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Details of the Security Changes in Firebird 2

gsec in Firebird 2
Protection from Brute-force Hacking

Security focus was directed at some recognised weaknesses in Firebird's security from malicious attacks:


Firebird authentication checks a server-wide security database in order to decide whether a database or server connection request is authorised. The security database stores the user names and passwords of all authorised login identities.

Firebird 1.5 Authentication

In Firebird 1.5 the DES algorithm is used twice to hash the password: first by the client, then by the server, before comparing it with the hash stored in security database. However, this sequence becomes completely broken when the SYSDBA changes a password. The client performs the hash calculation twice and stores the resulting hash directly in the security database. Therefore, hash management is completely client-dependent (or, actually, client-defined).

Firebird 2: Server-side Hashing

To be able to use stronger hashes, another approach was called for. The hash to be stored on the server should always be calculated on the server side. Such a schema already exists in Firebird -- in the Services API. This led to the decision to use the Services API for any client activity related to user management. Now, gsec and the isc_user_add(modify, delete) API functions all use services to access the security database. (Embedded access to Classic server on POSIX is the exception --see below).

It became quite easy to make any changes to the way passwords are hashed - it is always performed by the server. It is no longer gsec's problem to calculate the hash for the security database: it simply asks services to do the work!

It is worth noting that the new gsec works successfully with older Firebird versions, as long as the server's architecture supports services.

The SHA-1 Hashing Algorithm

This method leads to the situation where

  1. a hash valid for user A is invalid for user B

  2. when a user changes his password -- even to exactly the same string as before -- the data stored in RDB$USERS.RDB$PASSWD is new.

Although this situation does not increase resistance to a brute-force attempt to crack the password, it does make "visual" analysis of a stolen password database much harder.

The New Security Database

The structure of security database was changed. In general, now it contains a patch by Ivan Prenosil, with some minor differences, enabling any user to change his/her own password, .

  • In firebird 1.5 the table USERS has to be readable by PUBLIC, an engine requirement without which the password validation process would fail. Ivan's patch solution used a view, with the condition "WHERE USER = ''". That worked due to another bug in the engine that left the SQL variable USER empty, not 'authenticator', as it might seem from engine's code.

    Once that bug was fixed, it was certainly possible to add the condition "USER = 'authenticator'". For the short term, that was OK, because the username is always converted to upper case.

  • A better solution was found, that avoids making user authentication depend on an SQL trick. The result is that the non-SYSDBA user can see only his own login in any user-management tool (gsec, or any graphical interface that use the Services API). SYSDBA continues to have full access to manage users' accounts.

New security database structure

The Firebird 2 security database is named security2.fdb. For user authentication it has a new table named RDB$USERS that stores the new hashed passwords. A view over this table replaces the old USERS table and enables users to change their own passwords.

The DDL for the new structures can be found in Appendix C.

gsec in Firebird 2

Special measures were thus taken to make remote connection to the security database completely impossible. Don't be surprised if some old program fails on attempting direct access: this is by design. Users information may now be accessed only through the Services API and the equivalent internal access to services now implemented in the isc_user_* API functions.

Protection from Brute-force Hacking

Current high-speed CPUs and fast WAN connections make it possible to try to brute-force Firebird server users' passwords. This is especially dangerous for Superserver which, since Firebird 1.5, performs user authentication very fast. Classic is slower, since it has to create new process for each connection, attach to the security database within that connection and compile a request to the table RDB$USERS before validating login and password. Superserver caches the connection and request, thus enabling a much faster user validation.

Given the 8-byte maximum length of the traditional Firebird password, the brute-force hacker had a reasonable chance to break into the Firebird installation.

From v.2.0, Superserver has active protection to make a brute-force attack more difficult. After a few failed attempts to log in, the user and IP address are locked for a few seconds, denying any attempt to log in with that particular user name OR from that particular IP address for a brief period.

No setup or configuration is required for this feature. It is active automatically as soon as the SuperServer starts up.

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