The problem with Unix is that it doesn't have a concept of a user.
Nope. It doesn't have a concept of a naive user. Table saws also don't have a concept of a naive user, but people don't bitch about folks trying to use a table saw without having to learn how first.
I forgot who originally said it, but you comment reminded me of this quote: UNIX is user friendly, it's just choosy about who its friends are.
And occasionally even your best friends get on your nerves, I find.
When someone inexperienced tries to use the chainsaw, he may cut his hand off. Nobody blames the tools - it's obvious that if a green guy is hurt, it's because of his own foolishness.
Sadly, in the IT it's the opposite. People are bitching about the tools, paradigms, philosophies, without really doing their homework. Hey. Once upon a time it took a lifetime to master specific crafts. Let's be decent and maybe humbler a bit.
I have a theory why it is so, by the way. In the conventional crafts everything is physical, touchable, solid. In IT everything is abstract and prone to easy judgement and mindless relativism. Please let's bring back craft to the hacking!
- Here's how needless Unix users is:
Every fresh server install, I have to make up a meaningless string called the 'login' of an 'admin user' who belongs to a 'group' called 'admin'. Once upon a time, I could use the well known admin login 'root'. Now that's not allowed. I have to make up a name, remember this name when you connect and then remember to prefix every command with sudo.
- Here's a better way of doing it:
Give me a server distro where I don't need a 'login'.
Meanwhile, why is apache pretending to be a 'user' called 'nobody'/'http' and not using some 'capabilities' or some shit like that?!!!!
If you are only doing the occasional install then this really shouldn't be a great hardship. If you are installing many servers you should have this part automated. And ti shouldn't be meaningless either. I think you are doing it wrong.
> Once upon a time, I could use the well known admin login 'root'.
You still can. root login can always be reenabled if you want it that badly. There is also "sudo su" (unless explicitly disabled by your admins) to avoid repeated invocations of sudo while you are performing a long admin task.
> - Here's a better way of doing it:
> Give me a server distro where I don't need a 'login'.
No, no, and thrice no. Far too many newbies will leave it in that state and get hacked to buggery in short order. Even if it is only for local console logins, I'd consider it a bad idea.
No matter how inconvenient it is, server install should default to an insecure state and allowing access without authentication is such a state.
Live CDs often do this, but they are not production systems.
> Meanwhile, why is apache pretending to be a 'user'
Well that much is a valid point. There has been work in this area but non of it has made its way to default setups of most unix-a-like systems.
You can also do 'sudo -s', which keeps you in your normal user's shell. It's pretty slick.
Imagine a distro that changed the terms 'login/password' to 'password1/password2'
$ chpasswd maybeUniqueString
Error: maybeUniqueString already in use.
$ su maybeUniqueString
LOGIN OK, PROCEED TO EXPLOIT ME
I didn't change any behavior - just the UI strings. So you need both!
$ su maybeUniqueString1
You'd be better off getting rid of the login altogether and using a GUID. People still share computers, you know.
Imagine a team of 3 people running a SaaS webapp on 3 web servers & 1 db server. I guarantee no one will waste their time creating 3 'users' on each server i.e. 3x4 = 12 'users' on that cluster.
It sounds — and I don't mean to be rude — like you have not been involved in a "real" production environment.
Modern Unix environments are automatically managed with modular configuration systems such as Puppet or Chef. Sysadmins have little or no need to log into servers to configure them; they just hook the server into Puppet (for example), and Puppet will do everything required to mould the server into its correct state: Create users, install public keys, install packages, write config files etc.
Puppet in particular is so simple that you would want it even if you were managing a single box. Why? Because if that single box dies/is wiped/whatever, you just get a new box and point it at Puppet, and it will become identical (minus whatever data you lost) to the old one. Or need to buy more hardware? Just point the new box at the Puppet server, and you have two, or three, or ten identically configured boxes.
So yes, in a sense you're right; sysadmins won't waste their time creating a bunch of users, because they will let the configuration management system do it. :-)
You know... that's so blindingly obvious, that it had never even occurred to me. I'm in the middle of a home "IT refresh" right now and I'm trying to update the obscene amounts of documentation needed on how to configure every little thing.
