Closing the holes in MQ security

In choosing the default settings for MQSeries, IBM has had to strike a balance between making the product easy to use as quickly as possible and making it secure straight out of the box. In more recent releases, they have put more emphasis on ease of use and so relaxed the default security settings. This is one of the reasons why administrators must now reconfigure their systems if they require them to be secure. This article examines some of the potential security holes of which administrators should be aware, and also describes ways in which administrators can close these holes.

Default channel definitions

There are a number of objects, such as SYSTEM.DEF.SVRCONN and SYSTEM.DEFAULT.LOCAL.QUEUE, that are created by default when you install and configure a queue manager. These are really intended only as definitions to be cloned for their default attributes in the creation of new objects. However, a potential infiltrator can exploit the fact that they are also well-defined objects that probably exist on your system.

Originally, on distributed platforms, the definition of channel SYSTEM.DEF.SVRCONN had its MCAUSER parameter set to ‘nobody’. IBM had so many complaints from users who couldn’t get clients connected that it has now changed this parameter to blank (‘ ’).

The MCAUSER parameter specifies the userid that is checked when an inbound message is put on a queue. Setting this field to blank means that the authority of the userid running the channel (usually ‘mqm’) is checked. In other words, messages are always authorized to be put on all queues.

The thinking behind putting ‘nobody’ in this field is that no one should be allowed to put messages on queues unless the administrator actually changes settings to allow them to do so. Unfortunately this default setting was not documented and so users could not work out how they were required to change things.

There are many users who don’t need client channels and so haven’t even read this section of the manual. They’re unaware that nowadays, with default settings in place, anyone who can connect to their machine (for instance, someone on the same LAN) can start a client channel to them called SYSTEM.DEF.SVRCONN and have access to put messages on any of their queues and – often more importantly – to get messages from any of their queues.

This is not an entirely new problem – even the original systems suffered from it, as there are other channels, such as SYSTEM.DEF.RECEIVER and SYSTEM.DEF.REQUESTER, that have always had a blank MCAUSER. With a little effort, users have always been able to connect to these and put messages on queues using full authority. If the queue manager is the default one, the infiltrator needs no prior knowledge of the system.

As previously mentioned, these definitions are used to provide defaults for the creation of new channels. This means that, in many systems, newly created channels also have MCAUSER set to blank.

It is recommended that the following commands be executed using RUNMQSC to close this loophole:

alter chl(SYSTEM.DEF.SVRCONN) chltype(SVRCONN) trptype(LU62) +


alter chl(SYSTEM.DEF.RECEIVER) chltype(RCVR) trptype(LU62) +


alter chl(SYSTEM.DEF.REQUESTER) chltype(RQSTR) trptype(LU62) +


Do not start MQ using root

It’s worth noting that much of this section is described in Unix terms, though it’s applicable to most platforms, once Unix terms are substituted with their equivalents.

All MQSeries components should be started using the MQSeries administration userid (mqm). Many system administrators like to make the system administration userid (root) a member of the mqm group. This is understandable, as they can then run all of their administration commands, not all of which are for MQ, as root. However, this is a very dangerous thing for them to do as they are effectively giving root authority to all of the members of the mqm group.

For example, if the trigger monitor of the default queue manager is started by root using default parameters, a member of the mqm group whose workstation has IP address ‘myhost’ can enter the following commands using RUNMQSC:



DEFINE PROCESS(MYPROCESS) APPLICID(‘xterm –display myhost:0 &’)

and then enter the command:

echo hello | amqsput MYQUEUE

This causes a terminal to appear on their screen giving them a command line with root authority from which they have full control of the system.

Similarly, if a channel is started by root, or the channel initiator starts a channel and the channel initiator is started by root, then any exits called by the channel will run as root. So the mqm member could write and install an exit that again spawns a root-authorized xterm.

The receiver channel could have the same problems, for example, if started as root by the listener, inetd, or Communications Manager.

A good start to overcoming this problem is to remove root from the mqm group. However, on some systems root will still have access to the strmqm command and, while it may look as though it has started the queue manager, there may be unexpected errors later when it performs commands for which the OAM checks authority.

The system administrator may find it useful to create commands that only root is authorized to run which switch to the mqm userid before performing the instruction. For example the following shell script could be called strmqm and put higher in root’s path than the real strmqm.


su – mqm -c /usr/lpp/mqm/bin/strmqm $1

Only use groups on UNIX OAM

The setmqaut command is used to set access to MQSeries objects. Among its parameters you may specify ‘-p PrincipalName’ or ‘-g GroupName’ to indicate to which users you intend this command to apply.

