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Michael Stapelberg

Securing SuperMicro’s IPMI with OpenVPN (2014)

published 2014-01-27, last modified 2018-03-18
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In my last article, I wrote about my experiences with my new SuperMicro server, and a big part of that article was about the Intelligent Platform Management Interface (IPMI) which is included in the SuperMicro X9SCL-F mainboard I bought.

In that previous article, I already suggested that the code quality of the IPMI firmware is questionable at best, and this article is in part proof and in part mitigation :-).

Getting a root shell on the IPMI

When doing modifications on an embedded system, it is a good idea to have an interactive shell available for much easier and faster testing/debugging. Also, getting a root shell can be considered a prerequisite for the modifications we are about to make.

The following steps are based on Tobias Diedrich’s instructions “How to get root on and secure access to your Supermicro IPMI”.

After downloading the version of the IPMI firmware that is running on my machine from the SuperMicro website (filename and unzipping it, we have a bunch of executables for flashing the firmware plus a file called SMT_X9_315.bin which contains the actual firmware.

Running binwalk(1) on SMT_X9_315.bin reveals:

$ binwalk SMT_X9_315.bin

1572864   	0x180000  	CramFS filesystem, little endian size 8372224 version #2 sorted_dirs CRC 0xe0f8f23d, edition 0, 5156 blocks, 1087 files  
9961472   	0x980000  	Zip archive data, at least v2.0 to extract, compressed size: 1124880, uncompressed size: 2331112, name: "kernel.bin"  
11086504  	0xA92AA8  	End of Zip archive 
12058624  	0xB80000  	CramFS filesystem, little endian size 1945600 version #2 sorted_dirs CRC 0x75aaf428, edition 0, 926 blocks, 204 files  

So let’s extract the two CramFS file systems and mount them for inspection:

$ dd if=SMT_X9_315.bin bs=1 skip=1572864 count=8372224 of=cramfs1
$ dd if=SMT_X9_315.bin bs=1 skip=12058624 count=1945600 of=cramfs2
$ mkdir mnt1 mnt2
# mount -o loop -t cramfs cramfs1 mnt1
# mount -o loop -t cramfs cramfs2 mnt2

In mnt1 you’ll find the root file system, and it looks like mnt2 contains vendor-specific branding, i.e. their KVM client, images and CGI binaries for the web interface.

The firmware image itself is not the only binary that you’ll come in contact with when dealing with the IPMI. In “Maintenance → IPMI configuration” you can save your current IPMI configuration into a binary file and restore it later. Interestingly, these files start with the text “Salted__”, which is typical for files encrypted with openssl(1).

And indeed, after a bit of digging, we can find the binary that is responsible for encrypting/decrypting the configuration dumps and a bunch of interesting strings in it:

$ strings mnt1/bin/ipmi_conf_backup_tool | grep -A 1 -B 1 -m 1 openssl
openssl %s -d -in %s -out %s -k %s

And indeed, we can decrypt the file with the following command:

openssl aes-256-cbc -d -in backup.bin -out backup.bin.dec \

The resulting backup.bin.dec then contains the magic string ATEN\x01\x00 (where \x01 is a byte with value 1) followed by a tar.gz archive:

dd skip=6 bs=1 status=none if=backup.bin.dec of=backup.tar.gz

The tar.gz archive contains a directory called preserve_config which in turn contains a bunch of configuration files. Interestingly, the full lighttpd.conf lives in that tarball, presumably because you can change the port (they actually run sed(1) on the config file).

Now, the idea is to configure lighttpd in such a way that it will execute a file under our control. You can accomplish this by changing lighttpd.conf as follows:

