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From: John Wood <>
To: Kees Cook <>, Jann Horn <>,
	Jonathan Corbet <>,
	James Morris <>,
	"Serge E. Hallyn" <>,
	Shuah Khan <>
Cc: John Wood <>, Andi Kleen <>,,
	Greg Kroah-Hartman <>,
	Randy Dunlap <>,,,,,,
Subject: [PATCH v7 6/7] Documentation: Add documentation for the Brute LSM
Date: Sat, 22 May 2021 08:39:55 +0200	[thread overview]
Message-ID: <20210522063955.GB3094@ubuntu> (raw)
In-Reply-To: <>

Add some info detailing what is the Brute LSM, its motivation, weak
points of existing implementations, proposed solutions, enabling,
disabling, configuration and self-tests.

Signed-off-by: John Wood <>
 Documentation/admin-guide/LSM/Brute.rst | 334 ++++++++++++++++++++++++
 Documentation/admin-guide/LSM/index.rst |   1 +
 security/brute/Kconfig                  |   3 +-
 3 files changed, 337 insertions(+), 1 deletion(-)
 create mode 100644 Documentation/admin-guide/LSM/Brute.rst

diff --git a/Documentation/admin-guide/LSM/Brute.rst b/Documentation/admin-guide/LSM/Brute.rst
new file mode 100644
index 000000000000..97c9aac33093
--- /dev/null
+++ b/Documentation/admin-guide/LSM/Brute.rst
@@ -0,0 +1,334 @@
+.. SPDX-License-Identifier: GPL-2.0
+Brute is a Linux Security Module that detects and mitigates fork brute force
+attacks against vulnerable userspace processes.
+Attacks against vulnerable userspace applications with the purpose to break ASLR
+or bypass canaries traditionally use some level of brute force with the help of
+the fork system call. This is possible since when creating a new process using
+fork its memory contents are the same as those of the parent process (the
+process that called the fork system call). So, the attacker can test the memory
+infinite times to find the correct memory values or the correct memory addresses
+without worrying about crashing the application.
+Based on the above scenario it would be nice to have this detected and
+mitigated, and this is the goal of this implementation. Specifically the
+following attacks are expected to be detected:
+ 1. Launching (fork()/exec()) a setuid/setgid process repeatedly until a
+    desirable memory layout is got (e.g. Stack Clash).
+ 2. Connecting to an exec()ing network daemon (e.g. xinetd) repeatedly until a
+    desirable memory layout is got (e.g. what CTFs do for simple network
+    service).
+ 3. Launching processes without exec() (e.g. Android Zygote) and exposing state
+    to attack a sibling.
+ 4. Connecting to a fork()ing network daemon (e.g. apache) repeatedly until the
+    previously shared memory layout of all the other children is exposed (e.g.
+    kind of related to HeartBleed).
+In each case, a privilege boundary has been crossed:
+ | Case 1: setuid/setgid process
+ | Case 2: network to local
+ | Case 3: privilege changes
+ | Case 4: network to local
+So, what really needs to be detected are fork/exec brute force attacks that
+cross any of the commented bounds.
+Other implementations
+The public version of grsecurity, as a summary, is based on the idea of delaying
+the fork system call if a child died due to some fatal signal (``SIGSEGV``,
+``SIGBUS``, ``SIGKILL`` or ``SIGILL``). This has some issues:
+Bad practices
+Adding delays to the kernel is, in general, a bad idea.
+Scenarios not detected (false negatives)
+This protection acts only when the fork system call is called after a child has
+crashed. So, it would still be possible for an attacker to fork a big amount of
+children (in the order of thousands), then probe all of them, and finally wait
+the protection time before repeating the steps.
+Moreover, this method is based on the idea that the protection doesn't act if
+the parent crashes. So, it would still be possible for an attacker to fork a
+process and probe itself. Then, fork the child process and probe itself again.
+This way, these steps can be repeated infinite times without any mitigation.
+Scenarios detected (false positives)
+Scenarios where an application rarely fails for reasons unrelated to a real
+This implementation
+The main idea behind this implementation is to improve the existing ones
+focusing on the weak points annotated before. Basically, the adopted solution is
+to detect a fast crash rate instead of only one simple crash and to detect both
+the crash of parent and child processes. Also, fine tune the detection focusing
+on privilege boundary crossing. And finally, as a mitigation method, kill all
+the offending tasks involved in the attack and mark the executable as "not
+allowed" (to block the following executions) instead of using delays.
+To achieve this goal, and going into more details, this implementation is based
+on the use of some statistical data shared across all the processes that can
+have the same memory contents. Or in other words, a statistical data shared
+between all the fork hierarchy processes after an execve system call.
