Category Archives: Linux

Linux Security Summit 2010 – CFP closing this week

Just a reminder that the CFP for the Linux Security Summit ends this Friday, 4th of June.

If you have something interesting to discuss, send your proposal to the program committee via plain text email per the CFP announcement.

We have some very interesting proposals so far — if you have any interest in Linux security, you should probably try and be there.

Note that you need to be registered for LinuxCon to attend. As a speaker at the main conference, I’ve been given a discount code to hand out to people “in my network”. If you’re reading this, you’re in :-) Using the code, you can save 20%, which is currently $80 USD.

That’s enough to buy a Red Sox ticket and a hot dog.

Boston v. NY, 1912
Boston vs. NY, 1912 World Series (LOC).

Email me directly for the code at

Linux Security Summit 2010 (Boston) – CFP Open

The Call for Participation (CFP) for the 2010 Linux Security Summit has been announced and is open until the 4th of June.

The aim of the Linux Security Summit is to bring developers, researchers and end users together to analyze and solve Linux security challenges.

This is not just for “security people” — it’s intended to be a forum for collaboration between the wider community (sysadmins, operations, architects, developers etc.) and Linux security developers.

Aerial view of Boston


The format of the event is expected to be a mix of brief technical talks, panel discussions, and lightning talks. It will be held on Monday 9th August, 2010 in Boston, co-located with LinuxCon.

The program committee is currently seeking proposals for talks and panel discussion topics: see the CFP for details.

In particular, we’d like to encourage folks with significant real-world deployments to attend and discuss what they’re doing and what they need in terms of security from the OS.

From a security developer point of view, much effort over the last decade has gone into adding security features to Linux and integrating them into distributions. End users have now been through a few product release cycles with these features, so it seems like a good opportunity now to get together and discuss what’s working, what’s not, and how we can work together to continue improving Linux security.

Attendance is open to all registered LinuxCon delegates.

FOSS.IN/2009 – great conference, or greatest conference?

Last week, I attended FOSS.IN, which had its origins as a community event ten years ago, and has evolved to become one of the world’s leading Free and Open Source developer gatherings.   Even in the years I’ve attended since 2005, it’s been remarkable to see the progress of the event, from a somewhat traditional presentation-based conference with most attendees being end users, to a developer-oriented week where the main track talks are secondary, and where a lot of real work is done.

This year, the program included Project of the Day sessions, where major FOSS projects held a mini-conferences.    I attended some of the Fedora PoTD sessions, including Joerg Simon’s talk on creating a Fedora Security Spin.  An expo area was also assigned for major projects throughout the conference, where you’d often find Fedora, KDE etc. folk hanging out — hacking, chatting, and helping people who passed by (including myself, when my Macbook decided to have EFI issues with F12).


Fedora table at the FOSS expo area.

There were also workshops (tutorials), and workout sessions, where groups of people would gather and work on a project for a period of hours or days (up to the full length of the conference).   Notable here were Harald Welte’s GSM workout, and a well-attended hardware hacking workout, run by Milosch and Brita Meriac of CCC and Blinkenlights fame.  I think these ran all week.  There were also workouts for GNOME performance, the SAHANA disaster management system, KStars, and web identity, to name a few that I can recall off-hand.  There really was an incredible amount of stuff going on.

I participated in the Linux Kernel workout, which filled the final afternoon of the conference, as well as all the remaining room in the workout area.

FOSS.IN/2009 Kernel Workout Session

Linux Kernel Workout Session

The kernel workout, which was organized by Kamalesh Babulal, included work on specific development tasks, and mentoring of new kernel developers.  It was a little chaotic at first, but ended up being a very productive session, and seemed to be over too soon.  I’d suggest holding this over perhaps 2-3 entire days next year.

I also gave a talk on SELinux Sandboxing internals, to demonstrate how to utilize various Linux OS features such as namespaces and Mandatory Accees Control (MAC) security, and also how useable and effective security can be implemented via high-level abstractions and encapsulation.  This was similar to the talk I gave at FOSS.MY (and will also give at LCA), the slides of which may be found here.  I think it’s very important for people to understand that there are no silver bullets for security, especially as we’re working with an OS which was not designed with security primarily in mind.   At the lowest levels, security on a general purpose OS is inherently complicated, and like most other problems in computing, we solve this with layers of abstraction.  You don’t need to understand the inner working of your CPU to play Scrabulous, for example.  I think we’re gradually getting the message across, and I really hope to see more people engaged in helping to solve the always increasingly difficult problems in computer security.  We’ve made a lot of progress overall, but still have a long way to go.


Preparing for the closing session.

