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I want to install cron on my live web server to run a daily backup script of a local folder. Are there any security considerations I need to be aware of when installing cron?

My web server uses Ubuntu Linux 10.10.

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migrated from Sep 8 '11 at 10:59

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What are you afraid of? – sanmai Sep 8 '11 at 10:45
Which OS? Please be specific. Windows Cron is as insecure as Windows. Linux cron is still Linux and has all the security of the OS installation. – S.Lott Sep 8 '11 at 10:45
Maybe I'm just a bit paranoid because it is the live system. It did not came pre-installed, so I was unsure if there are some security considerations that needed to be made. – Frank Vilea Sep 8 '11 at 10:50
@S.Lott Windows isn't insecure. Bad Windows admins make Windows insecure. If you let me admin a linux box it'll get broken into in about 2 minutes. – mrdenny Sep 8 '11 at 11:21
@mrdenny♦: "Windows Cron is as insecure as Windows" can be read as "Windows Cron is as secure as Windows". It sure seemed like a trivial isomorphism. – S.Lott Sep 8 '11 at 11:58

2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

In essence it's secure, but also it is another way for an attacker to, once compromised the system, make some backdoor persistent and/or auto-open it anytime you close it.

You can use the files /etc/cron.allow and /etc/cron.deny to just make your user able to use it. Both have the same format: 1 username per line.

  1. If /etc/cron.allow exists, only the users listed there would be able to have a crontab. No more files are taken into account. Kind of a whitelist.
  2. If /etc/cron.allow does not exist, but /etc/cron.deny does, then anyone but those listed there can have a crontab. Kind of a blacklist.
  3. If neither of them exist, then depending on the UNIX/Linux version then anyone may be allowed to use it, or just the super user (Debian/Ubuntu allow anybody, while redhat based versions seems to only allow root).

In ubuntu by default /etc/cron.deny exists. You can create /etc/cron.allow and put there just your user.

Take into account that these files only manage the users allowed to have a personal crontab (ie. execute crontab -e). The system-wide crontab (/etc/crontab, /etc/cron.d/*, /etc/cron.daily/*. /etc/cron.weekly/*, /etc/cron.monthly/*) will work regardless of the cron.allow/cron.deny files.

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I'm not convinced by your third statement "3. If neither of them exist, then anyone can use it.". The crontab(1) man pages from different systems I have seem to all agree that "If neither of these files exists then only the super user will be allowed to use crontab.". – WhiteWinterWolf Apr 18 at 14:01
@GZBK it may depend on the system. On debian & ubuntu if these files do not exist then all users can use cron. Going to edit... – Carlos Campderrós Apr 19 at 12:24
On my side I was referring to OpenBSD and OpenSUSE. Interesting enough I see now that FreeBSD document the behavior is "depending on site-dependant on configuration parameters" without expliciting the actual involved parameters. At last, the POSIX man page states that under such circumstances "only a process with appropriate privileges shall be allowed to submit a job", the concept of "appropriate privileges" remaining undefined as far as I know. Therefore in such circumstances I think the behavior is just variable and I would definitively recommend to avoid having none of these files present. – WhiteWinterWolf Apr 19 at 12:47

Yes, it's secure. Just make sure the scripts you run with it are secure. Review them yourself and give them only the rights they need.

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