Cook: Security things in Linux v5.3

Kees Cook catches up with the security improvements in the 5.3 kernel. “In recent exploits, one of the steps for making the attacker’s life easier is to disable CPU protections like Supervisor Mode Access (and Execute) Prevention (SMAP and SMEP) by finding a way to write to CPU control registers to disable these features. For example, CR4 controls SMAP and SMEP, where disabling those would let an attacker access and execute userspace memory from kernel code again, opening up the attack to much greater flexibility. CR0 controls Write Protect (WP), which when disabled would allow an attacker to write to read-only memory like the kernel code itself. Attacks have been using the kernel’s CR4 and CR0 writing functions to make these changes (since it’s easier to gain that level of execute control), but now the kernel will attempt to ‘pin’ sensitive bits in CR4 and CR0 to avoid them getting disabled. This forces attacks to do more work to enact such register changes going forward.”

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