Terminating Cat5 cables . . . at 70 feet in the air!

I work for a company that is a Wireless ISP, so I deal a fair amount with wireless networking equipment. Usually, though, I work on them from behind a keyboard and occasionally on the ground in a lab-type environment. We’ve been working recently on adding some 802.11a equipment to one of our towers. I worked on getting everything ready on the ground, including terminating the Cat5 cables that plugged into the radios.

Unfortunately, I forgot to run the cables through the weatherproofing connector before sending the wire up the tower. We had a professional lineman mount all of the radios and antennas for us, but he wasn’t able to re-terminate the Cat5 ends before he had to finish up.

So, up I went to re-do the termination. It actually wasn’t too bad. With the right equipment, climbing up and working was pretty easy and I felt pretty secure the whole time. In fact, the thing that worried me the most was that I felt pretty comfortable with it and was afraid that I’d forget that I was 70 feet in the air and do something dumb.

PHP 4’s call_user_func passes everything by value

I spent quite a while today debugging a problem where call_user_func was not passing a parameter by reference. I was trying to pass an object into a function whose name is not known until run time.

Passing it by reference means that changes made to $var inside foo() are made to the actual variable instead of to a copy of the value (when passed by value).  However, for some reason, when calling a function with call_user_func(), it passes everything by value, regardless of how the function is defined.

function foo(&$var)

$bar = 1;
echo $bar;    // outputs '2'

$function = 'foo';

call_user_func($function, $bar);
echo $bar;  // you'd expect this to output 3 now, but it still outputs 2

echo $bar;  // outputs 3 now

As the sample code shows, the solution is to avoid the use of the call_user_func() function by using a variable function name. Thanks to Steve Hannah’s blog post at http://www.sjhannah.com/blog/?p=86 for helping me to solve this one.

mod_auth_mysql makes managing Apache authentication simple

I administer about 20 different web applications, each of which uses Apache authentication to control access. In the past, I’ve just used simple htpasswd authentication because it works and is readily available. However when adding or removing employee’s access, it required pretty manual editing of all of the htpasswd files every time that we added or removed and employee

I just starting using mod_auth_mysql which provides a way to centralize the authentication. It is available as a package on any distro that I’ve used, and is pretty simple to configure. Just create a database with the following tables:

  user_name CHAR(30) NOT NULL,
  user_passwd CHAR(20) NOT NULL,
  PRIMARY KEY (user_name)
  user_name CHAR(30) NOT NULL,
  user_group CHAR(20) NOT NULL,
  PRIMARY KEY (user_name, user_group)

Populate the users table with username/passwords taken straight from the .htpasswd file. Optionally, you can make users a member of a group via the groups table. Create a database user with permission to SELECT from those two tables.

Then configure the following in the Apache config or .htaccess file for each your web applications:

AuthName "Some Webapp"
AuthType Basic
AuthMySQLEnable on
AuthMySQLHost myauthserver.someplace.com
AuthMySQLUser YourDatabaseName
AuthMySQLPassword YourDatabaseUserPassword
AuthMySQLDB YourDatabaseName
AuthMySQLUserTable users
AuthMySQLNameField user_name
AuthMySQLPasswordField user_passwd
AuthMySQLGroupTable groups
AuthMySQLGroupField user_group

require valid-user
#require group ThisApp

Now you can centrally manage your Apache authentication. Uncomment the ‘require group’ line and add an appropriate entry in the groups table for any users you want to allow specifically to this app.

