43.4.6. PAM and Administrative Credential Caching

43.4.6. PAM and Administrative Credential Caching

A number of graphical administrative tools in Red Hat Enterprise Linux provide users with elevated privileges for up to five minutes using the pam_timestamp.so module. It is important to understand how this mechanism works, because a user who walks away from a terminal while pam_timestamp.so is in effect leaves the machine open to manipulation by anyone with physical access to the console.

In the PAM timestamp scheme, the graphical administrative application prompts the user for the root password when it is launched. When the user has been authenticated, the pam_timestamp.so module creates a timestamp file. By default, this is created in the /var/run/sudo/ directory. If the timestamp file already exists, graphical administrative programs do not prompt for a password. Instead, the pam_timestamp.so module freshens the timestamp file, reserving an extra five minutes of unchallenged administrative access for the user.

You can verify the actual state of the timestamp file by inspecting the /var/run/sudo/<user> file. For the desktop, the relevant file is unknown:root. If it is present and its timestamp is less than five minutes old, the credentials are valid.

The existence of the timestamp file is indicated by an authentication icon, which appears in the notification area of the panel.

The Authentication Icon

Illustration of the authentication icon.

Figure 43.7. The Authentication Icon


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