I’d like to give a special thanks to the FOSS.IN team, who are all volunteers, and who manage each year to organize a very complex event and provide truly great hospitality.  I missed the closing talk (and rock concert) to make a flight, although read that Atul Chitnis will be stepping back as leader of the event next year.   The conference as it is today reflects his personal vision for fostering core FOSS development activity in India, and it has been inspirational to witness the progress of this.  It will be interesting to see who steps up to lead the conference next, and where they will take it.

SELinux Sandbox slides available, et cetera

I’ve just given a presentation on SELinux Sandboxing at 2009 in Kuala Lumpur — the slides are available for download as a PDF file here.

The presentation was an overview of sandboxing as a concept; how we can enhance it with MAC security; and how it’s being implemented in Fedora 12 with SELinux. I also discussed the need for a standard security API for Linux, so that developers will be more inclined to incorporate enhanced security support in their software, and to generally increase security adoption via standardization. We’ve seen this work well thus far with sVirt, so it should be feasible

The SELinux Sandbox stuff will be familiar if you’ve seen Dan Walsh’s recent talks on the topic, although in this case, I included his cell phone number in the presentation if people have detailed questions, seeing as he’s not here in person.

It’s been yet another busy conference trip, with KS and JLS last week — I attended some of the JLS security talks and a Japanese Secure OS user group dinner. It was a very interesting and productive time.

I dented this a few days ago, but got no answer (and also dragged DaveM to see it & he couldn’t figure it out, either): does anyone know what this mystery object is?

Mystery object

It’s a spinning, blue and white striped cone near the ceiling of an underground Tokyo subway entrance.

Videos from the LPC security track

Several videos from the 2009 Linux Plumbers Conference security track have been published at the Linux Foundation video site.   Here’s a listing with the relevant slides:

Many thanks to the folk at LF and the LPC organizers, especially Niv (also for the HTML listing above).

If you attended LPC, or make use of the videos or slide, please drop by this thread at LWN to say thanks.   If you have any suggestions for improvements, feel very free to volunteer your time at the next event.

Portland Roundup

Last week was a busy one in Portland, starting with the SELinux Developer Summit on Sunday the 20th, followed by LinuxCon proper, and the Linux Plumbers Conference.

The SELinux event went very smoothly, with around twenty-five attendees from the core SELinux developer community.  Given tight travel budgets all-round, this level of attendance was very good to see.  I’d like to thank Angela Brown, Craig Ross and the rest of the Linux Foundation team for making everything work perfectly for us (this was a co-located event ahead of LinuxCon).

The day was divided into two sessions: standard presentations in the morning, followed by a more open general session in the afternoon.  It was good to catch up on the latest development work and directions in the project, and also to bring the otherwise globally distributed team together in the same place.

SELinux Developer Summit Lunch Track

SELinux Developer Summit Lunch Track

The inaugural LinuxCon then ran for three days, with an expansive programme.  I gave a talk on adding extended attribute support to Linux NFSv3 — the slides for which may be downloaded as PDF or viewed on slideshare.  I completed the initial code on the flight to the US and posted it from the hotel.  Feedback so far has been positive, although I haven’t heard from the NFS maintainers yet (who are likely busy with the merge window).  The rationale and technical approach is similar the NFSv3 ACL support which was merged some time ago; and the implementation is based on a fielded IRIX version (released under the GPL) — both factors which I hope will help with upstream acceptance.

Also at LinuxCon: Dan Walsh gave a talk on sVirt, which I introduced earlier this year at LCA (and previewed of during a lightning talk last year at FOSS.MY).  It seems to have been well-received (see LWN coverage), and it’s a good example of the high-level security abstractions which we can build once we have the underlying mechanisms in place.  In the case of sVirt, where we apply strong mandatory isolation to process-based virtualization (e.g. SELinux+KVM), there is zero configuration — it configures itself automatically depending on which security model you have enabled.  It should work with any label security scheme, such as Smack, and I’ve also heard that the AppArmor folk have it working (even though sVirt was not explicitly designed for pathname security).

Only in Oregon - Voodoo Donuts

Only in Oregon - Voodoo Donuts

Dan gave a LinuxCon lightning talk at Linux on yet another high-level security feature: Sandbox X, which extends the SELinux sandbox mechanism to the desktop by running applications in isolated X servers via Xephyr.  He gave a full talk on this the Linux Plumbers Conference, slides of which may be found here.

Dan Walsh - SELinux Sandbox

Dan Walsh - SELinux Sandbox

I don’t have the time to cover everything at LinuxCon — check the web site for videos and slides.  Also see my flickr photo set.  It was a very impressive first conference, with LCA-quality social events and catering (Angela Brown has been quietly studying LCA, in fact) and certainly sets a new standard for such events in North America.  LinuxCon will be held in Boston next year — I wonder what they’ll come up with to beat bacon-maple donuts for breakfast.

