From Fedora Project Wiki

Disallow Empty Password By Default


Remove nullok parameter from pam_unix module in default PAM configuration in order to disallow authentication with empty password.


Current status

  • Targeted release: Fedora 32
  • Last updated: 2019-12-11
  • Tracker bug: <will be assigned by the Wrangler>
  • Release notes tracker: <will be assigned by the Wrangler>

Detailed Description

Current default configuration allows users to login with an empty password by setting nullok parameter to pam_unix module. This affects only logins to local machine, it does not affect ssh logins as this must be explicitly allowed in sshd_config. We want to disallow empty password by default for local logins as well to improve system hardening.

Note: It is possible to disallow empty passwords with authselect call (authselect enable-feature without-nullok) or by removing nullok manually, however it creates possible issues in other components that must be addressed.

Affected Components

  • passwd - calling passwd -d to remove users password must be denied if empty passwords are disallowed otherwise the user will be locked out of the system
  • AccountService - D-Bus methods SetPassword and SetPasswordMode on org.freedesktop.Accounts.User interface can remove user’s password and lock the user out of the system if empty password is disallowed. These calls must be denied in this case.

Additionally, these methods can be run by normal users as opposed to passwd -d and chage -d 0 which can be run only by root. Therefore only root should be able to call these methods.

  • Gnome’s Control Center - when creating new users, it provides an option to “require password to be set on first login” which creates user with expired empty password. This would again lock the user out of the system.
  • Other Desktop Environments - may have the same issue as Gnome Control Center

Solution Step by Step

Step 1) Provide a unified way to read if nullok is enabled or not

We will create an authselect library call that would parse existing PAM configuration (not necessarily generated by authselect) and return list of enabled/disabled features. We will implement only nullok feature in the scope of this change but if needed it can be extended in the future.

Step 2) Fix passwd -d

Calling passwd -d to remove user's password will fail if nullok is disabled.

Step 3) Fix AccountService

These methods on org.freedesktop.Accounts.User D-Bus interface will be callable only by root and must return an error if nullok is disabled.

 SetPassword(“”, hint)

Step 4) Fix Desktop Environments

“Require password change on next login” must keep working. This feature currently relies on setting an empty password. A new option nullresetok will be implemented for pam_unix module that will allow user to authenticate with empty password only if a password change for this user is enforced upon login. Authentication with empty passwords which are not expired will be prohibited (unless nullok is set).

Step 5) Update PAM configuration to disable nullok by default

In authselect and pam components for new installations. Upgrading from older systems will keep nullok present.

Benefit to Fedora

Changes in described components (Step 1 - Step 4) are necessary to implement in order to make sure that user accounts and tools works correctly when authentication with empty password is disabled by system administrator. Changing system default to disallow authentication with empty passwords (Step 5) improves system hardening.


  • Proposal owners: Coordinate the work. Make sure all required changes are implemented.
  • Other developers: All affected component must be fixed. Changes are described in Detailed Description
  • Release engineering: #9038 (a check of an impact with Release Engineering is needed)
  • Policies and guidelines: No updates needed.
  • Trademark approval: N/A (not needed for this Change)

Upgrade/compatibility impact

This does not affect system upgrades because only new installation will have changed default.

How To Test

  • Calling passwd -d user as root must fail with default configuration.
  • Calling org.freedesktop.Accounts.User.SetPassword("", hint) and org.freedesktop.Accounts.User.SetPasswordMode(x) must fail with default configuration.
  • "require password reset on first login" must keep working when creating users from Desktop Environment's GUI tools

User Experience

Users will no longer be able to use empty passwords by default.



Contingency Plan

  • Contingency mechanism: Default behavior will not be changed.
  • Contingency deadline: Beta
  • Blocks release? No
  • Blocks product? No


Release Notes