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Date: Mon, 30 Aug 2010 18:08:47 -0400
From: Brad Spengler <>
To: Solar Designer <>
Cc: Roland McGrath <>, Kees Cook <>,,,
	Al Viro <>,
	Andrew Morton <>,
	Oleg Nesterov <>,
	KOSAKI Motohiro <>,
	Neil Horman <>,,
Subject: Re: [PATCH] exec argument expansion can inappropriately trigger

Hi guys,

I see you're having fun with my code ;)  Just wanted to remind you that 
I do exist; I reported this in December 2009 to Ted Tso and again 
recently (forwarded the same email from 2009) to Kees Cook and James 
Morris.  So even though nobody's actually emailed me about the issue(s), 
I am available to answer any questions.  Just CC me on the email as I'm 
not subscribed to the list.

Anyway, I did actually research the bug(s) involved quite a bit around 
the time I reported it, so hopefully some of the below will help.

The bug seems to have been introduced in 2.6.23, see:
though I'm guessing the functionality was also backported to major 

The check using the current stack limit as a byte value (including when 
it's RLIMIT_INFINITY) by dividing it by 4 is completely broken for a 
number of reasons:
1/4th of a 64bit ~0 is several times larger than the size of addressable 
userland address space on most 64bit architectures (amd64 is 47 bits)
1/4th of a 64bit ~0 is way bigger than any 32bit value
No other place in the kernel treats a limit in this way
With a high rlimit and high usage, the code doesn't do what it intends 
to do -- be able to return a meaningful error message to execve, instead 
of having the process doing the execve terminated with a SIGKILL in 
later stages of ELF loading.

Combined with the fact that the max arg size * max number of args 
(~256TB) is also again larger than the 32bit address space and the 
amd64 userland address space (as well as the address space of several other 
64bit architectures), lots of problems appear.  This was exacerbated by 
the behavior that, until recently fixed, allowed the stack to grow over 
any other existing mappings.  Combine this with ASLR and shifting that 
whole stack range down a random amount via shift_arg_pages/adjust_vma 
which skips many of the sanity checks that exist elsewhere, and even 
more problems appear (I think this latter problem may make it possible 
to still trigger the BUG_ON() on patched kernels if a static binary is 
used and ASLR shifts the stack over the binary).

From my research, it's not possible to successfully execute a binary 
such that mmap_min_addr with normal values can be bypassed by the stack 
shifting trick.  I was able to determine the exact number+sizes of 
arguments to use for ASLR to have a chance to shift the stack down to 0 
(any more and we would trigger that BUG_ON()).  Though this was 
successful, after this point in the ELF loader, additional data is set 
up on the stack, proportional to the number of arguments passed.  It's 
impossible for this additional setup to consume less than a page, so it 
triggers a stack expansion which then gets checked against the normal 
mmap_min_addr checks.  What actually ends up happening on this 
second-stage setup is the binary gets killed with SIGKILL by the ELF 

The fix to the OOM killer looks correct, but the other problem (causing 
extreme interactivity hits with almost no effort in userland) needs some 
more thought, especially since it appears no distro is shipping with 
hard limits on the stack.

If the  "/ 4" check is to be preserved, it needs to take into account 
the personality of the target binary: this way, the exec'ing task should 
always get a proper error back instead of being terminated by the 

There shouldn't be any additional risk from adding the extra rescheds, 
as copy_*_user can already sleep and be raced against via a number of 


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