+The purpose of these statistics is, basically, collect all the necessary info to
+compute the application crash period in order to detect an attack. To track all
+this information, the extended attributes (xattr) of the executable files are
+used. More specifically, the name of the attribute is "brute" and uses the
+"security" namespace. So, the full xattr name for the Brute LSM is:
+ ``security.brute``
+The same can be achieved using a pointer to the fork hierarchy statistical data
+held by the ``task_struct`` structure, but this has an important drawback: a
+brute force attack that happens through the execve system call losts the faults
+info since these statistics are freed when the fork hierarchy disappears. Using
+the last method (pointer in the ``task_struct`` structure) makes not possible to
+manage this attack type that can be successfully treated using extended
+To detect a brute force attack it is necessary that the statistics shared by all
+the fork hierarchy processes be updated in every fatal crash and the most
+important data to update is the application crash period.
+The crash period is the time between two consecutive faults, but this also has a
+drawback: if an application crashes twice in a short period of time for some
+reason unrelated to a real attack, a false positive will be triggered. To avoid
+this scenario the exponential moving average (EMA) is used. This way, the
+application crash period will be a value that is not prone to change due to
+spurious data and follows the real crash period.
+These statistics are stored in the executables using the extended attributes
+feature. So, the detection and mitigation of brute force attacks using this LSM
+it is only feasible in filesystems that support xattr.
+.. kernel-doc:: security/brute/brute.c
+   :identifiers: brute_raw_stats
+This is a fixed sized struct with a very small footprint. So, in reference to
+memory usage, it is not expected to have problems storing it as an extended
+Concerning to access rights to this statistical data, as stated above, the
+"security" namespace is used. Since no custom policy, related to this extended
+attribute, has been implemented for the Brute LSM, all processes have read
+access to these statistics, and write access is limited to processes that have
+the ``CAP_SYS_ADMIN`` capability.
+Attack detection
+There are two types of brute force attacks that need to be detected. The first
+one is an attack that happens through the fork system call and the second one is
+an attack that happens through the execve system call. Moreover, these two
+attack types have two variants. A slow brute force attack that is detected if a
+maximum number of faults per fork hierarchy is reached and a fast brute force
+attack that is detected if the application crash period falls below a certain
+Attack mitigation
+Once an attack has been detected, this is mitigated killing all the offending
+tasks involved. Or in other words, once an attack has been detected, this is
+mitigated killing all the processes that are executing the same file that is
+running during the brute force attack. Also, to prevent the executable involved
+in the attack from being respawned by a supervisor, and thus prevent a brute
+force attack from being started again, the file is marked as "not allowed" and
+the following executions are avoided based on this mark. This method allows
+supervisors to implement their own policy: they can read the statistics, know if
+the executable is blocked by the Brute LSM and why, and act based on this
+information. If they want to respawn the offending executable it is only
+necessary to remove the "``security.brute``" extended attribute and thus remove
+the statistical data.
+Fine tuning the attack detection
+To avoid false positives during the attack detection it is necessary to narrow
+the possible cases. To do so, and based on the threat scenarios that we want to
+detect, this implementation also focuses on the crossing of privilege bounds.
+To be precise, only the following privilege bounds are taken into account:
+ 1. setuid/setgid process
+ 2. network to local
+ 3. privilege changes
+Moreover, only the fatal signals delivered by the kernel are taken into account
+avoiding the fatal signals sent by userspace applications (with the exception of
+the ``SIGABRT`` user signal since this is used by glibc for stack canary,
+malloc, etc. failures, which may indicate that a mitigation has been triggered).
+Exponential moving average (EMA)
+This kind of average defines a weight (between 0 and 1) for the new value to add
+and applies the remainder of the weight to the current average value. This way,
+some spurious data will not excessively modify the average and only if the new
+values are persistent, the moving average will tend towards them.
+Mathematically the application crash period's EMA can be expressed as follows:
