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

Hardening SAP Hostagent SSL Connections

You may have recently had a penetration test and in the report you find that the SSL port for the SAP Hosagent (saphostexec) are listed as allowing weak encryption cipher strength and older SSL protocols.
You want to know how you can remedy this.

In this post I will show how we can appease the Cyber Security penetration testing team, by hardening the SSL ciphers and protocols used for connections to the Hostagent.

What Are Weak Ciphers?

Ciphers, like Triple-DES and Blowfish use 64-bit block sizes (the cipher text is split up into blocks of 64-bit in length) which makes a block cipher more vulnerable to compromise, compared to a cipher that uses a larger 128-bit block size.

The cipher is agreed upon during the setup of the SSL connection between the client and the server (SAP Hostagent in our scenario).
If a server advertises that it supports weaker ciphers, and a client elected to use one of the supported weaker ciphers during the SSL connection negotiation, then the connection could be vulnerable to decryption.

What Are Older SSL Protocols?

Through time the SSL protocol has been improved and strengthened.
The SSL protocol versions go from SSL v1.0 to SSL v3.0, then re-named to TLS and the versions again incremented from TLS 1.0, TLS 1.1, TLS 1.2 and the most recent TLS 1.3 (in 2018).

The old SSL versions of the protocol are deprecated and should not be used. The slightly newer TLS versions 1.0 and 1.1 are also now widely deprecated (do not confuse “deprecated” with “unused”).

It is therefore recommended, generally, to use TLS 1.2 and above.

Why Harden the Hostagent SSL Service?

Now we have an appreciation of our older ciphers and protocols, let’s look at the Hostagent.
Usually the PEN test report will highlight the SSL TCP port 1129, and the report will state two things:

  • The SSL ciphers accepted by the Hostagent include weaker ciphers (such as RC4).
  • The SSL protocols accepted by the Hostagent include TLS 1.0 and 1.1.

The above issues present opportunities for hackers that may allow them to more easily compromise a SAP Hostagent on a SAP server.
Whilst this may not sound too bad, it is just the Hostagent, when we realise that the Hostagent runs as the Linux root (or Windows SYSTEM user) and there are known vulnerabilities that allow remote exploitation, we can see that the Hostagent could be a window into the SAP system as the highest privileged user on the server!
It is therefore quite important to try and protect the Hostagent as much as possible.

How Can We Harden the Hostagent SSL Service?

To ensure that weak ciphers are not used, the server needs to be configured to not use them. In the context of SAP Hostagents, they are the SSL servers and they need to be configured to only use stronger ciphers.

The SAP Hostagent is really the same as the SAP Instance Agent in disguise.
Because of this, it is possible to find documented parameters that allow us to harden the SSL service of the Hostagent in the same way.

By following SAP note 510007, we can see two SAP recommended parameters and settings that can be used to harden the SSL ciphers used:

  • ssl/ciphersuites = 135:PFS:HIGH::EC_P256:EC_HIGH
  • ssl/client_ciphersuites = 150:PFS:HIGH::EC_P256:EC_HIGH

The SAP note 510007 includes an extremely good description of the SAP cryptographic library’s capabilities, the role of SSL and even some commentary on the probability of an older protocol being abused.
I feel that the note has been written by someone with a lot of experience.

The above two parameters apply a numeric calculation that selects an appropriate strength of cryptographic ciphers to be used for server and client connectivity.
With the Hostagent, we are more concerned with the server side, but the Hostagent can also do client calls, so we apply both parameters in unison.

The values assigned to the two parameters are described by the SAP note as being good, but also allow flexibility for backwards compatibility with the older SAP and non-SAP software. Again the SAP note stresses the importance of compatibility (and having stuff continue to work) versus security.

What is the Impact of the Parameters?

To be able to see the impact to the Hostagent, we first need to see what the Hostagent supports out-of-the-box.

