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18.2 Handling Running Cracker Processes

At this point, it is assumed that you ran a covert and trusted ps program and it shows two processes that you are suspicious of, /bin/ls and wizbang. You are suspicious of /bin/ls because it has been running for a long time and there is no reason for a user to be doing something like

/bin/ls -R /

or similar that could explain this program running for so long. You are suspicious of wizbang because you are not aware of an application of this name.

The PID (process ID) of /bin/ls is 16887 so you use your covert ls command, say, monthly, to issue the command

cd /proc/16887  
monthly -l

and it might show

-r--r--r-- 1 root root 0 May 17 00:49 cmdline
lrwx------ 1 root root 0 May 17 00:49 cwd -> /tmp
-r-------- 1 root root 0 May 17 00:49 environ
lrwx------ 1 root root 0 May 17 00:49 exe -> /tmp/.genie
dr-x------ 2 root root 0 May 17 00:49 fd
pr--r--r-- 1 root root 0 May 17 00:49 maps
-rw------- 1 root root 0 May 17 00:49 mem
lrwx------ 1 root root 0 May 17 00:49 root -> /
-r--r--r-- 1 root root 0 May 17 00:49 stat 
-r--r--r-- 1 root root 0 May 17 00:49 statm
-r--r--r-- 1 root root 0 May 17 00:49 status

Observe that the exe file is a symbolic link to the executable program that was invoked and it certainly does not point to /bin/ls. Very likely, this is a Trojan horse. Note that because these files are owned by root, this process is running as root. Note that the name of the executable, /tmp/.genie, is extremely suspicious. This is because it is highly unusual for root to be invoking executables that are found in /tmp and that the name begins with a ".", which means that a normal ls command will not show this file. You also could do a binary comparison with /bin/ls to convince yourself that it really is a different program with the following command:

cmp exe /bin/ls

The following output would be typical:

exe /bin/ls differ: char 25, line 1

Clearly, it is a different program. This is a Trojan horse!

It is assumed that you have a notebook and are taking notes of all your actions and discoveries. You will want to log the date and time in this notebook because it may be introduced into evidence in court at some future date. You may want to sign your entries too.

At this point you will want to note the PID of this Trojan horse and its executable name, /tmp/.genie. You will want to make a copy of this Trojan horse. If it is convenient, media, such as magnetic tape, floppy, or CD-RW, is recommended. This is because after it is written to, the media may be write-protected, labeled, and set aside. This way, it will survive even if some other cracker Trojan destroys the data on your disk.

It is very helpful if you already have a stealth copy of tar or some other program that is useful to copy files to your backup media. Assuming that your stealth version of tar is called


and you will be backing up to /dev/fd0. Issue the following command:

/home/larry/bin/feather -chvf /dev/fd0 /proc/16887/exe

The "h" flag causes tar to back up the file that any symbolic link, such as /proc/16887/exe, points to. This will back up the cracker's program even if /tmp/.genie (the copy in the disk-based file system) was removed. Remove this floppy from the drive, write protect it, and label it something like

/tmp/.genie -> /proc/16887/exe  
cracker-deleted running program 
Trojan horse on  
(signed Joe SysAdmin date)

At this point, you have several options regarding how to proceed and there is no one right answer. You simply could kill the process. It is suggested that you not do a kill 16887 because that will send a terminate signal to the process and give it a chance to catch the signal and do whatever it wants. It might remove all evidence of itself. It might send e-mail to its owner warning him that he has been discovered. It might remove all of your data from the disk. Instead, use the following that will terminate it with no warning and without offering the Trojan horse a chance to take any action at all:

kill -9 16887

A really good cracker will have another process monitor this process and detect its demise. This could be done by the other process being this process's parent and using a wait() system call or SIGCHLD signal. It simply could do kill(16887, 0) periodically until it returns -1. It could set up a pipe, named or unnamed, with 16887 and detect the broken pipe when 16887 dies.

