HP OpenVMS Guide to System Security > Chapter 7 Managing System Access

Controlling the Login Process

  Table of Contents



This section describes many operating system features designed to secure systems from unauthorized users.

Informational Display During Login

This section describes how you can control the display of various pieces of information that appear by default at login time, such as announcement, welcome, last login, and new mail messages. So that you can understand the effect of login restrictions, it also describes how the operating system processes the login fields of the system user authorization file (SYSUAF.DAT). In addition, this section describes the use of the secure server and how to set up intrusion detection.

Announcement Message

To provide an announcement message on your system, define the system logical name SYS$ANNOUNCE in the site-specific startup command procedure SYS$MANAGER:SYSTARTUP_VMS.COM. The HP OpenVMS System Manager's Manual describes how to do this. The announcement message appears at login.

The definition you provide here affects all users on the system. Because this message may provide a clue to the identity of the operating system, you may decide not to display it.

Welcome Message

Similar to the announcement message, the welcome message is controlled through a system logical name, SYS$WELCOME. If you do not define SYS$WELCOME, a standard welcome message is provided for all users. This welcome message reveals the operating system and version number, as well as the node if SYS$NODE is defined.

To define another message for SYS$WELCOME, you can create a text file containing the message. To display the contents of this file, use the following line in SYSTARTUP_VMS.COM:


To disable the welcome message, place the following DCL command in SYS$MANAGER:SYSTARTUP_VMS.COM. This command prints a blank line in place of the standard welcome message.


If you prefer to selectively disable the message for individual users, you can use the AUTHORIZE qualifier /FLAGS=DISWELCOME on individual UAF records.

Last Login Messages

By default, the system displays three messages that provide information about the last logins and the number of failed login attempts (see “Reading Informational Messages”“Reading Informational Messages” on page 45 ). You can selectively disable the appearance of these three messages. Enter the AUTHORIZE qualifier /FLAGS=DISREPORT for specific users.

New Mail Announcements

By default, the system tells users the number of new mail messages when they log in. You can prevent users from receiving this notice by specifying the AUTHORIZE qualifier /FLAGS=DISNEWMAIL.

The new mail announcement is primarily a user convenience, not a security issue. If a user with a restricted account cannot invoke the Mail utility (MAIL), then you might want to disable the new mail message at the same time you prohibit mail access. The following AUTHORIZE qualifier accomplishes both tasks:


Limiting Disconnected Processes

Virtual terminals let users maintain more than one disconnected process at a time. Virtual terminals are also required by the secure server feature (see “Using the Secure Server”). You may want to restrict the use of virtual terminals. For example, if you are concerned about the amount of nonpaged pool, you may not want to enable this feature on a systemwide basis.

Virtual terminals can be disabled at the terminal, user, or system level:

  • To prevent particular terminals from being used as virtual terminals, use the DCL command SET TERMINAL/PERMANENT/NODISCONNECT.

  • To prevent specific users from attaching to disconnected processes, set the AUTHORIZE qualifier /FLAGS=DISRECONNECT for those users. (An applications account used by multiple users is a good candidate for the DISRECONNECT flag to prevent the users from connecting to each other's processes.)

  • To disable virtual terminals on a systemwide basis, remove the DISCONNECT attribute from the system parameter TTY_DEFCHAR2.

You can also set the amount of time allowed for reconnection to less than the default of 15 minutes with the system parameter TTY_TIMEOUT. A process that remains disconnected for longer than the timeout value is automatically logged out by the system. Limiting the connection time tends to minimize the number of users who receive messages, but it also affects the usefulness of the connection feature.

For more information on setting up and reconnecting to virtual terminals, refer to the HP OpenVMS System Manager's Manual.

Providing Automatic Login

You can assign accounts to particular terminals to enable an automatic login feature (see “Automatic Login Accounts”). This feature permits users to log in without specifying a user name. The operating system associates the user name with the terminal (or terminal server port) and maintains these assignments in the file SYS$SYSTEM:SYSALF.DAT, referred to as the automatic login file or the ALF file. Maintain this file with the following System Management utility (SYSMAN) commands:

Task Command Example

Adding terminal/user name association



Adding terminal server/user name association


"M34C3/LC-1-2" RENOLDS

Displaying records in ALF file



Removing terminal/user name association



The ALF file consists of one record for each terminal on which automatic logins are enabled. Each record consists of two fields: the device name or terminal server port name of the terminal, followed by the user name of an account. The device names must be unique within the file. However, the same user name can occur in any number of records; that is, one account can be automatically logged in to an unlimited number of terminals.

The ALF file is an indexed file that does not need to be purged, but it should be backed up after a modification.

Using the Secure Server

“Guidelines for Protecting Your Password”“Guidelines for Protecting Your Password” on page 53 describes password grabbers as a class of programs designed to steal passwords from unsuspecting users who log in to terminals left on. The operating system provides a secure terminal server that stops any currently executing process before the start of a login at that terminal.

