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Title: SQL Server Installation Process May Leave Passwords on
Date: July 10, 2002
Software: Microsoft SQL Server 7.0, Microsoft Data Engine 1.0
(MSDE 1.0), or SQL Server 2000
Impact: Elevation of privilege
Max Risk: Moderate
Microsoft encourages customers to review the Security Bulletin at:
When installing SQL Server 7.0 (including MSDE 1.0), SQL Server 2000,
or a service pack for SQL Server 7.0 or SQL Server 2000, the
information provided for the install process is collected and stored
in a setup file called setup.iss. The setup.iss file can then be
used to automate the installation of additional SQL Server systems.
SQL Server 2000 also includes the ability to record an unattended
install to the setup.iss file without having to actually perform an
installation. The administrator setting up the SQL Server can supply
a password to the installation routine under the following
- If the SQL Server is being set up in "Mixed Mode", a password
for the SQL Server administrator (the "sa" account) must be
- Whether in Mixed Mode or Windows Authentication Mode, a User ID
and password can optionally be supplied for the purpose of
starting up SQL Server service accounts.
In either case, the password would be stored in the setup.iss file.
Prior to SQL Server 7.0 Service Pack 4, the passwords were stored in
clear text. For SQL Server 7.0 Service Pack 4 and SQL Server 2000
Service Packs 1 and 2, the passwords are encrypted and then stored.
Additionally, a log file is created during the installation process
that shows the results of the installation. The log file would also
include any passwords that had been stored in the setup.iss file.
A security vulnerability results because of two factors:
- The files remain on the server after the installation is
complete. Except for the setup.iss file created by SQL Server
2000, the files are in directories that can be accessed by
anyone who can interactively log on to the system.
- The password information stored in the files is either in clear
text (for SQL Server 7.0 prior to Service Pack 4) or encrypted
using fairly weak protection. An attacker who recovered the
files could subject them to a password cracking attack to learn
the passwords, potentially compromising the sa password and/or a
domain account password.
- The vulnerability could only be exploited by an attacker who
had the ability to interactively log onto an affected system.
However, best practices suggest that unprivileged users not be
allowed to interactively log onto business-critical servers,
including database servers.
- The vulnerability with regard to the sa password only affects
servers configured to use Mixed Mode. Customers using Windows
Authentication Mode (which is the recommended mode) would only
have credentials at risk if they had chosen to provide a domain
credential to be used in starting the SQL Server services.
- The passwords stored in the setup.iss and log files are those
provided at installation time and are not kept up-to-date when
password changes are made. As a result, if the administrator
changed a password, the information in the setup.iss and log
files would not allow any access.
- In the case of SQL 2000, setup.iss is stored in a directory
that only allows access by administrators and the user
installing SQL Server.
- If the setup.iss and log files containing domain user and/or sa
passwords are deleted, the passwords could not be retrieved.
- Internet systems: Moderate
- Intranet systems: Moderate
- Client systems: Moderate
- A patch is available to fix this vulnerability. Please read the
Security Bulletin at
for information on obtaining this patch.
- Cesar Cerrudo
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