--- lighttpd.conf.O	1970-01-01 01:00:00.000000000 +0100
+++ lighttpd.conf	2014-01-25 19:30:35.476345845 +0100
@@ -14,7 +14,7 @@
 server.modules              = (
 #                               "mod_rewrite",
 #                               "mod_redirect",
-#                               "mod_alias",
+                                "mod_alias",
 #                               "mod_access",
 #                               "mod_trigger_b4_dl",
 #                               "mod_auth",
@@ -174,7 +174,7 @@
 #server.errorfile-prefix    = "/srv/www/errors/status-"
 ## virtual directory listings
-#dir-listing.activate       = "enable"
+dir-listing.activate       = "enable"
 ## select encoding for directory listings
 #dir-listing.encoding        = "utf-8"
@@ -224,7 +224,8 @@
 #### CGI module
 cgi.assign                 = ( ".pl"  => "/web/perl",
-                               ".cgi" => "" )
+                               ".cgi" => "",
+                               ".sh" => "/bin/sh")
 server.use-ipv6 = "enable"
@@ -327,3 +328,5 @@
 #include_shell "echo var.a=1"
 ## the above is same as:
+alias.url += ( "/root" => "/" )

Now all we need is a custom .sh script somewhere on the file system and we are done. The program that restores backup files is mnt1/bin/, and if you have a look at it you’ll see that it only copies certain files over from the uploaded tarball.

If you have a really close look, though, you’ll realize that it also copies entire directories like preserve_config/ntp without any extra checking. So let’s put our code in there:

cat > ntp/ <<'EOT'
/usr/sbin/telnetd -l /bin/sh

In case you wondered, telnetd is already in the IPMI image since they are using busybox and presumably use telnet while developing :-).

The final step is to create a new tar.gz archive with your modified preserve_config and upload that either in the IPMI web interface or flash it using the lUpdate tool that you can find in the IPMI firmware zip file. While the web interface will accept unencrypted tar.gz files for backwards compatibility, I’m not sure whether lUpdate will accept them, therefore I’ll explain how to properly encrypt it:

$ cat > <<'EOT'
# The file is encrypted with a static key and consists of ATEN\x01\x00 followed
# by a tar.gz archive.

(echo -en "ATEN\x01\x00"; cat $1) | openssl aes-256-cbc -in /dev/stdin -out ${1}.bin -k $KEY
$ tar czf backup_patched.tar.gz preserve_config
$ ./ backup_patched.tar.gz
$ scp backup_patched.tar.gz.bin box:
box # ./lUpdate -i kcs -c -f ~/backup_patched.tar.gz.bin -r y

After the IPMI rebooted (give it a minute), you should be able to navigate to http://ipmi/root/nv/ntp/ and get an HTTP/500 error. Afterwards, connect via telnet to the IPMI and you should get a root shell.

Getting OpenVPN to work

Now that we have a root shell, we can try to get OpenVPN to work temporarily and then make it persistent later. The first step is to cross-compile OpenVPN for the armv5tejl architecture which the IPMI uses.

First, download the toolchain (SDK_SMT_X9_317.tar.gz (727 MB)) from SuperMicro’s FTP server and extract it. Run ./ and watch it fail if you have a x86-64 machine. Then, apply the following patch and run ./ again:

--- OpenSSL/openssl/config.O    2014-01-11 13:09:40.012461895 +0100
+++ OpenSSL/openssl/config      2014-01-11 13:10:17.749870032 +0100
@@ -53,6 +53,11 @@
 SYSTEM=`(uname -s) 2>/dev/null`  || SYSTEM="unknown"
 VERSION=`(uname -v) 2>/dev/null` || VERSION="unknown"

+VERSION="#3 Thu Oct 31 16:15:24 PST 2013"

 # Now test for ISC and SCO, since it is has a braindamaged uname.

After at least OpenSSL was built successfully, set up a few variables (based on ProjectConfig-HERMON), download and build OpenVPN:

export CROSS_COMPILE=$PWD/ToolChain/Host/HERMON/gcc-3.4.4-glibc-2.3.5-armv4/arm-linux/bin/arm-linux-
export ARCH=arm
export CROSS_COMPILE_BIN_DIR=$PWD/ToolChain/Host/HERMON/gcc-3.4.4-glibc-2.3.5-armv4/arm-linux/bin
export TC_LOCAL=$PWD/ToolChain/Host/HERMON/gcc-3.4.4-glibc-2.3.5-armv4/arm-linux/arm-linux

mkdir OpenVPN
cd OpenVPN
tar xf openvpn-2.3.2.tar.gz
cd openvpn-2.3.2

CFLAGS="-I$PWD/../../OpenSSL/openssl/local/include" \
CPPFLAGS="-I$PWD/../../OpenSSL/openssl/local/include" \
LDFLAGS="-L$PWD/../../OpenSSL/openssl/local/lib -lcrypto -lssl" \
CC=arm-linux-gcc \
  ./configure --enable-small --disable-selinux --disable-systemd \
    --disable-plugins --disable-debug --disable-eurephia \
    --disable-pkcs11 --enable-password-save --disable-lzo \
    --with-crypto-library=openssl --build=arm-linux-gnueabi \
    --host=x86_64-unknown-linux-gnu --prefix=/usr

