3.10. Threats SSH Can CounterLike any security tool, SSH has particular threats against which it is effective and others that it doesn't address. We'll discuss the former first.
3.10.1. EavesdroppingAn eavesdropper is a network snooper who reads network traffic without affecting it in any way. SSH's encryption prevents eavesdropping. The contents of an SSH session, even if intercepted, can't be decrypted by a snooper.
3.10.2. Name Service and IP SpoofingIf an attacker subverts your naming service (DNS, NIS, etc.), network-related programs may be coerced to connect to the wrong machine. Similarly, an attacker can impersonate a host by stealing use of its IP address(es). In either case, you're in trouble: your client program can connect to a false server that steals your password when you supply it. SSH guards against this attack by cryptographically verifying the server host identity. When setting up a session, the SSH client validates the server's host key against a local list associating server names and addresses with their keys. If the supplied host key doesn't match the one on the list, SSH complains. This feature may be disabled in less security-conscious settings if the warning messages get annoying. [Section 188.8.131.52, "Strict host key checking"] The SSH-2 protocol allows for including PKI certificates along with keys. In the future, we hope that implementation of this feature in SSH products along with more common deployment of PKI will ease the burden of key management and reduce the need for this particular security trade-off.
3.10.3. Connection HijackingAn "active attacker" -- one who not only can listen to network traffic but also can inject his own -- can hijack a TCP connection, literally stealing it away from one of its legitimate endpoints. This is obviously disastrous: no matter how good your authentication method is, the attacker can simply wait until you've logged in, then steal your connection and insert his own nefarious commands into your session. SSH can't prevent hijacking, since this is a weakness in TCP, which operates below SSH. However, SSH renders it ineffective (except as a denial-of-service attack). SSH's integrity checking detects if a session is modified in transit, and shuts the connection down immediately without using any of the corrupted data.
3.10.4. Man-in-the-Middle AttacksA man-in-the-middle attack is a particularly subtle type of active attack and is illustrated in Figure 3-8. An adversary sits between you and your real peer (i.e., between the SSH client and server), intercepting all traffic and altering or deleting messages at will. Imagine that you try to connect to an SSH server, but Malicious Mary intercepts your connection. She behaves just like an SSH server, though, so you don't notice, and she ends up sharing a session key with you. Simultaneously, she also initiates her own connection to your intended server, obtaining a separate session key with the server. She can log in as you because you used password authentication and thus conveniently handed her your password. You and the server both think you have a connection to each other, when in fact you both have connections to Mary instead. Then she just sits in the middle, passing data back and forth between you and the server (decrypting on one side with one key and re-encrypting with the other for retransmission). Of course, she can read everything that goes by and undetectably modify it if she chooses.
Figure 3-8. Man-in-the-middle attackSSH counters this attack in two ways. The first is server host authentication. Unless Mary has broken into the server host, she is unable to effect her impersonation, because she doesn't have the server's private host key. Note that for this protection to work, it is crucial that the client actually check the server-supplied public host key against its known hosts list; otherwise, there is no guarantee that the server is genuine. If you connect for the first time to a new server and let ssh accept the host key, you are actually open to a man-in-the-middle attack. However, assuming you aren't spoofed that one time, future connections to this server are safe as long as the server host key isn't stolen. The second protection SSH affords is to limit the authentication methods vulnerable to this attack. The password method is vulnerable, but public-key and hostbased/RhostsRSA are immune. Mary can't discover the session key simply by observing the key exchange; she must perform an active attack in which she carries out separate exchanges with each side, obtaining separate keys of her own with the client and server. In both SSH-1 and SSH-2, the key exchange is so designed that if she does this, the session identifiers for each side will be diferent. When a client provides a digital signature for either public-key or trusted-host authentication, it includes the session identifier in the data signed. Thus, Mary can't just pass on the client-supplied authenticator to the server, nor does she have any way of coercing the client into signing the other session ID.
3.10.5. The Insertion AttackRecall that SSH-1 uses a weak integrity mechanism. This weakness was exploited in a successful attack discovered by Ariel Futoransky and Emiliano Kargieman in June 1998; see http://www.core-sdi.com/advisories/ssh-advisory.htm for the gory details. This "insertion" (or "compensation") attack allows an adversary who can perform an active network attack to insert arbitrary data into the plaintext data stream bound for either the client or server. That is, it allows insertion of encrypted data into the connection that then successfully decrypts to the attacker's desired plaintext and is delivered by SSH. The server direction is the most serious problem, since this lets the attacker insert arbitrary commands into a user's terminal session. Although not an especially easy attack to mount, this is a serious vulnerability. The attack results from composition properties of CRC-32 together with certain bulk ciphers in certain modes. The attack can be avoided altogether by using the 3DES cipher, which is immune. SSH1 1.2.25, F-Secure SSH1 1.3.5, and later versions, as well as all versions of OpenSSH, include the crc32 compensation attack detector, designed to detect and prevent this attack. The detector renders the attack harder to mount, but doesn't prevent it entirely. SSH-2 uses cryptographically strong integrity checks to avoid such problems.
Copyright © 2002 O'Reilly & Associates. All rights reserved.