Security Notes for NFS version 2 and 3

NFS version 2 and 3 servers only provide (insecure) host-based authentication: Hosts are allowed/denied based on hostnames and/or IP addresses. Authorization of users is controlled on the clients using the permissions of the files based on user/group IDs. As a result, the mapping of user names to user IDs (and group names to group IDs) must be identical on the server and all its clients (or they must be mapped dynamically). The first can be achieved by a central database holding the user accounts, for example, based on OpenLDAP.

The fact that decisions about authorization are made on each client also means that a user who can become root on any client has full access to any file/directory mounted from the NFS server. Although access by root itself can be prevented by appropriatly configuring the exports on the server (e.g., with the root_squash option), it must be kept in mind that root can create users with arbitrary IDs on the client.


Besides the kernel-space support, the server and clients require some user-space utilities: The portmapper (portmap) and client utilies (most notably, the network status monitor (rpc.statd)):

# apt-get install portmap nfs-common

The server additionally requires the user-space utilities of the NFS kernel server contained in the package nfs-kernel-server (most notably, rpc.mountd and rpc.nfsd):

# apt-get install nfs-kernel-server

If your server supports quotas, you will also need the quota package containing the rpc.rquotad:

# apt-get install quota

Exporting Directories

The export of directories is configured in /etc/exports on the server. Each line contains the export point (a directory) followed by a white-space separated list of clients (hostnames, IP addresses, networks, wildcard “*”, etc.) to which access should be granted. Each client can be followed by an optional list of options in brackets:

Excerpt: /etc/exports

directory client1(option1,option2,...) client2(...)

The export of the home directories could be done like this:

Excerpt: /etc/exports

/home *(rw,root_squash,sync,no_subtree_check)

For diskless clients the directory /opt/ltsp can be exported read-only to any client with the following entry:

Excerpt: /etc/exports

/opt/ltsp *(ro,no_root_squash,async,no_subtree_check)

In contrast, a public directory which is writable can be specified like this (/public must be writable by all users on the NFS server):

Excerpt: /etc/exports

/public *(rw,all_squash,sync,no_subtree_check)

The meaning of the options is as follows:

the filesystem is writable
the filesystem is exported read-only; this is the default
map root UID/GID to anonymous UID/GID (nobody/nogroup); this is the default
map all UIDs/GIDs to anonymous UID/GID (nobody/nogroup)
do not map root (nor any other) UID/GID to anonymous UID/GID (nobody/nogroup)
reply clients after data have been stored to stable storage; this is the default
reply clients before data have been stored to stable storage; improves performance, but should only be used on ro filesystems

See man -L en exports for more information on the supported options. After changes of the configuration file, the NFS server can be forced to re-read it with

# exportfs -r

Mounting NFS Filesystems

For example, mounting the home directories as exported in the above example to /mnt can be done by the following command:

# mount -t nfs -o hard,intr /mnt

In order to survive reboots the following line can be added to /etc/fstab:

Excerpt: /etc/fstab /mnt nfs hard,intr 0 0

The option hard will lead to indefinite retries of the client to access the filesystem, if requests time out (this is the default). This way a program trying to access the NFS filesystem while the server is down will hang and should continue without problems, when the server is back again. The option intr allows a filesystem operation to be interrupted (by default it cannot be interrupted).

Access Control

Note: Take into account that the configuration described below (in files /etc/hosts.allow and /etc/hosts.deny) also takes effect for other daemons like inetd and even sshd. The security gain is very small, so you might want to skip this section.

Simple access control for the portmapper and the NFS daemons can be configured in /etc/hosts.allow and /etc/hosts.deny. (These access controll rules do not apply to the kernel part of NFS.) The two files are processed in the following order:

  1. A client is granted access, if a (daemon, client) pair matches an entry in /etc/hosts.allow.
  2. Otherwise, a client is denied, if it matches an entry in /etc/hosts.deny.
  3. Otherwise, access will be granted.

