How to Set up a Secure Anonymous FTP Site

The following is a FAQ on setting up a secure FTP Site. FTP sites are known for much abuse by transferring illegal files. They also open many opportunities for intruders to gain access via misconfigured setups. And lastly many versions of ftp servers have had security holes. This FAQ is intended to clean up this abuse by allowing administrators to go through this check list of steps to make sure their FTP is correctly configured and that they are running the most current ftp daemon.

This is organized in the following fashion, I am breaking into several parts as follows:

  1. General Description of Setting up an “Anonymous” FTP server.
  2. Setting up a chrooted Secure Anonymous FTP server.
  3. OS Specific needed information and suggestions.
  4. Where to get other FTP daemons
  5. How to Know if your Anonymous FTP Server is Secure
  6. Archie

1. General Description of Setting up an “anonymous” ftp server.

  1. Create the user ftp in /etc/passwd. Use a misc group. The user’s home directory will be ~ftp where ~ftp is the root you wish anonymous users to see. Creating this user turns on anonymous ftp.Use an invalid password and user shell for better security. The entry in the passwd file should look something like:

    ftp:*:400:400:Anonymous FTP:/home/ftp:/bin/true

  2. Create the home directory ~ftp. Make the directory owned by root (NOT ftp) with the same group as ftp. Thus, owner permissions are for root and group permissions are for the anonymous users. Set the permissions for ~ftp to 555 (read, nowrite, execute).Warning: Some MAN pages recommend making the ~ftp directory owned by ftp. This is a big NO-NO, if you want any type of security on your system.


  3. Create the directory ~ftp/bin. This directory is owned by root (group e.g. wheel) with permissions 111 (noread, nowrite, execute). 
  4. Copy the program ls into ~ftp/bin. ls is owned by root with permissions 111 (noread, nowrite, execute). Any other commands you put in ~ftp/bin should have the same permissions as well. 
  5. Make the directory ~ftp/etc. This directory is owned by root with permissions 111. 
  6. Create from scratch the files /etc/passwd and /etc/group in ~ftp/etc. These files should be mode 444. The passwd file should only contain root, daemon, uucp, and ftp. The group file must contain ftp’s group. Use your /etc/passwd and /etc/group files as a template for creating passwd and group files going to ~ftp/etc. You may even change the user names in this file, they are used only for ‘ls’ command. So for example if all files in your ~ftp/pub/linux hierarchy will be maintained by a real user ‘balon’ with uid=156 you may put

    linux:*:156:120:Kazik Balon::

    in the ~ftp/etc/passwd file (regardless of his real username). Leave only these users who will own files under ftp hierarchy (e.g. root, daemon, ftp…) and definitely remove *ALL* passwords by replacing them with ‘*’ so the entry looks like:

    root:*:0:0:Ftp maintainer::
    ftp:*:400:400: Anonymous ftp::

    For more security, you can just remove ~ftp/etc/passwd and ~ftp/etc/group (the effect is that ls -l will not show the directories’ group names). Wuarchive ftp daemon (and some others) have some extensions based on the contents of the group/passwd files, so read the appropriate documentation. 

  7. Make the directory ~ftp/pub. This directory is owned by you and has the same group as ftp with permissions 555. On most systems (like SunOS) you may want to make this directory 2555, ie. set-group-id, in order to create new files with the same group ownership.Files are left here for public distribution. All folders inside ~ftp/pub should have the same permissions as 555.

    Warning: Neither the home directory (~ftp) nor any directory below it should be owned by ftp! No files should be owned by ftp either. Modern ftp daemons support all kinds of useful commands, such as chmod, that allow outsiders to undo your careful permission settings. They also have configuration options like the following (WuFTP) to disable them:

    # all the following default to "yes" for everybody
    delete          no      guest,anonymous         # delete permission?
    overwrite       no      guest,anonymous         # overwrite permission?
    rename          no      guest,anonymous         # rename permission?
    chmod           no      anonymous               # chmod permission?
    umask           no      anonymous               # umask permission?


