OpenBSD's pledge and unveil from Python

This article was discussed on Hacker News.

Years ago, OpenBSD gained two new security system calls, pledge(2) (originally tame(2)) and unveil. In both, an application surrenders capabilities at run-time. The idea is to perform initialization like usual, then drop capabilities before handling untrusted input, limiting unwanted side effects. This feature is applicable even where type safety isn’t an issue, such as Python, where a program might still get tricked into accessing sensitive files or making network connections when it shouldn’t. So how can a Python program access these system calls?

As discussed previously, it’s quite easy to access C APIs from Python through its ctypes package, and this is no exception. In this article I show how to do it. Here’s the full source if you want to dive in:

I’ve chosen these extra constraints:

For reference, here are the function prototypes:

int pledge(const char *promises, const char *execpromises);
int unveil(const char *path, const char *permissions);

The string-oriented interface of pledge will make this a whole lot easier to implement.

Finding the functions

The first step is to grab functions through ctypes. Like a lot of Python documentation, this area is frustratingly imprecise and under-documented. I want to grab a handle to the already-linked libc and search for either function. However, getting that handle is a little different on each platform, and in the process I saw four different exceptions, only one of which is documented.

I came up with passing None to ctypes.CDLL, which ultimately just passes NULL to dlopen(3). That’s really all I wanted. Currently on Windows this is a TypeError. Once the handle is in hand, try to access the pledge attribute, which will fail with AttributeError if it doesn’t exist. In the event of any exception, just assume the behavior isn’t available. If found, I also define the function prototype for ctypes.

_pledge = None
    _pledge = ctypes.CDLL(None, use_errno=True).pledge
    _pledge.restype = ctypes.c_int
    _pledge.argtypes = ctypes.c_char_p, ctypes.c_char_p
except Exception:
    _pledge = None

Catching a broad Exception isn’t great, but it’s the best we can do since the documentation is incomplete. From this block I’ve seen TypeError, AttributeError, FileNotFoundError, and OSError. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more possibilities, and I don’t want to risk missing them.

Note that I’m catching Exception rather than using a bare except. My code will not catch KeyboardInterrupt nor SystemExit. This is deliberate, and I never want to catch these.

The same story for unveil:

_unveil = None
    _unveil = ctypes.CDLL(None, use_errno=True).unveil
    _unveil.restype = ctypes.c_int
    _unveil.argtypes = ctypes.c_char_p, ctypes.c_char_p
except Exception:
    _unveil = None

Pythonic wrappers

The next and final step is to wrap the low-level call in an interface that hides their C and ctypes nature.

Python strings must be encoded to bytes before they can be passed to C functions. Rather than make the caller worry about this, we’ll let them pass friendly strings and have the wrapper do the conversion. Either may also be NULL, so None is allowed.

def pledge(promises: Optional[str], execpromises: Optional[str]):
    if not _pledge:
        return  # unimplemented

    r = _pledge(None if promises is None else promises.encode(),
                None if execpromises is None else execpromises.encode())
    if r == -1:
        errno = ctypes.get_errno()
        raise OSError(errno, os.strerror(errno))

As usual, a return of -1 means there was an error, in which case we fetch errno and raise the appropriate OSError.

unveil works a little differently since the first argument is a path. Python functions that accept paths, such as open, generally accept either strings or bytes. On unix-like systems, paths are fundamentally bytestrings and not necessarily Unicode, so it’s necessary to accept bytes. Since strings are nearly always more convenient, they take both. The unveil wrapper here will do the same. If it’s a string, encode it, otherwise pass it straight through.

def unveil(path: Union[str, bytes, None], permissions: Optional[str]):
    if not _unveil:
        return  # unimplemented

    r = _unveil(path.encode() if isinstance(path, str) else path,
                None if permissions is None else permissions.encode())
    if r == -1:
        errno = ctypes.get_errno()
        raise OSError(errno, os.strerror(errno))

That’s it!

Trying it out

Let’s start with unveil. Initially a process has access to the whole file system with the usual restrictions. On the first call to unveil it’s immediately restricted to some subset of the tree. Each call reveals a little more until a final NULL which locks it in place for the rest of the process’s existence.

Suppose a program has been tricked into accessing your shell history, perhaps by mishandling a path:

def hackme():
        with open(pathlib.Path.home() / ".bash_history"):
            print("You've been hacked!")
    except FileNotFoundError:
        print("Blocked by unveil.")


If you’re a Bash user, this prints:

You've been hacked!

Using our new feature to restrict the program’s access first:

# restrict access to static program data
unveil("/usr/share", "r")
unveil(None, None)


On OpenBSD this now prints:

Blocked by unveil.

Working just as it should!

With pledge we declare what abilities we’d like to keep by supplying a list of promises, pledging to use only those abilities afterward. A common case is the stdio promise which allows reading and writing of open files, but not opening files. A program might open its log file, then drop the ability to open files while retaining the ability to write to its log.

An invalid or unknown promise is an error. Does that work?

>>> pledge("doesntexist", None)
OSError: [Errno 22] Invalid argument

So far so good. How about the functionality itself?

pledge("stdio", None)

The program is instantly killed when making the disallowed system call:

Abort trap (core dumped)

If you want something a little softer, include the error promise:

pledge("stdio error", None)

Instead it’s an exception, which will be a lot easier to debug when it comes to Python, so you probably always want to use it.

OSError: [Errno 78] Function not implemented

The core dump isn’t going to be much help to a Python program, so you probably always want to use this promise. In general you need to be extra careful about pledge in complex runtimes like Python’s which may reasonably need to do many arbitrary, undocumented things at any time.

Have a comment on this article? Start a discussion in my public inbox by sending an email to ~skeeto/ [mailing list etiquette] , or see existing discussions.

null program

Chris Wellons (PGP)
~skeeto/ (view)