Thanks to a great post here: www.ise.io/using-openssl-determine-ciphers-enabled-server
we can use a super simple shell script (on Unix/Linux) to call the OpenSSL executable, make a connection to the target server (the Hostagent) and check the list of ciphers and protocols that are advertised.
The code from the above site is here:

for v in ssl2 ssl3 tls1 tls1_1 tls1_2; do 
   for c in $(openssl ciphers 'ALL:eNULL' | tr ':' ' '); do 
      openssl s_client -connect localhost:1129 -cipher $c -$v < /dev/null > /dev/null 2>&1 && echo -e "$v:\t$c" 
   done 
done

You can see that I have placed “localhost” and “1129” in the code.
This is because I am running the script on a Linux host with a SAP Hostagent installed, and the SSL port is 1129 (default).

The output is something like this (depending on your version of the Hostagent):

tls1: ECDHE-RSA-AES256-SHA 
tls1: AES256-SHA 
tls1: ECDHE-RSA-AES128-SHA 
tls1: AES128-SHA 
tls1: RC4-SHA 
tls1: RC4-MD5 
tls1: DES-CBC3-SHA 
tls1_1: ECDHE-RSA-AES256-SHA 
tls1_1: AES256-SHA 
tls1_1: ECDHE-RSA-AES128-SHA 
tls1_1: AES128-SHA 
tls1_1: RC4-SHA 
tls1_1: RC4-MD5 
tls1_1: DES-CBC3-SHA 
tls1_2: ECDHE-RSA-AES256-GCM-SHA384 
tls1_2: ECDHE-RSA-AES256-SHA384 
tls1_2: ECDHE-RSA-AES256-SHA 
tls1_2: AES256-GCM-SHA384 
tls1_2: AES256-SHA 
tls1_2: ECDHE-RSA-AES128-GCM-SHA256 
tls1_2: ECDHE-RSA-AES128-SHA 
tls1_2: AES128-GCM-SHA256 
tls1_2: AES128-SHA 
tls1_2: RC4-SHA 
tls1_2: RC4-MD5 
tls1_2: DES-CBC3-SHA

You can see that we have some RC4 and some DES ciphers listed in the TLS 1.0, TLS 1.1 and TLS 1.2 sections.
We now use SAP note 510007 to decide that we want to use the more secure settings that remove these weaker ciphers.

In the case of SAP Host Agents, we adjust the profile file /usr/sap/hostctrl/exe/host_profile (as root), and add our two SAP recommended parameters (mentioned previously):
ssl/ciphersuites = 135:PFS:HIGH::EC_P256:EC_HIGH
ssl/client_ciphersuites = 150:PFS:HIGH::EC_P256:EC_HIGH

NOTE: You should be running the latest SAP Hostagent, this is very important for security of your system. There are known vulnerabilities in older versions that allow remote compromise.

Once set, we need to restart the agent:

/usr/sap/hostctrl/exe/saphostexec -restart

We can re-execute our check script to see that we have a more secure configuration:

tls1: ECDHE-RSA-AES256-SHA 
tls1: AES256-SHA 
tls1: ECDHE-RSA-AES128-SHA 
tls1: AES128-SHA 
tls1_1: ECDHE-RSA-AES256-SHA 
tls1_1: AES256-SHA 
tls1_1: ECDHE-RSA-AES128-SHA 
tls1_1: AES128-SHA 
tls1_2: ECDHE-RSA-AES256-GCM-SHA384 
tls1_2: ECDHE-RSA-AES256-SHA384 
tls1_2: ECDHE-RSA-AES256-SHA 
tls1_2: AES256-GCM-SHA384 
tls1_2: AES256-SHA 
tls1_2: ECDHE-RSA-AES128-GCM-SHA256 
tls1_2: ECDHE-RSA-AES128-SHA 
tls1_2: AES128-GCM-SHA256 
tls1_2: AES128-SHA

The more insecure ciphers are removed, but we still see those older protocols (TLS 1.0 and TLS 1.2) in the list.
We decide that we would like to further harden the setup by removing those protocols.

