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linux-security-module: Re: [PATCH 0/3] Taming execve, setuid, an

Re: [PATCH 0/3] Taming execve, setuid, and LSMs

From: Serge E. Hallyn <serge_at_nospam>
Date: Mon Apr 19 2010 - 21:39:53 GMT
To: Andrew Lutomirski <>

Quoting Andrew Lutomirski (
> On Mon, Apr 19, 2010 at 1:26 PM, Serge E. Hallyn <> wrote:
> > Quoting Andy Lutomirski (luto@MIT.EDU):
> >> Every now and then, someone wants to let unprivileged programs change
> >> something about their execution environment (think unsharing namespaces,
> >> changing capabilities, disabling networking, chrooting, mounting and
> >> unmounting filesystems). ?Whether or not any of these abilities are good
> >> ideas, there's a recurring problem that gets most of these patches shot
> >> down: setuid executables.
> >>
> >> The obvious solution is to allow a process to opt out of setuid
> >> semantics and require processes to do this before using these shiny new
> >> features. [1] [2]
> >>
> >> But there's a problem with this, too: with LSMs running, execve can do
> >> pretty much anything, and even unprivileged users running unprivileged
> >> programs can have crazy security implications. ?(Take a look at a
> >> default install of Fedora. ?If you can understand the security
> >> implications of disabling setuid, you get a cookie. ?If you can figure
> >> out which programs will result in a change of security label when
> >> exec'd, you get another cookie.)
> >>
> >> So here's another solution, based on the idea that in a sane world,
> >> execve should be a lot less magical than it is. ?Any unprivileged
> >> program can open an executable, parse its headers, map it, and run it,
> >> although getting all the details right is tedious at best (and there's
> >> no good way to get all of the threading semantics right from userspace).
> >>
> >> Patch 1 adds a new syscall execve_nosecurity. ?It does an exec, but
> >> without changing any security properties. ?This means no setuid, no
> >> setgid, no LSM credential hooks (e.g. no SELinux type transitions), and
> >> no ptrace restrictions. ?(You have to have read access to the program,
> >> because disabling security stuff could allow someone to ptrace a program
> >> that they couldn't otherwise ptrace.) ?This shouldn't be particularly
> >> scary -- any process could do much the same thing with open and mmap.
> >> (You can easily shoot yourself in the foot with this syscall -- think
> >> LD_PRELOAD or running some program with insufficient error checking that
> >> can get subverted when run in the wrong security context. ?So don't do
> >> that.)
> >>
> >> Patch 2 adds a prctl that irrevocably disables execve. ?Making execve do
> >> something different that could confuse LSMs is dangerous. ?Turning the
> >> whole thing off shouldn't be. ?(Of course, with execve disabled, you can
> >> still use execve_nosecurity. ?But any program that does that should take
> >> precautions not to shoot itself in the foot.) ?(In a future revision,
> >> this should probably be a new syscall.)
> >>
> >> Sadly, programs that have opted out of execve might want to use
> >> subprocesses that in turn run execve. ?This will fail. ?So patch 3
> >> (which is ugly, but I don't see anything fundamentally wrong with it)
> >> allows processes to set a flag that turns execve into execve_nosecurity.
> >> This flag survives exec. ?Of course, this could be used to subvert
> >> setuid programs, so you can't set this flag unless you disable ordinary
> >> exec first.
> >>
> >> [1] Unprivileged:
> >> [2] securebit approach:
> >
> > No responses for a month after this was sent. ?Really, thanks, I do
> > appreciate the work at another approach.
> >
> > I'll be honest, I prefer option [1]. ?Though I think it's reasonable
> > to require privilege for prctl(PR_SET_NOSUID). ?Make it a separate
> > capability, and on most systems it should be safe to have a file
> > sitting in /bin with cap_set_nosuid+pe. ?If OTOH you know you have
> > legacy or poorly coded privileged programs which would not be safe
> > bc they don't verify that they have the needed privs, you just don't
> > provide the program to do prctl(PR_SET_NOSUID) for unprivileged users.
> Both approaches result in two kinds of exec: the normal kind that
> respects setuid, file capabilities, and LSMs, and the restricted kind
> that is supposed to be safe when programs have unshared namespaces and
> other crazy things.
> Eric's approach [1] adds a restricted kind of exec that ignores setuid
> but still (AFAICT) respects file capabilities

No, please see the rest of that thread - that was an oversight.

> and LSM transitions. I
> think this is a terrible idea for two reasons:
> 1. LSM transitions already scare me enough, and if anyone relies on
> them working in concert with setuid, then the mere act of separating
> them might break things, even if the "privileged" (by LSM) app in
> question is well-written.


A good point.

> 2. File capabilities are just as dangerous as setuid, and I wouldn't
> even know how to write a program that's safe when it has extra
> capabilities granted by fE (or fP or whatever it is) and the caller
> has, say, an unshared fs namespace and the ability to rearrange the
> namespace arbitrarily.

Absolutely these should not be ignored, and Eric didn't mean to ignore

> In short, I think that this nosuid exec is both dangerous in and of
> itself *and* doesn't actually solve the problem it was supposed to
> solve.
> I also don't like relying on the admin to decide that it's safe to
> allow PR_SET_NOSUID (or whatever you call it) and having to install a
> special privileged program to enable it. If sandbox-like features
> require explicit action by root, then they won't be as widely used as
> they should be. And how many admins will have any clue whether
> enabling this feature is safe?

I do not agree with deciding the admins are not competent to admin
their system and therefore we should bypass them and let users decide.

But it's moot, as I think you've convinced me with your point 1. above
to take another look at your patches.

> My approach introduces what I think is a much more obviously safe
> restricted exec, and I think it's so safe that no privilege or special
> configuration should be required to use it.
> As for what to call it (execve_nosecurity or PR_SET_NOSUID) or whether
> to have a special syscall so that programs that aren't restricted can
> use the restricted exec, I don't care all that much. I just think
> that the separate syscall might be useful in its own right and
> required almost no additional code, so I added it.
> >
> > ( I did like using new securebits as in [2], but I prefer the
> > automatic not-raising-privs of [1] to simply -EPERM on uid/gid
> > change and lack kof checking for privs raising of [2]. )
> >
> > Really the trick will be finding a balance to satisfy those wanting
> > this as a separate LSM, without traipsing into LSM stacking territory.
> I think that making this an LSM is absurd. Containers (and anything
> else people want to do with namespaces or with other new features that
> interact badly with setuid) are features that people should be able to

Yes, but that's a reason to aim for targeted caps. Exec_nopriv or
whatever is more a sandbox than a namespace feature.

> use easily, and system's choice of LSM shouldn't have anything to do
> with them. Not to mention that we're trying to *add* rights (e.g.
> unprivileged unshare), and LSM is about *removing* rights.
> >
> > I myself think this feature fits very nicely with established semantics,
> > but not everyone agrees, so chances are my view is a bit tainted, and
> > we should defer to those wanting this to be an LSM.
> >
> > Of course, another alternative is to skip this feature altogether and
> > push toward targeted capabilties. ?The problem is that path amounts
> > to playing whack-a-mole to catch all the places where privilege might
> > leak to a parent namespace, whereas [1] simply, cleanly cuts them all
> > off at the source.
> Agreed, that sounds painful. My secret goal is real
> userspace-controlled (by unprivileged users, no less) sandboxes, in
> which case in-kernel target capabilities are probably impossible.

Not sure what you mean by that last part - inside the sandbox, you won't
get capabilities, targeted or otherwise, but certainly targeted capabilities
and a sandbox are not mutually exclusive.

Thanks for responding, I'll take another look at your patchset in detail.

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