Openwall GNU/*/Linux - a small security-enhanced Linux distro for servers
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Date: Tue, 2 Apr 2019 20:24:15 +0000
From: Jewell Seay <>
To: "" <>
Subject: RE: Changes for upstream?

> On Tue, Apr 02, 2019 at 07:11:14PM +0000, Jewell Seay wrote:
> > Hello,
> >
> > The team I am on is in the beginning stages of making the following
> > changes to musl, would upstream desire any of these?
> >
> > - Heap hardening: adding cookies and validation to increase the
> > likelihood of crashing if someone corrupts heap memory (as a security
> > mitigation).
> Additional validation is desirable, but the existing malloc implementation in
> musl is not intended to be kept long-term, so doing and reviewing work on it
> is maybe not a good use of time...

Thank you for the heads up.

> > - Randomizing library locations in memory (while keeping the ordering
> > of module _init and _fini calls stable).
> I'm confused why this would be in musl and not just by the kernel's normal
> ASLR. On 32-bit you really can't randomize positions because the address
> space is just too small, but on 64-bit, doing strong mmap ASLR in the kernel
> would get you this for free. Do you have a different/better method in mind
> that could be achieved in the dynamic linker but not in the kernel?

We have already modified the kernel under ARM to have a wider ASLR range, however this does not improve the Linux design where libraries are loaded in-order in memory by the dynamic loader. A single address leak of a library location allows easy address calculation to any other library for rop gadgets. Although the 32-bit address space is small, shuffling the order the libraries are located in memory results in more complex leaks being required to obtain needed library addresses for exploitation.

It is more specific to our system as any normal system can just load a library to a random location while we are attempting to minimize cache hits so there is a desire on our side to group them together just in different orders.
> > - Shrink the memory footprint of the DATA and BSS sections.
> That would be nice, but for the most part I don't think any further reduction
> is possible without introducing places where no forward progress is possible
> because memory needed was not reserved in advance. Obviously the stdio
> buffer sizes could be decreased but that would hurt performance a lot.

Thank you for the heads up. Our current build shows 2 pages of memory being used and we are attempting to get it down to 1 page due to memory impact.

> > - Return memory to the kernel within free().
> This is already done via MADV_DONTNEED. Using MADV_FREE has been
> suggested recently and would probably be a good idea; it looks like it could
> be swapped in without any complex work. There are also a few past threads
> where I discussed a desire to return not just the dirty page pressure, but the
> commit charge, to the kernel when there are huge free chunks. There are
> tradeoffs involved, and with the current allocator slated to be replaced, I
> didn't really want to spend a lot of effort considering how they'd fit in with it.

What allocator do you plan to go to or are there plans to have one created from scratch?

> > The other question we have is that it does not appear that there is
> > any standard way in musl to have certain functionality turned on or
> > off. If any of these changes are desired to be optional then is there
> > an accepted method for enabling or disabling the feature?
> It's intentional that we don't have functionality switches, but of course due
> to CFLAGS various degrees of hardeing are already possible (stack protector,
> stack clash check, etc., even UBSan) so it's conceivable that we could add
> things that require conditionals at the source level. Any such things should
> not affect the exposed interfaces or the observable behavior of programs
> with well-defined behavior. But ideally good hardening measures are
> sufficiently inexpensive that making them optional is not needed. The main
> cost, which should always be minimized, is the source-level complexity, and
> that's same or worse when they're optional.

If I am understanding correctly, any useful hardening measures should just expect to be on and not an optional compilation flag.

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