If we look at SAP note 2384290, we can see that an alternate set of parameter values are provided:

  • ssl/ciphersuites = 545:PFS:HIGH::EC_P256:EC_HIGH
  • ssl/client_ciphersuites = 560:PFS:HIGH::EC_P256:EC_HIGH

Let’s apply these and re-run the test for a final time.
We can see that we get a super refined list of protocols and ciphers:

tls1_2: ECDHE-RSA-AES256-GCM-SHA384 
tls1_2: ECDHE-RSA-AES256-SHA384 
tls1_2: ECDHE-RSA-AES256-SHA 
tls1_2: AES256-GCM-SHA384 
tls1_2: AES256-SHA 
tls1_2: ECDHE-RSA-AES128-GCM-SHA256 
tls1_2: ECDHE-RSA-AES128-SHA 
tls1_2: AES128-GCM-SHA256 
tls1_2: AES128-SHA

Our Hostagent SSL service is now as secure as it can be at this point in time, within reason. If we try and adjust the ciphers any further, we may end up breaking compatibility with other SAP systems in your landscape.

Summary

We’ve seen how applying two SAP standard parameters to the SAP Hostagent and restarting it, can significantly strengthen the posture of the Hostagent’s SSL service.

However, we need to be cautious of compatibility with other SAP and non-SAP software in the landscape, which may talk to the Hostagent only with older protocols.

As a final note, you may be wondering if we can remove the HTTP service from the Hostagent? At this point in time I have not found a SAP note that would indicate this is possible or recommended. However, since the HTTP protocol is known to be insecure, just don’t use it. This is in comparison with SSL which should be secure, but might not be as secure as it could be.

SAP ASE Error – Process No Longer Found After Startup

This post is about a strange issue I was hitting during the configuration of SAP LaMa 3.0 to start/stop a SAP ABAP 7.52 system (with Kernel 7.53) that was running with a SAP ASE 16.0 database.

During the LaMa start task, the task would fail with an error message: “ASE process no longer found after startup. (fault code: 127)“.

When I logged directly onto the SAP server Linux host, I could see that the database had indeed started up, eventually.
So what was causing the failure?

The Investigation

At first I thought this was related to the Kernel, but having checked the versions of the Kernel components, I found that they were the same as another SAP system that was starting up perfectly fine using the exact same LaMa system.

The next check I did was to turn on tracing on the hostagent itself. This is a simple task of putting the trace value to “3” in the host_profile of the hostagent and restarting it:

service/trace = 3

The trace output is shown in a number of different trace files in the work directory of the hostagent but the trace file we were interested in is called dev_sapdbctrl.

The developer trace file for the sapdbctrl binary executable is important, because the sapdbctrl binary is executed by SAP hostagent (saphostexec) to perform the database start. If you observe the contents of the sapdbctrl trace output, you will see that it loads the Sybase specific shared library which contains the required code to start/stop the ASE database.

The same sapdbctrl also contains the ability to load the required libraries for other database systems.

As a side note, it is still not known to me, how the Sybase shared library comes to exist in the hostagent executable directory. When SAP ASE is patched, this library must also be patched, otherwise how does the hostagent stay in-step with the ASE database that it needs to talk with?

Once tracing was turned on, I shut the SAP ASE instance down again and then used SAP LaMa to initiate the SAP system start once again.
Sure enough, the LaMa start task failed again.

Looking in the trace file dev_sapdbctrl I could see the same error message that I was seeing in SAP LaMa:

Error: Command execution failed. : ASE process no longer found after startup. 
(fault code: 127) Operation ID: 000D3A3862631EEAAEDDA232BE624001
----- Log messages ---- 
Info: saphostcontrol: Executing StartDatabase 
Error: sapdbctrl: ASE process no longer found after startup. 
Error: saphostcontrol: StartDatabase failed (sapdbctrl exit code = 1)

This was great. It confirmed that SAP LaMa was just seeing the symptom of some other issue, since LaMa just calls the hostagent to do the start.

