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File Access Policy Daemon

Build Status

This is a simple application whitelisting daemon for Linux.


  • kernel >= 4.20 (Must support FANOTIFY_OPEN_EXEC_PERM. See [1] below.)


See for build-time dependencies and instructions for building.


You might want to look at the fapolicyd.rules file to see what the default policy looks like. There are 2 policies shipped, known-libs and restrictive.

The restrictive policy is designed with these goals in mind:

  1. No bypass of security by executing programs via
  2. Anything requesting execution must be trusted.
  3. Elf binaries, python, and shell scripts are enabled for trusted applications/libraries.
  4. Other languages are not allowed or must be enabled.

The known-libs policy (default) is designed with these goals in mind:

  1. No bypass of security by executing programs via
  2. Anything requesting execution must be trusted.
  3. Any library or interpreted application or module must be trusted.
  4. Everything else is not allowed.


You can test by starting the daemon from the command line. Before starting the daemon, cp /usr/bin/ls /usr/bin/my-ls just to setup for testing. When testing new policy, its highly recommended to use the permissive mode to make sure nothing bad happens. It really is not too hard to deadlock your system. Continuing on with the tutorial, as root start the daemon as follows:

/usr/sbin/fapolicyd --permissive --debug

Then in another window do the following:

  1. /usr/lib64/ /usr/bin/ls
  2. my-ls
  3. run a python file in your home directory.
  4. run a program from /tmp

In permissive + debug mode you will see dec=deny which means "decision is to deny". But the program will actually be allowed to run.

You can run the daemon from the command line with --debug-deny command line option. This culls the event notification to only print the denials. If this is running cleanly, then you can remove the --permissive option and get true denials. Now retest above steps and see the difference.


In debug mode, you will see events such as this:

rule:9 dec=deny_audit perm=execute auid=1001 pid=14137 exe=/usr/bin/bash : file=/home/joe/my-ls ftype=application/x-executable

What this is saying is rule 9 made the ultimate Decision that was followed. The Decision is to deny access and create an audit event. The subject is the user that logged in as user id 1001. The subject's process id that is trying to perform an action is 14137. The current executable that the subject is using is bash. Bash wanted permission to execute /home/joe/my-ls which is the object. And the object is an ELF executable.

Sometimes you want to list out the rules to see what rule 9 might be. You can easily do that by running:

fapolicyd-cli --list

Also, in fapolicyd.conf, there is a configuration option, syslog_format, which can be modified to output information the way you want to see it. So, if you think auid in uninteresting you can delete it. If you want to see the device information for the file being accessed, you can add it. You can also enable this information to go to syslog by changing the rules to not say audit, but instead have syslog or log appended to the allow or deny decision.


The authoritative source is the fapolicyd.rules man page.

It is suggested that people use the known-libs set of rules. This set of rules is designed to allow anything that is trusted to execute. It's design is to stay out of your way as much as possible. All that you need to do is add unpackaged but trusted files to the trust database. See the "Managing Trust" section for more.

But if you had to write rules, they follow a simple "decision permission subject : object" recipe. The idea is to write a couple things that you want to allow, and then deny everything else. For example, this is how shared libraries are handled:

allow perm=open all : ftype=application/x-sharedlib trust=1
deny_audit perm=open all : ftype=application/x-sharedlib

What this says is let any program open shared libraries if the library being opened is trusted. Otherwise, deny with an audit event any open of untrusted libraries.

First and foremost, fapolicyd rules are based on trust relationships. It is not meant to be an access control system of Mandatory Access Control Policy. But you can do that. It is not recommended to do this except when necessary. Every rule that is added has to potentially be evaluated - which delays the decision.

If you needed to allow admins access to ping, but deny it to everyone else, you could do that with the following rules:

allow perm=any gid=wheel : trust=1 path=/usr/bin/ping
deny_audit perm=execute all : trust=1 path=/usr/bin/ping

You can similarly do this for trusted users that have to execute things in the home dir. You can create a trusted_user group, add them the group, and then write a rule allowing them to execute from their home dir.

allow perm=any gid=trusted_user : ftype=%languages dir=/home
deny_audit perm=any all : ftype=%languages dir=/home

One thing to point out, if you have lists of things that you would like to allow, use the macro set support as illustrated in this last example. This puts the list into a sorted AVL tree so that searching is cut to a minimum number of compares.

