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The revenge of GingerBreak

Abstract: This paper demonstrates vulnerabilities within the SELinux framework as well as shortcomings in the type enforcement setup. I will show how to deconstruct a SELinux setup with some simple 80's style exploit techniques. While reading this paper, I recommend listening to this music from the year of morrisworm.


When in 2012 the SELinux developers analyzed the behaivior of an exploit that was not designed to run on a SELinux system at page 32 of these slides - it triggered a review-selector for SELinux and I put it to the list of my audit targets. Not surprisingly, GingerBreak lost that "competition", just because it was not made for it. Using my QUANTUM AUDIT techniques I was now able to have a deeper look into SELinux itself to see whether the claims that were made really hold.

The AVC subsystem

SELinux is basically split into two parts. The kernel part, which mostly consists of the Access Vector Cache (AVC) logic, and a userspace part which I will call the SELinux framework. The framework consists of a lot of Python scripts running as root and/or as a DBUS service. The AVC itself basically decides whether a permission is granted or not, based on the typing and transitioning rules from the policy.

When the AVC denies access, it used to send a netlink message from the kernel to the audit subsystem which looks like this:

type=AVC msg=audit(1427104951.889:423): avc:  denied  { open } for  pid=2521
comm="openvpn" path=2F74[...]27 dev="tmpfs" ino=31315
tcontext=unconfined_u:object_r:user_tmp_t:s0 tclass=file permissive=0

within a single line. It basically tells the admin that openvpn, running in the openvpn_t domain, was denied access to a file object with type user_tmp_t. The pathname of the object in question is encoded as hex string for a reason. This logging makes sense in order to maintain the system.

The audit subsystem can be be further configured with plugins to handle such messages. For example on a Fedora 21 system there is a plugin that further mangles such messages via sedispatch to the setroubleshoot DBUS service. Since everything in a targeted policy is safe due to type enforcement MAC (which we will break later), all this runs as root of course.

Where is my mind?

Now lets have a look on how this setroubleshoot DBUS service, running as root (although in its SELinux domain sandbox), handles this untrusted pathname input originating from the AVC deny message:

def get_rpm_nvr_by_file_path_temporary(name):
    if name is None or not os.path.exists(name):
        return None

    nvr = None
        import commands
        rc, output = commands.getstatusoutput("rpm -qf '%s'" % name)
        if rc == 0:
            nvr = output
        syslog.syslog(syslog.LOG_ERR, "failed to retrieve rpm info for %s" % name)
    return nvr

The setroubleshootd daemon which runs as root, activated by its DBUS activation file when sedispatch was forwarding its AVC denial message, straight passes the pathname to a shell without further sanitization. This directly pops us in a rootshell running in the setroubleshootd_t domain. Bad luck for us, this domain is not allowed to dump the shadow file. The framework which is meant to protect you by means of a MAC system, just donated a uid 0 shell to the attacker.

The next chapter will show how this particular MAC setup can't even hold what it promised to be their stronghold: Once (in the unlikely case) an attacker successfully exploited a process, he is caged in its unprivileged domain.

Containers dont contain.

And so don't domains. I really love that deep sentence that was philosophically spoken in response to my docker exploit which demonstrated a breakout of the docker container. Programmers are the better philosophers.

By looking at the policy rules with regard to the setroubleshootd_t domain, we quickly find that it is allowed to create and setattr file objects within its own directory. This comes with little surprise, but it allows us to mount the well known Vichy-attack against sandboxed systems where two domains collaborate. That is, the command is constructed as follows:

cd var;cd lib;cd setroubleshoot;cat $SHELL > sh;chmod 04755 sh

Its necessary to avoid the / character because we are passing along a filename and it makes things easier since we dont need to create sub directories. This command, when executed from within the setroubleshootd_t domain, will leave a suid shell in place for the discretionary execution by the attacker who already runs his shell in the unconfined_t domain.


A demo exploit using NetworkManager's openvpn plugin as an attack vector is included in this git. Dont get fooled: There exist many other attack vectors (not just NetworkManager's integrated wifi setup in case the openvpn plugin is not available), some of them might work remotely. All an attacker needs to do is to trick a confined domain to access one of his files. If polkit has rules to just allow active or console sessions to access the attack vector, that is not an obstacle either: just put it to the target user's .bashrc to execute it on the attacker's behalf.


I just demonstrated an exploit against SELinux itself (not an exploit against some buggy 3rd party suid binary which it claims to mitigate) with simplest exploit math. I further outlined that the claims of confinement were wrong. No kernel exploits such as these were required. Kernel security is a different topic, best discussed with spender.


You might be surprised to hear that despite this writeup I am still convinced that MAC systems (and the SELinux type enforcement in particular) are still very valuable. At least the SELinux core (the kernel part and some of the libraries) are of good code quality and type enforcement has been well researched. If you play a little bit around with it you immediately see its value and get to know that it has its beauty. However, type enforcement does not allow to switch off the brain and to frame around a lot of crap that eventually just throws away what the MAC system initially bought you. In fact, SELinux has silently become the largest installation base of a MAC system by the SEAndroid rollout since KitKat, without major problems.

Let me stress that I dont point at people making bugs/mistakes. I certainly have enough stupid bugs in my own code. However, projects making claims and presentations based on wrong assumptions deserve a deeper look. In particular if made by organizations that play the interdiction game on the backflip of the coin. I just felt it was necessary to demonstrate how it would look like when I target a MAC system and that mitigation of exploits not targeting type enforcement has to be put in context since today.


If you like troubleshooter, please consider donating at the donation button here or to the SELinux rescue funds with subject troubleshooter. Thanks in advance. I am doing this work as part of my Dr.xSports. thesis by grant No. 743c13377350.



setroubleshootd xSports



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