wrapped service sequentially parses the /etc/hosts.allow file and applies the first rule specified for that service. If it finds a matching rule, it allows the connection. If not, it moves on to step 2.
The service references /etc/hosts.deny. — The TCP wrapped service sequentially parses the /etc/hosts.deny file. If it finds a matching rule is denies the connection. If not, access to the service is granted.
The following are important points to consider when using TCP wrappers to protect network services:
Because access rules in hosts.allow are applied first, they take precedence over rules specified in hosts.deny. Therefore, if access to a service is allowed in hosts.allow, a rule denying access to that same service in hosts.deny is ignored.
Since the rules in each file are read from the top down and the first matching rule for a given service is the only one applied, the order of the rules is extremely important.
If no rules for the service are found in either file, or if neither file exists, access to the service is granted.
TCP wrapped services do not cache the rules from the hosts access files, so any changes to hosts.allow or hosts.deny take effect immediately without restarting network services.
The format for both /etc/hosts.allow and /etc/hosts.deny are identical. Any blank lines or lines that start with a hash mark (#) are ignored, and each rule must be on its own line.
Each rule uses the following basic format to control access to network services:
— A comma separated list of process names (not service names) or the ALL wildcard (see Section 22.214.171.124 Wildcards). The daemon list also accepts operators listed in Section 126.96.36.199 Operators to allow greater flexibility. — A comma separated list of hostnames, host IP addresses, special patterns (see Section 188.8.131.52 Patterns), or special wildcards (see Section 184.108.40.206 Wildcards) which identify the hosts effected by the rule. The client list also accepts operators listed in Section 220.127.116.11 Operators to allow greater flexibility.
— An optional action or colon separated list of actions performed when the rule is triggered. Option fields support expansions (see Section 18.104.22.168 Expansions), launch shell commands, allow or deny access, and alter logging behavior (see Section 15.2.3 Option Fields).
The following is a basic sample hosts access rule:
vsftpd : .example.com
This rule instructs TCP wrappers to watch for connections to the FTP daemon (vsftpd) from any host in the example.com domain. If this rule appears in hosts.allow, the connection will be accepted. If this rule appears in hosts.deny, the connection will be rejected.
The next sample hosts access rule is more complex and uses two option fields:
sshd : .example.com \
Note that in this example that each option field is preceded by the backslash (\). Use of the backslash prevents failure of the rule due to length.
If the last line of a hosts access file is not a newline character (created by pressing the
This sample rule states that if a connection to the SSH daemon (sshd) is attempted from a host in the example.com domain, execute the echo command (which will log the attempt to a special file), and deny the connection. Because the optional deny directive is used, this line will deny access even if it appears in the hosts.allow file. For a more detailed look at available options, see Section 15.2.3 Option Fields.
Wildcards allow TCP wrappers to more easily match groups of daemons or hosts. They are used most frequently in the client list field of access rules.
The following wildcards may be used:
ALL — Matches everything. It can be used for both the daemon list and the client list.
LOCAL — Matches any host that does not contain a period (.), such as localhost.
KNOWN — Matches any host where the hostname and host address are known or where the user is known.
UNKNOWN — Matches any host where the hostname or host address are unknown or where the user is unknown.
PARANOID — Matches any host where the hostname does not match the host address.
The KNOWN, UNKNOWN, and PARANOID wildcards should be used with care as a disruption in name resolution may prevent legitimate users from gaining access to a service.
Patterns can be used in the client list field of access rules to more precisely specify groups of client hosts.
The following is a list of the most common accepted patterns for a client list entry:
Hostname beginning with a period (.) — Placing a period at the beginning of a hostname, matches all hosts sharing the listed components of the name. The following example would apply to any host within the example.com domain:
ALL : .example.com
IP address ending with a period (.) — Placing a period at the end of an IP address matches all hosts sharing the initial numeric groups of an IP address. The following example would apply to any host within the 192.168.x.x network:
ALL : 192.168.
IP address/netmask pair — Netmask expressions can also be used as a pattern to control access to a particular group of IP addresses. The following example would apply to any host with an address of 192.168.0.0 through 192.168.1.255:
ALL : 192.168.0.0/255.255.254.0
The asterisk (*) — Asterisks can be used to match entire groups of hostnames or IP addresses, as long as they are not mixed in a client list containing other types of patterns. The following example would apply to any host within the example.com domain:
ALL : *.example.com
The slash (/) — If a client list begins with a slash, it is treated as a file name. This is useful if rules specifying large numbers of hosts are necessary. The following example refers TCP wrappers to the /etc/telnet.hosts file for all Telnet connections:
in.telnetd : /etc/telnet.hosts
Other, lesser used patterns are also accepted by TCP wrappers. See the hosts access man 5 page for more information.
