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Date: Mon, 23 Apr 2018 16:44:01 +0200
From: Matthias Gerstner <>
Subject: Multiple local root vulnerabilities involving PackageKit

Hello list,

I am forwarding this email which was previously disclosed to the
linux-distros mailing list. I made only minor modifications to the
original report (marked with "Update" where appropriate).

Following is an analysis of PackageKit and the discussion of a number of
vulnerabilities that I found to be exploitable in its context.

# 1. What is PackageKit?

PackageKit is a software suite designed to allow easy software
installation and maintenance for end-users across distributions. It
abstracts the various package management software found in today's Linux
distributions and provides a unified interface for graphical user
interface programs to interact with the package management.

PackageKit's main component is a daemon `packagekitd` which implements a
D-Bus interface. Clients can retrieve information about installed
packages and can request package management actions to be performed.

A backend within `packagekitd` translates the abstract PackageKit
commands into actual package management commands. Backends exist for all
major Linux package management systems like zypper, yum, apt and others.
PackageKit is enabled by default on most if not all major Linux
distributions when a fully integrated desktop environment like GNOME or
KDE is installed.

For the purposes of this analysis I looked into openSUSE Leap 42.3,
Debian 9 Strech, Ubuntu 17.10, CentOS 7.4.1708 and Fedora 27 which
covers the major backends zypper, apt, yum and dnf. I will leave out the
version numbers for the rest of this analysis for brevity. There exist a
number of additional backends that I did not look into.

Upstream repository:
Upstream website:

# 2. PackageKit's Security Approach

PackageKit uses the polkit permissions framework to authorize individual
operations. It has been a code review of the implementation of these
polkit actions within PackageKit that led me to the findings discussed
in this analysis.

One important decision that upstream made is that it is deemed safe that
regular users can install validly signed packages in the system without
requiring administrator authentication. The motivation for this seems to
be improved usability for end users. This is also documented here:

> - Normal users do not need authentication to install signed packages
>   from signed repositories, as this cannot exploit a system.
> - Paranoid users (or parents!) can change this to 'auth_admin' or
> 'auth_admin_keep'.

The related polkit action is named `org.freedesktop.packagekit.package-install`.

The Linux distributions considered in this analysis ship a polkit policy
file that requires `auth_admin` or `auth_admin_keep` for the
installation of signed packages as well. However, there is also a custom
polkit rule shipped by PackageKit that allows local users in an active
session and that are members of the group `wheel` to install signed
packages without admin authorization:

This rule file is installed on openSUSE, Fedora and CentOS unmodified.
Ubuntu and Debian ship a different rule file that does not allow this.

# 3. Installation of Signed Packages without Administrator Authentication (Security Issue 1)

During my code review I found a section of code that indicated that
regardless of what the polkit configuration consists of it is always
possible to install signed packages without any form of authentication.
The relevant code location is here:

If reinstallation of packages is allowed, then an authentication attempt
is made by `packagekitd` but the outcome is ignored. The flag
however. There is currently no way to avoid this loophole in PackageKit
by means of configuration files.

PackageKit comes with a command line utility called `pkcon` that can be
used to perform PackageKit operations. There are two general
possibilities how to install packages:

- `pkcon install [options] <package>` installs a package from the
  configured package manager system repositories by name.
- `pkcon install-local [options] <package>` installs a package from a
  user supplied package manager archive file (e.g. rpm or deb archive).

The reinstall loophole can be used interactively like this:

# performed on CentOS 7.4.1708, the download paths in /var/cache differ
# between distributions.

$ pkcon install --only-download zsh
$ pkcon install-local --allow-reinstall /var/cache/yum/x86_64/7/base/packages/zsh-5.0.2-28.el7.x86_64.rpm

The second `pkcon` call will trigger the authentication dialog, but even
if the password is wrong or the dialog is canceled, the installation of
the package will continue.

The only distribution I looked into that does not allow this is Fedora
which seems to use the dnf backend instead of the yum backend. The
current Fedora release can therefore be considered not affected by the
issues discussed in this analysis.

