A reminder why you should never mount guest disk images on the host OS

Posted: February 20th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Coding Tips, Fedora, libvirt, OpenStack, Security, Virt Tools | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The OpenStack Nova project has the ability to inject files into a guest filesystem immediately prior to booting the virtual machine instance. Historically the way it did this was to setup either a loop or NBD device on the host OS and then mount the guest filesystem directly on the host OS. One of the high priority tasks for Red Hat engineers when we became involved in OpenStack was to integrate libguestfs FUSE into Nova to replace the use of loop back + NBD devices, and then subsequently refactor Nova to introduce a VFS layer which enables use of the native libguestfs API to avoid any interaction with the host filesystem at all.

There has already been a vulnerability in the Nova code which allowed a malicious user to inject files to arbitrary locations in the host filesystem. This has of course been fixed, but even so mounting guest disk images on the host OS should still be considered very bad practice. The libguestfs manual describes the remaining risk quite well:

When you mount a filesystem, mistakes in the kernel filesystem (VFS) can be escalated into exploits by attackers creating a malicious filesystem. These exploits are very severe for two reasons. Firstly there are very many filesystem drivers in the kernel, and many of them are infrequently used and not much developer attention has been paid to the code. Linux userspace helps potential crackers by detecting the filesystem type and automatically choosing the right VFS driver, even if that filesystem type is unexpected. Secondly, a kernel-level exploit is like a local root exploit (worse in some ways), giving immediate and total access to the system right down to the hardware level

Libguestfs provides protection against this risk by creating a virtual machine inside which all guest filesystem manipulations are performed. Thus even if the guest kernel gets compromised by a VFS flaw, the attacker then still has to break out of the KVM virtual machine and its sVirt confinement to stand a chance of compromising the host OS. Some people have doubted the severity of this kernel VFS driver risk in the past, but an article posted on LWN today should serve reinforce the fact that libguestfs is right to be paranoid. The article highlights two kernel filesystem vulnerabilities (one in ext4 which is enabled in pretty much all Linux hosts) which left hosts vulnerable for as long as 3 years in some cases:

  • CVE-2009-4307: a divide-by-zero crash in the ext4 filesystem code. Causing this oops requires convincing the user to mount a specially-crafted ext4 filesystem image
  • CVE-2009-4020: a buffer overflow in the HFS+ filesystem exploitable, once again, by convincing a user to mount a specially-crafted filesystem image on the target system.

If the user has access to an OpenStack deployment which is not using libguestfs for file injection, then “convincing a user to mount a specially crafted filesystem” merely requires them to upload their evil filesystem image to glance and then request Nova to boot it.

Anyone deploying OpenStack with file injection enabled, is strongly advised to make sure libguestfs is installed to avoid any direct exposure of the host OS kernel to untrusted guest images.

While I picked on OpenStack as a convenient way to illustrate the problem here, it is not unique to OpenStack. Far too frequently I find documentation relating to virtualization that suggests people mount untrusted disk images directly on their OS. Based on their documented features I’m confident that a number of public virtual machine hosting companies will be mounting untrusted user disk images on their virtualization hosts, likely without using libguestfs for protection.

One Comment

Christian Horn said at 8:03 pm on February 21st, 2013:

Thanks for spreading the word on such attack vectors which many people do not think of.

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