1 Introduction

The goal of deprilvileging qemu is this: Even if there is a bug (for example in qemu) which permits a domain to gain control of the device model, the compromised device model process is prevented from violating the system’s overall security properties. Ie, a guest cannot “escape” from the virtualisation by using a qemu bug.

This document lists the various technical measures which we either have taken, or plan to take to effect this goal. Some of them are required to be considered secure (that is, there are known attack vectors which they close); others are “just in case” (that is, there are no known attack vectors, but we perform the restrictions to reduce the possibility of unknown attack vectors).

2 Restrictions done

The following restrictions are currently implemented.

2.1 Having qemu switch user

’‘’Description’’’: As mentioned above, having QEMU switch to a non-root user, one per domain id. Not being the root user limits what a compromised QEMU process can do to the system, and having one user per domain id limits what a comprimised QEMU process can do to the QEMU processes of other VMs.

’‘’Implementation’’’: The toolstack adds the following to the qemu command-line:

-runas <uid>:<gid>

’‘’How to test’’’:

grep /proc/<qpid>/status [UG]id

’‘’Testing Status’’’: Not tested

2.2 Xen library / file-descriptor restrictions

’‘’Description’’’: Close and restrict Xen-related file descriptors. Specifically: * Close all xenstore-related file descriptors * Make sure that all open instances of privcmd and evtchn file descriptors have had IOCTL_PRIVCMD_RESTRICT and IOCTL_EVTCHN_RESTRICT_DOMID ioctls called on them, respectively.

’‘’Implementation’’’: Toolstack adds the following to the qemu command-line:


’‘’How to test’’’:

Use fishdescriptor to pull a file descriptor from a running QEMU, then use depriv-fd-checker to check that it has the desired properties, and that hypercalls which are meant to fail do fail. (In Debian fishdescriptor can be found in the binary package chiark-scripts; the depriv-fd-checker is included in the Xen source tree.)

’‘’Testing status’’’: Tested

2.3 Chroot

’‘’Description’’‘: Qemu runs in its own chroot, such that even if it could call an ’open’ command of some sort, there would be nothing for it to see.

’‘’Implementation’’’: The toolstack creates a directory in the libxl “run-dir”; e.g. /var/run/xen/qemu-root-<domid>

Then adds the following to the qemu command-line:

-chroot /var/run/xen/qemu-root-<domid>

’‘’How to test’’’: Check /proc/<qpid>/root

’‘’Tested’’’: Not tested

2.4 Namespaces for unused functionality (Linux only)

’‘’Description’’’: QEMU doesn’t use the functionality associated with mount and IPC namespaces. (IPC namespaces contol non-file-based IPC mechanisms within the kernel; unix and network sockets are not affected by this.) Making separate namespaces for these for QEMU won’t affect normal operation, but it does mean that even if other restrictions fail, the process won’t be able to even name system mount points or existing non-file-based IPC descriptors to attempt to attack them.


In theory this could be done in QEMU (similar to -sandbox, -runas, -chroot, and so on), but a patch doing this in QEMU was NAKed upstream (see qemu-namespaces). They preferred that this was done as a setup step by whatever executes QEMU; i.e., have the process which exec’s QEMU first call:


’‘’How to test’’’: Check /proc/<qpid>/ns/[ipc,mnt]

’‘’Tested’’’: Not tested

2.4.1 Basic RLIMITs

’‘’Description’’’: A number of limits on the resources that a given process / userid is allowed to consume. These can limit the ability of a compromised QEMU process to DoS domain 0 by exhausting various resources available to it.


Limits that can be implemented immediately without much effort: - RLIMIT_FSIZE` (file size) to 256KiB.

Probably not necessary but why not: - RLIMIT_CORE: 0 - RLIMIT_MSGQUEUE: 0 - RLIMIT_LOCKS: 0 - RLIMIT_MEMLOCK: 0

Note: mlock() is used by QEMU only when both “realtime” and “mlock” are specified; this does not apply to QEMU running as a Xen DM.

’‘’How to test’’’: Check /proc/<qpid>/limits

’‘’Tested’’’: Not tested

2.4.2 libxl UID cleanup

’‘’Description’’’: Domain IDs are reused, and thus restricted UIDs are reused. If a compromised QEMU can fork (due to seccomp or RLIMIT_NPROC limits being ineffective for some reason), it may avoid being killed when its domain dies, then wait until the domain ID is reused again, at which point it will have control over the domain in question (which probably belongs to someone else).

libxl should kill all UIDs associated with a domain both when the VM is destroyed, and before starting a VM with the same UID.

’‘’Implementation’’’: This is unnecessarily tricky.

The kill() system call can have three kinds of targets: - A single pid - A process group - “Every process except me to which I am allowed to send a signal” (-1)

Targeting a single pid is racy and likely to be beaten by the following loop:

while(1) {

That is, by the time you’ve read the process list and found the process id you want to kill, that process has exited and there is a new process whose pid you don’t know about.

