Security considerations: scanning for bundled libraries

My fight against bundled libraries might soon transcend the implementation limits of my ruby-elf script .

The script I’ve been using to find the bundled libraries up to now was not designed with that in mind originally; the idea was to identify colliding symbols between different object files, so to identify failure cases like xine’s aac decoder hopefully before they become a nuisance to users like PHP. Unfortunately the amount of data generated by the script due to bundled libraries makes it tremendously difficult to deal with in advance, so it can currently only be used as a post-mortem.

But as a security tool, I already stated it’s not enough because it only checks for symbols that are exported by shared objects (and often mistakenly by executables). To actually go deeper, one would have to look at one of two options: the .symtab entries in the ELF files (which are stripped out before installing), or the data that the compiler emits for each output file in form of DWARF sections with -g flags. The former can be done with the same tools I’ve been using up to now, the latter you list with pfunct from dev-util/dwarves. Trust me, though, that if the current database of optimistically suppressed symbols is difficult to deal with, doing a search using dwarf functions is likely to be unmanageable, at least to handle with the same algorithm that I’m using for the collision detection script.

Being able to identify bundled libraries in that kind of output is going to be tremendously tricky; if my collision detection script already finds collision between executables like the one from MySQL (well, before Jorge’s fixes at least) and Samba packages, because they don’t use internally shared libraries, running it against the internal symbols list is going to be even worse because it would then find equally-named internal functions (usage() anybody), static libraries links (including system support libraries) and so on.

So there are little hopes to tackle the issue this way; which makes the idea of finding beforehand all the bundled libraries in a system an inhuman task; on the other hand that doesn’t mean I have to give up on the idea. We can still make use of that data to do some kind of post-mortem, once again, with some tricks though. When it comes to vulnerabilities, you usually have a function, or a series of function, that are involved; depending on the centrality of the functions in a library, there will be more or less applications using that vulnerable codepath; while it’s not extremely difficult to track them down when the function is a direct API (just look for software having external references to that symbol), it’s quite another story with internal convenience functions, since they are called indirectly. For this reason while some advisories do report the problematic symbols, most of the time the thing is just ignored.

We can, though, use that particular piece of information to track down extra vulnerable software, that bundles the code. I’ve been doing that on request for Robert a couple of times with the data produced by the collision detection scripts, but unfortunately it doesn’t help because it also is only able to check externally-defined API, just like a search for use would. How to solve the problem? Well, I could just not strip the files and just read the data from .symtab to see whether the function is defined, and this might actually be what I’m going to do soonish; unfortunately this creates a couple of issues that needs to be taken care of.

The first is that the debug data is not exactly small, the second is that the chroots volume is under RAID1 so the space is a concern; it’s already 100GB big and with just 10% of it free, if I am not to strip data, it’s going to require even more space; I can probably just split out some of the data of the volume in a chroots-throwable volume that I don’t have to keep on RAID1. If I split the debug data with the splitdebug feature, it would make it quite easy to deal with.

Unfortunately this brings me to the second problem, or rather the second set of problems: ruby-elf does not currently support the debuglink facilities, but that’s easy to implemente, after all it’s just a note section with the name of the debug file, the second is nastier and relates to the fact that the debuglink section created by portage lists the basename of the file with the debug information, which is basically the same name as the original with a .debug suffix. The reason why this is not just left to be intended is that if you look up the debuglink for you’ll see the real name might be; on the other hand it’s far from trivial since it leaves something to be intended: the path to find the file into. By default all tools will be looking at the same path as the executable file, and prepend /usr/lib/debug to that. All well as long as there are no symlinks in the path, but if there are (like on multilib AMD64 systems), it starts to be a problem: accessing a shared object via /usr/lib/ will try a read of /usr/lib/debug/usr/lib/ which will not exist (it would be /usr/lib/debug/usr/lib64/ I have to track down and check if it’s feasible to use full canonicalised path for the debuglink; on the other hand that will assume that the root for the file is the same as the root of the system, which might not be the case. The third option is to use a debugroot-relative path, so that debuglink would look like usr/lib64/; unfortunately I have no clue how gdb and company would take a debuglink like that, and I have to check it).

Problem does not stop here though; since packages collide one with the other when they try to install files with the same name (even when they are not really alternatives), I cannot rely to have all the packages installed in the tinderbox, which is actually making it even worse to analyse the symbol collisions dataset. So I should at least scan the data before merge on livefs is done, and load it in a database, indexed on a per-package per-slot basis, and then select the search that data to identify the problems. Not an easy or a quick solution.

Nor a complete one to be honest: the .symtab method will not show the symbols that are not emitted, like inlined functions; while we do want the unused symbols to be cut out, we still need static inlined functions names, since if a vulnerability is found there, it has to be found. I should check whether DWARF data is emitted for that at least but I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t either. And also does not cope at all with renamed symbols, or copied code… So, still a long way before we actually can reassure users that all security issues are tackled down when found (and this does not limit to Gentoo, remember; Gentoo is the base tool I use to tackle the task, but the same problems involve basically every distribution out there).

2 thoughts on “Security considerations: scanning for bundled libraries

  1. (Ugh, I submitted without putting name and email. It says name’s required so that one should be just dropped, but in the event this posts twice, or you just get two copies to approve, you know what happened.)It was interesting seeing your name as the discoverer of a vuln on one of the GLSAs (the recent glib one), knowing how much work you’re putting into testing all this stuff. As you mention, it’s not just Gentoo that benefits, but the entire community. =:^)It’s certainly appreciated. You are indeed a rare resource that both the community in general and Gentoo are fortunate to have. So be good to yourself and don’t work so hard you burn yourself out and/or kill yourself! My dad and sister are workaholics, too, and I’ve watched them work themselves into the hospital time and again. I know from this blog your health hasn’t been the best either, and I definitely worry about you, both for you and for the entirely selfish reasons of all you do for the community that they and I benefit from.So really, do take care of yourself. It does seem you’re being forced to learn to pace yourself better. That’s a good thing. I know it took my dad long enough, tho, and like the alcoholic, the workaholic finds it easy enough to fall back into it even when he’s aware of the toll it’s taking on his body. So just… be careful… and know that for entirely selfish reasons or not, a lot of us ARE honestly concerned about you and your well-being. We’d be nuts not to be!


  2. I’d be amazing to have such a tool, thanks for your great work.At Debian we have a list of known “embedded code copies”:….We recently implemented a check on lintian, our packages checker, to look for zlib’s copyright notice in ELF objects, which has provided us with some more data.You can find the results “here”:….Hope those lists help you a bit to verify the results.


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