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Date:   Tue, 1 Nov 2022 16:14:39 -0700
From:   Jeff Xu <>
To:     Kees Cook <>
Cc:,,,,,,,,,,,,, Aleksa Sarai <>,, Christian Brauner <>
Subject: Re: [PATCH v2 0/5] mm/memfd: MFD_NOEXEC for memfd_create

Hi Kees

Sorry for the long overdue reply.

Those questions are really helpful  to understand the usage of memfd_create,
I will try to answer them, please see below inline.

On Mon, Aug 8, 2022 at 10:46 AM Kees Cook <> wrote:
> On Fri, Aug 05, 2022 at 10:21:21PM +0000, wrote:
> > This v2 series MFD_NOEXEC, this series includes:
> > 1> address comments in V1
> > 2> add sysctl (vm.mfd_noexec) to change the default file permissions
> >     of memfd_create to be non-executable.
> >
> > Below are cover-level for v1:
> >
> > The default file permissions on a memfd include execute bits, which
> > means that such a memfd can be filled with a executable and passed to
> > the exec() family of functions. This is undesirable on systems where all
> > code is verified and all filesystems are intended to be mounted noexec,
> > since an attacker may be able to use a memfd to load unverified code and
> > execute it.
> I would absolutely like to see some kind of protection here. However,
> I'd like a more specific threat model. What are the cases where the X
> bit has been abused (e.g.[1])? What are the cases where the X bit is
> needed (e.g.[2])? With those in mind, it should be possible to draw
> a clear line between the two cases. (e.g. we need to avoid a confused
> deputy attack where an "unprivileged" user can pass an executable memfd
> to a "privileged" user. How those privileges are defined may matter a
> lot based on how memfds are being used. For example, can runc's use of
> executable memfds be distinguished from an attacker's?)
runc needs memfd to be executable, so the host with runc need to be able to
create both non-executable memfd and executable memfd.
memfd_create API itself can't enforce the security of how it is being used.

> > Additionally, execution via memfd is a common way to avoid scrutiny for
> > malicious code, since it allows execution of a program without a file
> > ever appearing on disk. This attack vector is not totally mitigated with
> > this new flag, since the default memfd file permissions must remain
> > executable to avoid breaking existing legitimate uses, but it should be
> > possible to use other security mechanisms to prevent memfd_create calls
> > without MFD_NOEXEC on systems where it is known that executable memfds
> > are not necessary.
> This reminds me of dealing with non-executable stacks. There ended up
> being three states:
> - requested to be executable (PT_GNU_STACK X)
> - requested to be non-executable (PT_GNU_STACK NX)
> - undefined (no PT_GNU_STACK)
> The first two are clearly defined, but the third needed a lot of special
> handling. For a "safe by default" world, the third should be "NX", but
> old stuff depended on it being "X".
> Here, we have a bit being present or not, so we only have a binary
> state. I'd much rather the default be NX (no bit set) instead of making
> every future (safe) user of memfd have to specify MFD_NOEXEC.
> It's also easier on a filtering side to say "disallow memfd_create with
> MFD_EXEC", but how do we deal with the older software?
> If the default perms of memfd_create()'s exec bit is controlled by a
> sysctl and the sysctl is set to "leave it executable", how does a user
> create an NX memfd? (i.e. setting MFD_EXEC means "exec" and not setting
> it means "exec" also.) Are two bits needed? Seems wasteful.
Great points,  with those questions and usages in mind, I m thinking below:

1> memfd_create:
Add two flags:
#define MFD_EXEC                      0x0008
#define MFD_NOEXEC _SEAL    0x0010
This lets application to set executable bit explicitly.
(If application set both, it will be rejected)

2> For old application that doesn't set executable bit:
Add a pid name-spaced sysctl.kernel.pid_mfd_noexec, with:
value = 0: Default_EXEC
     When none is set, will fall back to original behavior (EXEC)
value = 1: Default_NOEXEC_SEAL
      When none is set, will default to MFD_NOEXEC_SEAL

3> Add a pid name-spaced sysctl kernel.pid_mfd_noexec_enforced: with:
value = 0: default, not enforced.
value = 1: enforce NOEXEC_SEAL (overwrite everything)

Then we can use and secure memfd at host and container as below:
At host level:
Case A> In secure by default system where doesn't allow executable memfd:
sysctl.kernel.pid_mfd_noexec_enforced = 1
LSM to block creation of executable memfd  system wide.
This requires a new hook: secure_memfd_create

Case B> In system that need both (runc case),
use sysctl kernel.pid_mfd_noexec = 0/1 during converting application to new API.
SELINUX or landlock to sandbox the process.(requires work).

At container level:
It would be nice for container to control creation of executable memfd too.
This is through  sysctl kernel.pid_mfd_noexec_enforced
This lets runc to create two type of contains:
one with ability to create executable memfd, one without.

The sysctl.kernel.pid_mfd_noexec sets the default value, it is helpful
during  applications are being migrated to set the executable bit.
 Alternatively, we can have a new syscall: memfd_create2, where it is mandatary
to set executable bit (or default to NOEXEC_SEAL),  then
is not needed.

> For F_SEAL_EXEC, it seems this should imply F_SEAL_WRITE if forced
> executable to avoid WX mappings (i.e. provide W^X from the start).
Yes. I agree.

Best regards,
Jeff Xu

> -Kees
> [1]
> [2]
> --
> Kees Cook

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