Targeting a process group will be ineffective, as unprivileged processes are allowed to make their own process groups.

kill(-1) can be used but must be done with care. Consider the following code, for example:

kill(-1, 9);

This looks like it will do the trick; but by setting all of the user ids (effective, real, and saved), it opens the ‘killing’ process up to being killed by the target process:

while(1) {
        kill(-1, 9);

Fortunately there is an assymetry we can take advantage of. From the POSIX spec:

For a process to have permission to send a signal to a process designated by pid, unless the sending process has appropriate privileges, the real or effective user ID of the sending process shall match the real or saved set-user-ID of the receiving process.

The solution is to allocate a second “reaper” uid that is only used to kill target processes. We set the euid of the killing process to the target_uid, but the ruid of the killing process to reaper_uid, leaving the suid of the killing process as 0:

setresuid(reaper_uid, target_uid, 0);
kill(-1, 9);

NOTE: We cannot use setreuid(reaper_uid, target_uid) here, as that will set both euid and suid to target_uid, making the killing process vulnerable to the target process again.

Since this will kill all other reaper_uid processes as well, we must either allocate a separate reaper_uid per domain, or use locking to ensure that only one killing process is active at a time.

3 Restrictions / improvements still to do

This lists potential restrictions still to do. It is meant to be listed in order of ease of implementation, with low-hanging fruit first.

3.0.1 Further RLIMITs

RLIMIT_AS limits the total amount of memory; but this includes the virtual memory which QEMU uses as a mapcache. xen-mapcache.c already fiddles with this; it would be straightforward to make it set the rlimit to what it thinks a sensible limit is.

RLIMIT_NPROC limits total number of processes or threads. QEMU uses threads for some devices, so this would require some thought.

Other things that would take some cleverness / changes to QEMU to utilize due to ordering constrants: - RLIMIT_NOFILES (after all necessary files are opened)

3.1 libxl: Treat QMP connection as untrusted

’‘’Description’’’: Currently libxl talks with QEMU via QMP; but its interactions have not historically considered from a security point of view. For example, qmp_synchronous_send() waits for a response from QEMU, which a compromised QEMU could simply not send (thus preventing the toolstack from making forward progress).

’‘’Implementation’’’: Audit toolstack interactions with QEMU which happen after the guest has started running, and assume QEMU has been compromised.

3.1.1 seccomp filtering (Linux only)

’‘’Description’’’: Turn on seccomp filtering to disable syscalls which QEMU doesn’t need.

’‘’Implementation’’’: Enable from the command-line:

-sandbox on,obsolete=deny,elevateprivileges=allow,spawn=deny,resourcecontrol=deny

elevateprivileges is currently required to allow -runas to work. Removing this requirement would mean making sure that the uid change happened before the seccomp2 call, perhaps by changing the uid before executing QEMU. (But this would then require other changes to create the QMP socket, VNC socket, and so on).

It should be noted that -sandbox is implemented as a blacklist, not a whitelist; that is, it disables known-unsed functionality which may be harmful, rather than disabling all functionality except that known to be safe and needed. This is unfortunately necessary since qemu doesn’t know what system calls libraries might end up making. (See lwn-seccomp for a more complete discussion.)

This feature is not on by default and may not be available in all environments. We therefore need to either: 1. Require that this feature be enabled to build qemu 2. Check for -sandbox support at runtime before

3.1.2 Disks

The chroot (and seccomp?) happens late enough such that QEMU can initialize itself and open its disks. If you want to add a disk at run time via or insert a CD, you can’t pass a path because QEMU is chrooted. Instead use the add-fd QMP command and use /dev/fdset/ as the path.

A further layer of restriction could be to set RLIMIT_NOFILES to ‘0’, and hand all disks over QMP.

3.2 Migration

When calling xen-save-devices-state, since QEMU is running in a chroot it is not useful to pass a filename (it doesn’t even have write access inside the chroot). Instead, give it an open fd using the add-fd mechanism.

Additionally, all the restrictions need to be applied to the qemu started up on the post-migration side. One issue that needs to be solved is how to signal the toolstack on restore that qemu is ready for the domain to be started (since this is normally done via xenstore, and at this point the xenstore connections will have been closed).

3.2.1 Network namespacing (Linux only)

Enter QEMU into its own network namespace (in addition to mount & IPC namespaces):


QEMU does actually use the network namespace as a Xen DM for two purposes: 1) To set up network tap devices 2) To open vnc connections. Network

If QEMU runs in its own network namespace, it can’t open the tap device itself because the interface won’t be visible outside of its own namespace. So instead, have the toolstack open the device and pass it as an fd on the command-line:

-device rtl8139,netdev=tapnet0,mac=... -netdev tap,id=tapnet0,fd=<tapfd> VNC

If QEMU runs in its own network namespace, it is not straightforward to listen on a TCP socket outside of its own network namespace. One option would be to use VNC over a UNIX socket:

-vnc unix:/var/run/xen/vnc-<domid>

However, this would break functionality in the general case; I think we need to have the toolstack open a socket and pass the fd to QEMU (which requires changes to QEMU).