+ period_ema = period * weight + period_ema * (1 - weight)
+Related to the attack detection, the EMA must guarantee that not many crashes
+are needed. To demonstrate this, the scenario where an application has failed
+and then has been running without any crashes for a month, will be used.
+The period's EMA can be written now as:
+ period_ema[i] = period[i] * weight + period_ema[i - 1] * (1 - weight)
+If the new crash periods have insignificant values related to the first crash
+period (a month in this case), the formula can be rewritten as:
+ period_ema[i] = period_ema[i - 1] * (1 - weight)
+And by extension:
+ | period_ema[i - 1] = period_ema[i - 2] * (1 - weight)
+ | period_ema[i - 2] = period_ema[i - 3] * (1 - weight)
+ | period_ema[i - 3] = period_ema[i - 4] * (1 - weight)
+So, if the substitution is made:
+ | period_ema[i] = period_ema[i - 1] * (1 - weight)
+ | period_ema[i] = period_ema[i - 2] * (1 - weight)\ :sup:`2`
+ | period_ema[i] = period_ema[i - 3] * (1 - weight)\ :sup:`3`
+ | period_ema[i] = period_ema[i - 4] * (1 - weight)\ :sup:`4`
+And in a more generic form:
+ period_ema[i] = period_ema[i - n] * (1 - weight)\ :sup:`n`
+Where "n" represents the number of iterations to obtain an EMA value. Or in
+other words, the number of crashes to detect an attack.
+So, if we isolate the number of crashes:
+ | period_ema[i] / period_ema[i - n] = (1 - weight)\ :sup:`n`
+ | log(period_ema[i] / period_ema[i - n]) = log((1 - weight)\ :sup:`n`)
+ | log(period_ema[i] / period_ema[i - n]) = n * log(1 - weight)
+ | n = log(period_ema[i] / period_ema[i - n]) / log(1 - weight)
+Then, in the commented scenario (an application has failed and then has been
+running without any crashes for a month), the approximate number of crashes to
+detect an attack (using the default implementation values for the weight and the
+crash period threshold) is:
+ | weight = 7 / 10
+ | crash_period_threshold = 30 seconds
+ | n = log(crash_period_threshold / seconds_per_month) / log(1 - weight)
+ | n = log(30 / (30 * 24 * 3600)) / log(1 - 0.7)
+ | n = 9.44
+So, with 10 crashes for this scenario an attack will be detected. If these steps
+are repeated for different scenarios and the results are collected:
+ ======================== =====================================
+ time without any crashes number of crashes to detect an attack
+ ======================== =====================================
+ 1 month                  9.44
+ 1 year                   11.50
+ 10 years                 13.42
+ ======================== =====================================
+However, this computation has a drawback. The first data added to the EMA not
+obtains a real average showing a trend. So the solution is simple, the EMA needs
+a minimum number of data to be able to be interpreted. This way, the case where
+a few first faults are fast enough followed by no crashes is avoided.
+Per system enabling/disabling
+This feature can be enabled at build time using the
+``CONFIG_SECURITY_FORK_BRUTE`` option or using the visual config application
+under the following menu:
+ Security options  ``--->`` Fork brute force attack detection and mitigation
+Also, at boot time, this feature can be disable too, by changing the "``lsm=``"
+boot parameter.
+Per system configuration
+To customize the detection's sensibility there are five new sysctl attributes
+for the Brute LSM that are accessible through the following path:
+ ``/proc/sys/kernel/brute/``
+More specifically, the files and their description are:
+ .. kernel-doc:: security/brute/brute.c
+    :doc: brute_ema_weight_numerator
+ .. kernel-doc:: security/brute/brute.c
+    :doc: brute_ema_weight_denominator
+ .. kernel-doc:: security/brute/brute.c
+    :doc: brute_max_faults
+ .. kernel-doc:: security/brute/brute.c
+    :doc: brute_min_faults
+ .. kernel-doc:: security/brute/brute.c
+    :doc: brute_crash_period_threshold
+Kernel selftests
+To validate all the expectations about this implementation, there is a set of
+selftests. This tests cover fork/exec brute force attacks crossing the following
+privilege boundaries:
+ 1. setuid process
+ 2. privilege changes
+ 3. network to local
+Also, there are some tests to check that fork/exec brute force attacks without
+crossing any privilege boundariy already commented doesn't trigger the detection
+and mitigation stage.
+To build the tests:
+ ``make -C tools/testing/selftests/ TARGETS=brute``
+To run the tests:
+ ``make -C tools/testing/selftests TARGETS=brute run_tests``
+To package the tests:
+ ``make -C tools/testing/selftests TARGETS=brute gen_tar``
diff --git a/Documentation/admin-guide/LSM/index.rst b/Documentation/admin-guide/LSM/index.rst
index a6ba95fbaa9f..1f68982bb330 100644
--- a/Documentation/admin-guide/LSM/index.rst
+++ b/Documentation/admin-guide/LSM/index.rst
@@ -41,6 +41,7 @@ subdirectories.
    :maxdepth: 1

