26.2. FTP Servers

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Red Hat Enterprise Linux ships with two different FTP servers:
  • Red Hat Content Accelerator — A kernel-based Web server that delivers high performance Web server and FTP services. Since speed as its primary design goal, it has limited functionality and runs only as an anonymous FTP server. For more information about configuring and administering Red Hat Content Accelerator, consult the documentation available online at
  • vsftpd — A fast, secure FTP daemon which is the preferred FTP server for Red Hat Enterprise Linux. The remainder of this chapter focuses on vsftpd.

26.2.1. vsftpd

The Very Secure FTP Daemon (vsftpd) is designed from the ground up to be fast, stable, and, most importantly, secure. vsftpd is the only stand-alone FTP server distributed with Red Hat Enterprise Linux, due to its ability to handle large numbers of connections efficiently and securely.
The security model used by vsftpd has three primary aspects:
  • Strong separation of privileged and non-privileged processes — Separate processes handle different tasks, and each of these processes run with the minimal privileges required for the task.
  • Tasks requiring elevated privileges are handled by processes with the minimal privilege necessary — By leveraging compatibilities found in the libcap library, tasks that usually require full root privileges can be executed more safely from a less privileged process.
  • Most processes run in a chroot jail — Whenever possible, processes are change-rooted to the directory being shared; this directory is then considered a chroot jail. For example, if the directory /var/ftp/ is the primary shared directory, vsftpd reassigns /var/ftp/ to the new root directory, known as /. This disallows any potential malicious hacker activities for any directories not contained below the new root directory.
Use of these security practices has the following effect on how vsftpd deals with requests:
  • The parent process runs with the least privileges required — The parent process dynamically calculates the level of privileges it requires to minimize the level of risk. Child processes handle direct interaction with the FTP clients and run with as close to no privileges as possible.
  • All operations requiring elevated privileges are handled by a small parent process — Much like the Apache HTTP Server, vsftpd launches unprivileged child processes to handle incoming connections. This allows the privileged, parent process to be as small as possible and handle relatively few tasks.
  • All requests from unprivileged child processes are distrusted by the parent process — Communication with child processes are received over a socket, and the validity of any information from child processes is checked before being acted on.
  • Most interaction with FTP clients is handled by unprivileged child processes in a chroot jail — Because these child processes are unprivileged and only have access to the directory being shared, any crashed processes only allows the attacker access to the shared files.
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