Following LinuxCon, the second Linux Plumbers Conference was held, and we were fortunate to get a double session for the security microconf (a special thanks to Nivedita Singhvi and team for making this possible).  We had talks on several Linux security projects, including Herbert Xu with an update on the kernel crypto API, Caleb Case on SELinux in Ubuntu, David Safford on IMA, and Casey Schaufler on the Smack application ecosystem (some high-end televisions will soon be shipping with Smack, to isolate the applications of competing content providers).

The XACE talk was very interesting, as we’re getting close to having workable support for MAC security inside X, which will allow the desktop to be locked down with fine-grained and comprehensive controls.  While typically envisaged for MLS use (e.g. having “secret” and “unclassified” desktop applications running on the same system), there are also many general purpose scenarios, such as separating your online banking session from your IRC chats.  It will be interesting to see what’s possible when combining XACE window labeling with Sandbox X — stay tuned.

XACE and AVC Cow - The future of the secure desktop

XACE and AVC Cow - The future of the secure desktop

Slides from the LPC microconf will be at the event web site soon, and I’ve also made all them available for download here.

It was a fairly intense week — three conferences plus the travel to and from Sydney, as well as the merge window opening a few days before.  I’ve got a few weeks to recover and then it’s Japan for the Kernel Summit and Japan Linux Symposium, stopping in Kuala Lumpur on the way back for FOSS.MY (where I’ll be covering the latest in SELinux Sandboxing).


Note that you can now follow my micro-updates on twitter, which is bridged from my account.

2009 SELinux Developer Summit schedule published

We’ve just published the schedule for this year’s SELinux Developer Summit.

From the announcement:

This year's event will be divided into two main sessions.

The first will be for traditional conference presentations which
were accepted via the CfP:

  * Labeled NFS Community Involvement - Dave Quigley (NSA)
  * Update on Flask/TE Support for X - Eamon Walsh (NSA)
  * Work on a Higher-Level Policy Language - James Carter (NSA)
  * Video Streaming in Policy Confined Environments - Philip Tricca (USAF)
  * A New Policy Infrastructure for SELinux Joshua Brindle (Tresys)
  * Policy Distribution Joshua Brindle (Tresys)
  * Refpolicy and Userspace Joshua Brindle (Tresys)
  * Analysis of Flask Policies in VM Systems Trent Jaeger (PSU) 

Aside from Josh's talks (which are combined into one 60-minute slot),
these are 30-minute slots.  For speakers, the recommended format is
20-minutes of presenting and 10-minutes of Q&A.

The second main session, after lunch, is intended to be fully
collaborative in that everyone in attendance may (and should) participate.
This is divided into three sections:

  * Lightning talks, 5 minutes each.  Any attendee may propose a lightning
    talk via the wiki or on the day.

  * Development sessions.  This is a flexible format where developers can
    work in small self-organized groups on specific tasks, taking
    advantage of the fact that we're all in the same place for the day.
    We'll discuss this further on the event mailing list -- it's important
    to identify tasks, teams and goals beforehand, and also to make sure
    everyone is set up to get straight to work on the day.

  * General project discussion.  We'll spend about an hour discussing
    project and development issues.  Candidate agenda items should
    first be posted to the event mailing list, and the agenda will be
    finalized immediately prior to the event.

For attendees who are yet to do so, ensure you are registered for
LinuxCon, which is co-hosting the event for us:

LinuxCon registration is a requirement for attending the SELinux Developer
Summit.  The current discounted registration rate ends on August 15th.

The development sessions idea comes from last year’s development-oriented FOSS.IN, which I wrote about here.

If you’re still considering whether to attend the SELinux Developer Summit, keep in mind that in addition to being part of LinuxCon, there’s also Linux Plumbers directly following that at the same venue, which includes a general Linux security microconf.  Travel budgets are tight for everyone this year, so hopefully the co-location of these events will help make a business case for people who are still working on travel approval.

For those who can’t make it, we’ll try and ensure that all available materials and minutes from the event are published in a timely manner.   I’d encourage those who are able to attend to blog/dent/tweet anything related to the event that they feel might be useful to others.

KCA slides, photos and videos

I was in Brisbane last week to talk about Linux Kernel Security at Kernel Conference Australia (KCA).

The aims of the talk were to provide a general overview of security features in the Linux kernel, and to examine historical context around Unix security and how Linux is evolving to address modern security requirements.

People may be interested in my slides. They’re available as a PDF download and via Slideshare. Note that full speaker notes are included in the slides, in the second half of the deck.

The conference was streamed live online, and the video from my talk may be viewed here. I’m watching to see how the talk, and my speaking in general, might be improved. As painful as this may be, it seems very effective in understanding what worked and what didn’t. I think I can tighten this talk up for possible future use, and focus more on how our development process—not merely the technology—helps address evolving security requirements.

I later participated in an OS security panel with Cristina Cifuentes and Fernando Gont, the video of which is also online.