Now I knew the hostagent was seeing the error, I tried using the hostagent directly to perform the start, using the following:

/usr/sap/hostctrl/exe/saphostctrl -debug -function StartDatabase -dbname <SID> -dbtype syb -dbhost <the-ASE-host>

NOTE: The hostagent “-debug” command line option puts out the same information without the need for the hostagent tracing to be turned on in the host_profile.

Once again, the start process failed and the same error message was present in the dev_sapdbctrl trace file.

This was now really strange.
I decided that the next course of action was to start the process of raising the issue with SAP via an incident.
If you suspect that something could take a while to fix, then it’s always best to raise it with SAP early and continue to look at the issue in parallel.

Continuing the Diagnosis

While the SAP incident was in progress, I continued the process of trying to self-diagnose the issue further.
I tried a couple more things such as:

  • Starting and stopping SAP ASE manually using stopdb/startdb commands.
  • Restarting the whole server (this step has a place in every troubleshooting process, eventually).
  • Checking the server patch level.
  • Checking the environment of the Linux user, the shell, the profile files, the O/S limits applied.
  • Checking what happens if McAfee anti-virus was disabled (I’ve seen the ePO blocking processes before).

Eventually exhaustion set in and I decided to give the SAP support processor time to get back to me with some hints.

Some Sleep

I spend a lot of time solving SAP problems. A lot of time.
Something doesn’t work according to the docs, something did work but has stopped working, something has never worked well…
It builds up in your mind and you carry this stuff around in your head.
Subconsciously you think about these problems.

Then, at about 3am when you can’t get back to sleep, you have a revelation.
The hostagent is forking the process to start the database as the syb<sid> Linux user (it uses “su”), from the root user (hostagent runs as the root user).

Linux Domain Users

The revelation I had regarding the forking of the user, was just the trigger I needed to make me consider the way the Linux authentication was setup on this specific server with the problem ASE startup.

I remembered at the beginning of the project that I had hit an issue with the SSSD Linux daemon, which is responsible for interfacing between Linux and Microsoft Active Directory. At that time, the issue was causing the hostagent to hang when operations were executed which required a switch to another Linux user.
This previous issue was actually a hostagent issue that was fixed in a later hostagent patch. During that particular investigation, I requested that the Linux team re-configure the SSSD daemon to be more efficient with its Active Directory traversals, when it was looking to see if the desired user account was local to Linux or if it was a domain account.

With this previous issue in mind, I checked the SSSD configuration on the problem server. This is a simple conf file in /etc/sssd.

The Solution

After all the troubleshooting, the raising of the incident, the sleeping, I had finally got to the solution.

After checking the SSSD daemon configuration file /etc/sssd/sssd.conf, I could clearly see that there was one entry missing compared to the other servers that didn’t experience the SAP ASE start error.

The parameter: “subdomain_enumerate = none” was missing.
Looking at the manual page for SSSD it would seem that without this parameter there is additional overhead during any Active Directory traversal.

I set the parameter accordingly in the /etc/sssd/sssd.conf file and restarted the SSSD daemon using:

service sssd restart

Then I retried the start of the database using the hostagent command shown previously.
It worked!
I then retried with SAP LaMa and that also now started ASE without error messages.

Root Cause

What it seems was happening, was some sort of internal pre-set timeout in the sapdbctrl binary, when hit, the sapdbctrl just abandons and throws the error that I was seeing. This leaves the ASE database to continue and start (the process was initiated), but in the hostagent it looked like it had failed to start.
By adding the “subdomain_enumerate = none” parameter, any “delay”, caused by inappropriate call to Active Directory was massively reduced and subsequent start activities were successful.