One last note, the rule engine is a first match wins system. If you are adding rules to allow something but it gets denied by a rule higher up, then move your rule above the thing that denies it. But again, if you are writing rules to allow execution, you should reconsider if adding the programs to the trust database is better.


On shutdown the daemon will write an object access report to /var/log/fapolicyd-access.log. The report is from oldest access to newest. Timestamps are not included because that would be a severe performance hit. The report gives some basic forensic information about what was being accessed.


When a program opens a file or calls execve, that thread has to wait for fapolicyd to make a decision. To make a decision, fapolicyd has to lookup information about the process and the file being accessed. Each system call fapolicyd has to make slows down the system.

To speed things up, fapolicyd caches everything it looks up so that subsequent access uses the cache rather than looking things up from scratch. But the cache is only so big. You are in control of it, though. You can make both subject and object caches bigger. When the program ends, it will output some performance statistic like this into /var/log/fapolicyd-access.log or the screen:

Permissive: false
Inter-thread max queue depth 7
Allowed accesses: 116103
Denied accesses: 17
Database max pages: 40960
Database pages in use: 27954 (68%)

Object cache size: 6151
Object slots in use: 6086
Object hits: 110034
Object misses: 34984
Object evictions: 28898

Subject cache size: 1031
Subject slots in use: 1023
Subject hits: 115097
Subject misses: 6770
Subject evictions: 5747

In this report, you can see that the internal request queue maxed out at 7. This means that the daemon had at most 7 threads/processes waiting. This shows that it got a little backed up but was handling requests pretty quick. If this number were big, like more than 200, then some action might need to be taken.

Another statistic worth looking at is the hits to evictions ratio. When a request has nowhere to put information, it has to evict something to make room. This is done by a LRU cache which naturally determines what's not getting used and makes it's memory available for re-use.

In the above statistics, the subject hit ratio was 95%. The object cache was not quite as lucky. For it, we get a hit ration of 79%. This is still good, but could be better. This would suggest that for the workload on that system, the cache could be a little bigger. If the number used for the cache size is a prime number, you will get less cache churn due to collisions than if it had a common denominator. Some primes you might consider for cache size are: 1021, 1549, 2039, 4099, 6143, 8191, 10243, 12281, 16381, 20483, etc.

Also, it should be mentioned that the more rules in the policy, the more rules it will have to iterate over to make a decision. As for the system performance impact, this is very workload dependent. For a typical desktop scenario, you won't notice it's running. A system that opens lots of random files for short periods of time will have more impact.


Fapolicyd uses lmdb as its trust database. The database has very fast performance because it uses the kernel virtual memory system to put the whole database in memory. If the database is sized wrongly, then fapolicyd will reserve too much memory. Don't worry too much about this. The kernel is very smart and doesn't actually allocate the memory unless its used. However, we'd like to get it right sized.

Starting with the 0.9.3 version of fapolicyd, statistics about the database is output when the program shuts down. On my system, it looks like this:

Database max pages: 9728
Database pages in use: 7314 (75%)

This also correlates to the following setting in the fapolicyd.conf file:

db_max_size = 38

This size is in megabytes. So, if you take that and multiply by 1024 * 1024, we get 39845888. A page of memory is defined as 4096. So, if we divide max_size by the page size, we get 9728 which matches the setting. Each entry in the lmdb database is 512 bytes. So, for each 4k page, we can have data on 8 trusted files.

An ideal size for the database is for the statistics to come up around 75% in case you decide to install new software some day. The formula is

 (db_max_size x percentage in use) / desired percentage = new db_max_size

So, working with example numbers, suppose max_size is 160 and it says it was 68% occupied. That is wasting a little space. Putting the numbers in the formula, we get (160 x 68) / 75 = 145.

If you have an embedded system and are not using rpm. But instead use the file trust source and you have a list of files, then your calculation is very different. Suppose for the sake of discussion, you have 317 files that are trusted. We take that number and divide by 8. We'll round that up to 40. Take that number and multiply by 100 and divide by 75. We come up with 53.33. So, let's call it 54. This is how many pages is needed. Turning that into real memory, it's 216K. One megabyte is the smallest allocation, so you would set

db_max_size = 1

Starting with the 0.9.4 release, the rpm backend filters most files in the /usr/share directory. It keeps anything with a with a python extension or a libexec directory. It also keeps /usr/src/kernel so that Akmod can still build drivers on a kernel update.


