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Date: Tue, 20 Jun 2017 12:00:07 +0000
From: security team <>
CC: security team <>
Subject: Xen Security Advisory 219 - x86: insufficient reference counts
 during shadow emulation

Hash: SHA256

                    Xen Security Advisory XSA-219
                              version 2

        x86: insufficient reference counts during shadow emulation


Public release.

Add caveat about exploitability by a single HVM guest, to Impact.


When using shadow paging, writes to guest pagetables must be trapped and
emulated, so the shadows can be suitably adjusted as well.

When emulating the write, Xen maps the guests pagetable(s) to make the final
adjustment and leave the guest's view of its state consistent.

However, when mapping the frame, Xen drops the page reference before
performing the write.  This is a race window where the underlying frame can
change ownership.

One possible attack scenario is for the frame to change ownership and to be
inserted into a PV guest's pagetables.  At that point, the emulated write will
be an unaudited modification to the PV pagetables whose value is under guest


A malicious pair of guests may be able to elevate their privilege to that of

We have not ruled out the possibility that a single malicious HVM
guest may be able to elevate their privilege to that of Xen.


All versions of Xen are vulnerable.

Only x86 systems are affected.  ARM systems are not vulnerable.

HVM guests using shadow mode paging can exploit this vulnerability.  HVM guests
using Hardware Assisted Paging (HAP) cannot exploit this vulnerability.

To discover whether your HVM guests are using HAP, or shadow page
tables: request debug key `q' (from the Xen console, or with
`xl debug-keys q').  This will print (to the console, and visible in
`xl dmesg'), debug information for every domain, containing something
like this:

  (XEN) General information for domain 2:
  (XEN)     refcnt=1 dying=2 pause_count=2
  (XEN)     nr_pages=2 xenheap_pages=0 shared_pages=0 paged_pages=0 dirty_cpus={} max_pages=262400
  (XEN)     handle=ef58ef1a-784d-4e59-8079-42bdee87f219 vm_assist=00000000
  (XEN)     paging assistance: hap refcounts translate external
The presence of `hap' here indicates that the host is not
vulnerable to this domain.  For an HVM domain the presence of `shadow'
indicates that the domain can exploit the vulnerability.

Xen 4.6 and later have the option to compile-out shadow paging support.  (The
default is to compile with shadow paging support).  If Xen is built without
shadow support, it is not vulnerable.

Exploiting this race condition requires coordination between an x86 HVM guest
using shadow paging, and a PV guest.

Running only HVM guests avoids the vulnerability, unless stub device
models are in use (since stub device models are PV domains, each
controlled by the corresponding guest).

Running only PV guests avoids the vulnerability.


Where the HVM guest is explicitly configured to use shadow paging (eg
via the `hap=0' xl domain configuration file parameter), changing to
HAP (eg by setting `hap=1') will avoid exposing the vulnerability to
those guests.  HAP is the default (in upstream Xen), where the
hardware supports it; so this mitigation is only applicable if HAP has
been disabled by configuration.

(This mitigation is not applicable to PV guests.)


This issue was discovered by Andrew Cooper of Citrix.


Applying the appropriate attached patch resolves this issue.

xsa219.patch           xen-unstable
xsa219-4.8.patch       Xen 4.8, 4.7
xsa219-4.6.patch       Xen 4.6
xsa219-4.5.patch       Xen 4.5, 4.4

$ sha256sum xsa219*
d06759d11dad3b128e65ade9e6afc1c728b65457cc32c34f46690f959c48644f  xsa219.patch
0dd27ad66f964ba163dbc72e3a074d171b0e1edf9b322d811feb7f5c1deb4437  xsa219-4.5.patch
d5fdd9d75dbad4a2315f48f8aec5dd3a10b92307320b5c141e2c1e69e422510c  xsa219-4.6.patch
a2023599abbc3b8f46cd430bec154401ef166493fcb5787f2f6fb9802b12f9b4  xsa219-4.8.patch


Deployment of the patches and/or mitigations described above (or
others which are substantially similar) is permitted during the
embargo, even on public-facing systems with untrusted guest users and

But: Distribution of updated software is prohibited (except to other
members of the predisclosure list).

Predisclosure list members who wish to deploy significantly different
patches and/or mitigations, please contact the Xen Project Security

(Note: this during-embargo deployment notice is retained in
post-embargo publicly released Xen Project advisories, even though it
is then no longer applicable.  This is to enable the community to have
oversight of the Xen Project Security Team's decisionmaking.)

For more information about permissible uses of embargoed information,
consult the Xen Project community's agreed Security Policy:
Version: GnuPG v1


Download attachment "xsa219.patch" of type "application/octet-stream" (5826 bytes)

Download attachment "xsa219-4.5.patch" of type "application/octet-stream" (5996 bytes)

Download attachment "xsa219-4.6.patch" of type "application/octet-stream" (5960 bytes)

Download attachment "xsa219-4.8.patch" of type "application/octet-stream" (5879 bytes)

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