Openwall GNU/*/Linux - a small security-enhanced Linux distro for servers
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Date: Thu, 25 Jan 2018 10:14:28 -0500
From: Boris Lukashev <>
To: Igor Stoppa <>
Cc: Jann Horn <>,, Kees Cook <>, 
	Michal Hocko <>, Laura Abbott <>, 
	Christoph Hellwig <>, Matthew Wilcox <>, 
	Christoph Lameter <>, 
	linux-security-module <>, Linux-MM <>, 
	kernel list <>, 
	Kernel Hardening <>
Subject: Re: [PATCH 4/6] Protectable Memory

On Thu, Jan 25, 2018 at 6:59 AM, Igor Stoppa <> wrote:
> Hi,
> thanks for the review. My reply below.
> On 24/01/18 21:10, Jann Horn wrote:
> > I'm not entirely convinced by the approach of marking small parts of
> > kernel memory as readonly for hardening.
> Because of the physmap you mention later?
> Regarding small parts vs big parts (what is big enough?) I did propose
> the use of a custom zone at the very beginning, however I met 2 objections:
> 1. It's not a special case and there was no will to reserve another zone
>    This might be mitigated by aliasing with a zone that is already
>    defined, but not in use. For example DMA or DMA32.
>    But it looks like a good way to replicate the confusion that is page
>    struct. Anyway, I found the next objection more convincing.
> 2. What would be the size of this zone? It would become something that
>    is really application specific. At the very least it should become a
>    command line parameter. A distro would have to allocate a lot of
>    memory for it, because it cannot really know upfront what its users
>    will do. But, most likely, the vast majority of users would never
>    need that much.
> If you have some idea of how to address these objections without using
> vmalloc, or at least without using the same page provider that vmalloc
> is using now, I'd be interested to hear it.
> Besides the double mapping problem, the major benefit I can see from
> having a contiguous area is that it simplifies the hardened user copy
> verification, because there is a fixed range to test for overlap.
> > Comments on some details are inline.
> thank you
> >> diff --git a/include/linux/vmalloc.h b/include/linux/vmalloc.h
> >> index 1e5d8c3..116d280 100644
> >> --- a/include/linux/vmalloc.h
> >> +++ b/include/linux/vmalloc.h
> >> @@ -20,6 +20,7 @@ struct notifier_block;                /* in notifier.h */
> >>  #define VM_UNINITIALIZED       0x00000020      /* vm_struct is not fully initialized */
> >>  #define VM_NO_GUARD            0x00000040      /* don't add guard page */
> >>  #define VM_KASAN               0x00000080      /* has allocated kasan shadow memory */
> >> +#define VM_PMALLOC             0x00000100      /* pmalloc area - see docs */
> >
> > Is "see docs" specific enough to actually guide the reader to the
> > right documentation?
> The doc file is named pmalloc.txt, but I can be more explicit.
> >> +#define pmalloc_attr_init(data, attr_name) \
> >> +do { \
> >> +       sysfs_attr_init(&data->attr_##attr_name.attr); \
> >> +       data-> = #attr_name; \
> >> +       data->attr_##attr_name.attr.mode = VERIFY_OCTAL_PERMISSIONS(0444); \
> >> +       data-> = pmalloc_pool_show_##attr_name; \
> >> +} while (0)
> >
> > Is there a good reason for making all these files mode 0444 (as
> > opposed to setting them to 0400 and then allowing userspace to make
> > them accessible if desired)? /proc/slabinfo contains vaguely similar
> > data and is mode 0400 (or mode 0600, depending on the kernel config)
> ok, you do have a point, so far I have been mostly focusing on the
> "drop-in replacement for kmalloc" aspect.
> >> +void *pmalloc(struct gen_pool *pool, size_t size, gfp_t gfp)
> >> +{
> > [...]
> >> +       /* Expand pool */
> >> +       chunk_size = roundup(size, PAGE_SIZE);
> >> +       chunk = vmalloc(chunk_size);
> >
> > You're allocating with vmalloc(), which, as far as I know, establishes
> > a second mapping in the vmalloc area for pages that are already mapped
> > as RW through the physmap. AFAICS, later, when you're trying to make
> > pages readonly, you're only changing the protections on the second
> > mapping in the vmalloc area, therefore leaving the memory writable
> > through the physmap. Is that correct? If so, please either document
> > the reasoning why this is okay or change it.
> About why vmalloc as backend for pmalloc, please refer to this:
> I tried to give a short summary of what took me toward vmalloc.
> vmalloc is also a convenient way of obtaining arbitrarily (within
> reason) large amounts of virtually contiguous memory.
> Your objection is toward the unprotected access, through the alternate
> mapping, rather than to the idea of having pools that can be protected
> individually, right?
> In the mail I linked, I explained that I could not use kmalloc because
> of the problem of splitting huge pages on ARM.
> kmalloc does require the physmap, for performance reason.
> However, vmalloc is already doing mapping of individual pages, because
> it must ensure that they are virtually contiguous, so would it be
> possible to have vmalloc _always_ outside of the physmap?
> If I have understood correctly, the actual extension of physmap is
> highly architecture and platform dependant, so it might be (but I have
> not checked) that in some cases (like some 32bit systems) vmalloc is
> typically outside of physmap, but probably that is not the case on 64bit?
> Also, I need to understand how physmap works against vmalloc vs how it
> works against kernel text and const/__ro_after_init sections.
> Can they also be accessed (and written?) through the physmap?
> But, to take a different angle: if an attacker knows where kernel
> symbols are and has gained capability to write at arbitrary location(s)
> in kernel data, what prevents a modification of mappings and permissions?
> What is considered robust enough?
> I have the impression that, without support from HW, to have some
> one-way mechanism that protects some page permanently, it's always
> possible to undo the various protections we are talking about, only harder.
> From the perspective of protecting against accidental overwrites,
> instead, the current implementation should be ok, since it's less likely
> that some stray pointer happens to assume a value that goes through the
> physmap.
> But I'm interested to hear, if you have some suggestion about how to
> prevent the side access through the physmap.
> --
> thanks, igor

DMA/physmap access coupled with a knowledge of which virtual mappings
are in the physical space should be enough for an attacker to bypass
the gating mechanism this work imposes. Not trivial, but not
impossible. Since there's no way to prevent that sort of access in
current hardware (especially something like a NIC or GPU working
independently of the CPU altogether), we have the option of checking
contents of a sealed page against a checksum/hash of the page prior to
returning its contents to the caller (since it needs to be read to be
verified), or some other mechanism within the read path to ensure that
no event since the last read affected the page/allocation. If the
structure containing the list of verifiers is separate from the page,
the attacker needs to resolve and change the contents of those
signatures for the pages they're affecting via DMA before the kernel
checks one against the other in the read path. I cant speak to
overhead, but it should complicate the logic of a successful attack
Off the cuff, if the allocator sums the contents when sealing a page,
stores it in a lookup table, and forces verification on every
read/lookup, it should prevent _use_ of memory which was modified
unless our attacker is clever enough to fix that up prior to the next
access. Since its write-once memory, race conditions on subsequent
access shouldn't be a problem.

Boris Lukashev
Systems Architect
Semper Victus

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