Linux Sudo to run Privileged Commands


Linux Sudo configuration will escalate privileges for normal users. In this guide, we will create with a few users on our test server and assign them roles and walk through a few examples.

We have created 7 users on our test server. They are as follows.

[root@web04 ~]# tail -n 7 /etc/passwd
[root@web04 ~]#

Assume below user’s assigned with some roles.

User AccountRoles of Users
babinSuperUser with all privileges.
lonstonAllowed to create logical volumes, filesystems and mount the filesystems.
rajeshOnly allowed to run a few selective commands.
kamal and mon-teamonly allowed to read /var/log/messages, no write access or delete access.
francisUsers are allowed to patch the server and take a reboot during the weekend without the root password.
guest-user01User not allowed to run sudo su.

Configure Linux Sudo for Users

Let’s start with allowing users to some roles in sudo. While configuring the sudo we are not going to touch the main configuration file /etc/sudoers instead, we will create the new Sudo configurations under /etc/sudoers.d/. For your reference, we have shown in the below picture.

Linux sudo configurations
Linux Sudo configurations

Understanding sudo Syntax is as follows.

user         (host)      = (user:group) command
User_Alias   USER_NAME   = user1, user2, user3
Cmnd_Alias   CMD_NAME    = cmd1, cmd2, cmd3
USER_NAME    (host)      = (user:group) CMD_NAME

Most used sudo entry

Allow user “lonston” to run all commands without entering the root password. The most used sudo entry award goes to this one.


Providing storage privilege for users

Let’s create a separate sudo configuration for storage privilege for a set of users.

# visudo -f /etc/sudoers.d/storage

The users under this STORAGE_ADMINS should have the privilege to create Physical volume, Volume group, logical volume and create a filesystem on them.

User_Alias    STORAGE_ADMINS = lonston 
Cmnd_Alias    STORAGE_ACTS = /usr/sbin/fdisk, /usr/sbin/parted, /usr/sbin/partprobe, /usr/bin/mount, /usr/bin/umount, /usr/sbin/mkfs, /usr/sbin/pvcreate, /usr/sbin/vgcreate, /usr/sbin/lvcreate, /usr/sbin/pvs, /usr/sbin/vgs, /usr/sbin/lvs 

Let’s switch to lonston user to verify

[root@web04 ~]# su - lonston
 Last login: Sat Mar 28 00:10:53 +04 2020 on pts/0
[lonston@web04 ~]$

Now try to sudo su - into root user. You will not be allowed.

[lonston@web04 ~]$ sudo su -
 [sudo] password for lonston: 
 Sorry, user lonston is not allowed to execute '/bin/su -' as root on web04.linuxsysadmins.local.
[lonston@web04 ~]$

Once again run and verify fdisk -l which required root privilege. It will throw an error because you are not escalating the privilege with sudo.

[lonston@web04 ~]$ fdisk -l
 fdisk: cannot open /dev/sda: Permission denied
 fdisk: cannot open /dev/sr0: Permission denied
 fdisk: cannot open /dev/mapper/centos-root: Permission denied
 fdisk: cannot open /dev/mapper/centos-swap: Permission denied
[lonston@web04 ~]$

Now, let’s escalate the privilege to the sudo.

[lonston@web04 ~]$ sudo fdisk -l
 Disk /dev/sda: 16.1 GB, 16106127360 bytes, 31457280 sectors
 Units = sectors of 1 * 512 = 512 bytes
 Sector size (logical/physical): 512 bytes / 512 bytes
 I/O size (minimum/optimal): 512 bytes / 512 bytes
 Disk label type: dos
 Disk identifier: 0x000acf12

 Device Boot      Start         End      Blocks   Id  System
 /dev/sda1   *        2048     2099199     1048576   83  Linux
 /dev/sda2         2099200    31457279    14679040   8e  Linux LVM

 Disk /dev/mapper/centos-root: 13.4 GB, 13417578496 bytes, 26206208 sectors
 Units = sectors of 1 * 512 = 512 bytes
 Sector size (logical/physical): 512 bytes / 512 bytes
 I/O size (minimum/optimal): 512 bytes / 512 bytes

 Disk /dev/mapper/centos-swap: 1610 MB, 1610612736 bytes, 3145728 sectors
 Units = sectors of 1 * 512 = 512 bytes
 Sector size (logical/physical): 512 bytes / 512 bytes
 I/O size (minimum/optimal): 512 bytes / 512 bytes
[lonston@web04 ~]$

Providing access to a Group

In case, if you need to provide sudo privilege for a group of users. Just put “%” at the beginning of the definition. For example

%iso_admins  ALL=/usr/bin/mount /media/cdrom

Limiting users to selective commands

Limit users to execute privileged selective commands by configuring Linux sudo.

