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Date: Tue, 20 Aug 2013 19:58:49 +0200
From: vladz <>
Subject: Linux kernel: vfs_read()/vfs_write(): potential missing checks (or


I wanted to discuss some potential missing checks in the Linux kernel
and more precisely within the read and write syscalls.  From my point of
view, what will follow here constitutes a vulnerability but I wanted to
have more opinions on the subject and request a CVE ID if needed.

I noticed that a file descriptor isn't affected when its corresponding
inode sees its permissions changed.  For instance:

    $ whoami
    vladz               // a non-privileged user
    $ exec 4>/tmp/test  // opens a file and assign fd 4 to it
Let say that root wants to own and protect the file:

    # chown root:root /tmp/test
    # chmod 400 /tmp/test
    # ls -l /tmp/test
    -r-------- 1 root root 0 août  18 23:04 /tmp/test

We may think that the file is safe from any further modification from
any user except root.  But it's not, user is still able to update its
content through the opened file descriptor:

    $ du -b /tmp/test
    0	/tmp/test
    $ echo 'Hey!' >&4   //redirects strings to fd 4
    $ du -b /tmp/test
    5	/tmp/test       // file now contains the string 'Hey!\n' (+5 bytes)

Another scenario can allow file content disclosure.  For instance, to
create a file used to put sensitive content (such as credentials), the
owner (or the application) will generally proceed with the following

    a) creates the file (perms will depend on umask, usually 022)
    b) restricts the file permissions (chmod 600)
    c) opens the file and write sensitive content in it

There is a time lapse between a) and b) where someone else can open the
file in read-only to obtain a file descriptor and later disclose the
content by accessing the fd:

    $ exec 4</etc/credentials
    $ cat <&4
    [... file content ...]

Note here that the "cat" command will only display the content once, in
order to see further updates of this file, user must reposition the fd's
offset thanks to the lseek() call (cf. catfd.c [1]).

Even if it's preferable and more common to set a restricted umask before
creating the sensitive file, the scenario above can be found in a bunch
of softwares.

I haven't spent a lot of time hunting, I've just used regular
expressions through source packages and post-installation scripts, and
limited my scope to Debian and RedHat.  Well, without big effort, I
found 15 potential vulnerable applications, the current listing can be
obtained on demand.  I don't think those applications have to be
separately fixed as I think the real problem reside and should be fixed
in the kernel.

That said, I was unable to find any clear documentation about how
read/write syscalls should deal with file descriptors.  POSIX's chmod
page [2] covers the subject a bit saying:

   "Any file descriptors currently open by any process on the file could
    possibly become invalid if the mode of the file is changed to a
    value which would deny access to that process. One situation where
    this could occur is on a stateless file system. This behavior will
    not occur in a conforming environment."

Looking at the kernel sources, the vfs_read(), vfs_write(), vfs_readv()
and vfs_writev() functions checks the permissions of the file object
(file->f_mode) before operating on file descriptor:

    $ cat -n linux-3.10.7/fs/read_write.c
    353 ssize_t vfs_read(struct file *file, char __user *buf, size_t count, loff_t *pos)
    354 {
    355         ssize_t ret;
    357         if (!(file->f_mode & FMODE_READ))
    358                 return -EBADF;

I believe this is insufficient, the inode object should be checked too.
So that if the file's permissions allow read/write operations, so we can
perform reading/writing from/to the file descriptor.  I've patched the
concerned function to do so (cf. patch [3]).




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