Sunday, August 30, 2009

Analysis of Darwin kernel exploit

This is an addendum account of The Story of a Simple and Dangerous Kernel Bug.

On Unix, the fcntl() system call is used to manipulate file descriptors (duplication, close-on-exec, access mode, ownership, and locking). On Mac OS X, it is also used to provide read-ahead and write-back hints, and therefore some of the commands are file-system specific. The file-system specific commands are passed to the device driver as if an ioctl called has been made; on Unix, ioctl() allows the device driver to export any method call (associated to a file descriptor) to the userland.

The problem with passing fcntl() arguments to ioctl() in Mac OS X is that ioctl() and fcntl() checks their arguments differently. The argument depends on which command code is passed to the function. If the argument is a pointer, the pointer should be checked that it points to valid memory. However, fcntl() argument checking code does not recognize ioctl commands, so it just assumes that the arguments are integers. This allows unchecked pointers to be passed to device driver code, which can overwrite arbitrary memory address.
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