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Clean your RHEL 6.x COW, it's dirty
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These are instructions to fix the Dirty COW vulnerability on recent RHEL/CentOS 6.x versions. It has been verified to work on the following kernels:

  • RHEL/CentOS 6.7: kernel-2.6.32-573.x
  • RHEL/CentOS 6.6: kernel-2.6.32-504.x
  • RHEL/CentOS 6.5: kernel-2.6.32-431.x
  • RHEL/CentOS 6.4: kernel-2.6.32-358.x
  • RHEL/CentOS 6.3: kernel-2.6.32-279.x
  • RHEL/CentOS 6.2: kernel-2.6.32-220.x
  • RHEL/CentOS 6.1: kernel-2.6.32-131.x
  • RHEL/CentOS 6.0: kernel-2.6.32-71.x

What is this about?

Everybody know about CVE-2016-5195 by now. This is one of the most severe Linux privilege escalation bugs ever. The problem has been fixed upstream and most distribution vendors have issued patches for their LTS releases.

The issue is that Red Hat only provides security updates for the current point release. If you need to stay on a specific point release, you won't get security updates, unless you get an additional paid subscription, named EUS (Extended Update Support). This is even more of a problem for CentOS, since when a new point release is made available, all updates for previous point releases stop.

There is a workaround based on systemtap that you can apply on machines where a kernel fix is not available. But it completely disable ptrace(), which means that ou won't be able to use strace, nor attach gdb to a running process on that machine. This is quite a downside.

So if you need, for some reason, to stay on a point release (say you use specific kernel modules from a vendor that didn't provide updates), you're stuck.

I need to stay with RHEL 6.7. What can I do?

In case you tried, you probably realized that the upstream patch doesn't apply on the RHEL 6.x kernels. Not even close. The 2.6.32 kernel that RHEL 6.x uses has been released in 2009, and the upstream fix for CVE-2016-5195 patches files that have been introduced in the kernel in 2014. So there's a lot of massaging to do on that patch to be able to apply it on a RHEL 6.x kernel.

The good news is that Red Hat already did that work for their 6.8 kernel. Meaning that the backported patch can be extracted from the CentOS 6.8 kernel and applied to the CentOS 6.7 one. How about that?


Extract the patch from the CentOS 6.8 kernel

First, we need the backported patch. Since CVE-2016-5195 is the only issue that has been fixed in the latest CentOS 6.8 kernel, it will be easy to get by just diffing that kernel source tree with the previous one. According to the CentOS announcement, the relevant kernel versions are:

  • kernel-2.6.32-642.6.2.el6 includes the fix
  • kernel-2.6.32-642.6.1.el6 is the version right before it

To save you some time, the patch is here:

NB: this patch cleanly applies to kernels from RHEL/CentOS 6.5 to 6.8. For earlier versions, you can look at the 6.x directories in the repo.

But don't take my word for it, you should be able to extract it yourself with the following commands:

[user@host]$ export UPD_KRN=2.6.32-642.6.2
[user@host]$ export PRV_KRN=2.6.32-642.6.1
[user@host]$ wget${UPD_KRN}.el6.src.rpm
[user@host]$ wget${PRV_KRN}.el6.src.rpm
[user@host]$ mkdir kernels
[user@host]$ cd kernels
[user@host kernels]$ rpm2cpio ../kernel-${UPD_KRN}.el6.src.rpm | cpio -id 2>/dev/null
[user@host kernels]$ rpm2cpio ../kernel-${PRV_KRN}.el6.src.rpm | cpio -id 2>/dev/null
[user@host kernels]$ tar xfj linux-${UPD_KRN}.el6.tar.bz2
[user@host kernels]$ tar xfj linux-${PRV_KRN}.el6.tar.bz2
[user@host kernels]$ diff -ru linux-${PRV_KRN}.el6 linux-${UPD_KRN}.el6 > noc0w.patch

Get your kernel source

Now, let's consider you need to apply that patch to the latest CentOS 6.7 kernel, kernel-2.6.32-573.26.1.el6. You will first need to get the source RPM and do some preparation work. Note that it should also work with any REHL 6.7-ish kernel you may need, as long as you have the corresponding src.rpm.

