Story

Case 1

I accidentally wrote my Assembly code in the .data section. I compiled it and executed it. The program ran normally under Linux 5.4.0-53-generic even though I didn't specify a flag like execstack.

Case 2:

After that, I executed the program under Linux 5.9.0-050900rc5-generic. The program got SIGSEGV. I inspected the virtual memory permission by reading /proc/$pid/maps. It turned out that the section is not executable.

I think there is a configuration on Linux that manages that permission. But I don't know where to find.

Code

[Linux 5.4.0-53-generic]

Run (normal)

[email protected]:/tmp$ uname -r
5.4.0-53-generic
[email protected]:/tmp$ cat test.asm
[section .data]
global _start
_start:
  mov eax, 60
  xor edi, edi
  syscall
[email protected]:/tmp$ nasm --version
NASM version 2.14.02
[email protected]:/tmp$ nasm -felf64 test.asm -o test.o
[email protected]:/tmp$ ld test.o -o test
[email protected]:/tmp$ ./test
[email protected]:/tmp$ echo $?
0
[email protected]:/tmp$ md5sum test
7ffff5fd44e6ff0a278e881732fba525  test
[email protected]:/tmp$ 

Check Permission (00400000-00402000 rwxp), so it is executable.

## Debug
gef➤  shell cat /proc/`pgrep test`/maps
00400000-00402000 rwxp 00000000 08:03 7471589                            /tmp/test
7ffff7ffb000-7ffff7ffe000 r--p 00000000 00:00 0                          [vvar]
7ffff7ffe000-7ffff7fff000 r-xp 00000000 00:00 0                          [vdso]
7ffffffde000-7ffffffff000 rwxp 00000000 00:00 0                          [stack]
ffffffffff600000-ffffffffff601000 --xp 00000000 00:00 0                  [vsyscall]
gef➤

[Linux 5.9.0-050900rc5-generic]

Run (Segfault)

[email protected]:/tmp# uname -r
5.9.0-050900rc5-generic
[email protected]:/tmp# cat test.asm
[section .data]
global _start
_start:
  mov eax, 60
  xor edi, edi
  syscall
[email protected]:/tmp# nasm --version
NASM version 2.14.02
[email protected]:/tmp# nasm -felf64 test.asm -o test.o
[email protected]:/tmp# ld test.o -o test
[email protected]:/tmp# ./test
Segmentation fault (core dumped)
[email protected]:/tmp# echo $?
139
[email protected]:/tmp# md5sum test
7ffff5fd44e6ff0a278e881732fba525  test
[email protected]:/tmp# 

Check Permission (00400000-00402000 rw-p), so it is NOT executable.

## Debug
gef➤  shell cat /proc/`pgrep test`/maps
00400000-00402000 rw-p 00000000 fc:01 2412                               /tmp/test
7ffff7ff9000-7ffff7ffd000 r--p 00000000 00:00 0                          [vvar]
7ffff7ffd000-7ffff7fff000 r-xp 00000000 00:00 0                          [vdso]
7ffffffde000-7ffffffff000 rw-p 00000000 00:00 0                          [stack]
ffffffffff600000-ffffffffff601000 --xp 00000000 00:00 0                  [vsyscall]
gef➤  

objdump -p

[email protected]:/tmp# objdump -p test

test:     file format elf64-x86-64

Program Header:
    LOAD off    0x0000000000000000 vaddr 0x0000000000400000 paddr 0x0000000000400000 align 2**12
         filesz 0x0000000000001009 memsz 0x0000000000001009 flags rw-

Questions

  1. Where is the configuration on Linux that manages default ELF sections permission?
  2. Are my observations on permissions correct?

Summary

  • Default permission for .data section on Linux 5.4.0-53-generic is executable.
  • Default permission for .data section on Linux 5.9.0-050900rc5-generic is NOT executable.

Solution 1

Your binary is missing PT_GNU_STACK. As such, this change appears to have been caused by commit 9fccc5c0c99f238aa1b0460fccbdb30a887e7036:

From 9fccc5c0c99f238aa1b0460fccbdb30a887e7036 Mon Sep 17 00:00:00 2001
From: Kees Cook <[email protected]>
Date: Thu, 26 Mar 2020 23:48:17 -0700
Subject: x86/elf: Disable automatic READ_IMPLIES_EXEC on 64-bit

With modern x86 64-bit environments, there should never be a need for
automatic READ_IMPLIES_EXEC, as the architecture is intended to always
be execute-bit aware (as in, the default memory protection should be NX
unless a region explicitly requests to be executable).

There were very old x86_64 systems that lacked the NX bit, but for those,
the NX bit is, obviously, unenforceable, so these changes should have
no impact on them.