+   Brute
diff --git a/security/brute/Kconfig b/security/brute/Kconfig
index 5da314d221aa..d2dd33b08642 100644
--- a/security/brute/Kconfig
+++ b/security/brute/Kconfig
@@ -9,6 +9,7 @@ config SECURITY_FORK_BRUTE
 	  offending tasks are killed. Also, the executable file involved in the
 	  attack will be marked as "not allowed" and new execve system calls
 	  using this file will fail. Like capabilities, this security module
-	  stacks with other LSMs.
+	  stacks with other LSMs. Further information can be found in
+	  Documentation/admin-guide/LSM/Brute.rst.

 	  If you are unsure how to answer this question, answer N.

  parent reply	other threads:[~2021-05-22  6:41 UTC|newest]

Thread overview: 12+ messages / expand[flat|nested]  mbox.gz  Atom feed  top
2021-05-21 17:24 [PATCH v7 0/7] Fork brute force attack mitigation John Wood
2021-05-21 17:24 ` [PATCH v7 1/7] security: Add LSM hook at the point where a task gets a fatal signal John Wood
2021-05-21 17:24 ` [PATCH v7 2/7] security/brute: Define a LSM and add sysctl attributes John Wood
2021-05-21 17:24 ` [PATCH v7 3/7] security/brute: Detect a brute force attack John Wood
2021-05-21 17:24 ` [PATCH v7 4/7] security/brute: Mitigate " John Wood
2021-05-21 18:02 ` [PATCH v7 0/7] Fork brute force attack mitigation Andi Kleen
2021-05-23  7:31   ` John Wood
2021-05-23 14:43     ` Andi Kleen
2021-05-23 15:47       ` John Wood
2021-05-22  6:35 ` [PATCH v7 5/7] selftests/brute: Add tests for the Brute LSM John Wood
2021-05-22  6:39 ` John Wood [this message]
2021-05-22  6:44 ` [PATCH v7 7/7] MAINTAINERS: Add a new entry " John Wood

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