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Date: Fri, 31 Jul 2020 15:08:04 -0500
From: "Madhavan T. Venkataraman" <>
To: Mark Rutland <>
Subject: Re: [PATCH v1 0/4] [RFC] Implement Trampoline File Descriptor

Thanks for the comments. I will respond to these and your next
email on Monday.


On 7/31/20 1:09 PM, Mark Rutland wrote:
> Hi,
> On Tue, Jul 28, 2020 at 08:10:46AM -0500, wrote:
>> From: "Madhavan T. Venkataraman" <>
>> Trampoline code is placed either in a data page or in a stack page. In
>> order to execute a trampoline, the page it resides in needs to be mapped
>> with execute permissions. Writable pages with execute permissions provide
>> an attack surface for hackers. Attackers can use this to inject malicious
>> code, modify existing code or do other harm.
> For the purpose of below, IIUC this assumes the adversary has an
> arbitrary write.
>> To mitigate this, LSMs such as SELinux may not allow pages to have both
>> write and execute permissions. This prevents trampolines from executing
>> and blocks applications that use trampolines. To allow genuine applications
>> to run, exceptions have to be made for them (by setting execmem, etc).
>> In this case, the attack surface is just the pages of such applications.
>> An application that is not allowed to have writable executable pages
>> may try to load trampoline code into a file and map the file with execute
>> permissions. In this case, the attack surface is just the buffer that
>> contains trampoline code. However, a successful exploit may provide the
>> hacker with means to load his own code in a file, map it and execute it.
> It's not clear to me what power the adversary is assumed to have here,
> and consequently it's not clear to me how the proposal mitigates this.
> For example, if the attack can control the arguments to syscalls, and
> has an arbitrary write as above, what prevents them from creating a
> trampfd of their own?
> [...]
>> GCC has traditionally used trampolines for implementing nested
>> functions. The trampoline is placed on the user stack. So, the stack
>> needs to be executable.
> IIUC generally nested functions are avoided these days, specifically to
> prevent the creation of gadgets on the stack. So I don't think those are
> relevant as a cased to care about. Applications using them should move
> to not using them, and would be more secure generally for doing so.
> [...]
>> Trampoline File Descriptor (trampfd)
>> --------------------------
>> I am proposing a kernel API using anonymous file descriptors that
>> can be used to create and execute trampolines with the help of the
>> kernel. In this solution also, the kernel does the work of the trampoline.
> What's the rationale for the kernel emulating the trampoline here?
> In ther case of EMUTRAMP this was necessary to work with existing
> application binaries and kernel ABIs which placed instructions onto the
> stack, and the stack needed to remain RW for other reasons. That
> restriction doesn't apply here.
> Assuming trampfd creation is somehow authenticated, the code could be
> placed in a r-x page (which the kernel could refuse to add write
> permission), in order to prevent modification. If that's sufficient,
> it's not much of a leap to allow userspace to generate the code.
>> The kernel creates the trampoline mapping without any permissions. When
>> the trampoline is executed by user code, a page fault happens and the
>> kernel gets control. The kernel recognizes that this is a trampoline
>> invocation. It sets up the user registers based on the specified
>> register context, and/or pushes values on the user stack based on the
>> specified stack context, and sets the user PC to the requested target
>> PC. When the kernel returns, execution continues at the target PC.
>> So, the kernel does the work of the trampoline on behalf of the
>> application.
>> In this case, the attack surface is the context buffer. A hacker may
>> attack an application with a vulnerability and may be able to modify the
>> context buffer. So, when the register or stack context is set for
>> a trampoline, the values may have been tampered with. From an attack
>> surface perspective, this is similar to Trampoline Emulation. But
>> with trampfd, user code can retrieve a trampoline's context from the
>> kernel and add defensive checks to see if the context has been
>> tampered with.
> Can you elaborate on this: what sort of checks would be applied, and
> how?
> Why is this not possible in a r-x user page?
> [...]
>> - trampfd provides a basic framework. In the future, new trampoline types
>>   can be implemented, new contexts can be defined, and additional rules
>>   can be implemented for security purposes.
> >From a kernel developer perspective, this reads as "this ABI will become
> more complex", which I think is worrisome.
> I'm also worried that this is liable to have nasty interaction with HW
> CFI mechanisms (e.g. PAC+BTI on arm64) either now or in future, and that
> we bake incompatibility into ABI.
>> - For instance, trampfd defines an "Allowed PCs" context in this initial
>>   work. As an example, libffi can create a read-only array of all ABI
>>   handlers for an architecture at build time. This array can be used to
>>   set the list of allowed PCs for a trampoline. This will mean that a hacker
>>   cannot hack the PC part of the register context and make it point to
>>   arbitrary locations.
> I'm not exactly sure what's meant here. Do you mean that this prevents
> userspace from branching into the middle of a trampoline, or that the
> trampfd code prevents where the trampoline itself can branch to?
> Both x86 and arm64 have upcoming HW CFI (CET and BTI) to deal with the
> former, and I believe the latter can also be implemented in userspace
> with defensive checks in the trampolines, provided that they are
> protected read-only.
>> - An SELinux setting called "exectramp" can be implemented along the
>>   lines of "execmem", "execstack" and "execheap" to selectively allow the
>>   use of trampolines on a per application basis.
>> - User code can add defensive checks in the code before invoking a
>>   trampoline to make sure that a hacker has not modified the context data.
>>   It can do this by getting the trampoline context from the kernel and
>>   double checking it.
> As above, without examples it's not clear to me what sort of chacks are
> possible nor where they wouild need to be made. So it's difficult to see
> whether that's actually possible or subject to TOCTTOU races and
> similar.
>> - In the future, if the kernel can be enhanced to use a safe code
>>   generation component, that code can be placed in the trampoline mapping
>>   pages. Then, the trampoline invocation does not have to incur a trip
>>   into the kernel.
>> - Also, if the kernel can be enhanced to use a safe code generation
>>   component, other forms of dynamic code such as JIT code can be
>>   addressed by the trampfd framework.
> I don't see why it's necessary for the kernel to generate code at all.
> If the trampfd creation requests can be trusted, what prevents trusting
> a sealed set of instructions generated in userspace?
>> - Trampolines can be shared across processes which can give rise to
>>   interesting uses in the future.
> This sounds like the use-case of a sealed memfd. Is a sealed executable
> memfd not sufficient?
> Thanks,
> Mark.

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