  8. If you wish to have a place for anonymous users to leave files, create the directory ~ftp/pub/incoming. This directory is owned by root with permissions 733. Do a ‘chmod +t ~ftp/pub/incoming’. The ftp daemon will normally not allow an anonymous user to overwrite an existing file, but a normal user of the system would be able to delete anything. By setting the mode to ‘1733’ you prevent this from happening. In wuftpd you may configure the daemon to create new files with permissions ‘600’ owned by root or any other user. Many times, incoming directories are abused by exchanging pirated and pornographic material. Abusers often create hidden directories there for this purpose. Making the incoming directory unreadable by anonymous ftp helps to some extent. With ordinary ftp severs there is no way to prevent directories being created in incoming. The WUarchive ftp server can limit uploads to certain directories and can restrict characters used in file names like this:
    # specify the upload directory information
    upload  /var/spool/ftp  *       no
    upload  /var/spool/ftp  /incoming       yes     ftp     staff   0600    nodirs
    # path filters                                                                                  # path-filter...
    path-filter  anonymous  /etc/msgs/pathmsg  ^[-A-Za-z0-9_\.]*$  ^\.  ^-
    path-filter  guest      /etc/msgs/pathmsg  ^[-A-Za-z0-9_\.]*$  ^\.  ^-

    Suggestion: Create an extra file-system for your ftp-area (or at least for your incoming-area) to prevent a denial-of-service attack by filling your disk with garbage (inside your incoming directory).

    If you have wuftpd you may want to add some ftp extensions like compression/decompression ‘on the fly’ or creation of tar files for the directory hierarchies. Get the appropriate sources (gzip, gnutar, compress), compile them and link statically, put in the ~ftp/bin directory and edit the appropriate file containing the definitions of the allowed conversions. /usr/bin/tar is already statically-linked. You may wish to use gnu tar anyway.

    Gary Mills wrote a small program to support the following:

    To do tar and compress, he wrote a tiny program called `pipe’, and statically-linked it. His /etc/ftpconversions file looks like this:

    #strip prefix:strip postfix:addon prefix:addon postfix:external command:
    :.Z:  :  :/bin/compress -d -c %s:T_REG|T_ASCII:O_UNCOMPRESS:UNCOMPRESS
    :-z:  :  :/bin/compress -d -c %s:T_REG|T_ASCII:O_UNCOMPRESS:UNCOMPRESS
    :  :  :.Z:/bin/compress -c %s:T_REG:O_COMPRESS:COMPRESS
    :  :  :.tar:/bin/tar cf - %s:T_REG|T_DIR:O_TAR:TAR
    :  :  :.tar.Z:/bin/pipe /bin/tar cf - %s | /bin/compress -c:T_REG|T_DIR:O_COMPRESS|O_TAR:TAR+COMPRESS
    :  :  :.tar:/bin/gtar -c -f - %s:T_REG|T_DIR:O_TAR:TAR
    :  :  :.tar.Z:/bin/gtar -c -Z -f - %s:T_REG|T_DIR:O_COMPRESS|O_TAR:TAR+COMPRESS
    :  :  :.tar.gz:/bin/gtar -c -z -f - %s:T_REG|T_DIR:O_COMPRESS|O_TAR:TAR+GZIP

    Here it is:—————–8<————-cut—————

    /* pipe.c: exec two commands in a pipe */
    #define NULL (char *)0
    #define MAXA 16
    main(argc, argv) int argc; char *argv[]; {
    char *av1[MAXA], *av2[MAXA];
    int i, n, p[2], cpid;                                                       
    i = 0; n = 0;
    while ( ++i < argc && n < MAXA ) {
    if ( *argv[i] == '|' && *(argv[i]+1) == '\0' ) break;
    av1[n++] = argv[i];
    if ( n == 0 ) uexit();
    av1[n] = NULL;
    n = 0;
    while ( ++i < argc && n < MAXA )
    av2[n++] = argv[i];
    if ( n == 0 ) uexit();
    av2[n] = NULL;
    if ( pipe(p) != 0 ) exit(1);
    if ( ( cpid = fork() ) == (-1) ) exit(1);
    else if ( cpid == 0 ) {
    (void)execv(av1[0], av1);
    else {
    (void)execv(av2[0], av2);
    uexit() {
    (void)write(2, "Usage: pipe  | \n", 34);