Update: This security issue was assigned CVE-2018-1106. The bugfix
performed by upstream is found in attachment

# 4. Downgrade of Existing Packages (Security Issue 2)

Even though installation of signed packages by regular users is
considered safe by upstream, it should not be possible to downgrade
existing packages. A separate polkit action
`org.freedesktop.packagekit.package-downgrade` should be triggered in
this case. The individual PackageKit backends are responsible to
implement this logic, however. It turned out that not every backend
implements this correctly. Using the above approach with `pkcon
install-local --allow-reinstall` it is possible to downgrade even
important system packages without entering the administrator password in
the following cases:

- apt backend (tested on Ubuntu, Debian)
- zypp backend (tested on openSUSE)

Only the yum and dnf backends (tested on CentOS, Fedora) implement the
downgrade protection correctly.

Using this possiblity a regular user can downgrade packages to
vulnerable versions that open up further attack vectors for gaining

I have attached a number of proof of concept scripts that demonstrate

- ``: this downgrades bash on Debian 9
  Stretch to an old one that is still vulnerable to "Shell Shock".
- ``: This downgrades systemd on
  openSUSE version 228 that is vulnerable to CVE-2016-10156. This one is
  accompanied by `` to complete the root
  exploit. This is not a 100 % root exploit, it requires some extra
  opportunity that requires systemd to create a new timer stamp file in

# 5. Installation of Signed Packages is Still Dangerous (Security Issue 3)

Even if a user is not able to downgrade existing packages without
administrator privileges there is still a security issue to consider. A
regular user can install local package files downloaded from the
Internet that carry a valid signature. When the package in question is
not installed yet in the system then this does not count as a downgrade
but as a fresh installation.

This opens a surprisingly large action space to regular users:

- tools for constructing exploits can be easily obtained from the system
  repositories or the Internet.
- outdated software with known bugs can be installed in some
  circumstances. On some distributions year old packages with valid
  signatures can be installed this way.
- packages can contain scriptlets for performing runtime package setup.
  These scriptlets may provide additional attack surface when they can
  be triggered at the discretion of regular users.

I have attached two further PoC scripts that demonstrate some of these

- ``: This installs an old ntfs-3g package on
  Debian that is vulnerable to CVE-2017-0358 and exploits it. This
  variant works only if the `fuse` kernel module is not yet loaded.
- ``: This installs an old firejail package
  on Ubuntu that is vulnerable to CVE-2017-5180 and exploits it.

On CentOS I have been able to construct an attack (no PoC) using CentOS
7.0 packages for abrt 2.1.11-12.el7 which is vulnerable to
CVE-2015-1862. This only worked if abrt was not yet installed, however
(and it is installed by default). There may be systems out there that
fulfill this condition though.

These PoCs also show that all necessary tools like compiler, kernel
headers etc. can be easily installed to construct the attack.

My tests showed that on Ubuntu packages dating back to at least 2012 can
be installed as signed packages. On Debian packages dating back to 2001
can be installed. But this may also be due to the issue described in the
following section 7). On CentOS 7.4 any packages dating back to CentOS
7.0 can be installed as signed packages. On openSUSE Leap 42.3 packages
from openSUSE 11.4 dating from the year 2012 can be installed as signed
packages. On Fedora (27) only packages for the same major/minor version
can be installed.

There exist probably other attacks that can be constructed by installing
outdated packages this way.

# 6. Missing Sanitization and Safety Measure of User Supplied Input Files

I followed the track of the user supplied archive paths passed to
`packagekitd` to find out how the user owned archives are handled by the
daemon. It turned out that the common `packagekitd` code takes no
precautions to copy the file into a safe space that is no longer
accessible by the client. This is the job of the backends. The zypp and
yum backends do this and copy the file over into a temporary directory
owned by root. They subsequently build a local RPM repository from the
copied RPM file and operate on it.

The apt backend, however, does not do this. The path passed from the
client is passed unmodified into the libapt-pkg code. I am not sure
whether the libapt-pkg code is prepared to process a file under user
control. My worry was and is that there could be race condition involved
that would allow the user to replace all or part of the supplied deb
archive by something malicious after the signature verification passed.

