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Date:   Wed, 20 Apr 2022 22:34:33 +0300
From:   Topi Miettinen <>
To:     Catalin Marinas <>,
        Kees Cook <>
Cc:     Andrew Morton <>,
        Christoph Hellwig <>,
        Lennart Poettering <>,
        Zbigniew Jędrzejewski-Szmek <>,
        Will Deacon <>,
        Alexander Viro <>,
        Eric Biederman <>,
        Szabolcs Nagy <>,
        Mark Brown <>,
        Jeremy Linton <>,,,,,, Jann Horn <>,
        Salvatore Mesoraca <>,
        Igor Zhbanov <>
Subject: Re: [PATCH RFC 0/4] mm, arm64: In-kernel support for
 memory-deny-write-execute (MDWE)

On 20.4.2022 16.01, Catalin Marinas wrote:
> On Thu, Apr 14, 2022 at 11:52:17AM -0700, Kees Cook wrote:
>> On Wed, Apr 13, 2022 at 02:49:42PM +0100, Catalin Marinas wrote:
>>> The background to this is that systemd has a configuration option called
>>> MemoryDenyWriteExecute [1], implemented as a SECCOMP BPF filter. Its aim
>>> is to prevent a user task from inadvertently creating an executable
>>> mapping that is (or was) writeable. Since such BPF filter is stateless,
>>> it cannot detect mappings that were previously writeable but
>>> subsequently changed to read-only. Therefore the filter simply rejects
>>> any mprotect(PROT_EXEC). The side-effect is that on arm64 with BTI
>>> support (Branch Target Identification), the dynamic loader cannot change
>>> an ELF section from PROT_EXEC to PROT_EXEC|PROT_BTI using mprotect().
>>> For libraries, it can resort to unmapping and re-mapping but for the
>>> main executable it does not have a file descriptor. The original bug
>>> report in the Red Hat bugzilla - [2] - and subsequent glibc workaround
>>> for libraries - [3].
>> Right, so, the systemd filter is a big hammer solution for the kernel
>> not having a very easy way to provide W^X mapping protections to
>> userspace. There's stuff in SELinux, and there have been several
>> attempts[1] at other LSMs to do it too, but nothing stuck.
>> Given the filter, and the implementation of how to enable BTI, I see two
>> solutions:
>> - provide a way to do W^X so systemd can implement the feature differently
>> - provide a way to turn on BTI separate from mprotect to bypass the filter
>> I would agree, the latter seems like the greater hack,
> We discussed such hacks in the past but they are just working around the
> fundamental issue - systemd wants W^X but with BPF it can only achieve
> it by preventing mprotect(PROT_EXEC) irrespective of whether the mapping
> was already executable. If we find a better solution for W^X, we
> wouldn't have to hack anything for mprotect(PROT_EXEC|PROT_BTI).
>> so I welcome
>> this RFC, though I think it might need to explore a bit of the feature
>> space exposed by other solutions[1] (i.e. see SARA and NAX), otherwise
>> it risks being too narrowly implemented. For example, playing well with
>> JITs should be part of the design, and will likely need some kind of
>> ELF flags and/or "sealing" mode, and to handle the vma alias case as
>> Jann Horn pointed out[2].
> I agree we should look at what we want to cover, though trying to avoid
> re-inventing SELinux. With this patchset I went for the minimum that
> systemd MDWE does with BPF.
> I think JITs get around it using something like memfd with two separate
> mappings to the same page. We could try to prevent such aliases but
> allow it if an ELF note is detected (or get the JIT to issue a prctl()).
> Anyway, with a prctl() we can allow finer-grained control starting with
> anonymous and file mappings and later extending to vma aliases,
> writeable files etc. On top we can add a seal mask so that a process
> cannot disable a control was set. Something like (I'm not good at
> names):
> 	prctl(PR_MDWX_SET, flags, seal_mask);
> 	prctl(PR_MDWX_GET);
> with flags like:
> 	PR_MDWX_MMAP - basics, should cover mmap() and mprotect()
> 	PR_MDWX_ALIAS - vma aliases, allowed with an ELF note
> (needs some more thinking)

For systemd, feature compatibility with the BPF version is important so 
that we could automatically switch to the kernel version once available 
without regressions. So I think PR_MDWX_MMAP (or maybe PR_MDWX_COMPAT) 
should match exactly what MemoryDenyWriteExecute=yes as implemented with 
BPF has: only forbid mmap(PROT_EXEC|PROT_WRITE) and mprotect(PROT_EXEC). 
Like BPF, once installed there should be no way to escape and ELF flags 
should be also ignored. ARM BTI should be allowed though (allow 
PROT_EXEC|PROT_BTI if the old flags had PROT_EXEC).

Then we could have improved versions (other PR_MDWX_ prctls) with lots 
more checks. This could be enabled with MemoryDenyWriteExecute=strict or so.

Perhaps also more relaxed versions (like SARA) could be interesting 
(system service running Python with FFI, or perhaps JVM etc), enabled 
with for example MemoryDenyWriteExecute=trampolines. That way even those 
programs would get some protection (though there would be a gap in the 


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