pkeys(7) — Linux manual page


pkeys(7)            Miscellaneous Information Manual            pkeys(7)

NAME         top

       pkeys - overview of Memory Protection Keys

DESCRIPTION         top

       Memory Protection Keys (pkeys) are an extension to existing page-
       based memory permissions.  Normal page permissions using page
       tables require expensive system calls and TLB invalidations when
       changing permissions.  Memory Protection Keys provide a mechanism
       for changing protections without requiring modification of the
       page tables on every permission change.

       To use pkeys, software must first "tag" a page in the page tables
       with a pkey.  After this tag is in place, an application only has
       to change the contents of a register in order to remove write
       access, or all access to a tagged page.

       Protection keys work in conjunction with the existing PROT_READ,
       PROT_WRITE, and PROT_EXEC permissions passed to system calls such
       as mprotect(2) and mmap(2), but always act to further restrict
       these traditional permission mechanisms.

       If a process performs an access that violates pkey restrictions,
       it receives a SIGSEGV signal.  See sigaction(2) for details of
       the information available with that signal.

       To use the pkeys feature, the processor must support it, and the
       kernel must contain support for the feature on a given processor.
       As of early 2016 only future Intel x86 processors are supported,
       and this hardware supports 16 protection keys in each process.
       However, pkey 0 is used as the default key, so a maximum of 15
       are available for actual application use.  The default key is
       assigned to any memory region for which a pkey has not been
       explicitly assigned via pkey_mprotect(2).

       Protection keys have the potential to add a layer of security and
       reliability to applications.  But they have not been primarily
       designed as a security feature.  For instance, WRPKRU is a
       completely unprivileged instruction, so pkeys are useless in any
       case that an attacker controls the PKRU register or can execute
       arbitrary instructions.

       Applications should be very careful to ensure that they do not
       "leak" protection keys.  For instance, before calling
       pkey_free(2), the application should be sure that no memory has
       that pkey assigned.  If the application left the freed pkey
       assigned, a future user of that pkey might inadvertently change
       the permissions of an unrelated data structure, which could
       impact security or stability.  The kernel currently allows in-use
       pkeys to have pkey_free(2) called on them because it would have
       processor or memory performance implications to perform the
       additional checks needed to disallow it.  Implementation of the
       necessary checks is left up to applications.  Applications may
       implement these checks by searching the /proc/pid/smaps file for
       memory regions with the pkey assigned.  Further details can be
       found in proc(5).

       Any application wanting to use protection keys needs to be able
       to function without them.  They might be unavailable because the
       hardware that the application runs on does not support them, the
       kernel code does not contain support, the kernel support has been
       disabled, or because the keys have all been allocated, perhaps by
       a library the application is using.  It is recommended that
       applications wanting to use protection keys should simply call
       pkey_alloc(2) and test whether the call succeeds, instead of
       attempting to detect support for the feature in any other way.

       Although unnecessary, hardware support for protection keys may be
       enumerated with the cpuid instruction.  Details of how to do this
       can be found in the Intel Software Developers Manual.  The kernel
       performs this enumeration and exposes the information in
       /proc/cpuinfo under the "flags" field.  The string "pku" in this
       field indicates hardware support for protection keys and the
       string "ospke" indicates that the kernel contains and has enabled
       protection keys support.

       Applications using threads and protection keys should be
       especially careful.  Threads inherit the protection key rights of
       the parent at the time of the clone(2), system call.
       Applications should either ensure that their own permissions are
       appropriate for child threads at the time when clone(2) is
       called, or ensure that each child thread can perform its own
       initialization of protection key rights.

   Signal Handler Behavior
       Each time a signal handler is invoked (including nested signals),
       the thread is temporarily given a new, default set of protection
       key rights that override the rights from the interrupted context.
       This means that applications must re-establish their desired
       protection key rights upon entering a signal handler if the
       desired rights differ from the defaults.  The rights of any
       interrupted context are restored when the signal handler returns.

       This signal behavior is unusual and is due to the fact that the
       x86 PKRU register (which stores protection key access rights) is
       managed with the same hardware mechanism (XSAVE) that manages
       floating-point registers.  The signal behavior is the same as
       that of floating-point registers.

   Protection Keys system calls
       The Linux kernel implements the following pkey-related system
       calls: pkey_mprotect(2), pkey_alloc(2), and pkey_free(2).

       The Linux pkey system calls are available only if the kernel was
       configured and built with the

EXAMPLES         top

       The program below allocates a page of memory with read and write
       permissions.  It then writes some data to the memory and
       successfully reads it back.  After that, it attempts to allocate
       a protection key and disallows access to the page by using the
       WRPKRU instruction.  It then tries to access the page, which we
       now expect to cause a fatal signal to the application.

           $ ./a.out
           buffer contains: 73
           about to read buffer again...
           Segmentation fault (core dumped)

   Program source

       #define _GNU_SOURCE
       #include <err.h>
       #include <unistd.h>
       #include <stdio.h>
       #include <stdlib.h>
       #include <sys/mman.h>

           int status;
           int pkey;
           int *buffer;

            * Allocate one page of memory.
           buffer = mmap(NULL, getpagesize(), PROT_READ | PROT_WRITE,
                         MAP_ANONYMOUS | MAP_PRIVATE, -1, 0);
           if (buffer == MAP_FAILED)
               err(EXIT_FAILURE, "mmap");

            * Put some random data into the page (still OK to touch).
           *buffer = __LINE__;
           printf("buffer contains: %d\n", *buffer);

            * Allocate a protection key:
           pkey = pkey_alloc(0, 0);
           if (pkey == -1)
               err(EXIT_FAILURE, "pkey_alloc");

            * Disable access to any memory with "pkey" set,
            * even though there is none right now.
           status = pkey_set(pkey, PKEY_DISABLE_ACCESS);
           if (status)
               err(EXIT_FAILURE, "pkey_set");

            * Set the protection key on "buffer".
            * Note that it is still read/write as far as mprotect() is
            * concerned and the previous pkey_set() overrides it.
           status = pkey_mprotect(buffer, getpagesize(),
                                  PROT_READ | PROT_WRITE, pkey);
           if (status == -1)
               err(EXIT_FAILURE, "pkey_mprotect");

           printf("about to read buffer again...\n");

            * This will crash, because we have disallowed access.
           printf("buffer contains: %d\n", *buffer);

           status = pkey_free(pkey);
           if (status == -1)
               err(EXIT_FAILURE, "pkey_free");


SEE ALSO         top

       pkey_alloc(2), pkey_free(2), pkey_mprotect(2), sigaction(2)

Linux man-pages (unreleased)     (date)                         pkeys(7)

Pages that refer to this page: mprotect(2)pkey_alloc(2)sigaction(2)proc(5)systemd.exec(5)