codeblog code is freedom — patching my itch

April 12, 2018

security things in Linux v4.16

Filed under: Chrome OS,Debian,Kernel,Security,Ubuntu,Ubuntu-Server — kees @ 5:04 pm

Previously: v4.15
Linux kernel v4.16 was released last week. I really should write these posts in advance, otherwise I get distracted by the merge window. Regardless, here are some of the security things I think are interesting:

KPTI on arm64

Will Deacon, Catalin Marinas, and several other folks brought Kernel Page Table Isolation (via CONFIG_UNMAP_KERNEL_AT_EL0) to arm64. While most ARMv8+ CPUs were not vulnerable to the primary Meltdown flaw, the Cortex-A75 does need KPTI to be safe from memory content leaks. It’s worth noting, though, that KPTI does protect other ARMv8+ CPU models from having privileged register contents exposed. So, whatever your threat model, it’s very nice to have this clean isolation between kernel and userspace page tables for all ARMv8+ CPUs.

hardened usercopy whitelisting
While whole-object bounds checking was implemented in CONFIG_HARDENED_USERCOPY already, David Windsor and I finished another part of the porting work of grsecurity’s PAX_USERCOPY protection: usercopy whitelisting. This further tightens the scope of slab allocations that can be copied to/from userspace. Now, instead of allowing all objects in slab memory to be copied, only the whitelisted areas (where a subsystem has specifically marked the memory region allowed) can be copied. For example, only the auxv array out of the larger mm_struct.

As mentioned in the first commit from the series, this reduces the scope of slab memory that could be copied out of the kernel in the face of a bug to under 15%. As can be seen, one area of work remaining are the kmalloc regions. Those are regularly used for copying things in and out of userspace, but they’re also used for small simple allocations that aren’t meant to be exposed to userspace. Working to separate these kmalloc users needs some careful auditing.

Total Slab Memory: 48074720 Usercopyable Memory: 6367532 13.2% task_struct 0.2% 4480/1630720 RAW 0.3% 300/96000 RAWv6 2.1% 1408/64768 ext4_inode_cache 3.0% 269760/8740224 dentry 11.1% 585984/5273856 mm_struct 29.1% 54912/188448 kmalloc-8 100.0% 24576/24576 kmalloc-16 100.0% 28672/28672 kmalloc-32 100.0% 81920/81920 kmalloc-192 100.0% 96768/96768 kmalloc-128 100.0% 143360/143360 names_cache 100.0% 163840/163840 kmalloc-64 100.0% 167936/167936 kmalloc-256 100.0% 339968/339968 kmalloc-512 100.0% 350720/350720 kmalloc-96 100.0% 455616/455616 kmalloc-8192 100.0% 655360/655360 kmalloc-1024 100.0% 812032/812032 kmalloc-4096 100.0% 819200/819200 kmalloc-2048 100.0% 1310720/1310720

This series took quite a while to land (you can see David’s original patch date as back in June of last year). Partly this was due to having to spend a lot of time researching the code paths so that each whitelist could be explained for commit logs, partly due to making various adjustments from maintainer feedback, and partly due to the short merge window in v4.15 (when it was originally proposed for merging) combined with some last-minute glitches that made Linus nervous. After baking in linux-next for almost two full development cycles, it finally landed. (Though be sure to disable CONFIG_HARDENED_USERCOPY_FALLBACK to gain enforcement of the whitelists — by default it only warns and falls back to the full-object checking.)

automatic stack-protector

While the stack-protector features of the kernel have existed for quite some time, it has never been enabled by default. This was mainly due to needing to evaluate compiler support for the feature, and Kconfig didn’t have a way to check the compiler features before offering CONFIG_* options. As a defense technology, the stack protector is pretty mature. Having it on by default would have greatly reduced the impact of things like the BlueBorne attack (CVE-2017-1000251), as fewer systems would have lacked the defense.

After spending quite a bit of time fighting with ancient compiler versions (*cough*GCC 4.4.4*cough*), I landed CONFIG_CC_STACKPROTECTOR_AUTO, which is default on, and tries to use the stack protector if it is available. The implementation of the solution, however, did not please Linus, though he allowed it to be merged. In the future, Kconfig will gain the knowledge to make better decisions which lets the kernel expose the availability of (the now default) stack protector directly in Kconfig, rather than depending on rather ugly Makefile hacks.

That’s it for now; let me know if you think I should add anything! The v4.17 merge window is open. :)

Edit: added details on ARM register leaks, thanks to Daniel Micay.

© 2018, Kees Cook. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.
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  1. Hello,

    Thanks for your dedication to this blog, this essential and very well done. Congratulations!

    Just a quick question, I have been using this patch series [1] since the beginning on my devices. I haven’t run in any stability issues, do you know if there’s any plan for this patch? I guess I should stop using it if nobody maintains it…



    Comment by Fran├žois Guerraz — April 13, 2018 @ 1:59 am

  2. Have you modified the MPXK series to get turned on for the whole kernel? I think it defaults to disabled…

    Comment by kees — April 15, 2018 @ 8:52 pm

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