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Date: Wed, 20 Feb 2019 03:37:12 +0100
From: Jann Horn <>
To: Kees Cook <>
Cc: Thomas Gleixner <>, kernel list <>, 
	Kernel Hardening <>, 
	"the arch/x86 maintainers" <>
Subject: Re: [PATCH] x86/asm: Pin sensitive CR4 bits

On Wed, Feb 20, 2019 at 1:55 AM Kees Cook <> wrote:
> Several recent exploits have used direct calls to the native_write_cr4()
> function to disable SMEP and SMAP before then continuing their exploits
> using userspace memory access. This pins bits of cr4 so that they cannot
> be changed through a common function. This is not intended to be general
> ROP protection (which would require CFI to defend against properly), but
> rather a way to avoid trivial direct function calling (or CFI bypassing
> via a matching function prototype) as seen in:
> (
> The goals of this change:
>  - pin specific bits (SMEP, SMAP, and UMIP) when writing cr4.
>  - avoid setting the bits too early (they must become pinned only after
>    first being used).
>  - pinning mask needs to be read-only during normal runtime.
>  - pinning needs to be rechecked after set to avoid jumps into the middle
>    of the function.
> Using __ro_after_init on the mask is done so it can't be first disabled
> with a malicious write. And since it becomes read-only, we must avoid
> writing to it later (hence the check for bits already having been set
> instead of unconditionally writing to the mask).
> The use of volatile is done to force the compiler to perform a full reload
> of the mask after setting cr4 (to protect against just jumping into the
> function past where the masking happens; we must check that the mask was
> applied after we do the set). Due to how this function can be built by the
> compiler (especially due to the removal of frame pointers), jumping into
> the middle of the function frequently doesn't require stack manipulation
> to construct a stack frame (there may only a retq without pops, which is
> sufficient for use with exploits like timer overwrites mentioned above).
> For example, without the recheck, the function may appear as:
>    native_write_cr4:
>       mov [pin], %rbx
>       or  %rbx, %rdi
>    1: mov %rdi, %cr4
>       retq
> The masking "or" could be trivially bypassed by just calling to label "1"
> instead of "native_write_cr4". (CFI will force calls to only be able to
> call into native_write_cr4, but CFI and CET are uncommon currently.)
> Signed-off-by: Kees Cook <>
> ---
>  static inline void native_write_cr4(unsigned long val)
>  {
> +again:
> +       val |= cr4_pin;
>         asm volatile("mov %0,%%cr4": : "r" (val), "m" (__force_order));
> +       /*
> +        * If the MOV above was used directly as a ROP gadget we can
> +        * notice the lack of pinned bits in "val" and start the function
> +        * from the beginning to gain the cr4_pin bits for sure.
> +        */
> +       if (WARN_ONCE(cr4_pin && (val & cr4_pin) == 0,

Don't you mean `cr4_pin && (val & cr4_pin) != cr4_pin)`?

> +                     "cr4 pin bypass attempt?!\n"))
> +               goto again;
>  }

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