Be very careful when creating rules requiring name resolution, such as hostnames and domain names. Attackers can use a variety of tricks to circumvent accurate name resolution. In addition, any disruption in DNS service would prevent even authorized users from using network services.
It is best to use IP addresses whenever possible.
At present, access control rules accept one operator, EXCEPT. It can be used in both the daemon list and the client list of a rule.
The EXCEPT operator allows specific exceptions to broader matches within the same rule.
In the following example from a hosts.allow file, all example.com hosts are allowed to connect to all services except cracker.example.com:
ALL: .example.com EXCEPT cracker.example.com
In the another example from a hosts.allow file, clients from the 192.168.0.x network can use all services except for FTP:
ALL EXCEPT vsftpd: 192.168.0.
Organizationally, it is often easier to use EXCEPT operators sparingly, placing the exceptions to a rule in the other access control file. This allows other administrators to quickly scan the appropriate files to see what hosts should are allowed or denied access to services, without having to sort through the various EXCEPT operators.
When creating access control rules for portmap, do not use hostnames as its implementation of TCP wrappers does not support host look ups. For this reason, only use IP addresses or the keyword ALL when specifying hosts is in hosts.allow or hosts.deny.
In addition, changes to portmap access control rules may not take affect immediately.
Widely used services, such as NIS and NFS, depend on portmap to operate, so be aware of these limitations.
In addition to basic rules allowing and denying access, the Red Hat Linux implementation of TCP wrappers supports extensions to the access control language through option fields. By using option fields within hosts access rules, administrators can accomplish a variety of tasks such as altering log behavior, consolidating access control, and launching shell commands.
Option fields let administrators easily change the log facility and priority level for a rule by using the severity directive.
In the following example, connections to the SSH daemon from any host in the example.com domain are logged to the the default authpriv facility (because no facility value is specified) with a priority of emerg:
sshd : .example.com : severity emerg
It is also possible to specify a facility using the severity option. The following example logs any SSH connection attempts by hosts from the example.com domain to the local0 facility with a priority of alert:
sshd : .example.com : severity local0.alert
In practice, this example will not work until the syslog daemon (syslogd) is configured to log to the local0 facility. See the syslog.conf man page for information about configuring custom log facilities.
Option fields also allow administrators to explicitly allow or deny hosts in a single rule by adding the allow or deny directive as the final option.
For instance, the following two rules allow SSH connections from client-1.example.com, but deny connections from client-2.example.com:
sshd : client-1.example.com : allow
By allowing access control on a per-rule basis, the option field allows administrators to consolidate all access rules into a single file: either hosts.allow or hosts.deny. Some consider this an easier way of organizing access rules.
Option fields allow access rules to launch shell commands through the following two directives:
spawn — Launches a shell command as a child process. This option directive can perform tasks like using /usr/sbin/safe_finger to get more information about the requesting client or create special log files using the echo command.
In the following example, clients attempting to access Telnet services from the example.com domain are quietly logged to a special file:
in.telnetd : .example.com \
: spawn /bin/echo `/bin/date` from %h>>/var/log/telnet.log \
twist — Replaces the requested service with the specified command. This directive is often used to set up traps for intruders (also called "honey pots"). It can also be used to send messages to connecting clients. The twist command must occur at the end of the rule line.
In the following example, clients attempting to access FTP services from the example.com domain are sent a message via the echo command:
vsftpd : .example.com \
: twist /bin/echo "421 Bad hacker, go away!"
For more information about shell command options, see the hosts_options man page.
Expansions, when used in conjunction with the spawn and twist directives provide information about the client, server, and processes involved.
Below is a list of supported expansions:
%a — The client's IP address.
%A — The server's IP address.
%c — Supplies a variety of client information, such as the username and hostname, or the username and IP address.
%d — The daemon process name.
%h — The client's hostname (or IP address, if the hostname is unavailable).
%H — The server's hostname (or IP address, if the hostname is unavailable).
%n — The client's hostname. If unavailable, unknown is printed. If the client's hostname and host address do not match, paranoid is printed.
%N — The server's hostname. If unavailable, unknown is printed. If the server's hostname and host address do not match, paranoid is printed.
%p — The daemon process ID.
%s — Various types of server information, such as the daemon process and the host or IP address of the server.
%u — The client's username. If unavailable, unknown is printed.
The following sample rule uses an expansion in conjunction with the spawn command to identify the client host in a customized log file.
It instructs TCP wrappers that if a connection to the SSH daemon (sshd) is attempted from a host in the example.com domain, execute the echo command to log the attempt, including the client hostname (using the %h expansion), to a special file:
sshd : .example.com \
Similarly, expansions can be used to personalize messages back to the client. In the following example, clients attempting to access FTP services from the example.com domain are informed that they have been banned from the server:
vsftpd : .example.com \
For a full explanation of available expansions, as well as additional access control options, review see section 5 of the man pages for hosts_access (man 5 hosts_access) and the man page for hosts_options.