Follow @Openwall on Twitter for new release announcements and other news
[<prev] [next>] [<thread-prev] [thread-next>] [day] [month] [year] [list]
Date: Tue, 21 Apr 2020 21:15:44 +0200
From: Morten Linderud <>
Cc: "" <>
Subject: Re: Pacman package manager - taking untrusted input

On Tue, Apr 21, 2020 at 07:47:47PM +0100, Simon McVittie wrote:
> On Tue, 21 Apr 2020 at 21:51:56 +0430, Amin Vakil wrote:
> > On 4/21/20 8:57 PM, wrote:
> > > The code supports database signatures, so the real issue is the distro
> > > infrastructure.
> I interpret this as: pacman can accept either signed or unsigned
> databases, but the various distros that use pacman (such as Arch Linux)
> currently only publish unsigned databases in practice. Is that correct?
> Can pacman be configured to *only* accept signed databases, so that a
> mirror containing an unverifiable database (unsigned, signed with a key
> that is not explicitly trusted, or with an invalid signature) is treated
> as an error? If it cannot, then there's an obvious downgrade attack:
> a malicious mirror could substitute an unsigned database and the pacman
> client would happily use that.

Pacman can enforce database signatures, it is described in the man page:

The defaults in Arch Linux is currently that package signatures are required,
and database signatures optional. Installing files locally with `-U` is

SigLevel    = Required DatabaseOptional
LocalFileSigLevel = Optional

The upstream pacman project distributes with signing optional.

> On Tue, 21 Apr 2020 at 17:41:42 +0000, wrote:
> > An attacker need only find a bug in how Pacman does
> > parsing/reading of the database file to potentially get code execution
> > on the box as root.
> My understanding is that this is a risk, and at least arguably a design
> flaw, but not generally considered to be a vulnerability (CVE IDs,
> etc.) unless/until an unfixed parser bug with the necessary severity
> is found.
> Of course, that doesn't mean it wouldn't be a good idea to authenticate
> the database before parsing it: that would mitigate a lot of potential
> vulnerabilities.
> Something that might be considered to be a vulnerability already (or not,
> depending on the pacman and distro maintainers' threat models) is that
> an attacker could substitute a database that lists obsolete packages
> with known vulnerabilities. Those packages will presumably be validly
> signed by distro developers (because at one time they were considered
> to be the best version available). Presumably pacman won't normally
> downgrade from the version it has installed to a strictly older version
> from a mirror, but if a user installs a new (not currently installed)
> package using that mirror/database, they'll unknowingly be installing
> an older package that has known vulnerabilities.

Pacman wouldn't downgrade any packages in this case without the user explicitly
asking pacman to do so. Pacman would also issue warning that locally installed
packages are newer then the downgraded ones.

Unless a parsing bug is found the worst case scenario is holding back security
updates for some amount of time until the user notices.

> That form of attack is difficult to address in general, because it needs
> a revocation or expiry mechanism. apt-based distros are starting to
> address equivalent issues by setting a Valid-Until field on their archive
> metadata, so that clients will warn their user if presented with outdated
> archive metadata (the equivalent of pacman's database) - although this is
> somewhat awkward to deploy, because it requires a signing key to be
> made available on a regular basis, which conflicts with the idea that
> high-value signing keys should be kept offline when not in use.

Timestamped databases is also a feature Allan McRae has been working on lately.

However, as noted, it would still require an online signing key to sign it. This
is argueably one of the larger problems with the Arch Linux package
infrastructure currently as all packager keys are distributed. We haven't come
up with reasonable solution yet as one would need to properly secure said key.

And at a closing note, there hasn't been any issues with the parsing code to the
database. However the one the original author probably thinks of is the CVE from
2016 where there was a bug in the gnupg packet parsing code in relation to GnuPG

Morten Linderud

Download attachment "signature.asc" of type "application/pgp-signature" (834 bytes)

Powered by blists - more mailing lists

Please check out the Open Source Software Security Wiki, which is counterpart to this mailing list.

Confused about mailing lists and their use? Read about mailing lists on Wikipedia and check out these guidelines on proper formatting of your messages.