Topics: Red Hat / Linux, Security, System Admin

Linux Extended File System Attributes

On Linux, you sometimes may run into an issue where you can't change permissions of a file, even though you're root, and you have access. For example:

# ls -asl authorized_keys
8 -rw------- 1 root root 6325 Sep 17 02:48 authorized_keys
# chmod 700 authorized_keys
chmod: changing permissions of `authorized_keys': Operation not 
permitted
# whoami
root
This is usually caused by the Extendef File System Attributes, especially if package e2fsprogs is installed. Two commands that will come in handy here are /usr/bin/chattr and /usr/bin/lsattr.

The most common attributes are:
  • A - When the file is accessed the atime record is not modified. This avoids a certain amount of disk I/O.
  • a - When this file is opened, it is opened in append only mode for writing.
  • i - This file cannot be modified, renamed or deleted.
For example:
# lsattr authorized_keys
----i-------- authorized_keys
This shows that the immutable flag (i) is in place on the file, and thus the reason why the file can't be modified. To remove it, use chattr:
# chattr -i authorized_keys
# lsattr authorized_keys
------------- authorized_keys
Now any commands to modify the file, will work:
# chmod 700 authorized_keys




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