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The execve system call can grant a newly-started program privileges that
its parent did not have. The most obvious examples are setuid/setgid
programs and file capabilities. To prevent the parent program from
gaining these privileges as well, the kernel and user code must be
careful to prevent the parent from doing anything that could subvert the
child. For example:
- The dynamic loader handles LD_* environment variables differently if
a program is setuid.
- chroot is disallowed to unprivileged processes, since it would allow
/etc/passwd to be replaced from the point of view of a process that
inherited chroot.
- The exec code has special handling for ptrace.
These are all ad-hoc fixes. The no_new_privs bit (since Linux 3.5) is a
new, generic mechanism to make it safe for a process to modify its
execution environment in a manner that persists across execve. Any task
can set no_new_privs. Once the bit is set, it is inherited across fork,
clone, and execve and cannot be unset. With no_new_privs set, execve
promises not to grant the privilege to do anything that could not have
been done without the execve call. For example, the setuid and setgid
bits will no longer change the uid or gid; file capabilities will not
add to the permitted set, and LSMs will not relax constraints after
To set no_new_privs, use prctl(PR_SET_NO_NEW_PRIVS, 1, 0, 0, 0).
Be careful, though: LSMs might also not tighten constraints on exec
in no_new_privs mode. (This means that setting up a general-purpose
service launcher to set no_new_privs before execing daemons may
interfere with LSM-based sandboxing.)
Note that no_new_privs does not prevent privilege changes that do not
involve execve. An appropriately privileged task can still call
setuid(2) and receive SCM_RIGHTS datagrams.
There are two main use cases for no_new_privs so far:
- Filters installed for the seccomp mode 2 sandbox persist across
execve and can change the behavior of newly-executed programs.
Unprivileged users are therefore only allowed to install such filters
if no_new_privs is set.
- By itself, no_new_privs can be used to reduce the attack surface
available to an unprivileged user. If everything running with a
given uid has no_new_privs set, then that uid will be unable to
escalate its privileges by directly attacking setuid, setgid, and
fcap-using binaries; it will need to compromise something without the
no_new_privs bit set first.
In the future, other potentially dangerous kernel features could become
available to unprivileged tasks if no_new_privs is set. In principle,
several options to unshare(2) and clone(2) would be safe when
no_new_privs is set, and no_new_privs + chroot is considerable less
dangerous than chroot by itself.