I also found that the client side code makes some effort to sanitize
archive paths in `pk_client_convert_real_paths()`:

The daemon code itself performs no such sanitization, however. I have
not found any actual attack vectors based on this yet. But it is
possible to pass symlink paths and relative paths to the daemon and the
daemon passes it to its backends. I am just adding this to the report
for completeness, maybe someone else is interested in this and finds out

# 7. Lacking Signature Check in the apt backend? (Security Issue 4)

While I looked into the situation described in 6) I encountered an even
worse condition in the apt backend: It seems to be possible to install
modified deb packages without admin authentication. This is demonstrated
in the attached PoC ``. This PoC works on
Debian and Ubuntu. It downloads a validly signed package, injects a
setuid-root binary, installs it and runs it to gain root privileges.

I have not further analyzed where this security leak originates, because
I am not familiar with the libapt-pkg code and I need the help of the
community to identify possible further security issues involved.

Update: I was told by Debian maintainers that individual deb packages
don't carry a signature but only repositories. So it looks like the apt
backend would need to handle installation of local deb files completely
different to perform signature verification.

# 8. Affected Versions

The basic issue described in 3) that allows to circumvent the polkit
configuration was introduced via git commit:
f176976e24e8c17b80eff222572275517c16bdad and affected versions
include >= 1.0.10 up until current 1.1.9.

The missing downgrade protection described in 4) has probably been
always present in the affected backends but I did not check up on it.

The issue of installing new signed packages without admin authorization
as described in 5) is by PackageKit design and exploitability depends on
the distribution's configuration and on the existence of issue 3).

Since I don't know what exactly the problem is that causes modified
packages to be installed in the apt backend as described in 7) I can't
make any statements here at the moment.

Update: With security issue 1 (CVE-2018-1106) fixed, the other findings
in this report should not pose an immediate danger as long as the
polkit configuration requires root privileges for the involved polkit
actions. Only administrators should then be able to reach the code
paths in question.

# 9. Recommendations

My personal recommendation to prevent the issues described in 3), 4) and
5) is to not allow regular users to perform any of the involved actions
without admin authentication. To achieve this there must be no code in
place that circumvents the polkit configuration. The upstream polkit
rules file that allows active local users in the group wheel to install
packages without authentication should be dropped.

Update: The attached patch provided by upstream will fix security issue
3) and thereby allow to configure PackageKit safely.

Regarding the issue described in 4) the backends should additionally
correctly implement the detection of downgrades and call the appropriate
polkit actions.

Regarding the issue described in 7) I have not enough insight to give
any recommendation (except of course, not to allow installation of
untrusted packages without at least asking for authorization for

The discussed PackageKit backends may be used by other distributions
than considered in this report. These distributions should be identified
and checked as well. Also the less widespread backends that have not
been considered in this analysis should be checked for their behaviour
and affectedness.

# 10. Timeline

- 2018-03-26: I found out about the issues described in 3) and 4) and contacted
  upstream about the issue and voiced some general concerns. Upstream
  basically told me installing signed packages without authentication is "by
  design" and unless I can show some working exploit this would not be worth a
  CVE. Preventing downgrades would be the job of the backends and is no issue in
  packagekitd itself.
- 2018-04-03: After further analysis and testing I was able to devise the
  PoCs presented in 5).
- 2018-04-05: I noticed the situation described and exploited in 7).
- 2018-04-09: Finished writing this report and putting together PoCs.
  Published on linux-distros.
- 2018-04-11: Red Hat Product Security assigned CVE-2018-1106 for
  security issue 1 described in 3).
- 2018-04-23: Published on oss-sec.



Matthias Gerstner <>
Dipl.-Wirtsch.-Inf. (FH), Security Engineer
Telefon: +49 911 740 53 290
GPG Key ID: 0x14C405C971923553

SUSE Linux GmbH
GF: Felix Imendörffer, Jane Smithard, Graham Norton
HRB 21284 (AG Nuernberg)

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