# visudo -f /etc/sudoers.d/limited_commands
User_Alias    OFFSITE_ADMINS = rajesh
Cmnd_Alias    LIMITED_COMMANDS = /usr/sbin/useradd, /usr/sbin/groupadd, /usr/bin/passwd, /usr/bin/chage, /usr/sbin/userdel, /usr/sbin/groupdel

Switch to Rajesh User

$ su - rajesh

Try to add a new user without escalating privilege. You will get permission denied.

[rajesh@web04 ~]$ useradd summa
 useradd: Permission denied.
 useradd: cannot lock /etc/passwd; try again later.
[rajesh@web04 ~]$

Run the same command with sudo. You will be good now.

[rajesh@web04 ~]$ sudo useradd summa

Let’s try to create the password without sudo and with sudo.

[rajesh@web04 ~]$ passwd summa
 passwd: Only root can specify a user name.
[rajesh@web04 ~]$
[rajesh@web04 ~]$ sudo passwd summa
 Changing password for user summa.
 New password: 
 Retype new password: 
 passwd: all authentication tokens updated successfully.
[rajesh@web04 ~]$

Check the age of created used without and with escalating the privilege.

[rajesh@web04 ~]$ 
 [rajesh@web04 ~]$ chage -l summa 
 chage: Permission denied.
[rajesh@web04 ~]$
[rajesh@web04 ~]$ sudo chage -l summa 
 Last password change                                  : Mar 27, 2020
 Password expires                                      : never
 Password inactive                                     : never
 Account expires                                       : never
 Minimum number of days between password change        : 0
 Maximum number of days between password change        : 99999
 Number of days of warning before password expires     : 7
[rajesh@web04 ~]$

Allow user to read logs

To allow some user to read any logs it can be accomplished by defining in sudo configuration.

# visudo -f /etc/sudoers.d/log_reading

Append with below User alias and command alias.

User_Alias      INCIDENT_TEAM = kamal, mon-team
Cmnd_Alias      LOG_READING = /usr/bin/less /var/log/messages, /usr/bin/more /var/log/messages, /usr/bin/view /var/log/messages

To verify the same

[root@web04 ~]# su - kamal
 Last login: Sat Mar 28 01:38:20 +04 2020 on pts/0
[kamal@web04 ~]$
[kamal@web04 ~]$ more /var/log/messages 
 /var/log/messages: Permission denied
[kamal@web04 ~]$ 

When we use sudo it is possible to read the /var/log/messages log.

$ sudo view  /var/log/messages

Grant access to Patch and Reboot

Few users are assigned to patch and reboot the servers during the weekend. Let’s define the Linux sudo configuration in a separate file.

# visudo -f /etc/sudoers.d/patch_and_reboot

Append with the below sudo entry.

User_Alias              PATCH_AND_REBOOT = francis
Cmnd_Alias              PATCHING = /bin/rpm, /usr/bin/yum, /usr/sbin/reboot

Linux sudo output for reference

[francis@web04 ~]$ yum update
 Loaded plugins: fastestmirror
 You need to be root to perform this command.
[francis@web04 ~]$

[francis@web04 ~]$ reboot
 User root is logged in on sshd.
 Please retry operation after closing inhibitors and logging out other users.
 Alternatively, ignore inhibitors and users with 'systemctl reboot -i'.
[francis@web04 ~]$

[francis@web04 ~]$ systemctl reboot -i
 ==== AUTHENTICATING FOR org.freedesktop.login1.reboot-multiple-sessions ===
 Authentication is required for rebooting the system while other users are logged in.
 Authenticating as: root
[francis@web04 ~]$

By running with sudo it will work.

# sudo yum update -y
# sudo reboot

Now we are good with patching and taking a reboot by assigning Linux sudo privilege for a normal user.

Limit user to access Applications

For instance, your application team has three developers. And your application is hosted under /opt/application/ so its binary files will be under /opt/application/bin/ and your team needs full control for all commands related to your application, In such scenario below sudo entry will help for you.

Cmnd_Alias        APP_SERVICE =/opt/application/bin/*
User_Alias        APP_ADMINS = user1, user2, user3
APP_ADMINS        ALL=(ALL)   NOPASSWD: /bin/su - appuser,/usr/bin/su - appuser

These users are normal users, to perform any modification on their code they need to switch to the application user, by appending the last line they are allowed to switch to their application without prompting application users password.

Disable sudo su for users

The restricted users are not allowed to run switch user (su).

# visudo -f /etc/sudoers.d/restricted

By appending below config we are good with it.

guest-user01 ALL = ALL, !/bin/su

For time being above are the Linux Sudo examples, which will update frequently.


Linux Sudo escalates the privilege to root and gain the superuser privilege access for normal users, There are more examples upcoming on this same topic in future. Subscribe to our newsletter and stay with us.