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Answered By Mike Orr, Nick Moffitt
I have a question about the "finger" option on telnet. I know that you ccan
find out when someone has logged in by entering "finger name" But I was
wondering if it possible to find out who has tried to finger your e-mail
Please keep my name anonymous.
[Mike] The short answer:
If you are the sysadmin, you can run "fingerd" with the "-l" option to log incoming requests; see "man fingerd". Otherwise, if you have Unix progamming experience, it may be possible to write a script that logs information about the requests you get. If you're merely concerned about security, the correct answer is to turn off the "fingerd" daemon or read the "finger" and "fingerd" manpages to learn how to limit what information your computer is revealing about you and about itself. However, you have some misconceptions about the nature of "finger" which we should also address.
The long answer:
"finger" and "telnet" are two distinct Internet services. "http" (WWW) and "smtp" (sending e-mail) are two other Internet services. Each service is completely independent of the others.
Depending on the command-line options given and the cooperation of the remote site, "finger user@host" may tell you:
(1) BASIC USER INFORMATION: the user's login name, real name, terminal name and write status, idle time, login time, office location and office phone number.
(2) EXTENDED USER INFORMATION: home directory, home phone number, login shell, mail status (whether they have any mail or any unread mail), and the contents of their "~/.plan" and "~/.project" and "~/.forward" files.
(3) SERVER INFORMATION: a "Welcome to ..." banner which also shows some informations (e.g. uptime, operating system name and release)--similar to what the "uname -a" and "uptime" commands reveal on the remote system.
Normally, ".plan", ".project" and ".forward" are regular text files. ".plan" is normally a note about your general work, ".project" is a note about the status of your current project(s), and ".forward" shows whether your incoming mail is being forwarded somewhere else or whether you're using a mail filter (it also shows where it's being forwarded to and what your mail filter program is, scary).
I've heard it's possible to make one of these files a named pipe connected to a script. I'm not exactly sure how it's done. (Other TAG members, please help.) You use "mkfifo" or "mknod -p" to create the special file, then somehow have a script running whose standard output is redirected to the file. Supposedly, whenever "finger" tries to read the file, it will read your script's output. But I don't know how your script would avoid a "broken pipe" error if it writes when there's nobody to read it, how it would know when there's a reader, or how the reader would pass identifying information to the script. Each Internet connection reveal's the requestor's IP, and if the remote machine is running the "identd" daemon, one can find out the username. But how your "finger" script would access that information, I don't know, since it's not running as a subprocess of "finger", so there's no way for "finger" to pass it the information in environment variables or command-line arguments.
However, "finger" is much less useful nowadays than it was ten years ago. Part of this is due to security paranoia and part to the fact that we use servers differently nowadays.
(1) Re security, many sysadmins have rightly concluded that "finger" is a big security risk and have disabled "fingerd" on their servers, or enable it only for intranet requests (which are supposedly more trustworthy). Not only is the host information useful to crackerz and script kiddiez, but users may not realize how much information they're revealing.
[Nick] The notion that fingerd is a security risk because it reveals usernames is a bit misleading. It's true that having information about login status can be useful (don't try to hack in while root is on, and don't crack jack242's account while he's logged in, either!), the real problem is in the implementations of many finger servers.
Part of this lay in the fact that finger daemons ran as the superuser, or root. On systems that have shadow passwords enabled, only root can read the file that has the encrypted password data. A malicious user wishing to obtain the superuser's password data could simply create a symbolic link from ~/.plan to /etc/shadow, and finger his or her own account (stolen or otherwise) to display the information!
This is due to the fact that fingerd was written in an era when most computers on the Internet were run by research institutions. The security was lax, and people didn't write software with resilience to mischief in mind. In fact, adding features was the main push behind most software development, and programs like fingerd contain some extremely dangerous features as a result.
There are, however, some modern implementations that take security into consideration. I personally use cfingerd, and have it configured with most of the options off. Furthermore, I restrict it to local traffic only, as was suggested earlier. I also know that my file security is maintained, since cfingerd will not follow symbollic links from .plan or .project files, and it runs as "nobody" (the minimal-privilege account that owns no files).
[Mike] (2) Re how we use servers, in 1991 at my university, we had one Unix computer (Sequent/Dynix) that any student could get an account on. Users were logged in directly from hardwired text terminals, dialup or telnet. You could use "finger" to see whether your friends were logged in. Since you knew where your friends normally logged in from, you had a fair idea where they were at the moment and could meet them to hack side-by-side with them or to read (Usenet) news or to play games together. (Actually, you didn't even need to use "finger". "tcsh" and "zsh" would automatically tell you when certain "watched" users logged in and out.) You could even use "w" to find out which interactive program they were currently running. But soon demand went above 350 simultaneous users, especially when the university decided to promote universal e-mail use among its 35,000 students and 15,000 staff. The server was replaced by a cluster of servers, and every user logging in to the virtual host was automatically placed on one of the servers at random. Since "finger" and "w" information--as well as the tcsh/zsh "watch" service--are specific to a certain server, it was a pain to check all the servers to see if your friends were on any of them. About this time, people started using X-windows, and each "xterm" window would show up in "finger" as a separate logged-in user. Also, finger access became disabled outside the intranet. "finger" became a lot less convenient, so it fell into disuse.
(3) "finger" only monitors login sessions. This includes the "login" program, "telnet", "xterm", "ssh" (and its insecure cousins "rsh" and "rlogin"). It does not include web browsing, POP mail reading, irc or interactive chat, or instant messaging. These servers could write login entries, but they don't. Most users coming from the web-browser-IS-my-shell background never log in, wouldn't know what to do at the shell prompt if they did log in, don't think they're missing anything, and their ISPs probably don't even have shell access anyway. That was the last nail in the coffin for "finger".
So in short, "finger" still works, but its usefulness is debatable. Linus used to use his ".plan" file to inform people of the current version of Linux and where to download it. SSC used to use it to propagte its public PGP key. There are a thousand other kinds of useful information it could be used for. However, now that everybody and his dog has a home page, this ".plan" information can just as easily be put on the home page, and it's just as easy (or easier for some people) to access it via the web than via "finger".
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