I’ve also uploaded a flickr photo set. Brisbane is a great location for a conference, especially in the southern hemisphere winter.

It was unusual being the only Linux speaker at a conference. I hope the talk was useful, if at least to encourage more thinking about security in operating systems.

The primary organizer of KCA, James MacPherson, has posted an initial wrap-up of the conference. If the conference continues—I hope it does; it has a lot of potential for the Australian kernel R&D community—I think it would be highly advantageous to more actively seek speakers (and even organizers), from the broader community. One major local Linux kernel developer had a Linux kernel video talk rejected, which seemed odd given that similar talks were accepted (e.g. the new OpenSolaris sound system), and that an additional OpenSolaris talk was added to the program after the CfP closed.

I understand that organizing conferences is difficult, so I hope this is taken as constructive feedback. I’d certainly be interested in helping review papers or otherwise help out in the future if the conference is held again, and if it is aimed at the broader community.

A brief note on the 2.6.30 kernel null pointer vulnerability

This is just to note that the Red Hat Security Response team have issued a preliminary comment on the 2.6.30 kernel null pointer vulnerability, as a comment in the associated bugzilla entry:

From Eugene Teo (Security Response Team)  2009-07-17 07:23:57 EDT

The Red Hat Security Response Team is aware of the Linux kernel local privilege
escalation exploit that is published in a number of security mailing lists and
websites. The flaw identified by CVE-2009-1897 is a null pointer dereference
vulnerability in the tun_chr_poll() function of the Linux kernel, introduced
via the upstream git commit 33dccbb0. This flaw affects kernel versions between
2.6.30-rc1 and 2.6.30-rc3 2.6.31-rc3 , and was addressed via the upstream
git commit 3c8a9c63.

The flaw affects only the Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.4 beta kernel as the
upstream git commit 33dccbb0 was backported to the kernel as a normal bug fix.
We will be addressing this flaw in a future update to the beta kernel. It is
also possible to mitigate this flaw by ensuring that the permissions for
/dev/net/tun is restricted to root only.

The default SELinux policy, in Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5, allows processes in
the unconfined domains to map low memory in the kernel. The exploit did not
bypass the null pointer dereference protection in the Linux kernel. However, we
are updating the selinux-policy package to change this default configuration,
so that it prevents the unconfined processes from being able to map the low
memory. See bug 511143 for more information.

This issue does not affect any other released kernel in any Red Hat product.

In addition, future updates to Red Hat Enterprise Linux kernels may include the
'-fno-delete-null-pointer-checks' gcc CFLAGS. See:

We would like to thank Brad Spengler for bringing these issues to our

Note that I’m not a member of the security response team: I’m cc’d on the bug and noticed the statement when it was posted.

It is also worth highlighting that you should ensure that the permissions on


are correct.  It should look like this:

# ls -l /dev/net/tun
crw------- 1 root root 10, 200 2009-07-07 09:52 /dev/net/tun

It’s possible that some VPN package may change the permissions on this.

In terms of the SELinux aspect of the exploit, I’ve posted a brief comment in the LWN thread here.

Yes, there was a mistake in the SELinux policy, which allowed the unconfined user to bypass the mmap_min_addr check, which otherwise would have been enforced if the check was enabled (many disable it to get wine etc. working, btw, google disable mmap_min_addr).

This is being fixed in the policy.

The lesson learned here is that more careful review of policy changes needs to happen, and to ask the question as to whether the policy is capable of weakening default security.

The LSM interface is theoretically designed to only allow further restriction of access, but this is a special case, where we are applying policy to a kernel compilation option which can also have its value set via a sysctl. It’s not a typical “access this resource or not?” decision.

The policy bug is now fixed in the selinux-policy-2.4.6-252.el5 package.

The challenge now is to try and ensure that we don’t see this class of problem crop up again, for unusual cases such as this where the normally “restrictive” mode of LSM (i.e. where permissions can only be further restricted) does not apply.  We may need to rethink how this is managed in the kernel to reduce the possibility of such issues in LSM module policy, as the LSM API here appears to be violating the Hard to Misuse design principle.

FOSS.MY 2009 CFP Open

Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur

I just noticed that the Call for Participation for 2009 is now open, until August 15th.  I spoke at the inaugural event last year, and had a great time.  Held in Malaysia, this is a true grass-roots conference.  It’s modelled somewhat on other community events such as LCA and FOSS.IN, and probably the leading such event for Southeast Asia.

The conference will be held on the weekend of the 24th and 25th of October, immediately following the Japan Linux Symposium and the Kernel Summit.  If you’re visiting the region for either of the Tokyo events, Malaysia is relatively close-by, and there are several good budget airlines in the region.  I’d highly recommend submitting a proposal or simply attending.

Kuala Lumpur is certainly a great city to visit, too.