Suggested-by: Hector Marco-Gisbert <[email protected]>
Signed-off-by: Kees Cook <[email protected]>
Signed-off-by: Borislav Petkov <[email protected]>
Reviewed-by: Jason Gunthorpe <[email protected]>
Link: https://lkml.kernel.org/r/[email protected]
---
 arch/x86/include/asm/elf.h | 4 ++--
 1 file changed, 2 insertions(+), 2 deletions(-)

diff --git a/arch/x86/include/asm/elf.h b/arch/x86/include/asm/elf.h
index 397a1c74433ec..452beed7892bb 100644
--- a/arch/x86/include/asm/elf.h
+++ b/arch/x86/include/asm/elf.h
@@ -287,7 +287,7 @@ extern u32 elf_hwcap2;
  *                 CPU: | lacks NX*  | has NX, ia32     | has NX, x86_64 |
  * ELF:                 |            |                  |                |
  * ---------------------|------------|------------------|----------------|
- * missing PT_GNU_STACK | exec-all   | exec-all         | exec-all       |
+ * missing PT_GNU_STACK | exec-all   | exec-all         | exec-none      |
  * PT_GNU_STACK == RWX  | exec-stack | exec-stack       | exec-stack     |
  * PT_GNU_STACK == RW   | exec-none  | exec-none        | exec-none      |
  *
@@ -303,7 +303,7 @@ extern u32 elf_hwcap2;
  *
  */
 #define elf_read_implies_exec(ex, executable_stack)    \
-   (executable_stack == EXSTACK_DEFAULT)
+   (mmap_is_ia32() && executable_stack == EXSTACK_DEFAULT)
 
 struct task_struct;
 
-- 
cgit 1.2.3-1.el7

This was first present in the 5.8 series. See also Unexpected exec permission from mmap when assembly files included in the project.

Solution 2

This is only a guess: I think the culprit is the READ_IMPLIES_EXEC personality that was being set automatically in the absence of a PT_GNU_STACK segment.

In the 5.4 kernel source we can find this piece of code:

SET_PERSONALITY2(loc->elf_ex, &arch_state);
if (elf_read_implies_exec(loc->elf_ex, executable_stack))
    current->personality |= READ_IMPLIES_EXEC;

That's the only thing that can transform an RW section into an RWX one. Any other use of PROC_EXEC didn't seem to be changed or relevant to this question, to me.

The executable_stack is set here:

for (i = 0; i < loc->elf_ex.e_phnum; i++, elf_ppnt++)
    switch (elf_ppnt->p_type) {
    case PT_GNU_STACK:
        if (elf_ppnt->p_flags & PF_X)
            executable_stack = EXSTACK_ENABLE_X;
        else
            executable_stack = EXSTACK_DISABLE_X;
        break;

But if the PT_GNU_STACK segment is not present, that variable retains its default value:

int executable_stack = EXSTACK_DEFAULT;

Now this workflow is identical in both 5.4 and the latest kernel source, what changed is the definition of elf_read_implies_exec:

Linux 5.4:

/*
 * An executable for which elf_read_implies_exec() returns TRUE will
 * have the READ_IMPLIES_EXEC personality flag set automatically.
 */
#define elf_read_implies_exec(ex, executable_stack) \
    (executable_stack != EXSTACK_DISABLE_X)

Latest Linux:

/*
 * An executable for which elf_read_implies_exec() returns TRUE will
 * have the READ_IMPLIES_EXEC personality flag set automatically.
 *
 * The decision process for determining the results are:
 *
 *                 CPU: | lacks NX*  | has NX, ia32     | has NX, x86_64 |
 * ELF:                 |            |                  |                |
 * ---------------------|------------|------------------|----------------|
 * missing PT_GNU_STACK | exec-all   | exec-all         | exec-none      |
 * PT_GNU_STACK == RWX  | exec-stack | exec-stack       | exec-stack     |
 * PT_GNU_STACK == RW   | exec-none  | exec-none        | exec-none      |
 *
 *  exec-all  : all PROT_READ user mappings are executable, except when
 *              backed by files on a noexec-filesystem.
 *  exec-none : only PROT_EXEC user mappings are executable.
 *  exec-stack: only the stack and PROT_EXEC user mappings are executable.
 *
 *  *this column has no architectural effect: NX markings are ignored by
 *   hardware, but may have behavioral effects when "wants X" collides with
 *   "cannot be X" constraints in memory permission flags, as in
 *   https://lkml.kernel.org/r/[email protected]
 *
 */
#define elf_read_implies_exec(ex, executable_stack) \
    (mmap_is_ia32() && executable_stack == EXSTACK_DEFAULT)

Note how in the 5.4 version the elf_read_implies_exec returned a true value if the stack was not explicitly marked as not executable (via the PT_GNU_STACK segment).

In the latest source, the check is now more defensive: the elf_read_implies_exec is true only on 32-bit executable, in the case where no PT_GNU_STACK segment was found in the ELF binary.

I assembled your program, linked it, and found no PT_GNU_STACK segment, so this may be the reason.
If this is indeed the issue and if I followed the code correctly, if you set the stack as not executable in the binary, its data section should not be mapped executable anymore (not even on Linux 5.4).