A second opportunity, for the daring, is to attach to the cracker's running process with a debugger and attempt to analyze it. (You might want to back up critical files first.)

You first might see if the binary has a symbol table. The command to do this would be the following:

file /proc/16887/exe

The result would be

/proc/16887/exe: symbolic link to /tmp/.genie

Oops, forgot that it is a symbolic link. You will use find's dash flag to work around this in just a moment. First, make a copy of it, because it might try to remove its own disk copy to escape analysis and for possible use as evidence in court. The following will work, even if the copy on disk already has been removed:

cp /proc/16887/exe $HOME/Trojan

Using the strings program on it will display all ASCII strings in the file; this will give clues about what it does. The command would be

strings $HOME/Trojan | more

Try the following:

file -L /proc/16887/exe

The result might be the following:

/proc/16887/exe: ELF 32-bit LSB executable, Intel 80386, 
version 1, dynamically linked (uses shared libs), not stripped

The not stripped is what we are hoping for. It means that the executable has not been stripped of its symbol table. (If it has been stripped of symbols, the analysis will be much more difficult.) The symbols in it may be listed with the following command:

nm $HOME/Trojan | more

An experienced programmer will get a good idea as to what it is doing by seeing which standard Linux functions and system calls it is using.

To have the standard Linux debugger, gdb, attach to a running process, you need to pass the executable name and the PID (process ID) to it. In our example, the command to issue would be

gdb /proc/16887/exe 16887

The .genie program will be stopped and you will be in control of it from this point on. The typical output from this gdb command might be the following:

GNU gdb 4.18  
Attaching to program: /tmp/.genie, Pid 16887  
Reading symbols from /lib/libdb.so.3...done.  
Reading symbols from /lib/libresolv.so.2...done. 
Reading symbols from /lib/libnsl.so.1...done.  
Reading symbols from /lib/libc.so.6...done.  
Reading symbols from /lib/ld-linux.so.2...done.  
Reading symbols from /lib/libnss_files.so.2...done. 
Reading symbols from /lib/libnss_nisplus.so.2...done.
Reading symbols from /lib/libnss_nis.so.2...done. 
0x4012354e in __select () from /lib/libc.so.6  

At this point, the first command that you would want to issue is bt to generate a backtrace. This will show which routine is being called by which. Frequently, this will give a good idea of what might be going on inside the program. This is what you might see:

 (gdb) bt  
#0 0x4012354e in __select () from /lib/libc.so.6 
#1 0x5 in _wish () 
#2 0x400901eb in __libc_start_main (main=0x805eed0 argc=3,
 argv=0xbffff9b4, init=0x804a054,   
 rtld_fini=0x4000a610 <_dl_fini>, stack_end=0xbffff9ac) 
 at ../sysdeps/generic/libc-start.c:90  

This tells us a number of interesting things. The __select () routine is the one currently running. This would be the select() system call that causes the program to wait until I/O completes on any of a specified set of open files (file descriptors). Usually, at least one of these open files would be a network file. The select() system call was invoked by a routine called wish().

This executable has a program name of .genie, a routine called wish(), and it is probably waiting for a connection from the network. A good guess would be that it is waiting for a cracker to connect to it via TCP or UDP and give it commands to execute. But wait, there's more. From another window, let us see what files it has open. Issue the commands

cd /proc/16887  
monthly -l fd

The following would be typical:

lr-x------ 1 root root 64 May 17 01:55 0 -> /dev/null
l-wx------ 1 root root 64 May 17 01:55 1 -> /dev/null
l-wx------ 1 root root 64 May 17 01:55 2 -> /dev/null
lrwx------ 1 root root 64 May 17 01:55 3 -> socket:[17095]

