The Limits of Hadoop Security

What are the limits of Hadoop security? Even with Kerberos enabled, what vulnerabilities exist?

Unpatched and 0-day holes in the layers underneath.

The underlying OS in a Hadoop cluster may have known or 0-day security holes, allowing a malicious (YARN?) application to gain root access to a host in the cluster. Once this is done it would have direct access to blocks stored by the datanode, and to secrets held in the various processes, including keytabs in the local filesystems.


  1. Keep up to date with security issues. (SANS is worth tracking), and keep servers up to date.
  2. Isolate the Hadoop cluster from the rest of your network infrastructure, apart from some "edge" nodes, so that only processes running in the cluster.
  3. Developers: ensure that your code works with the more up to date versions of operating systems, JDKs and dependent libraries, so that you not holding back the upgrades. Do not increase the risk for the operations team.

Failure of users to keep their machines secure

The etnernal problem. Securing end-user machines is beyond the scope of the Hadoop project.

However, one area where Hadoop may impose risk on the end-user systems is the use of Java as the runtime for client-side code, so mandating an installation of the JVM on those users who need to directly talk to the Hadoop services. Ops teams should

  • Make sure that an up to date JVM/JRE is installed, out of date ones are uninstalled, and that Java Applets in browsers are completely disabled.
  • Control access to those Hadoop clusters and the services deployed on them.
  • Use HDFS Quotas and YARN Queues to limit the resources malicious code can do.
  • Collect the HDFS audit logs and learn how to use them to see if, after any possible security breach, you are in a position to even state what data was accessed by a specific user in a given time period.

We Hadoop developers need to

  1. Make sure that our code works with current versions of Java, and test against forthcoming releases (a permanent trouble spot).
  2. Make sure that our own systems are not vulnerable due to the tools installed locally.
  3. Work to enable thin-client access to services, through REST APIs over Hadoop IPC and other Java protocols, and by helping the native-client work.
  4. Ensure our applications do not blindly trust users —and do as much as possible to prevent privilege escalation.
  5. Log information for ops teams to use in security audits.

Denial of service attacks.

Hadoop is its own Distributed Denial of Service platform. A misconfiguration could easily trigger all datanodes to attempt to report in so frequently that the namenode gets overloaded, triggering apparent timeouts of some DN heartbeats, leading to the namenode assuming it has failed and starting block transfers of under-replicated blocks, so impacting network load and reporting even more. This is not a hypothetical example: Facebook had a cluster outage from precisely such an event, a failing switch partitioning the cluster and triggering a cascade failure. Nowadays IPC throttling (from Twitter) and the use of different ports on the namenode for heartbeating and filesystem operations (from Facebook) try to keep this under control.

We're not aware of any reported deliberate attempts to use a Hadoop cluster to overload local/remote services, though there are some anecdotes of the Yahoo! search engines having be written so as to deliberately stripe searches not just across hosts, but domains and countries, so as not to overload the DNS infrastructure of small countries. If you have some network service in your organisation which is considered critical (Examples: sharepoint, exchange), then configure the firewall rules to block access to those hosts and service ports from the Hadoop cluster.

Other examples of risk points and mitigation strategies

YARN resource overload

Too many applications asking for small numbers of containers, consuming resources in the Node Managers and RM. There are minimum size values for YARN container allocations for a reason: it's good to set them low on a single node development VM, but in production, they are needed

DNS overload.

This is easily done by accident. Many of the large clusters have local caching DNS servers for this reason, especially those doing any form of search.

CPU, network IO, disk IO, memory

YARN applications can consume so much local resources that they hurt the performance of other applications running on the same nodes.

In Linux and Windows, CPU can be throttled, the amount of physical and virtual memory limited. We could restrict disk and network IO (see relevant JIRAs), but that won't limit HDFS IO, which takes place in a different process. YARN labels do let you isolate parts of the cluster, so that low-latency YARN applications have access to machines across the racks which IO-heavy batch/background applications do not.

Deliberate insertion of malicious code into the Hadoop stack, dependent components or underlying OS.

We haven't encountered this yet. Is it conceivable? Yes: in the security interfaces and protocols themselves. Anything involving encryption protocols, random number generation and authentication checks would be the areas most appealing as targets: break the authentication or weaken the encryption and data in a Hadoop cluster becomes more accessible. As stated, we've not seen this. As Hadoop relies on external libraries for encryption, we have to trust them (and any hardware implementations), leaving random number generation and authentication code as targets. Given that few committers understand Hadoop Kerberos, especially at the REST/SPNEGO layer, it is hard for new code submissions in this area to be audited well.

One risk we have to consider is: if someone malicious had access to the committer credentials of a developer, could they insert malicious code? Everyone in the Hadoop team would notice changes in the code appearing without associated JIRA entries, though it's not clear how well reviewed the code is.

Mitigation strategies:

A key one has to be "identify those areas which would be vulnerable to deliberate weakening, and audit patch submissions extra rigorously there", "reject anything which appears to weaken security -even something as simple as allowing IP addresses instead of Hostnames in kerberos binding (cite: JIRA) could be dangerous. And while the submitters are probably well-meaning, we should assume maliciousness or incompetence in the high-risk areas. (* yes, this applies to my own patches too. The accusation of incompetence is defendable based on past submissions anyway).

Insecure applications

SQL injection attacks are the classic example here. It doesn't matter how secure the layers are underneath if the front end application isn't handling untrusted data. Then there are things like emergency patches to apple watches because of a binary parse error in fonts.

Mitigation strategies

  1. Assume all incoming data is untrusted. In particular, all strings used in queries, while all documents (XML, HTML, binary) should be treated as potentially malformed, if not actually malicious.
  2. Use source code auditing tools such as Coverity Scan to audit the code. Apache projects have free access to some of these tools.
  3. Never have your programs ask for more rights than they need, to data, to database tables (and in HBase and Accumulo: columns)
  4. Log data in a form which can be used for audit logs. (Issue: what is our story here? Logging to local/remote filesystems isn't it, not if malware could overwrite the logs)

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