A while ago, I got referred to the Open Vulnerability and Assessment Language, which seems to be an open specification (or even standard) for defining security content/information and being able to document such things in a way that tools can interpret it. Actually, it is a set of these specifications. But first:

tl;dr Gentoo Security Benchmark Guide with example report on automated tests based on XCCDF and OVAL, interpreted by Open-SCAP.

There; now that we have that out of our way, let's continue on the somewhat more gory details. In this first post, I'd like to talk a bit about XCCDF and OVAL, which are both imo overly complex but interesting XML formats.

The first one, XCCDF, is better known as the Extensible Configuration Checklist Description Format and is an XML format in which you document settings (what should a system look like). By itself, that doesn't warrant another XML format. However, the power of XCCDF is that you can define in the document profiles. Each of these profiles is then documented with the set of rules that applies to the profile. So you can have an XCCDF document on the configuration of BIND (the nameserver) and have two profiles: one for a single-server setup, and one for a multi-server (master/slave) setup.

These rules also define checks that you can have a tool performed against your configuration. These checks are documented in an OVAL XML file (Open Vulnerability and Assessment Language) which can be interpreted by an OVAL-compliant tool. A very simply put statement could be: "File /etc/ssh/sshd_config must have a line that matches 'PermitRootLogin no'".

Of course, XML doesn't use simple statements. In the case of OVAL, a specific form of normalization occurs.

  • At the beginning, you define a definition that explains what you want to achieve (similar to the above statement) in plain text, and then refer to one or more criteria that needs to be passed if this line applies. Most checks in a configuration guide are simple criteria, but with OVAL you can create criteria like "If my system is a Gentoo x86_64 one, and I use the hardened profile, then criteria A must apply, but if my system does not use a hardened profile, it is criteria B".
  • The criteria refers to a test that needs to be executed. This test can be a file expression match, partition information check, service state, installed software, etc. but does not allow executing commands that the user defines (it is not considered a safe practice that you execute commands that are stated in the XML file since most OVAL interpreters will run as root). This test is based on two additional aspects:

    • The object refers to the object or resource that is checked. This can be a partition or a file, or a list of lines that match an expression in a file, etc.
    • The state refers to the state that that object or resource should be in (or should match).

With this OVAL language in place, you can now refer to several tests to enhance your XCCDF document, and allow OVAL interpreters to test the various rules on your system. For me, this was the major reason to look into the language, since I had my hopes up to update or rewrite the Gentoo Linux Security Handbook but with a way for users to validate if their system adheres to most/all statements made in that document.

As a matter of exercise, I started making such a security benchmark of which you can find a HTML version online (it's a preview URL, so might change in the future). And since it is written with XCCDF and OVAL, I've also added an example report on automated tests too. The sources of these documents are available as well (XCCDF and OVAL - download as txt but rename to XML then).

For those adventurous enough to play with them: install app-forensics/openscap so that you can parse the files. To generate the guide itself, use oscap xccdf generate scap-gentoo-xccdf.xml > guide.html. To run the tests associated with it, use oscap xccdf eval --oval-results --profile Gentoo-Default --report report.html scap-gentoo-xccdf.xml. Also take a look at the Open-SCAP website which is a good resource as well (and the mailinglists are low traffic but with good response times!).

So, what is the future on all this for me?

First, I'm going to work a bit further on the OVAL statements, so that I can automatically test the majority of settings that I currently have in the benchmark/guide. Only when I'm far enough will I continue on the content of the guide (since it is far from finished) and also see if this isn't something that can be put on a somewhat more official location. If not, I'll still continue developing it, but it'll remain on my dev-page.

When I'm somewhat satisfied with that, I might check if I can't have OVAL enhanced with some Gentoo-specific objects (there are already objects for RedHat-like and Debian-like distributions) so that we can write tests for Gentoo settings (like USE flags, profiles, enabled GCC specs, etc.) If we have that, then we can even write checks (XCCDF and OVAL based) to validate if a system is how it is supposed to be (wouldn't that be great, an automated test that tells you if your system is properly set up according to our documents).

But XCCDF and OVAL isn't the end. There are other formats available as well, like CCE (for configuration entries), CVE/CPE (to check vulnerability information and its target software/platform) and more. I know RedHat is already actively using OVAL for its security advisories, and other sites like Center for Internet Security are also using XCCDF and OVAL to document and work with security guides. So why would Gentoo not get on that train as well?


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