    ——– CUT HERE ———— 

  9. Other things to do:as root:

    touch ~ftp/.rhosts
    touch ~ftp/.forward
    chmod 400 ~ftp/.rhosts
    chmod 400 ~ftp/.forward

    ie. make these files zero-length and owned by root.Due to the last /bin/mail bugs in SunOS:

    touch /usr/spool/mail/ftp; chmod 400 /usr/spool/mail/ftp

    Consider an email-alias for the ftp-admin(s) to provide an email-address for problems-reports.If you are mounting some disks from other machines (or even your own) to the ~ftp hierarchy, mount it read-only. The correct entry for the /etc/fstab (on the host with ftpd) is something like:

    other:/u1/linux /home/ftp/pub/linux nfs ro,noquota,nosuid,intr,bg 1 0

    This mounts under /home/ftp/pub/linux the disk from host ‘other’ with no quota, no ‘suid’ programs (just in case), interruptible (in case ‘other’ goes down) and ‘bg’ – so if ‘other’ is down when you reboot it will not stop you trying to mount /home/ftp/pub/linux all over again.

2. Setting up a chrooted Secure Anonymous ftp server.

This part was contributed by Marcus J Ranum <>

  1. Build a statically linked version of ftpd and put it in ~ftp/bin. Make sure it’s owned by root. 
  2. Build a statically linked version of /bin/ls if you’ll need one. Put it in ~ftp/bin. If you are on a Sun, and need to build one, there’s a ported version of the BSD net2 ls command for SunOs on pub/firewalls/toolkit/patches/ls.tar.Z Make sure it’s owned by root. 
  3. Chown ~ftp to root and make it mode 755 THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT 
  4. Set up copies of ~ftp/etc/passwd and ~ftp/etc/group just as you would normally, EXCEPT make ‘ftp’s home directory ‘/’ — make sure they are owned by root. 
  5. Write a wrapper to kick ftpd off and install it in /etc/inetd.conf The wrapper should look something like: (assuming ~ftp = /var/ftp)
    if(chdir("/var/ftp")) {
    	perror("chdir /var/ftp");
    if(chroot("/var/ftp")) {
    	perror("chroot /var/ftp");
    /* optional: seteuid(FTPUID); */
    execl("/bin/ftpd","ftpd","-l",(char *)0);
    perror("exec /bin/ftpd");

    Options:You can use ‘netacl’ from the toolkit or tcp_wrappers to achieve the same effect.

    We use ‘netacl’ to switch so that a few machines that connect to the FTP service *don’t* get chrooted first. This makes transferring files a bit less painful.

    You may also wish to take your ftpd sources and find all the places where it calls seteuid() and remove them, then have the wrapper do a setuid(ftp) right before the exec. This means that if someone knows a hole that makes them “root” they still won’t be. Relax and imagine how frustrated they will be.

    If you’re hacking ftpd sources, I suggest you turn off a bunch of the options in ftpcmd.y by unsetting the “implemented” flag in ftpcmd.y. This is only practical if your FTP area is read-only.


  6. As usual, make a pass through the FTP area and make sure that the files are in correct modes and that there’s nothing else in there that can be executed. 
  7. Note, now, that your FTP area’s /etc/passwd is totally separated from your real /etc/passwd. This has advantages and disadvantages. 
  8. Some stuff may break, like syslog, since there is no /dev/log. Either build a version of ftpd with a UDP-based syslog() routine or run a second syslogd based on the BSD Net2 code, that maintains a unix-domain socket named ~ftp/dev/log with the -p flag.REMEMBER:

    If there is a hole in your ftpd that lets someone get “root” access they can do you some damage even chrooted. It’s just lots harder. If you’re willing to hack some code, making the ftpd run without permissions is a really good thing. The correct operation of your hacked ftpd can be verified by connecting to it and (while it’s still at the user prompt) do a ps-axu and verify that it’s not running as root.

