Let's not talk about the Pam/NSS stack and instead talk about a different weird auth thing on Linux.

So sockets aren't just for communication over the network. And by that I don't mean that one can talk to local processes on the same machine by connecting to localhost (which is correct, but goes over the "lo" network), but rather something designed for this purpose only: Unix domain sockets. Because they're restricted to local use only, their features can take advantage of both ends being managed by the same kernel.

I'm not interested in performance effects (and I doubt there are any worth writing home about), but rather what the security implications are. So of particular interest is SO_PEERCRED. With the receiving end of an AF_UNIX stream socket, if you ask getsockopt(2) nicely, it will give you back assurances about the connecting end of the socket in the form of a struct ucred. When _GNU_SOURCE is defined, this will contain pid, uid, and gid of the process on the other end.

It's worth noting that these are set while in the syscall connect(2). Which is to say that they can be changed by the process on the other end by things like dropping privileges, for instance. This isn't really a problem, though, in that it can't be exploited to gain a higher level of access, since the connector already has that access.

Anyway, the uid information is clearly useful; one can imagine filtering such that a connection came from apache, for instance (or not from apache, for that matter), or keeping per-user settings, or any number of things. The gid is less clearly useful, but I can immediately see uses in terms of policy setting, perhaps. But what about the pid?

Linux has a relative of plan9's procfs, which means there's a lot of information presented in /proc. (/proc can be locked down pretty hard by admins, but let's assume it's not.) proc(5) covers more of these than I will, but there are some really neat ones. Within /proc/[pid], the interesting ones for my purposes are:

  • cmdline shows the process's argv.

  • cwd shows the current working directory of the process.

  • environ similarly shows the process's environment.

  • exe is a symlink to the executable for the process.

  • root is a symlink to the process's root directory, which means we can tell whether it's in a chroot.

So it seems like we could use this to implement filtering by the process being run: for instance, we could do things only if the executable is /usr/bin/ssh. And indeed we can; /proc/[pid]/exe will be a symlink to the ssh binary, and everything works out.

There's a slight snag, though: /usr/bin/ssh is a native executable (in this case, an ELF file). But we can also run non-native executables using the shebang - e.g., #!/bin/sh, or #!/usr/bin/python2, and so on. While this is convenient for scripting, it makes the /proc/[pid]/exe value much less useful, since it will just point at the interpreter.

The way the shebang is implemented causes the interpreter to be run with argv[1] set to the input file. So we can pull it out of /proc/[pid]/cmdline and everything is fine, right?

Well, no. Linux doesn't canonicalize the path to the script file, so unless it was originally invoked using a non-relative path, we don't have that information.

Maybe we can do the resolution ourselves, though. We have the process environment, so $PATH-based resolution should be doable, right? And if it's a relative path, we can use /proc/[pid]/cwd, right?

Nope. Although inspecting the behavior of shells would suggest that /proc/[pid]/cwd doesn't change, this is a shell implementation detail; the program can just modify this value if it wants.

Even if we nix relative paths, we're still not out of the woods. /proc/[pid]/environ looks like exactly what it want, as the man page specifies that even getenv(3)/setenv(3) do not modify this. However, the next paragraph indicates the syscall needed to just move what region of memory it points to, so we can't trust that value either.

There's actually a bigger problem, though. Predictably, from the way the last two went, processes can just modify argv. So: native code only.

Anyway, thanks for reading this post about a piece of gssproxy's guts. Surprise!