Credit Card Validation using the mod10 algorithm in PHP

I’m working on a site that will use the Paypal API for submitting merchant account transactions to them. Most banks offer financial services for business owners who need to differentiate professional and personal finances, also for helping with credit card debts with https://nationaldebtadvice.org.uk/. The ability to manage your Share Prices Australia finances from your computer, tablet, or smartphone is becoming more and more important to consumers. Banks will typically offer digital banking services, some even have credit cards 0 interest. I’d like to validate as much credit card information as possible before passing any information to a 3rd party, since are different kind of credit cards companies and options, so I’ve been reading in depth finance articles to find out more about it. I came across the mod10 check that credit cards use and wrote a little PHP function to validate a card number

function sumdigits($number)
  $sum = 0;
  for($i = 0; $i <= strlen($number) - 1; $i++) {
    $sum += substr($number, $i, 1);
  return $sum;

function mod10check($number)
  $sum_number = '';
  for($i = strlen($number) - 1; $i >= 0; $i--) {
    $thisdigit = substr($number, $i, 1);
    $sum_number .= ( $loop %2 == 0) ? $thisdigit : sumdigits($thisdigit * 2);
  return sumdigits($sum_number) % 10 == 0 ? true : false;

Tracking down how hackers gain access through web apps

Hackers commonly use vulnerabilities in web applications to gain access to a server. Sometimes, though, it can be difficult to track down exactly how they gained access to a server. Especially if the server hosts a bunch of websites and there are lots of potentially vulnerable scripts.

I’ve tracked down more of these than I can count, and have sortof developed a pattern for investigating. Here are some useful things to try:

1- Look in /tmp and /var/tmp for possibly malicious files. These directories are usually world-writable, and commonly used to temporarily store files. Sometimes the files are disguised with leading dot’s, or they may be named something that looks similar to other files in the directory like “. ” (dot- space), or like a session files named sess_something.

If you are able to see any files, you can use the timestamps of the files to try and look through some Apache logs to find the exact hit that it came from

2- If a rogue process is still running, look at the /proc entry for that file to determine more information about it. The files in /proc/<PID> will tell you information like the executable file that created the process, it’s working directory, environment information, and plenty more details. Usually, the rogue processes are running as the apache user (httpd, nobody, apache).

If all of the rogue processes were being run by the Apace user, then the hacker likely didn’t gain root access. If you have rogue processes that were being run by root, it is much harder to clean up after. Usually the only truly safe method is to start over with a clean installation.

3- netstat -l will help you identify processes that are listening for incoming connections. Often times, these are a perl script. Sometimes they are named things that look legitmiate like ‘httpd’, so pay close attention. netstat-n will help you to see current connections that your server has to others.

4- Look in your error logs for files being downloaded with wget. A common tactic is for hackers to run a wget command to download another file with more malicious instructions. Fortunately, wget writes to STDERR, so it’s output is usually displayed in the error logs. Something like this is evidence of a successful wget:

--20:30:40--  http://somehackedsite.com/badfile.txt
            => `Lnx.txt'
Resolving somehackedsite.com...

Connecting to somehackedsite.com[]:80... connected.
HTTP request sent, awaiting response... 200 OK
Length: 12,345 [text/plain]

     0K .......... ......                                     100%  263.54 KB/s

20:30:50 (263.54 KB/s) - `badfile.txt' saved [12,345/12,345]

You can use this information to try and recreate what the hacker did. Look for the file they downloaded (badfile.txt in this case) and look at what it does. You can also used these timestamps to look through access_logs to find the vulnerable script.

Since wget is a commonly used tool for this, I like to create a .wgetrc file that contains bogus proxy information, so that even if a hacker is able to attempt a download, it won’t work. Create a .wgetrc file in Apache’s home directory with this content:

http_proxy = http://bogus.dontresolveme.com:19999/
ftp_proxy = http://bogus.dontresolveme.com:19999/

5- If you were able to identify any timestamps, you can grep through Apache logs to find requests from that time. If you have a well-structured server where you have logs in a consistent place, then you can use a command like this to search all of the log files at onces:

grep "01\\/Jun\\/2007:10:20:" /home/*/logs/access_log

I usually leave out the seconds field because requests sometimes take several seconds to execute. If you have a server name or file name that you found was used by a wget, you can try searching for those too:

grep "somehackesite.com" /home/*/logs/access_log

6 – Turn of PHP’s register_globals by default and only enable it if truly needed. If you write PHP apps, learn how to program securely, and never rely on register_globals being on.