For example, the following command specifies that all members of the group tango are to be allowed to put messages on queue orange.queue on queue manager saturn.queue.manager (note the use of the continuation character, ‘‰’, in the code below to show that one line of code maps to more than one line of print)

setmqaut -m saturn.queue.manager -n orange.queue -t queue

‰  -g tango +put

Similarly, the command:

setmqaut -m saturn.queue.manager -n orange.queue -t queue

‰  -p theuser +put

specifies that the userid theuser should be allowed to put messages on queue orange.queue on queue manager saturn.queue.manager. On most platforms this works fine. However, the implementation on Unix systems is that:

setmqaut -m saturn.queue.manager -n orange.queue -t queue

‰  -p theuser +put

specifies that all of the members of theuser’s primary group are allowed to put messages on queue orange.queue on queue manager saturn.queue.manager.

This is can be very dangerous, as a system administrator can give access to a particular user unaware that in doing so he has accidentally also given access to many other users. User theuser may also be unhappy to be blamed by administrators for actions that they believe only he is authorized to have carried out.

The way around this problem is never to use the ‘-p’ parameter on Unix. The same effect can be obtained by specifying ‘-g PrimaryGroup’, which is a lot clearer.

Only create objects as mqm on unix

As described above, MQSeries on Unix does all of its security using the primary group of a userid rather than the userid itself, as you would expect. This has other knock-on effects.

When a queue is created, access to it is automatically granted to the mqm group and to the primary group of the userid that created it. It’s quite reasonable for someone designing the security of an MQSeries infrastructure to assume that access to all queues has been forbidden to all users except members of the mqm group. From here, the administrator would specify additional security settings that need to be made.

This works fine when queues are created either by the mqm user or by someone whose primary group is mqm. The problem arises when another user whose primary group is, for instance, staff, but who is also a member of mqm, defines the queue. In this case authority is also granted automatically and unintentionally to all members of the staff group.

This also applies to the creation of queue managers. If a queue manager is created by a userid whose primary group is staff, then all members of staff by default have access to the queue manager.

The simplest solution to this problem is to enforce a policy whereby no userid other than mqm may create MQSeries objects or queue managers. An alternative policy is never to make a userid a member of the mqm group unless this is its primary group.

OAM uses union

The Object Authority Manager uses the union of the authority settings that it finds. So, to take the example above a step further, suppose a queue, orange.queue, is created by a userid whose primary group is staff. At some point later it is found that another userid, worker, who shouldn’t have access to the queue, is nevertheless able to access it. worker is a member of staff but has team as his primary group. To resolve this problem an administrator might try running:

setmqaut -m saturn.queue.manager -n orange.queue -t queue

‰  -p worker –all

However, this will not solve the problem. While it will remove team from the authorization list, members of staff, including worker, still have access to the queue.

This also applies to other platforms, such as NT, that implement the ‘-p’ parameter. Although the problem of primary groups is not present, it should be realized that, while:

setmqaut -m saturn.queue.manager -n orange.queue -t queue

‰  -p worker +all

gives full access to worker,

setmqaut -m saturn.queue.manager -n orange.queue -t queue

‰  -p worker –all

only forbids all access if worker is not a member of any authorized groups.


On some platforms, such as Unix, group membership is cached by MQSeries. This means that, if a new user joins a group and needs access to MQSeries objects, the queue manager needs to be restarted. Similarly (and probably more importantly), if a user leaves the team or company, it is not sufficient just to remove them from the group. The user retains access to objects until such a time as the queue manager is restarted.

Only enable things if you need them

This is no more than common sense, and the defaults are such that this won’t cause problems, but for the sake of completion the following points are worth mentioning:

  • Automatic channel definition

Enabling the automatic definition of channels increases the ability of machines to connect to your queue manager with little prior knowledge of your system, so this should be enabled only if definitely required.

  • Command server

The command server is very powerful and can render weak security even weaker. For instance, on a system running MQSeries version 2 in which users do not have the authority to use the client channel, they could still connect using a sender channel called SYSTEM.DEF.RECEIVER. This could put messages on the command server’s input queue requesting it to create a channel and transmission queue back out. This could then be used for further breaches of security. If you’re not confident of your system’s security, it’s advisable to start the command server only when it is needed and to grant users only the minimum required levels of authority to it.


Sam Garforth

SJG Consulting Ltd (UK)                                                     © S Garforth 1999


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