3. OS Specific needed information and suggestions.

These machines may need dev/tcp:

  • Older SVR2 and SVR3 system
  • RTU 6.0 (Masscomp, now Concurrent Real Time UNIX),
  • AT&T 3B1 and 3B2 machines 


These ftpd implementations may require a ~ftp/dev/tcp in order for anonymous ftp to work.

You have to create a character special device with the appropriate major and minor device numbers. The appropriate major and minor numbers of ~ftp/dev/tcp are what the major and minor numbers of /dev/tcp are.

The ~ftp/dev is a directory and ~ftp/dev/tcp is a character special device. Make them owned and grouped by root. Permissions for ~ftp/dev is root read/write/exec and other & group read and exec. The permissions for ~ftp/dev/tcp is root read/write, other & group read.



[Logging] If you’re using HP’s native ftpd, the line in /etc/inetd.conf should execute ftpd -l, which does extra logging.

Solaris 2.x

[Script] Solaris’ man page contains a script for installing anonymous ftpd which saves time. You may still want to check over your anonymous ftpd for vulnerabilities.

Command for reading the man page is:

$ man ftpd


[Libraries] To set up SunOS to use its shared dynamic libraries, follow these steps:

  1. Create the directory ~ftp/usr. This directory is owned by root with permissions 555. 
  2. Create the directory ~ftp/usr/lib. This directory is owned by root with permissions 555. 
  3. Copy the runtime loader into ~ftp/usr/lib for use by ls. is owned by root with permissions 555. 
  4. Copy the latest version of the shared C library,* into ~ftp/usr/lib for use by* is owned by root with permissions 555.

    Note: 4.1.2(or above) users: you also need to copy /usr/lib/* to ~ftp/lib.


  5. Create the directory ~ftp/dev. This directory is owned by root with permissions 111. 
  6. ~ftp/dev/zero is needed by the runtime loader. Move into the directory ~ftp/dev and create it with the command:

    mknod zero c 3 12

    chown ~ftp/dev/zero to root. Make sure it’s readable.Warning: For novices: Don’t try to copy /dev/zero to ~ftp/dev/zero! This is an endless file of zeroes and it will completely fill your filesystem!


  7. If you want to have the local time showing when people connect, create the directory ~ftp/usr/share/lib/zoneinfo and copy /usr/share/lib/zoneinfo/localtime 
  8. If you are bothered by the need for copying your libraries so that you can use Sun’s ‘ls’, which is dynamically linked, you can try to get a statically linked copy of ‘ls’ instead. The CD-ROM that contains Sun’s OS has a statically-linked version of ls. In this case, you can dispense with steps #6-8.Statically linked versions may be available from the following sources:

    If you want a statically linked “ls” get the GNU fileutils off a archive site near you and statically link it.

    [Logging] Sun’s standard ftpd logs *all* password information. To correct it, install patch:

    101640-03       SunOS 4.1.3: in.ftpd logs password info when -d option is

    In /etc/inetd.conf find the line that starts with “ftp”. At the end of that line, it should read “in.ftpd”. Change that to “in.ftpd -dl”. In /etc/syslog.conf, add a line that looks like:

    daemon.*	               			/var/adm/daemonlog

    The information can be separated (or like SunOs4.1.1 does not recognize daemon.* so it requires the following form), such as:                                    /var/adm/
    daemon.debug                                   /var/adm/daemon.debug
    daemon.err                                     /var/adm/daemon.err

    Note that the whitespace between the two columns must include at least one TAB character, not just spaces, or it won’t work. Of course your log file could be anything you want. Then, create the logfile (touch /var/adm/daemonlog should do). Finally, restart inetd and syslogd, either individually, or by rebooting the system. You should be good to go. If you do not install the patch, make sure the log file is owned by root and mode 600, as the ftp daemon will log *everything*, including users’ passwords.Warning: You want to make all logs root only readable for security reasons If a user mistypes his password for his username, it could be compromised if anyone can read the log files.

