Re: [RFC PATCH 2/7] x86/sci: add core implementation for system call isolation

From: Robert O'Callahan
Date: Thu May 02 2019 - 07:36:09 EST

On Sat, Apr 27, 2019 at 10:46 PM Ingo Molnar <mingo@xxxxxxxxxx> wrote:
> - A C language runtime that is a subset of current C syntax and
> semantics used in the kernel, and which doesn't allow access outside
> of existing objects and thus creates a strictly enforced separation
> between memory used for data, and memory used for code and control
> flow.
> - This would involve, at minimum:
> - tracking every type and object and its inherent length and valid
> access patterns, and never losing track of its type.
> - being a lot more organized about initialization, i.e. no
> uninitialized variables/fields.
> - being a lot more strict about type conversions and pointers in
> general.
> - ... and a metric ton of other details.

Several research groups have tried to do this, and it is very
difficult to do. In particular this was almost exactly the goal of
C-Cured [1]. Much more recently, there's Microsoft's CheckedC [2] [3],
which is less ambitious. Check the references of the latter for lots
of relevant work. If anyone really pursues this they should talk
directly to researchers who've worked on this, e.g. George Necula; you
need to know what *didn't* work well, which is hard to glean from
papers. (Academic publishing is broken that way.)

One problem with adopting "safe C" or Rust in the kernel is that most
of your security mitigations (e.g. KASLR, CFI, other randomizations)
probably need to remain in place as long as there is a significant
amount of C in the kernel, which means the benefits from eliminating
them will be realized very far in the future, if ever, which makes the
whole exercise harder to justify.

Having said that, I think there's a good case to be made for writing
kernel code in Rust, e.g. sketchy drivers. The classes of bugs
prevented in Rust are significantly broader than your usual safe-C
dialect (e.g. data races).


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