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Date: Sat, 27 Nov 2021 20:45:23 -0800
From: "Andy Lutomirski" <>
To: "Florian Weimer" <>
Cc:, "Linux API" <>,,,, "the arch/x86 maintainers" <>,,
 "Dave Hansen via Libc-alpha" <>,
 "Linux Kernel Mailing List" <>,
 "Dave Hansen" <>, "Kees Cook" <>
Subject: Re: [PATCH] x86: Implement arch_prctl(ARCH_VSYSCALL_LOCKOUT) to disable

On Fri, Nov 26, 2021, at 3:18 PM, Florian Weimer wrote:
> * Andy Lutomirski:
>> On Fri, Nov 26, 2021, at 12:24 PM, Florian Weimer wrote:
>>> * Andy Lutomirski:
>>>> On Fri, Nov 26, 2021, at 5:47 AM, Florian Weimer wrote:
>>>>> Distributions struggle with changing the default for vsyscall
>>>>> emulation because it is a clear break of userspace ABI, something
>>>>> that should not happen.
>>>>> The legacy vsyscall interface is supposed to be used by libcs only,
>>>>> not by applications.  This commit adds a new arch_prctl request,
>>>>> ARCH_VSYSCALL_LOCKOUT.  Newer libcs can adopt this request to signal
>>>>> to the kernel that the process does not need vsyscall emulation.
>>>>> The kernel can then disable it for the remaining lifetime of the
>>>>> process.  Legacy libcs do not perform this call, so vsyscall remains
>>>>> enabled for them.  This approach should achieves backwards
>>>>> compatibility (perfect compatibility if the assumption that only libcs
>>>>> use vsyscall is accurate), and it provides full hardening for new
>>>>> binaries.
>>>> Why is a lockout needed instead of just a toggle?  By the time an
>>>> attacker can issue prctls, an emulated vsyscall seems like a pretty
>>>> minor exploit technique.  And programs that load legacy modules or
>>>> instrument other programs might need to re-enable them.
>>> For glibc, I plan to add an environment variable to disable the lockout.
>>> There's no ELF markup that would allow us to do this during dlopen.
>>> (And after this change, you can run an old distribution in a chroot
>>> for legacy software, something that the userspace ABI break prevents.)
>>> If it can be disabled, people will definitely say, “we get more complete
>>> hardening if we break old userspace”.  I want to avoid that.  (People
>>> will say that anyway because there's this fairly large window of libcs
>>> that don't use vsyscalls anymore, but have not been patched yet to do
>>> the lockout.)
>> I’m having trouble following the logic. What I mean is that I think it
>> should be possible to do the arch_prctl again to turn vsyscalls back
>> on.
> The “By the time an attacker can issue prctls” argument does resonate
> with me, but I'm not the one who needs convincing.

Who else needs convincing?  It's your patch.

This could possibly be much more generic: have a mask of legacy features to disable and a separate mask of lock bits.

> I can turn this into a toggle, and we could probably default our builds
> to vsyscalls=xonly.  Given the userspace ABI impact, we'd still have to
> upstream the toggle.  Do you see a chance of a patch a long these lines
> going in at all, given that it's an incomplete solution for
> vsyscall=emulate?

There is basically no reason for anyone to use vsyscall=emulate any more.  I'm aware of exactly one use case, and it's quite bizarre and involves instrumenting an outdated binary with an outdated instrumentation tool.  If either one is recent (last few years), vsyscall=xonly is fine.

>>> Maybe the lockout also simplifies the implementation?
>>>> Also, the interaction with emulate mode is somewhat complex. For now,
>>>> let’s support this in xonly mode only. A complete implementation will
>>>> require nontrivial mm work.  I had that implemented pre-KPTI, but KPTI
>>>> made it more complicated.
>>> I admit I only looked at the code in emulate_vsyscall.  It has code that
>>> seems to deal with faults not due to instruction fetch, and also checks
>>> for vsyscall=emulate mode.  But it seems that we don't get to this point
>>> for reads in vsyscall=emulate mode, presumably because the page is
>>> already mapped?
>> Yes, and, with KPTI off, it’s nontrivial to unmap it. I have code for
>> this, but I’m not sure the complexity is worthwhile.
> Huh.  KPTI is the new thing, right?  Does it make things harder or not?
> I'm confused.
> If we knew at execve time that the new process image doesn't have
> vsyscall, would that be easier to set up?  vsyscall opt-out could be
> triggered by an ELF NOTE segment on the program interpreter (or main
> program if there isn't one).

Nah, it's a different issue.  The vsyscall mapping isn't a normal mapping at all.  It's in the *kernel* address range, so it's not in the user portion of the page tables.  This means that, per mm, there is only the pgd entry that can be changed.  With kpti off, it can be fudged using the U bit (hah!).  With kpti on, the same trick would work, but the whole pagetable arrangement is different, and the patch would need updating.

The patch looks a bit like this:

except I screwed up and there's a bunch of irrelevant stuff in there. But the patch would need updating for new kernels.  In any event, none of this is needed in xonly mode.

>>>> Finally, /proc/self/maps should be wired up via the gate_area code.
>>> Should the "[vsyscall]" string change to something else if execution is
>>> disabled?
>> I think the line should disappear entirely, just like booting with
>> vsyscall=none.
> Hmm.  But only for vsyscall=xonly, right?  With vsyscall=emulate,
> reading at those addresses will still succeed.

IMO if vsyscall is disabled for a process, reads and executes should both fail.  This is trivial in xonly mode.

> Thanks,
> Florian

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