File descriptors (open file numbers) 0, 1, and 2 are standard input, standard output, and standard error. All of them are directed to /dev/null. The presence of /dev/null as standard input and standard output indicates that the program is operating as a daemon; that is, a long running process that is not associated with any user tty. File descriptor 3 is a socket, e.g., a network connection. Issue a netstat -avp command. The netstat command gives network status information. The -a flag lists all network ports that are open, even those that are not currently connected to a remote system. The -v flag adds verbosity. The -p flag will cause netstat to list the PID and name of each process (program) that has a network port open. The -p flag is a new and very useful but many people do not know that it is available. The -p flag does require root access. When netstat -avp is issued the following is shown:

Proto Recv-Q Send-Q Local Address Foreign Address State
PID/Program name  
tcp  0  0 *:1243  *:*   LISTEN  

This shows that the Trojan is listening on TCP port 1243.

The Foreign Address field identifies the remote host and port that the program is communicating with, if it has an established TCP connection. If this is shown for a cracker process, this would be the system either that he is attacking from or that he is attacking from your system.

In this example, all that is shown in the Foreign Address field is *:*, indicating that there is no such connection. Because the protocol is shown as tcp, this means that this program is operating as a server waiting for a client to connect. Be very suspicious of programs using ports above 1023 that are not connected to well-known ports on remote systems. Thus, this program is suspicious. There only are a few legitimate widely used services on ports above 1023. (1080 for SOCKS, 6000 for X, 6010 for SSH-wrapped X, and 2049 for NFS are common.) Double-check this port by issuing the following command:

grep 1243 /etc/services

The grep did not find anything. Run the ports program that is discussed in "Turn Off Unneeded Services" on page 82 and observe the output.

Lcl port  Rmt port Status  Rmt IP Rmt host 
* 1243=subseven 0=zero 0A=LISTEN local 
*** cracker server  

The ports program instantly identified the Trojan horse from its default port number. Had your cracker chosen to alter the port that your version of it listened on, this might have been more difficult, though ports will flag any TCP connection on a high port in a listen state. Most script kiddies do not bother even to strip the symbol table from the executable. In this case you can have a look at the symbols using the nm program in the usual invocation.

nm suspicious_file | less

Even if the symbol table was stripped out, almost every program has ASCII strings in it that will give clues to what it does and what its origin is. The strings program searches for sequences of printable characters and prints these out. The -a flag will print out all strings, not just those in the text and data portions. Typical usage would be

strings -a suspicious_file | less

It can be useful for running programs too. To analyze running process number 86, use the following command:

strings -a /proc/86/exe | less

Many of the fancier cracker tools have help messages that give clues to their capabilities.

You could get braver and actually step through the Trojan horse. Prior to doing this, it would be a good idea to back up the system because you are playing with a live "bomb" at this point and it might go off. Once you have attached to it with gdb (or my favorite debugger, ddd), it is stopped ("frozen") until and unless you allow it to continue. The ddd debugger is available from


While .genie is stopped, it is not possible for it to restart on its own, so it is somewhat safe to create a backup of the current system or continue with other things at this time. There might be Trojans anywhere, so you should not trust the system until all of these are analyzed, as discussed in "Finding Cracker-Altered Files" on page 559.

If you do want to step through it, you could telnet to it. In this example, you would do this via the following command from a different window:

telnet http://www.pentacorp.com 1243

Then, in the gdb (or ddd window) step through the code. Check each instruction before it is executed to ensure that it will not do something harmful like

execl("rm", "/bin/rm", "-rf", "/", 0);

If in doubt, terminate the debugging session. The safest way is to first issue the following command. (In our example, the Trojan's PID is 16887.)

kill -9 16887

A similar analysis could be done of the wizbang process.

18.2.1 Popular Trojan Horses

Some of the most commonly seen Trojan horses are discussed here. They give a starting place for searching for Trojans if you suspect that you might have one or more and they also gives a "feel" for types of Trojans to expect. Following the security mailing lists, news groups, and Web sites (all covered in Appendix A) is critical as new exploits are discovered weekly.