Now, if you copy that openvpn binary to the IPMI and run it, you’ll notice that the kernel is missing the tun module, so that OpenVPN cannot actually create its tun0 interface. Therefore, let’s enable that module in the kernel configuration and rebuild:

sed -i 's/# CONFIG_TUN is not set/CONFIG_TUN=m/g' \
  Kernel/Host/HERMON/Board/SuperMicro_X7SB3/config \
  Kernel/Host/HERMON/linux/.config \
ls -l Kernel/Host/HERMON/linux/drivers/net/tun.ko

Now, after copying tun.ko to the IPMI, you can get OpenVPN to work with the following steps:

# insmod /tmp/tun.ko
# mknod /tmp/tun c 10 200
# /tmp/openvpn --config /tmp/openvpn.conf --verb 9

“Properly integrating” OpenVPN

Since I only have one SuperMicro X9SCL-F board and no development environment, I did not want to try to build a complete IPMI firmware and flash it. Instead, I decided to integrate OpenVPN by putting it into the NVRAM, where all the other configs live. That flash partition is 1.3M big, so we don’t have a lot of space, but it’s doable.

First of all, we need a script that will ungzip the OpenVPN binary, load the tun module, create the device node and then start OpenVPN in daemon mode. Furthermore, the script should enable telnet within the VPN for easy debugging, and it should set up iptables rules to block anything but the VPN. I call this script

# This script will be run multiple times, so exit if the work is already done.
[ -e /tmp/openvpn ] && exit 0
# Do not generate any output, otherwise the lighttpd config may break.
exec >/tmp/ov.log 2>&1

/bin/gunzip -c /nv/ntp/openvpn.gz > /tmp/openvpn
/bin/chmod +x /tmp/openvpn
/sbin/insmod /nv/ntp/tun.ko
/bin/mknod /tmp/tun c 10 200
/tmp/openvpn --config /nv/ntp/openvpn.conf --daemon
/usr/bin/setsid /nv/ntp/ &

/sbin/iptables -A INPUT -p tcp --dport 1194 -j ACCEPT &&
/sbin/iptables -A INPUT -s -j ACCEPT &&
/sbin/iptables -A INPUT -p udp -s -j ACCEPT &&
/sbin/iptables -A INPUT -p udp --sport 123 -j ACCEPT &&
/sbin/iptables -A INPUT -p icmp -s -j ACCEPT &&
/sbin/iptables -A INPUT -j DROP

The referenced looks as follows:

# /SMASH/chport executes “killall telnetd” and is run after /etc/init.d/httpd
# start, so it will kill our telnetd. This watchdog will restart telnetd
# whenever it gets killed.
while :
    /usr/sbin/telnetd -l /bin/sh -b -F

The openvpn.conf looks like this:

dev tun
dev-node /tmp/tun
secret /nv/ntp/openvpn.secret
port 1194
proto tcp-server
user nobody
script-security 2
keepalive 10 60
# TODO: This is a lower bound. Depending on your network setup,
# a higher MTU is possible.
link-mtu 1280

I’m using proto tcp-server because I only have SSH port-forwardings available into the management VLAN, otherwise I would just use the default proto udp.

Instead of the lighttpd.conf modifications I described above, this time we can use a simpler way of invoking this script:

echo 'include_shell "/nv/ntp/"' >> lighttpd.conf


You can grab a tarball (247 KiB) with all the files you need to extract to the ntp/ subdirectory.


In case a SuperMicro or ATEN engineer is reading this, please add built-in OpenVPN support as a feature ;-).

Apart from that, happy hacking, and enjoy the warm fuzzy feeling of your IPMI interface finally being somewhat secure! :-)

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