Invoke the secure server separately for each terminal with the following DCL command:


The user must then press the Break key followed by the Return key to start a login. The login proceeds as usual.

If you apply the secure server to all terminals, you can make the login procedure consistent throughout the site by putting the SET TERMINAL commands in the site-specific startup command procedure. However, certain applications that may use the terminal as a communications line need to use the Break key for their own purposes, which would be incompatible with the secure terminal server.

The secure terminal server feature is also incompatible with autobaud handling. However, because autobaud handling is necessary only on modem terminals (switched and dialup terminals), the modem handling on such terminals performs the equivalent of secure server functions. For secure operation, set up the terminal characteristics as follows:

  • For local terminals (direct-wired), use the following SET TERMINAL qualifiers:

  • For switched terminals (data-switch and dialup), use the following SET TERMINAL qualifiers:


Specify the /DIALUP qualifier if the terminal port is accessible through a telephone line or the equivalent, regardless of the path (direct modem, data switch, terminal server, or public data network).

Always specify the /DISCONNECT qualifier to guard against password grabbers. To prevent disconnected jobs from filling up your system, set the system parameter TTY_TIMEOUT to a low timeout value, which determines when disconnected processes are deleted.

If you decide to apply the secure server to individual terminals, include directly wired terminals located in public areas or remote, unsecured areas. Terminals never used for local or dialup logins are not subject to this security problem. Terminals closely supervised during logins may also not require this measure.

Detecting Intruders

Occasionally people fail to log in correctly because they enter an expired password or make a typing error. But not all failures are benign: some occur because an unauthorized person is trying to log in through an expired account or with an unknown user name or is attempting to guess passwords on a valid account.

The operating system is sensitive to login failures. After one failure, it begins to monitor the terminal, terminal server connection, or network connection where the login is taking place. At first, the operating system records unsuccessful logins in an intrusion database. As failures continue, the operating system not only records failures but takes restrictive measures. The person attempting login is monitored more closely and limited to a certain number of login retries within a limited period of time. Once a person exceeds either the retry or time limitation, he or she cannot log in for a while, even with a valid user name and password. At a later point, the restriction eases, and login is allowed once again.

Understanding the Intrusion Database

The DCL command SHOW INTRUSION displays the contents of the intrusion database; Example 7-5 “Intrusion Database Display” shows a sample display. The database captures the following types of information on login failures:

Field Description

Intrusion class

The general source of failure:

  • Network: failure originating from a remote node, using a valid user name

  • Terminal: failure originating from one terminal

  • Term_User: failure originating from one terminal, using a valid user name

  • Username: failure attempting to create a detached process


Severity of login failure:

  • Suspect

  • Intruder

The system parameters for threshold count (LGI_BRK_LIM) and monitoring period (LGI_BRK_TMO) define when a suspect becomes an intruder.


Number of login failures associated with a particular source.


Date and time when a suspect's record is deleted or when an intruder is allowed another chance to log in. When an intruder's record reaches its expiration time, it becomes a suspect, and the failure count is reset to LGI_BRK_LIM. The expiration time is reset to the old expiration plus LGI_BRK_TMO.


Origin of the login failure:

  • Node and user name if Network class

  • Terminal if Terminal class

  • Terminal and user name if Term_User class

  • User name if Username class

Whenever the system detects an intruder, it sends an auditing message to the security operator terminal or the log file to alert you. Using the DCL command SHOW INTRUSION, you can display the source and type of intrusion. For example, Example 7-5 “Intrusion Database Display” shows a problem with a user named MAPLE who is logging in over the network. The user has tried to log in 8 times. Because the user failed to log in within the monitoring period, the operating system suspended all logins from OMNI:.BOSTON.BIRCH::MAPLE. Table 7-6 “Intrusion Example” gives a more detailed explanation of how the system decides to suspend logins.

Notice that many suspects appear in the display. Sometimes users forget their passwords or type them incorrectly. To remove an entry from the database, use the DCL command DELETE/INTRUSION_RECORD.

Example 7-5 Intrusion Database Display

Intrusion    Type      Count       Expiration             Source
NETWORK SUSPECT 1 2-Jan-2002 13:20:30.89 PCD025::

Intrusion Type Count Expiration Source
NETWORK SUSPECT 5 2-Jan-2002 13:36:39.42 DENIM::SYSTEM
NETWORK SUSPECT 2 2-Jan-2002 13:25:17.30 N1KDO::SYSTEM

Intrusion Type Count Expiration Source

Intrusion Type Count Expiration Source
NETWORK SUSPECT 2 2-Jan-2002 13:20:10.09 JETTE::TIPH

How Intrusion Detection Works

Once a login failure occurs, a user becomes a suspect and is monitored for further failures for a period of time. The operating system tolerates only so many login failures by the suspect during this given period of time before it declares the source of login failure to be an intruder. In other words, suspects become intruders by exceeding their allowed chances for login during the monitoring period.