One way to detect Trojans is with the use of Tripwire, which is discussed in "Tripwire" on page 511. The periodic use of tar -d or rpm works well too. These latter two methods are discussed in "Finding Cracker-Altered Files" on page 559. Additionally, scanning your system for open ports with a careful comparison to past results from netstat or ports should show any suspicious ports that have not been open in the past.

  1. The fingerd program commonly is replaced with a version containing a Trojan. Tripwire normally should detect this because the full pathname for fingerd should be specified in /etc/inetd.conf or implied by its use of tcpd and it is assumed that Tripwire is configured to watch all system directories.

  2. The inetd process is the Internet "superserver" daemon that starts most network services based on requests from remote system. It is extremely easy and fast to create a Trojan with inetd once a cracker has root access. All a cracker running as root needs to do is

    echo ingreslock stream tcp wait root /bin/sh -i > /tmp/tim /usr/sbin/inetd /tmp/tim 
    /bin/rm /tmp/tim

    The ingreslock service seems popular; perhaps some firewalls allow it. However, any unused TCP service may be used. Certainly, because a cracker needs to be root to to create this back door, he could add new service names to /etc/services or alter the port number of an existing service.

    The best way to detect this compromise is to know what services should be running on your systems and use ports or netstat -atuvp daily or weekly, possibly comparing the results against previous results stored in a file.

    Certainly, you can test the exploit the way crackers use it via

    telnet     yoursys.com     ingreslock

    and see if you get a root shell but this could be dangerous. Although the Trojan just described is unsophisticated (though far from harmless) a later version may require a password and damage the system if the correct password is not provided. Thus, are the risks of using untrusted software.

    Tripwire will not detect this compromise because inetd and /etc/inetd.conf have not been altered. You could count the number of inetd processes running via

    ps -axlww | grep inetd | grep -v grep | wc -l

    but expect periodic false positives when inetd forks prior to doing an exec to start a requested service.

    Note that the use of a second running inetd process using a rogue inetd.conf file allows many other exploits with little effort or thought required by a cracker. He could, for example, install on the system a compromised fingerd as discussed earlier in this section.

    However, to avoid detection by Tripwire and other file system comparison methods he removed /tmp/tim.

  3. Some crackers will create a /usr/sbin/inetd executable with a Trojan built into inetd itself. Usually this version will listen on an additional TCP port, such as ingreslock, and provide a root shell to anyone who uses telnet to connect to the magic port. This Trojan would be detected with Tripwire.

    However, the cracker could hide this Trojan even from Tripwire or tar -d. This is done by invoking the Trojan version as /usr/sbin/inetd and then removing it from disk and putting the "real" version back in its place. Thus, a

    ls -l /proc/PID/exe

    will point back to /usr/sbin/inetd and Tripwire will show that /usr/sbin/inetd is identical to Tripwire's stored checksum; likewise, tar -d will show that /usr/sbin/inetd matches the backup copy if the cracker sets the create time back, though some crackers will not bother. One way to detect this subtle problem is to issue the command

    cmp /proc/PID/exe /usr/sbin/inetd

    If the cracker actually removed the executable from disk then the getdel script will detect this automatically and alert you. This script is discussed in "Detecting Deleted Executables" on page 517.

  4. Some crackers will install versions of /bin/ls and /bin/ps with Trojans that will not list any of the cracker's files nor show the cracker's processes. This technique is used by crackers quite often. Even the script kiddies use it. Tripwire will detect these Trojans, of course.

    It is helpful for you to have backup versions of these programs under different names stored in some innocuous place. In a pinch, you could use different programs to perform these same functions such as the file program for ls. Instead of using a possibly compromised ps,

    file /proc/[0-9]*/exe

    will list processes.

  5. Sometimes /bin/login is replaced with one that has a "back door" that allows a cracker to become root by entering some word in place of an account listed in /etc/passwd.

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