4. Where to get other FTP daemons

  • Wuarchive FTP 2.4- A secure FTP daemon that allows improved access-control, logging, pre-login banners, and is very configurable:Can be ftp’d from in “/networking/ftp/wuarchive-ftpd” directory. Be certain to verify the checksum information to confirm that you have retrieved a valid copy. [Warning: Older versions of Wu-FTP are extremely insecure and in some cases have been trojaned.]
                            BSD        SVR4         
         File               Checksum   Checksum    MD5 Digital Signature
         -----------------  --------   ---------   --------------------------------
         wu-ftpd-2.4.tar.Z  38213  181  20337 362  cdcb237b71082fa23706429134d8c32e
         patch_2.3-2.4.Z    09291    8  51092  16  5558a04d9da7cdb1113b158aff89be8f
  • For DECWRL ftpd, sites can obtain version 5.93 via anonymous FTP from in the “/pub/misc/vixie” directory.
                            BSD        SVR4         
         File               Checksum   Checksum    MD5 Digital Signature
         -----------------  --------   --------- --------------------------------
         ftpd.tar.gz        38443  60  1710 119  ae624eb607b4ee90e318b857e6573500
  • For BSDI systems, patch 005 should be applied to version 1.1 of the BSD/386 software. You can obtain the patch file via anonymous FTP from in the “/bsdi/patches-1.1” directory.
                            BSD        SVR4         
         File               Checksum   Checksum    MD5 Digital Signature
         -----------------  --------   ---------   --------------------------------
         BU110-005          35337 272  54935 543   1f454d4d9d3e1397d1eff0432bd383cf
  • Public Domain Sources: ~ftp/systems/unix/bsd-sources/libexec/ftpd ~ftp/pub/DEC/gwtools/ftpd.tar.Z

5. How to Know if your Anonymous FTP Server is Secure

This section is intended for the administrator to go down a small check list of things to make sure his server is not easily compromised.

  1. Check to make sure your ftp server does not have SITE EXEC command by telneting to port 21 and typing SITE EXEC. If your ftp daemon has SITE EXEC make sure it is the most current version (ie, Wu-FTP 2.4). In older versions this allows anyone to gain shell via port 21. 
  2. Check to make sure no one can log in and make files or directories in the main directory. If anyone can log in as anonymous FTP and make files such as .rhosts and .forward, instant access is granted to any intruder. 
  3. Check to make sure the main directory is NOT owned by ftp. If it is owned by FTP, an intruder could SITE CHMOD 777 the main directory and then plant files to give him instant access. SITE CHMOD command should be removed because anonymous users do not need any extra priviledges. 
  4. Check to make sure NO files or directories are owned by ftp. If they are, it is possible an intruder could replace them with his own trojan versions. 
  5. There were several bugs in old daemons, so it is very important to make sure you are running the most current ftp daemons.

    6. Archie

    Searches FTP sites for programs. Login into these sites as archie or use client software for faster access. To get your own anonymous site added to Archie’s search list, e-mail         (Israel server)
           (ANS server, NY (USA))
                 (Australian Server)
      (United Kingdom Server)       (Austrian Server)
         (Finnish Server)
      (AT&T server, NY (USA))
                 (Korean Server)      (Japanese Server)
           (Swedish Server)
       (Taiwanese server)
                 (New Zealand server)
         (Spanish Server)
        (Rutgers University (USA))
      (Korean Server)
       (SURAnet server MD (USA))  (SURAnet alt. MD (USA))
          (Swiss Server)     (German Server)
         (Italian Server)
      (Austrian Server)
            (U. of Nebraska, Lincoln (USA))
                         (French Server)
         (Canadian Server)
           (Japanese Server)

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