Your comment just gave me a "the code is the documentation" kind of moment; realized I'd much rather have all that documentation checked into a Git repo somewhere as automateable configs. Thanks!
Unix is the LISP of server operating systems. It's a multiplier. In return, it demands much more from the operator. This is not ideal for a desktop system. It's amazing when you have an admin who knows his shit.
Why can't we still kill the local login i.e. directly map LDAP user -> permissions instead of LDAP user -> local 'user' -> permissions.
If LDAP ever goes down you might want to retain the ability to login to your box.
I ran into a problem similar to this on a recent DR exercise.
Active Directory (an LDAPish service) was down. Was going to be down for a while. If I could get into my three Windows hosts I could re-jigger the service account for $APP from the AD user to a local account, start things up.
I couldn't login to the servers: my .admin account was in AD. No one had any idea what the local administrator account could be. We were just .. stuck .. until AD came up.
I could have booted the system a rescue disk (linux) and edited the SAM to change the password. Didn't happen then for complicated reasons. And one shouldn't have to resort to heroic methods to get local access back.
And can you imagine doing that for hundreds of hosts?
This is why you:
- Always provide redundant, network-local LDAP servers so that LDAP doesn't go down.
- Wire up remotely accessible serial consoles that provide emergency-level local root access.
You can attach a modem to the serial console systems, or a hardline (which is what I did at a previous job) between your data center and offices.
We had a fixed 'role' account for the serial console systems, but it existed only for the purpose of emergency access, could only be accessed from specific local networks (we divided different classes of employees into different VLANs), and the knowledge of the password could be constrained to those that needed rare "server fell over" access.
Unless I've misunderstood something about that. It happens.
We do the redundant Active Directory thing. It didn't help during the DR exercise when the AD guy did something foolish (don't remember what) and the AD / DNS host went down for a few hours.
Single host because the DR was limited in scope.
I was fine with my Solaris hosts - had local root access via serial and SSH. I was simply locked out of my Windows hosts, and could not reconfigure those services to work without AD.
You just maintain a local/serial-only root account for that eventuality.
[Edit] And make sure internet-facing production services don't rely on administrative LDAP.
But no, we don't "waste our time" creating these accounts. We have tools to do this for us. Revolutionary, I know.
You're just wrong. Plenty of people will do this. If one of those three people leave the company, you can disable that account without having to change the password for the other two. If you insist everyone use sudo, you get logs of all the commands run via sudo, and that includes who ran it.
This is all really useful. You don't understand why it's useful, but lots of people do understand it.
We switched to this after I had to stay about 5 hours late one night to switch all of our passwords on all our servers because someone quit.
We don't, however, do it manually. We have tools setup to do it for us (chef, in our case)
1) Automation: Yes to automation, but if I'm arguing that a task is needless, automating it does make change that.
2) Authentication: Yes to authorized_keys, auditing, LDAP, etc. I'm killing the local 'login' - not trying to kill security.
Use something other than ubuntu. Although there may be others out there, I'm unaware of any other distro that disables root. Complaining about disabling root is an ubuntu-specific complaint - it doesn't apply to linux in general, let alone unix.
Also, if you don't like using passwords, copy-ssh-id is your friend.
As for apache, I don't play with it much so I can't comment there. It certainly scares me :)
Unix knows who I am, and it knows what I want to do, but it has no way of knowing how much.
The way we get around this is by inventing an imaginary person called "root" who always actually wants what they say they want. On the other end, the imaginary person "nobody" almost never actually wants to do anything. This is obviously a half-solution, and it shouldn't be surprising that it causes weird workflow problems.
Jack starts Apache on one of the web servers:
$ ssh email@example.com
[_x_@web4] $ sudo /usr/bin/apachectl start # or similar
[_x_@web4] $ logout
A) 'jack' - because there's a unix user 'jack' (what we have today)
B) 'sysadmin' - because there's no unix user 'jack' - only an entry in /etc/sshpasswd
B is the same as A as long as you update auditing to trace the Apache start to the jack/secret123 combo.
Sidenote: wow this thread blew up!