Rules are specified in /etc/hosts.allow and /etc/hosts.deny for any daemon by specifying daemon: client pairs. A daemon is either a single daemon like sshd (for the OpenSSH daemon) or a wildcard such as ALL. The client part consists of a comma-separated list of hostnames, IP addresses, networks, or wildcards like ALL. By default, access to all daemons is granted for all clients. A very restrictive setup could deny access to all daemons (even sshd, be careful!):

File: /etc/hosts.deny


It might be preferable and avoid some trouble to use a less resistrictive configuration instead. You could deny access to the NFS related daemons only:

Excerpt: /etc/hosts.deny

portmap: ALL
statd: ALL
mountd: ALL
rquotad: ALL

Afterwards, access has to be permitted in /etc/hosts.allow for the desired hosts. Access to the NFS related daemons can be granted, e.g., from the network by:

Excerpt: /etc/hosts.allow


Port Configuration

Typically, only portmap and nfsd use fixed ports (111 and 2049, respectively). The other services bind to a random port during each start up by default. This makes it in particular difficult to setup packet filter rules.

The rpc.statd daemon can be forced to use port 4000 to listen on and port 4001 as outgoing port by setting:

Excerpt: /etc/default/nfs-common

STATDOPTS="-p 4000 -o 4001"

Note: Unfortunatly, there is currently an unfixed problem in nfs-utils that makes rpc.statd listen to an additional random priviledged port.

The port used by rpc.mountd can be configured as 4002 by the following parameter:

Excerpt: /etc/default/nfs-kernel-server


The port used by lockd can be set to 4003 by passing appropriate parameters to the lockd kernel module upon loading. Therefore, create the following file:

File: /etc/modprobe.d/nfs_lockd

options lockd nlm_udpport=4003 nlm_tcpport=4003

Finally, if you use quotas, you can also assign a fix port to rpc.rquotad, e.g., 4004:

Excerpt: /etc/default/quota


You will have to restart the daemons after changing the listen ports (see Restart of Daemons).

Enabling NFS Version 4

In comparison to NFS version 2 and 3 there are two major differences in version 4:

  1. It supports secure authentication and encryption, e.g., based on Kerberos.
  2. It requires only a single port (TCP 2049) which is advantageous for firewalling.

In this section (insecure) host-based authentication is still used. The next section deals with adding Kerberos authentication.

Firstly, you will need to enable rpc.idmapd on both the server and the clients for NFS version 4:

Excerpt: /etc/default/nfs-common


Set the correct domain of your network in the configuration file of rpc.idmapd on the server and its clients:

Excerpt: /etc/idmapd.conf

Domain =

Secondly, you must export an explicit root directory, e.g., /srv/nfs4, in your NFS configuration which is marked with the option fsid=0:

# mkdir -p /srv/nfs4

The corresponding entry in the NFS configuration file looks like this for access from any (“*”) client:

Excerpt: /etc/exports

/srv/nfs4 *(rw,sync,fsid=0,crossmnt,no_subtree_check)

You might not have all volumes located under the root directory. Other volumes can be bind mounted under that root. For example, this can be achieved for the directory /home by the following commands:

# mkdir -p /srv/nfs4/home
# mount --bind /home /srv/nfs4/home

with the corresponding entry in the NFS configuration file:

Excerpt: /etc/exports

/srv/nfs4/home *(rw,sync,no_subtree_check)

Finally, restart the corresponding init script nfs-common (see also Restart of Daemons) and make the NFS server re-read its configuration:

# exportfs -r

Note: The bind mounts can be added to /etc/fstab in order to survive reboots:

Excerpt: /etc/fstab

/home /srv/nfs4/home none bind 0 0

Enabling Kerberos Authentication in NFS Version 4

Prerequisit: Heimdal In order to additionally add secure authentication and encryption, rpc.svcgssd must be started on the server:

Excerpt: /etc/default/nfs-kernel-server


Additionally, rpc.gssd must be started on the server and its clients (first line). It requires a keytab file (read more below) which is set to /etc/krb5.keytab.nfs with the second variable.

