the power of being root, scary movie III

Magnus Therning magnus at
Thu May 19 21:08:56 UTC 2005

I've been cutting up your mail a bit, hope you don't mind.

On Tue, May 17, 2005 at 03:22:22PM +0700, sn00bb0rn.linux gmail wrote:
>I have read all replies, I think the concept of *all or nothing* is
>quite crystal clear to me. But it scares me up now. As I recall (I hope
>not false remembering) even Windows has some arragement about this.
>They share the power to some specialized admins, e.g some only do
>backups etc.

What you are referring to is probably what in Windows parlance is called
privilege. I can't claim to have fully understood the difference between
permission and privilege, but I'll make an attempt to explain it by

 The owner of an object decides what other users are allowed to do with
 said object--he sets the permissions on an object.

 An administrator can grant a privilege to a user, e.g. to make backups.
 That way the backup program doesn't have to run as a user with full
 administrator rights, instead it can run as a less powerful user with
 backup privilege.

POSIX capabilities are implemented in Linux and they correspond to
privileges. I am not sure how spread their use is though.

>A friend of mine once tells me about a local foreign invesment factory
>that only let all employee to use the pc but not letting 'em to alter
>it's configuration state in anyway. If an employee has proved to
>install something that not authorized by admin, s[he] will
>*automatically get fired*. Let alone to install their own OSes. A good
>security practice I guess.

So, what you are saying is that each user in that organisation has a
user that isn't local administrator! You can do the same in a Unix
environment by not revealing the root password.

>This arise my curiosity, how *common employee* from most coorporation
>deals with this situation in daily pratical life these days, you know
>considering "office politics" ? Like those in accounting dept, HRD etc.
>Are they mostly do encryption ?

Yes, they'd use encryption.

>I'm still learning linux now, but in my own home box and ubuntu install
>gnupg by default. In offices can we keep the root/admin hands off from
>all of our ecryption stuff (bin,config,key,data), except only for
>formal written approval ?

Encrypt the data on the machine. That way you make sure that even if
root can read the data he can't make heads or tails of it.

It would still be possible for the root/admin to perform some tricks to
read your data while it's in RAM... but at some point you have to start
trusting your administrator :-)


Magnus Therning                    (OpenPGP: 0xAB4DFBA4)
magnus at

Software is not manufactured, it is something you write and publish.
Keep Europe free from software patents, we do not want censorship
by patent law on written works.

The multiple human needs and desires that demand privacy among two or
more people in the midst of social life must inevitably lead to
cryptology wherever men thrive and wherever they write.
      -- David Kahn, _The Codebreakers_
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