Executable Stacks in Lenny


One thing that I would like to get fixed for Lenny is the shared objects which can reduce the security of a system. Almost a year ago I blogged about the libsmpeg0 library which is listed as requiring an executable stack [1]. I submitted a two-line patch which fixes the problem while making no code changes (the patch gives the same result as running “execstack -c” on the resulting shared object).

My previous post documents the results of the problem when running SE Linux (a process is not permitted to run and an AVC message is logged). Some people might incorrectly think that this is merely a SE Linux functionality issue.

The program paxtest (which is in Debian but is i386 only) tests for a variety of kernel security features in terms of memory management. To demonstrate the problem that is caused by this issue I ran the commands “paxtest kiddie” and “LD_PRELOAD=/usr/lib/libsmpeg-0.4.so.0 paxtest kiddie“. The difference is that the test named “Executable stack” returns a result of Vulnerable when the object is loaded.

This means for example that attacks which rely on an executable stack will be permitted if the libsmpeg-0.4.so.0 shared object is loaded. So for example a program that loads the library and which takes data from the Internet (EG FreeCiv in network mode) will become vulnerable to attacks which rely on an executable stack because of this bug!

My Etch SE Linux repository has had a libsmpeg0 package which fixes this bug on i386 for almost a year [2] (the AMD64 packages are more recent). I have now added packages to fix this bug to my Lenny SE Linux repository [3]. I have also volunteered to NMU the package for Lenny. It seems that it would be rather embarrassing for everyone concerned systems were vulnerable to attack because of a two-line patch not being applied for almost a year.

I expect that the Release Team will be very accepting of package updates for Lenny which have patches to address this issue. A patch that has one line per assembler file (in the worst-case) to mark the object code is very easy to review. The results of the patch can be tested easily, and failure to have such a patch opens potential security holes. Package maintainers who can’t fix the assembly code can always run “execstack -c” in the build scripts to give the same result.

Lintian performs checks for executable stacks and the results are archived here [4]. There are currently 36 packages which contain binaries listed as needing executable stacks, I would be surprised if more than 6 of them actually contain shared objects that need an executable stack. If you use a package that is on that list then please test whether an executable stack is required by running “execstack -c” on the shared object and see if it still works. If a test of most of the high-level operations of the program in question can be completed successfully without an executable stack then it’s a strong indication that it’s not needed. Note that execstack is in the prelink package. I am happy to help with writing the patches to the packages and using my repositories to distribute the packages, but am not going to do so unless I can work with someone who uses the program in question and can test it’s functions. As an example of such testing I played a game of Frozen Bubble to test out the libsmpeg0 patch.


3 thoughts on “Executable Stacks in Lenny”

  1. You might want to take a look about Gentoo’s equivalent packages. We also run similar tests (textrels and execstacks) and we have lots of fixes (thanks to the fact we build everything we can patch them up quickly ;)). We actually have a fixing guide on http://www.gentoo.org/proj/en/hardened/gnu-stack.xml too.

  2. Matthew W. S. Bell says:

    Might it be an idea to try and get the default asm options changed?

  3. etbe says:

    Diego: Hopefully the Gentoo patches will get accepted upstream soon. Getting these things fixed in Debian is a pain. That’s a nice document about the issues!

    Matthew: It could have been designed such that shared objects which needed an executable stack required a special label – this is what was done for PaX/GrSecurity. But they decided that old objects would default to getting an executable stack. Reversing that decision on the default in the compiler seems like a bad idea.

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