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Date: Tue, 28 May 2019 14:25:13 +1000
From: Aleksa Sarai <>
Subject: CVE-2018-15664: docker (all versions) is vulnerable to a
 symlink-race attack

There is no released Docker version with a fix for this issue at the
time of writing. I've submitted a patch upstream[1] which is still
undergoing code review, and after discussion with them they agreed that
public disclosure of the issue was reasonable. Since the SUSE bug report
contains exploit scripts[2], I've attached them here too.

This attack was discovered by myself (Aleksa Sarai), though T├Ánis Tiigi
did mention the possibility of an attack like this in the past (at the
time we thought the race window was to small to exploit). In addition,
you could see this exploit as a continuation of some 'docker cp'
security bugs that I helped find and fix more than 4 years ago in
2014[3,4] (these were never assigned CVEs because at the time it was
thought that attacks which used access to docker.sock were not valid
security bugs).

[[ Overview ]]

The basic premise of this attack is that FollowSymlinkInScope suffers
from a fairly fundamental TOCTOU attack. The purpose of
FollowSymlinkInScope is to take a given path and safely resolve it as
though the process was inside the container. After the full path has
been resolved, the resolved path is passed around a bit and then
operated on a bit later (in the case of 'docker cp' it is opened when
creating the archive that is streamed to the client). If an attacker can
add a symlink component to the path *after* the resolution but *before*
it is operated on, then you could end up resolving the symlink path
component on the host as root. In the case of 'docker cp' this gives you
read *and* write access to any path on the host.

As far as I'm aware there are no meaningful protections against this
kind of attack (other than not allowing "docker cp" on running
containers -- but that only helps with his particular attack through
FollowSymlinkInScope). Unless you have restricted the Docker daemon
through AppArmor, then it can affect the host filesystem -- I haven't
verified if the issue is as exploitable under the default SELinux
configuration on Fedora/CentOS/RHEL.

[[ Exploit Scripts ]]

Attacked are two reproducers of the issue. They both include a Docker
image which contains a simple binary that does a RENAME_EXCHANGE of a
symlink to "/" and an empty directory in a loop, hoping to hit the race
condition. In both of the scripts, the user is trying to copy a file to
or from a path containing the swapped symlink.

In the case of, I get a <1% chance of hitting the race
condition (my attack script is quite dumb, it's possible with better
timing you'd be able to hit the race window much more effectively).
However <1% still means it only takes 10s of trying to get read access
to the host with root permissions.

  % ./ &>/dev/null & ; sleep 10s ; pkill -9
  % chmod 0644 ex*/out # to fix up permissions for grep
  % grep 'SUCCESS' ex*/out | wc -l # managed to get it from the host
  % grep 'FAILED'  ex*/out | wc -l # got the file from the container

However, the script can overwrite the host filesystem in
very few iterations -- this is because internally Docker has a
"chrootarchive" concept where the archive is extracted from within a
chroot. However, Docker doesn't chroot into the container's "/" (which
would make this exploit ineffective), it chroots into the parent
directory of the archive target -- which is attacker controlled. As a
result, this actually results in the attack being more likely to succeed
(once the chroot has hit the race, the rest of the attack is guaranteed
to succeed).

The scripts will ask for sudo permissions, but that is only to be able
to create a "flag file" in /. You could modify the scripts to target
/etc/shadow instead if you like.

[[ Future Work ]]

In an attempt to come up with a better solution for this problem, I've
been working on some Linux kernel patches which add the ability to
safely resolve paths from within a rootfs[5]. But they are still being
reviewed and it will take a while for userspace to be able to take
advantage of the new interfaces. However, I am also working on
redesigning my "secure join" library's API[6] so that we can at least
better detect these attacks on older kernels and take advantage of [5]
in newer kernels.


Aleksa Sarai
Senior Software Engineer (Containers)
SUSE Linux GmbH

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