High severity Linux network security holes found, fixed

This nasty set of bugs can lead to an attacker gaining root access, but the patch is already available.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Young and rising Linux security developer Alexander Popov of London-based Positive Technologies discovered and fixed a set of five security holes in the Linux kernel's virtual socket implementation. An attacker could use these vulnerabilities (CVE-2021-26708) to gain root access and knock out servers in a Denial of Service (DoS) attack.

With a Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS) v3 base score of 7.0, high severity, smart Linux administrators will patch their systems as soon as possible. 

While Popov discovered the bugs in Red Hat's community Linux distribution Fedora 33 Server, it exists in the system using the Linux kernel from November 2019's version 5.5 to the current mainline kernel version 5.11-rc6. 

These holes entered Linux when virtual socket multi-transport support was added. This networking transport facilitates communication between virtual machines (VM) and their host.  It's commonly used by guest agents and hypervisor services that need a communications channel that is independent of the VM network configuration. As such, people who are running VMs on the cloud, which is pretty much everyone these days, are especially vulnerable.

The core problem is race conditions in the CONFIG_VSOCKETS and CONFIG_VIRTIO_VSOCKETS kernel drivers. These are shipped as kernel modules in all major Linux distributions. The reason why this is such a serious problem is whenever an ordinary user creates an AF_VSOCK socket, the vulnerable modules are automatically loaded.  A race condition exists when a system's substantive behavior depends on the sequence or timing of uncontrollable events. 

Popov said, "I successfully developed a prototype exploit for local privilege escalation on Fedora 33 Server, bypassing x86_64 platform protections such as SMEP and SMAP. This research will lead to new ideas on how to improve Linux kernel security."

In the meantime, Popov also prepared the patch and revealed the vulnerabilities to the Linux kernel security team. Greg Kroah-Hartman, the stable Linux kernel chief maintainer, accepted the patches into Linux 5.10.13 on February 3. Since then the patch has been merged into mainline kernel version 5.11-rc7 and backported into affected stable trees.

The patch has also already been incorporated into such popular Linux distributions as Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 8, Debian, Ubuntu, and SUSE.

This is far from the first time Popov discovered and fixed Linux kernel vulnerabilities. Previously, he's found and repaired CVE-2019-18683 and CVE-2017-2636. Keep up the good work, Popov! 

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