As root, you'll need some tools installed:

[root@host]# yum install rpm-build redhat-rpm-config asciidoc bison hmaccalc patchutils perl-ExtUtils-Embed xmlto 
[root@host]# yum install audit-libs-devel binutils-devel elfutils-devel elfutils-libelf-devel
[root@host]# yum install newt-devel python-devel zlib-devel

Now, as a regular user, you can download the kernel source and prepare the tree:

[user@host]$ MY_KRN=2.6.32-573.26.1
[user@host]$ mkdir -p ~/rpmbuild/{BUILD,BUILDROOT,RPMS,SOURCES,SPECS,SRPMS}
[user@host]$ echo '%_topdir %(echo $HOME)/rpmbuild' >> ~/.rpmmacros
[user@host]$ rpm -i${MY_KRN}.el6.src.rpm 2>&1 | grep -v exist
[user@host]$ cd ~/rpmbuild/SPECS
[user@host SPECS]$ rpmbuild -bp --target=$(uname -m) kernel.spec

The kernel source tree will now be found under the ~/rpmbuild/BUILD/kernel*/linux*/ directory.

Build your own kernel

Next step is to build your kernel. To do this, you need to edit the .spec file provided in the source RPM to:

  1. customize the buildid of the resulting kernel, to avoid a conflict with your currently installed kernel,
  2. add the noc0w patch.

As a user, get the kernel configuration:

[user@host]$ cp ~/rpmbuild/BUILD/kernel-*/linux-*/configs/* ~/rpmbuild/SOURCES/

Put your patch file in ~/rpmbuild/SOURCES

[user@host]$ wget -O ~/rpmbuild/SOURCES/noc0w.patch

NB: this is for RHEL/CentOS 6.5 to 6.8. If you use an earlier release, you'll need to get the corresponding 6.x/noc0w.patch

And then you need to edit the SPEC file. You can just apply to the kernel.spec that should now be in ~/rpmbuild/. It will create a 2.6.32-573.26.1.noc0w kernel, but you can customize the SPEC file to use a different buildid or change the name of the patch.

[user@host]$ cd ~/rpmbuild/SPECS/
[user@host SPECS]$ cp kernel.spec kernel.spec.distro
[user@host SPECS]$ wget 
[user@host SPECS]$ patch -p0 < kernel.spec.patch

It's also a good idea to edit the %changelog section in kernel.spec to add an entry that describes the change, I used this:

* Mon Oct 24 2016 Kilian Cavalotti <> [2.6.32-573.12.1.noc0w.el6]
- [security] fix for Dirty COW {CVE-2016-5195}

Finally, you're ready to build your patched kernel:

[user@host SPECS]$ rpmbuild -bb --target=`uname -m` kernel.spec 2> build-err.log | tee build-out.log
[user@host SPECS]$ rpmbuild -bb --target=noarch --without doc kernel.spec 2> build_noarch-err.log | tee build_noarch-out.log

This should generate the folowing RPMs:

[user@host]$ tree ~/rpmbuild/RPMS/
├── noarch
│   ├── kernel-abi-whitelists-2.6.32-573.12.1.el6.noc0w.noarch.rpm
│   └── kernel-firmware-2.6.32-573.12.1.el6.noc0w.noarch.rpm
└── x86_64
    ├── kernel-2.6.32-573.12.1.el6.noc0w.x86_64.rpm
    ├── kernel-debug-2.6.32-573.12.1.el6.noc0w.x86_64.rpm
    ├── kernel-debug-debuginfo-2.6.32-573.12.1.el6.noc0w.x86_64.rpm
    ├── kernel-debug-devel-2.6.32-573.12.1.el6.noc0w.x86_64.rpm
    ├── kernel-debuginfo-2.6.32-573.12.1.el6.noc0w.x86_64.rpm
    ├── kernel-debuginfo-common-x86_64-2.6.32-573.12.1.el6.noc0w.x86_64.rpm
    ├── kernel-devel-2.6.32-573.12.1.el6.noc0w.x86_64.rpm
    ├── kernel-headers-2.6.32-573.12.1.el6.noc0w.x86_64.rpm
    ├── perf-2.6.32-573.12.1.el6.noc0w.x86_64.rpm
    ├── perf-debuginfo-2.6.32-573.12.1.el6.noc0w.x86_64.rpm
    ├── python-perf-2.6.32-573.12.1.el6.noc0w.x86_64.rpm
    └── python-perf-debuginfo-2.6.32-573.12.1.el6.noc0w.x86_64.rpm

Install and test

Now you're ready to deploy and test your shiny new, super-secure kernel:

[root@host rpmbuild]# yum localupdate RPMS/*/*.rpm

Reboot, check that you're using the new kernel with uname -r, and have fun verifying that none of the exploits listed on work anymore.

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