Practical techniques to obviate setuid-to-root binaries Conference Paper uri icon


  • Trusted, setuid-to-root binaries have been a substantial, long-lived source of privilege escalation vulnerabilities on Unix systems. Prior work on limiting privilege escalation has only considered privilege from the perspective of the administrator, neglecting the perspective of regular users-the primary reason for having setuid-to-root binaries. The paper presents a study of the current state of setuidto- root binaries on Linux, focusing on the 28 most commonly deployed setuid binaries in the Debian and Ubuntu distributions. This study reveals several points where Linux kernel policies and abstractions are a poor fit for the policies desired by the administrator, and root privilege is used to create point solutions. The majority of these point solutions address 8 system calls that require administrator privilege, but also export functionality required by unprivileged users. This paper demonstrates how least privilege can be achieved on modern systems for non-administrator users. We identify the policies currently encoded in setuid-to-root binaries, and present a framework for expressing and enforcing these policy categories in the kernel. Our prototype, called Protego, deprivileges over 10,000 lines of code by changing only 715 lines of Linux kernel code. Protego also adds additional utilities to keep the kernel policy synchronized with legacy, policy-relevant configuration files, such as /etc/sudoers. Although some previously-privileged binaries may require changes, Protego provides users with the same functionality as Linux and introduces acceptable performance overheads. For instance, a Linux kernel compile incurs less than 2% overhead on Protego. Copyright 2007 by the Association for Computing Machinery, Inc.

name of conference

  • the Ninth European Conference

published proceedings

  • Proceedings of the Ninth European Conference on Computer Systems - EuroSys '14

author list (cited authors)

  • Jain, B., Tsai, C., John, J., & Porter, D. E.

publication date

  • January 1, 2014 11:11 AM