Anticipatory FAQ (version .01; updated 1/26/13)

Question Answer


What is IPMI?

IPMI is an acronym for a protocol: the Intelligent Platform Management Interface. It helps manage what is sometimes known as Out-of-Band or Lights-Out communication and is typically implemented by a chip or small set of chips on the motherboard of modern servers. Pure IPMI is usually implemented as a network service that runs on UDP port 623 and often runs on a dedicated Ethernet port on the server (sometimes labeled "management" or something similar.)

IPMI version 1.0, 1.5, 2.0, what's the difference?

I'm not sure if anyone still uses version 1, but probably... it doesn't support networks, so.... version 1.5 added real networks and is what everything supports - it was brought out in 2001. Version 2.0 has been out a few years now; for this discussion, it basically added some bits of security and encryption. They didn't do a very good job. I think just about everyone that speaks 2.0 can still fall back to the plain, ol', unencrypted 1.5 version as well.

I use Dell's iDRAC, or HP's iLO, or IBM's RSA, or… name-your-vendor's-name-for-their-lights-out-OOB-management-stuff. Does any of this affect me?

Yes. Almost no one runs simply vanilla IPMI - it's the vendor add-ons, some of which are fairly universal (like virtual media), which are a large part of the problem.

Why do I care?

You don't have to. I lay out a rather laborious rationale why I believe that the confluence of the IPMI protocol, vendor add-ons and features that live on top of IPMI, and how system administrators and data center folks use it cause a rather nasty problem. The paper details this at length, the 1 page brief makes fantastical claims with no support.

I haven't even heard of this, you're making it up.

Not me! Well, maybe some of it. But you can see many articles, tools and libraries that are out there, just not about security for whatever reason. Four very good quality IPMI software packages: freeipmi, ipmitools, ipmiutils, and openipmi; in addition to the software they have some excellent write-ups and details about the world of IPMI. They're all worth checking out:

There's a really nice comparison of all of them on Sourceforge. Just don't try to find much on "IPMI security" yet, there ain't much out there yet. There's starting to be *some* things, though.

Where can I learn more about IPMI?

I've put together a little set of references and such at:

Searching Google/Bing/Yahoo/etc. will get you lots more.

Why did you write this, and whom do you work for so I can complain?

I did this on my own time and network, so you really can't blame anyone but me, sorry.

Baskerville font? Kind of old fashioned, eh, old man?

Font of the champions.

What runs IPMI?

I'm worried about my laptop/desktop/non-server, what should I do?

To my knowledge this affects servers only. See your vendor documentation to see if IPMI is on your computer or not.

I have model XYZ of vendor ABC, does this affect me?

You'll have to refer to your documentation and vendor to see if IPMI is on your system. There are many, many, many types of servers and manufacturers out there; many, if not most, manufactured in the last decade to 15 years (as of 2013) will have IPMI on the motherboard.

I run my stuff on the cloud (public, private, whatever) - should I be worried?

Virtual servers, to my knowledge, are not affected. The physical servers that they run on could be running it, just like any other server, and could affect any VMs running on it, of course.

I don't even have my IPMI management Ethernet jack plugged in, and IPMI isn't enabled in the BIOS, take that IPMI, try to talk to my network now!

All the versions of IPMI I've seen can talk just fine piggybacked on any generic Ethernet interface; the specifically labeled ones are for convenience so you don't plug an IPMI port into your main network. Indeed the net seems full of people complaining of various versions of IPMI grabbing the main Ethernet interface when they don't want it to. If your server is plugged in and connected to the network, even if powered down, IPMI can be running.

BIOS settings can be changed by a variety of tools, depending on the vendor (IPMI itself can facilitate changing them, but that's a chicken-or-egg kind of thing.) I'd say if it's off in your BIOS and no one has access to the server you're modestly safe. But it's still sitting there, waiting... ;)

I've disabled IPMI on all my servers - take that, IPMI, try to talk now!

As it turns out IPMI is pretty difficult to turn off permanently. You can turn it off via software, but it can also be turned on via software. It's probably worse thinking its off when someone is using it to attack or to spy on you.

I've a zillion computers in my datacenter/organization. How do I know which have IPMI?

The short answer is… it can be hard to figure out what actually runs IPMI. I've started on a scanner that tries to answer this question. The bootup sequence on a computer will often show a BIOS or UEFI prompt that allows some low-level configuration; you might search there. Or search the web.

IPMI and security

Shirley you jest - they don't *really* keep the IPMI password in clear text, do they?

Yes, really. Well, sort of. Some definitely do, and some hide it or perhaps encrypt it and do on-the-fly decryption of the key when it's really, really needed. Everyone does it a bit differently, since there's no requirement to store it in certain ways. They do this because the specification demands that the BMC can pull out the actual, clear-text password for authentication. Don't ask me who thought of that.

And once it's been monkeyed around with it's hard to scrub it clear from memory.

In iDRAC 6 Dell stored the the hashed passwords in a file, but the password was easily recoverable by simply looking in memory (/dev/mem.)

You claim that the IPMI password can be compromised if you have compromised the server it runs on - can you back this up with any sort of proof?

Yes. I've enumerated some of the ways; there are more. I've been able to do it very easily on two out of the 3 servers I have at home (a Dell iDRAC 6 and a Supermicro) - not a big sample, I realize. Other smarter, trickier, and wilier people will find more ways.

The Truth

No one has really asked you any of these questions, have they? You're just trying to make it all sound important by having an un-FAQ!

Well... umm... no, no one has asked me any of these questions. But they might. And I'll be right there to... well, probably write up some real answers to real questions and put them here.

But hey, wait a second, I don't have to take this kind of abuse, I can get it at home from my cats. So no more answering your... well my... questions! So there.