Excerpt: /etc/default/nfs-common

RPCGSSDOPTS="-k /etc/krb5.keytab.nfs"

For secure NFS version 4 connections hosts have to authenticate via Kerberos. Therefore, the server as well as the client require a Kerberos principal nfs/ and a keytab file. For the server it can be created by:

# kadmin -l
> add --random-key nfs/
> ext_keytab -k /etc/krb5.keytab.nfs nfs/
> q

For the client the hostname part must be replaced by the FQDN of the client. The keytab file can be easily created on the server (e.g., as file /tmp/client.keytab) and has then to be copied to /etc/krb5.keytab.nfs on the client (readable only for root!):

# kadmin -l
> add --random-key nfs/
> ext_keytab -k /tmp/client.keytab nfs/
> q

In the NFS configuration file the security flavor can be configured with the sec=flavor option. Valid flavors are:

default; no cryptographic security
Kerberos authentication
as krb5, with additional integrity (checksum)
as krb5i, with additional privacy (encryption); strongest security

In the NFS version 4 configuration examples from the last section, e.g., sec=krb5 can be added to the options list:

Excerpt: /etc/exports

/srv/nfs4      *(rw,sync,fsid=0,crossmnt,no_subtree_check,sec=krb5)
/src/nfs4/home *(rw,sync,no_subtree_check,sec=krb5)

Finally, restart the corresponding init scripts nfs-common and nfs-kernel-server (see Restart of Daemons).

Note 1: You may repeat the lines for enabling further Kerberos flavors and/or specify additional NFS version 2 or 3 filesystems.

Note 2: The syntax gss/krb5, gss/krb5i, and gss/krb5p in place of a client (hostname, IP/netword address, wildcard) in /etc/exports is deprecated since Linux 2.6.23.

Mounting NFS version 4 Filesystems

When mounting an NFS version 4 filesystem, the root directory has to be omitted. For the above examples, mounting the home directories to /mnt can be done by the following command. The option -o sec=krb5 must be added, if the filesystem has sec=krb5 set in the server configuration (accordingly for krb5i and krb5p):

# mount -t nfs4 -o hard,intr,sec=krb5 /mnt

In order to survive reboots the following line can be added to /etc/fstab:

Excerpt: /etc/fstab /mnt nfs4 hard,intr,sec=krb5 0 0

Users need a Kerberos ticket, before they can access the NFS mounts. If a directory is only accessible by a certain user, a ticket for the corresponding principal will be required.

Note: If the ticket is destroyed after the access, the directory will still be accessible for approximatly 30 minutes. Interestingly, getting a ticket for another principal (to access another user's directory) is ignored during that time. Unfortunatly, I did not find any documentation about that.

Restart of Daemons

Finally, if you change one of the configuration files of the init scripts (/etc/default/init_script_name), you will have to restart the related init script. If any daemon is disabled in any of these files, it will be advisable to first run the corresponding init script with the stop parameter, then change the configuration file of the init script, and afterwards run the script with start parameter. Otherwise, a daemon that is disabled, but still running, might not be stopped during a restart. The list of relevant init scripts is as follows. The nfs-kernel-server is only to be restarted on the server and quotarpc will only exist, if quotas are used:

# /etc/init.d/nfs-common restart
# /etc/init.d/nfs-kernel-server restart
# /etc/init.d/quotarpc restart

Note: If you changed the listen ports of lockd, you will have to reboot the system as there is no way to reload the kernel module.

You can verify that the neccessary services are running by querying the portmapper (for NFS version 2 and 3):

# rpcinfo -p

There should be portmapper and status mentioned in the list on the server and client. On the server nfs, nlockmgr, and mountd have to also appear on the list. If quotas are used, rquotad must be listed.

Networking Requirements

Prerequisite: Shorewall In case of a packet filter (Shorewall), you will have to permit access from the clients to all the ports specified in the Port Configuration section. Without any fixed ports a packet filter can hardly be setup.

Note: The rpc.statd listens to an additional random priviledged port due to an unfixed issue. This is not considered here and makes firewalling extremely difficult.

Excerpt: /etc/shorewall/rules

# NFS Kernel Server
# portmap
ACCEPT		net		$FW		tcp	111
ACCEPT		net		$FW		udp	111
# (rpc.)nfsd
ACCEPT		net		$FW		tcp	2049
ACCEPT		net		$FW		udp	2049
# rpc.statd
ACCEPT		net		$FW		tcp	4000
ACCEPT		net		$FW		udp	4000
# ... and an additional, random UDP port
# rpc.mountd
ACCEPT		net		$FW		tcp	4002
ACCEPT		net		$FW		udp	4002
# lockd
ACCEPT		net		$FW		tcp	4003
ACCEPT		net		$FW		udp	4003
# rpc.rquotad
ACCEPT		net		$FW		tcp	4004
ACCEPT		net		$FW		udp	4004

and restart the packet filter:

# shorewall restart

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