[PATCH v18 0/9] mm: introduce memfd_secret system call to create "secret" memory areas

Kees Cook keescook at chromium.org
Sat May 8 00:57:55 BST 2021

On Thu, May 06, 2021 at 11:47:47AM -0700, James Bottomley wrote:
> On Thu, 2021-05-06 at 10:33 -0700, Kees Cook wrote:
> > On Thu, May 06, 2021 at 08:26:41AM -0700, James Bottomley wrote:
> [...]
> > > > I think that a very complete description of the threats which
> > > > this feature addresses would be helpful.  
> > > 
> > > It's designed to protect against three different threats:
> > > 
> > >    1. Detection of user secret memory mismanagement
> > 
> > I would say "cross-process secret userspace memory exposures" (via a
> > number of common interfaces by blocking it at the GUP level).
> > 
> > >    2. significant protection against privilege escalation
> > 
> > I don't see how this series protects against privilege escalation.
> > (It protects against exfiltration.) Maybe you mean include this in
> > the first bullet point (i.e. "cross-process secret userspace memory
> > exposures, even in the face of privileged processes")?
> It doesn't prevent privilege escalation from happening in the first
> place, but once the escalation has happened it protects against
> exfiltration by the newly minted root attacker.

So, after thinking a bit more about this, I don't think there is
protection here against privileged execution. This feature kind of helps
against cross-process read/write attempts, but it doesn't help with
sufficiently privileged (i.e. ptraced) execution, since we can just ask
the process itself to do the reading:

$ gdb ./memfd_secret
ready: 0x7ffff7ffb000
Breakpoint 1, ...
(gdb) compile code unsigned long addr = 0x7ffff7ffb000UL; printf("%016lx\n", *((unsigned long *)addr));

And since process_vm_readv() requires PTRACE_ATTACH, there's very little
difference in effort between process_vm_readv() and the above.

So, what other paths through GUP exist that aren't covered by
PTRACE_ATTACH? And if none, then should this actually just be done by
setting the process undumpable? (This is already what things like gnupg

So, the user-space side of this doesn't seem to really help. The kernel
side protection is interesting for kernel read/write flaws, though, in
the sense that the process is likely not being attacked from "current",
so a kernel-side attack would need to either walk the page tables and
create new ones, or spawn a new userspace process to do the ptracing.

So, while I like the idea of this stuff, and I see how it provides
certain coverages, I'm curious to learn more about the threat model to
make sure it's actually providing meaningful hurdles to attacks.

Kees Cook

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