Whatever you do, DO NOT TRY TO ATTACH WITH PTRACE. Ptrace attachment sends a SIGSTOP which cannot be blocked. Since your whole system depends on fapolicyd approving access to glibc and various critical libraries, that will not happen until SIGCONT is sent. The system can deadlock if the continue signal is not sent. Using gdb will have the same results. With that in mind, let's talk about troubleshooting steps...

If you are using deny_audit and you are not getting any audit events, the fix is to add 1 audit rule. It can be a rule about anything. Watches tend to be the highest performance, so maybe just add a watch for writes to etc shadow and restart the audit daemon so the rule gets loaded.

-w /etc/shadow -p w

When fapolicyd blocks something, it will generate an audit event if the Decision is deny_audit and it has been compiled with the auditing option. The audit system must have at least 1 audit rule loaded to create the full FANOTIFY event. It doesn't matter what rule. To see if you have any denials, you can run:

ausearch --start today -m fanotify --raw | aureport --file --summary

File Summary Report
total  file
16  /sbin/ldconfig
1  /home/joe/./my-ls

You can also see which executables are involved like this:

ausearch --start today -m fanotify -f /sbin/ldconfig --raw | aureport -x --summary

Executable Summary Report
total  file
16  /usr/bin/python3.7

However, you probably want to know the rule that is blocking it. Unfortunately the audit system cannot tell you this. What you can do is change the decisions to deny_log. This will write the event to syslog as well as the audit log. In syslog, you will have the same output as the debug mode.

The shipped rules expect that everything installed is in the trust database. If you have installed anything by unzipping it or untarring it, then you need to add the executables, libraries, and modules to the trust database. See the MANAGING THE FILE TRUST SOURCE section for instructions on how to do this.

You can ask fapolicyd to include the trust information by adding trust to the end of the syslog_format configuration option. The things that you need to know to debug the policy is:

  • The rule triggering
  • The executable accessing the file
  • The object file type
  • The trust value

Look at the rule that triggered and see if it makes sense that it triggered. If the rule is a catch all denial, then check if the file is in the trust db.


Fapolicyd use lmdb as a backend database for its trusted software list. You can find this database in /var/lib/fapolicyd/. This list gets updated whenever packages are installed by dnf by a dnf plugin. If packages are installed by rpm instead of dnf, fapolicyd does not get a notification. In that case, you would also need to tell the daemon that it needs to update the trust database. This is done by running fapolicyd-cli and passing along the --update option. Also, if you add or delete files from the file trust list,, then you will also have to run the fapolicyd-cli utility.

Lmdb is a very fast database. Normally it works fine. But it does not tolerate malformed databases. When this happens, it can segfault fapolicyd. The fix is to delete the database and restart the daemon. It will then rebuild the database and work as it should. To do this, run the following command:

fapolicyd-cli --delete-db


Starting with 0.9.4, the fapolicyd command line utility can help you manage the file trust database. For example, suppose you have an application and its files over in /opt, you can add them all with the following command:

fapolicyd-cli --file add /opt/my-app/

The command line utility will walk the directory tree and add all files to To do this, it opens each one and calculates the sha256 hash of the file and write that information to the new entry. Later if you decide to uninstall that app and you want to cleanup the list, then simply run:

fapolicyd-cli --file delete /opt/my-app/

The command line utility will remove all files that match that directory from There is also a --file update extension that can update the size and hash information with what is currently on disk.

Sometimes you want to see what is stored in the combined file and rpm trust database. In this case you can use the dump command

fapolicyd-cli --dump-db

which will dump which database the entry came from, path, size, and hash value.


  1. Can this work with other distributions?

Absolutely! There is a backend API that any trust source has to implement. This API is located in fapolicyd-backend.h. A new backend needs an init, load, and destroy function. So, someone who knows the debian package database, for example, could implement a new backend and send a pull request. We are looking for collaborators.

