This blog contains experience gained over the years of implementing (and de-implementing) large scale IT applications/software.

Critical SAP Host Agent Security Changes in PL47 – PermissionPolicy

The SAP Host Agent is a critical part of the SAP landscape infrastructure, used to control and, importantly, help automate some aspects of SAP systems.
Generally, writing custom scripts for the Host Agent has been easy.
With experience, it’s easy to see how the Host Agent could be easily abused in such a way that could allow highly privileged access to the server host, without certain security considerations being implemented.

As of the SAP Host Agent 7.21 PL47, the security of the SAP Host Agent and the way that it executes custom scripts is changing.
In this post I will describe how this could break a few things.

What Can The Host Agent Be Used For?

In my experience I have used the Host Agent for the following:

  • Detecting SAP instances on a server host.
  • Patching SAP instances on a server host.
  • Starting/Stopping SAP instances on a server host.
  • Executing scripts on a server host.

Some of the above actions have been performed direct on the server, from SAP BPA (Business Process Automation), from scripts or from tools like Postman, and a lot of the time from SAP LaMa (Landscape Management).

See a previous post for a more detailed example: How an Azure hosted SAP LaMa Controlled SAP System Starts Up

In the majority of cases I have been calling custom scripts, written to perform specific tasks on the target server host.
The scripts are generally hosted in a central location, accessible from all server hosts. This makes it simple to call whichever script.

To be able to execute a custom script, a Host Agent operation descriptor file is required to be deployed into the operations.d directory of the Host Agent home executable directory (usually /usr/sap/hostctrl/exe or C:\Program Files\SAP\hostctrl\exe).
The descriptor allows the Host Agent to understand how to execute the custom script. It contains, for example, the target platform (Windows\Linux), the name and path for the target script, which operating system user is needed to execute the script and any parameters.

On Linux, the descriptor can be specified to execute the target script as any operating system user on Linux, including the root user.
For this reason, the Host Agent and it’s installation directory location are owned by the root user. All files are only modifiable by the root user.

On Windows it is more secure by default.
The Windows security mechanisms prevent the Host Agent from executing any script as any user other than the Computer SYSTEM user (this is the user that the Host Agent executes as). NOTE: I have a workaround for this which I have developed.

Even though the Host Agent installation location and descriptor location and files are not necessarily easily modified, the weakest link in the security chain is the target script/executable and the location of the target script/executable.

What is Changing With Patch Level 47?

From June 2020, with the introduction of Host Agent 7.21 PL47, a new set of security requirements (PermissionPolicy) are introduced, which make the Host Agent more secure when executing custom scripts.

In fact, the changes were introduced before PL47, probably in PL44 or 45, as I remember seeing the PermissionPolicy check output in a previous trace file. It was obviously disabled by default in those prior patch levels.

The main changes introduced by the new PermissionPolicy are:

  • The target script and its directory must be owned by the same user as is specified in the descriptor file for the execution of the script, or it should be executable by the root user (Linux).
  • The script’s source directory must be writeable by this same user or root (Linux), or be writeable by the primary group of the user.
  • If the script is located on an NFS share, “root squash” must be disabled.

What Is Impacted By the New PermissionPolicy Change?

  • Any descriptor in the Host Agent operations.d directory, will be impacted.
  • Any target script will be checked by the new Host Agent security policy.
  • Only Linux/Unix servers will be affected due to the way that Windows security works (as mentioned before).

Because the new security policy affects Linux and affects any descriptor, this will also have a direct impact on some SAP HANA HSR operations performed from SAP LaMa, plus impact any custom operations that you have created.

By default the new security policy is enabled in the Host Agent as soon as you apply patch level 47.

How to Minimise Disruption?

A lot of customer implement the Host Agent auto-update feature, which saves significant effort when applying the frequent SAP Host Agent patches to the entire landscape.

The auto-update feature has one downside; it’s too easy to apply a patch to the whole landscape without reading the SAP notes to discover the contents of the patch or any changes in the patch. Make sure you always read the notes and make sure your auto-update architecture is designed to allow selective roll-out of the Host Agent patches to a portion of your landscape at a time (not the whole landscape in one go).

See here for a brief overview of SAP Host Agent auto-update.

The SAP note 2932953 mentions a method of adjusting the descriptor file to disable the new PermissionPolicy setting completely.
However, this needs pro-active adjustment, since some of the operations affected may only be used in a HANA HSR failover scenario (you will not know it doesn’t work until you need to use it).

Disabling the new security policy is obviously not a long term solution, since it could be enforced in the future.

Remember: Make your desired PermissionPolicy changes to your descriptor files before you apply the Host Agent patch.

Add Your Comment

* Indicates Required Field

Your email address will not be published.