Thoughts on tightening up user namespace creation

From: Andy Lutomirski
Date: Tue Mar 08 2016 - 00:15:54 EST

Hi all-

There are several users and distros that are nervous about user
namespaces from an attack surface point of view.

- RHEL and Arch have userns disabled.

- Ubuntu requires CAP_SYS_ADMIN

- Kees periodically proposes to upstream some sysctl to control
userns creation.

I think there are three main types of concerns. First, there might be
some as-yet-unknown semantic issues that would allow privilege
escalation by users who create user namespaces and then confuse
something else in the system. Second, enabling user namespaces
exposes a lot of attack surface to unprivileged users. Third,
allowing tasks to create user namespaces exposes the kernel to various
resource exhaustion attacks that wouldn't be possible otherwise.

Since I doubt we'll ever fully address the attack surface issue at
least, would it make sense to try to come up with an upstreamable way
to limit who can create new user namespaces and/or do various
dangerous things with them?

I'll divide the rest of the email into the "what" and the "who".

+++ What does the privilege of creating a user namespace entail? +++

This could be an all-or-nothing thing. It would certainly be possible
for appropriately privileged tasks to be able to unshare namespaces
and use their facilities exactly like any task can in a current
user-ns-enabled kernel and for other tasks to be unable to unshare

Finer gradations are, in principle, possible. For example, it could
be possible for a given task to unshare its userns but to have limited
caps inside or to be unable to unshare certain other namespaces. For
example, maybe a task could unshare userns and mount ns but not net
ns. I don't think this would be particularly useful.

It might be more interesting to allow a task to unshare all
namespaces, hold all capabilities in them, but to still be unable to
use certain privileged facilities. For example, maybe denying
administrative control over iptables, creation of exotic network
interface types, or similar would make sense. I don't know how we'd
specify this type of constraint.

+++ Who can create user namespaces (possibly with restrictions)? +++

I can think of a few formulations.

A simpler approach would be to add a per-namespace setting listing
users and/or groups that can unshare their userns. A userns starts
out allowing everyone to unshare userns, and anyone with CAP_SYS_ADMIN
can change the setting.

A fancier approach would be to have an fd that represents the right to
unshare your userns. Some privilege broker could give out those fds
to apps that need them and meet whatever criteria are set. If you try
to unshare your userns without the fd, it falls back to some simpler

I think I prefer the simpler one. It's simple, and I haven't come up
with a concrete problem with it yet.