The chance count, set by the system parameter LGI_BRK_LIM, defines how many times a person can try logging in; the standard limit is five times. The chance parameter works in tandem with a time factor controlled by the system parameter LGI_BRK_TMO. At each login failure, the suspect's monitoring period is increased by the value of LGI_BRK_TMO. Thus, with each failure, the suspect is monitored for a longer period of time.

Table 7-6 “Intrusion Example” illustrates a situation where evasive action results when user George fails five times to log in. At each failure, the monitoring period is extended by 5 minutes. On the fifth failure, the operating system labels George an intruder and refuses to log him in. (Notice that the example assumes the parameters LGI_BRK_LIM and LGI_BRK_TMO are both set to 5.)

Table 7-6 Intrusion Example

Time of Login Failure Failure Count Extension of Monitoring Period



George fails to log in, and the system starts to monitor logins from George's terminal. It monitors for the next 5 minutes.



Thirty seconds later, with 4.5 minutes left in the monitoring period, George fails again. The monitoring period is extended by 5 minutes. Thus, the system monitors George for login failures during the next 9.5 minutes.



Thirty seconds later, 9 minutes remain in his monitoring period, and the system extends it by 5 minutes.



One minute later, George has 13 minutes in his monitoring period, and the system extends it by 5 minutes.



Thirty seconds later, George has 17.5 minutes in the monitoring perod, and the system extends it by 5 minutes. Thus, the system monitors George for login failures during the next 22.5 minutes.



Two minutes later, George makes a sixth attempt. Even though the monitoring period allows the time, he runs out of chances. He becomes an intruder and can no longer access the system.


Setting the Exclusion Period

An intruder can be excluded temporarily or permanently, depending on system settings:

  • Temporary exclusion is controlled by the product of LGI_HID_TIM and a random number between 1 and 1.5. At the end of the temporary exclusion period, the subject is reclassified as a suspect. The monitoring period of the suspect is set by the value of LGI_BRK_TMO. For the new monitoring period, the failure count is set to LGI_BRK_LIM, allowing one more chance to log in before the subject is reclassified as an intruder.

  • Permanent exclusion results if LGI_BRK_DISUSER is set because this enables the DISUSER flag in a user authorization record when the operating system detects an intrusion.

Enabling the LGI_BRK_DISUSER parameter can have serious consequences because that user name is disabled until you manually intervene. If LGI_BRK_DISUSER is enabled, a malicious user can put all known accounts, including yours, out of service in a short time. To recover, you must log in on the system console where the SYSTEM account is always allowed to log in.

System Parameters Controlling Login Attempts

Table 7-7 “Parameters for Controlling Login Attempts” describes the system parameters controlling login and intrusion detection.

Table 7-7 Parameters for Controlling Login Attempts

If You Want to Control... Set the Parameter Description

Login time period


Allows time to:

  • Enter the correct system password (if used).

  • Enter personal account passwords.

  • Enter the old password, enter a new password, and verify it when using the SET PASSWORD command.

Number of times a person can try to log in over a phone line or network connection


Allows a person to retry the login sequence without losing the phone connection or network link as long as the retry time (LGI_RETRY_TMO) allows. Someone can reconnect and reattempt login as long as the break-in limit (LGI_BRK_LIM) has not been exceeded during the monitoring period.

Interval between login attempts over phone lines or network connection


Specifies the number of seconds allowed between login attempts after a login failure. If there is no user response after a login failure for LGI_RETRY_TMO seconds, LOGINOUT disconnects the session.

Number of login chances


Specifies the number of login failures during the monitoring period that triggers evasive action. The failure count applies independently to login attempts by each user name, terminal, and node.

Length of failure monitoring period


Indicates the time increment added to the suspect's expiration time each time a login failure occurs. Once the expiration period passes, prior failures are discarded, and the subject is given a clean slate.

Association of user name and terminal name in intrusion database source name


Controls whether failures from terminal class logins are counted by terminal, by user (the default), or by user across all terminals. LAT is tracked back to the originating port based on the contents of the TT_ACCPORNAM field.

Duration of login denial


Specifies the duration of login denial. The value of this parameter times a random number (between 1 and 1.5) determines the actual length of evasive action when the failure count has exceeded LGI_BRK_LIM.

Intruder's account


Enables the DISUSER flag in user's authorization record, permanently locking out that account.


Security Server Process

The Security Server process, which is created as part of the normal operating system startup, performs the following tasks:

  • Creates and manages the system's intrusion database

  • Maintains the network proxy database file (NET$PROXY.DAT)

The system uses the intrusion database to keep track of failed login attempts. This information is scanned during process login to determine if the system should take restrictive measures to prevent access to the system by a suspected intruder. You can display the contents of this database by issuing the DCL command SHOW INTRUSION, as shown in Example 7-5 “Intrusion Database Display”. You can delete information from the database by issuing the DCL command DELETE/INTRUSION.

The network proxy database file (NET$PROXY.DAT) is used during network connection processing to determine if a specific remote user may access a local account without using a password. You can manage the information in this database with the Authorize utility.