Also, if the distribution is very small, you can use the file trust database file. Just add the places where libraries and applications are stored.

  1. Can SE Linux or AppArmor do this instead?

SE Linux is modeling how an application behaves. It is not concerned about where the application came from or whether it's known to the system. Basically, anything in /bin gets bin_t type by default which is not a very restrictive label. MAC systems serve a different purpose. Fapolicyd by design cares solely about if this is a known application/library. These are complimentary security subsystems. There is more information about application whitelisting use cases at the following NIST website:

  1. Does the daemon check file integrity?

Version 0.9.5 and later supports 3 modes of integrity checking. The first is based on file size. In this mode, fapolicyd will take the size information from the trust db and compare it with the measured file size. This test incurs no overhead since the file size is collected when establishing uniqueness for caching purposes. It is intended to detect accidental overwrites as opposed to malicious activity where the attacker can make the file size match.

The second mode is based on using IMA to calculate sha256 hashes and make them available through extended attributes. This incurs only the overhead of calling fgetxattr which is fast since there is no path name resolution. The file system must support i_version. For XFS, this is enabled by default. For other file systems, this means you need to add the i_version mount option. In either case, IMA must be setup appropriately.

The third mode is where fapolicyd calculates a SHA256 hash of the file itself and compares that with what is stored in the trust db.

  1. This is only looking at location. Can't this be defeated by simply moving the files to another location?

Yes, this is checking to see if this is a known file. Known files have a known location. The shipped policy prevents execution from /tmp, /var/tmp, and $HOME based on the fact that no rpm package puts anything there. Also, moving a file means it's no longer "known" and will be blocked from executing. And if something were moved to overwrite it, then the hash is no longer the same and that will make it no longer trusted.

  1. Does this protect against root modifications?

If you are root, you can change the fapolicyd rules or simply turn off the daemon. So, this is not designed to prevent root from doing things. None of the integrity subsystems on Linux are designed to prevent root from doing things. There has to be a way of doing updates or disabling something for troubleshooting. For example, you can change IMA to ima_appraise=fix in /etc/default/grub. You can run setenforce=0 to turn off selinux. You can also set selinux=0 for the boot prompt. The IPE integrity subsystem can be turned off via

echo -n 0 > "/sys/kernel/security/ipe/Ex Policy/active"

and so on. Since they can all be disabled, the fact that an admin can issue a service stop command is not a unique weakness.

  1. How do you prevent race conditions on startup? Can something execute before the daemon takes control?

One of the design goals is to take control before users can login. Users are the main problem being addressed. They can pip install apps to the home dir or do other things an admin may wish to prevent. Only root can install things that run before login. And again, root can change the rules or turn off the daemon.

Another design goal is to prevent malicious apps from running. Suppose someone guesses your password and they login to your account. Perhaps they wish to ransomware your home dir. The app they try to run is not known to the system and will be stopped. Or suppose there is an exploitable service on your system. The attacker is lucky enough to pop a shell. Now they want to download privilege escalation tools or perhaps an LD_PRELOAD key logger. Since neither of these are in the trust database, they won't be allowed to run.

This is really about stopping escalation or exploitation before the attacker can gain any advantage to install root kits. If we can do that, UEFI secure boot can make sure no other problems exist during boot.

Wrt to the second question being asked, fapolicyd starts very early in the boot process and startup is very fast. It's running well before other login daemons.


  • It's highly recommended to run in permissive mode while you are testing the daemon's policy.

  • Stracing the fapolicyd daemon WILL DEADLOCK THE SYSTEM.

  • About shell script restrictions...there's not much difference between running a script or someone typing things in by hand. The aim at this point is to check that any program it calls meets the policy.

  • Some interpreters do not immediately read all lines of input. Rather, they read content as needed until they get to end of file. This means that if they do stuff like networking or sleeping or anything that takes time, someone with the privileges to modify the file can add to it after the file's integrity has been checked. This is not unique to fapolicyd, it's simply how things work. Make sure that trusted file permissions are not excessive so that no unexpected file content modifications can occur.

  • If for some reason rpm database errors are detected, you may need to do the following:

1. db_verify /var/lib/rpm/Packages
if OK, then
2. rm -f /var/lib/rpm/__db*
3. rpm --rebuilddb

[1] -