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Setting date/time without being root user?

Posted on 2007-03-21
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Last Modified: 2008-01-09
I need to programmatically set the system date and time on a Linux (RedHat) system without being logged in as the root user. How can I do this, without compromising the security of the system?

I've heard of sudo but that seems a little unsafe to me!

Basically it's a small SIL2 network with a radio clock attached via a serial port; I need to read the time of it, update my local logs, set the system time, then broadcast it around the other systems for them to do likewise. All of this is fine - except setting the system time when not a root user!

Cheers
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Question by:gmayo
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Expert Comment

by:FrivolousSam
ID: 18766072
This is what the setuid flag is for.  For background, look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Setuid

You can either log in as root and execute:
chmod ug+s `which date`

Or write a script and chmod your script as root to add the suid bit -- just watch out for injection attacks by your users.
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Expert Comment

by:Tintin
ID: 18767514
There's nothing wrong or unsafe with sudo providing you define the commands that need to be run correctly.

Why not just setup NTP?
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Author Comment

by:gmayo
ID: 18769893
The whole network, albeit small, is mostly "black box" machines running in locked equipment rooms. The few users will be on Windows machines, connected via a secure network protocol. All the systems need to perform logging and for that a reliable time source is required - and the fact that the time has changed needs to be logged. Also, as I said before, it's a SIL2 system. All this is why an NTP server cannot be used.

Setuid looks good. One of my programmers says it's potentially unsafe though - but it might be a case of "you said black, so I'll say white" - his only suggested alternative was to use "chroot jail" which, from first glance, seems to be a wide open invitation to abuse.

So, any issues with setuid I ought to be aware of?

Thanks
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Expert Comment

by:Duncan Roe
ID: 18774923
setuid programs should do as little as possible other than the specific task they are written for. For instance, they can fill a filesystem completely full (regular users are subject to a margin). Otherwise, they're fine.
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Expert Comment

by:Tintin
ID: 18774991
Writing a good/safe setuid program is a lot harder than defining a sensible sudo rule.
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Expert Comment

by:FrivolousSam
ID: 18779921
I don't see how setting date as setuid is less safe than allowing any user to run date through sudo -- if there is a security flaw in the date program, you are exposed either way.

As far as I can see, there is only one benefit to allowing sudo for this case - you can restrict which users are allowed to set the date.  If you setuid date then any user can exploit a security flaw, but the choice is yours...  Info on editing sudoers using visudo is here: http://www.gratisoft.us/sudo/man/visudo.html
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Expert Comment

by:Tintin
ID: 18786689
Point being is that the code for date (or any other common command) has been around for a very, very long time, so the chance of any exploits in the code are very low compared to writing a setuid program from scratch.

Admittedly, as setting the date is such a simple operation, there's not really that much you can do wrong writing your own program, but it's still possible to write exploitable simple setuid programs.

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by:gmayo
ID: 18806803
Ok, bear in mind this is a small, closed system with controlled access in locked rooms. All we want to do is call the date command to set the system date and time. If there is a way to do it programmatically instead of calling a system command, then so much the better - especially if it avoids all this aggro.
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Accepted Solution

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FrivolousSam earned 125 total points
ID: 18826495
All you need to do is log in as root, setuid ug+s date and log out.  Then you can call date from any script and you will be able to set the date.

That is the way to solve your problem.  Where is the aggro?
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Author Comment

by:gmayo
ID: 18834907
Ok, I'll take your word for it. There appear to be two conflicting arguments and I wanted to know the pros and cons of each approach.

Thanks anyway.
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