Topics: AIX, Monitoring, Networking, Red Hat / Linux, Security, System Admin

Determining type of system remotely

If you run into a system that you can't access, but is available on the network, and have no idea what type of system that is, then there are few tricks you can use to determine the type of system remotely.

The first one, is by looking at the TTL (Time To Live), when doing a ping to the system's IP address. For example, a ping to an AIX system may look like this:

# ping 10.11.12.82
PING 10.11.12.82 (10.11.12.82) 56(84) bytes of data.
64 bytes from 10.11.12.82 (10.11.12.82): icmp_seq=1 ttl=253 time=0.394 ms
...
TTL (Time To Live) is a timer value included in packets sent over networks that tells the recipient how long to hold or use the packet before discarding and expiring the data (packet). TTL values are different for different Operating Systems. So, you can determine the OS based on the TTL value. A detailed list of operating systems and their TTL values can be found here. Basically, a UNIX/Linux system has a TTL of 64. Windows uses 128, and AIX/Solaris uses 254.

Now, in the example above, you can see "ttl=253". It's still an AIX system, but there's most likely a router in between, decreasing the TTL with one.

Another good method is by using nmap. The nmap utility has a -O option that allows for OS detection:
# nmap -O -v 10.11.12.82 | grep OS
Initiating OS detection (try #1) against 10.11.12.82 (10.11.12.82)
OS details: IBM AIX 5.3
OS detection performed.
Okay, so it isn't a perfect method either. We ran the nmap command above against an AIX 7.1 system, and it came back as AIX 5.3 instead. And sometimes, you'll have to run nmap a couple of times, before it successfully discovers the OS type. But still, we now know it's an AIX system behind that IP.

Another option you may use, is to query SNMP information. If the device is SNMP enabled (it is running a SNMP daemon and it allows you to query SNMP information), then you may be able to run a command like this:
# snmpinfo -h 10.11.12.82 -m get -v sysDescr.0
sysDescr.0 = "IBM PowerPC CHRP Computer
Machine Type: 0x0800004c Processor id: 0000962CG400
Base Operating System Runtime AIX version: 06.01.0008.0015
TCP/IP Client Support  version: 06.01.0008.0015"
By the way, the example for SNMP above is exactly why UNIX Health Check generally recommends to disable SNMP, or at least to dis-allow providing such system information trough SNMP by updating the /etc/snmpdv3.conf file appropriately, because this information can be really useful to hackers. On the other hand, your organization may use monitoring that relies of SNMP, in which case it needs to be enabled. But then you stil have the opportunity of changing the SNMP community name to something else (the default is "public"), which also limits the remote information gathering possibilities.



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