Sorry if this is the wrong forum... I assume this is the one for sysadmins and power/super

It was just a query that came when I was strutting around, doing the old "rm -rf /" (Har har):

How does an admin, on a unix based system that runs the linux kernel stop people from going into the files like /sys ? Leading on from that:

How does the sysadmin stop people from using commands like: "rm -rf /"

Again, I'm sorry if this is the wrong forum.

  • 4
    The british empire had quite a success with hanging people in front of crowds, to scare of said crowd.
    – JustSid
    Jan 5, 2012 at 14:36
  • @JustSid: In America, a baseball bat seems more culturally appropriate.
    – surfasb
    Jan 17, 2012 at 22:13

4 Answers 4


A basic user on a linux system doesn't have the permissions needed to cause any damage to the system itself. If you try to do "rm -rf /" to any linux system as a regular user, you're going to get a lot of "permission denied" errors, though you will wipe out anything that belongs to you (i.e., your home directory).

What's dangerous is giving people sudo access, or if the root password is known. In that case there is nothing to prevent a person with that access from doing damange via "rm -rf /".

  • No big deal then... Only the sudo files and the password need to be kept under extreme security. Thank you!
    – Bajinga
    Jan 5, 2012 at 14:41

By allocating permissions on files and directories (folders) using commands like chmod, chown and chgrp.

Ordinary users can't delete files in directories for which they don't have write permission.

  • Ah, I see. So the commands are kept in files. Thank you!
    – Bajinga
    Jan 5, 2012 at 14:40
  • @Bajinga: Yes, commands happen to be kept in files, but that's not what RedGrittyBrick is talking about. The commands chmod, chown, and chgrp are used to set ownership and permissions on files and directories. Non-root users are not able to do certain things to those files and directories. Jan 17, 2012 at 21:37

RedGrittyBrick and churnd are correct. I'd like to add a few things:

  • It's important to use permissions and ownerships to ensure that users can only hurt themselves. By default Linux is configured this way.

  • Users need read access to places like /etc and /usr because their programs load libraries and find configuration information in those directories. If you try to lock them out, things will break badly.

  • A good administrator keeps regular backups of user /home directories, so that if a user wipes their own home directory, they'll only lose a day of work.

  • Reserve sudo access carefully. Even commands which you think are safe, should be reserved for people you trust.

  • root access is the key to the kingdom.

  • Don't try to find false security in restricted shells, they're really just designed to protect the users from themselves. They can be circumvented and users can still find ways to run nasty commands. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Restricted_shell

  • Thank you! Great answer here. I'll read into the shell's and only thank you for it. +1!
    – Bajinga
    Jan 5, 2012 at 15:22

In some cases admin don't want to give shell to users. this can be done with command:

chsh username 

and when system prompts you to answer which shell to give to user - just type: false

  • false, of course, is a program that immediately quits with exit code 1. When the user tries to log in with this shell configured, it will simply quit immediately.
    – Daniel Beck
    Jan 17, 2012 at 20:36
  • that pretty much denies the user access to the system. You might as well just delete the account. Jan 17, 2012 at 21:38

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