How to crash Linux Systemd with a single command line that fits in a tweet


Linux is supposed to the most secure operating system in the world with very few flaws but a security researcher has discovered that a single command line is enough to crash the popular Systemd feature in Linux.



System administrator Andrew Ayer has discovered a potentially critical bug in systemd which can bring a vulnerable Linux server to its knees with a single command line.”After running this command, PID 1 is hung in the pause system call. You can no longer start and stop daemons.

“After running this command, PID 1 is hung in the pause system call. You can no longer start and stop daemons. inetd-style services no longer accept connections. You cannot cleanly reboot the system.” says Ayer.

According to the bug report, Debian, Ubuntu, and CentOS are among the distros susceptible to various levels of resource exhaustion. The bug, which has existed for more than two years, does not require root access to exploit.

Ayer says that if a potential hacker runs this command, PID 1 is hung in the pause system call. As a result, you can no longer start and stop daemons while the Linux inetd-style services no longer accept connections. The vulnerability is so critical that you cannot cleanly reboot the system. The system feels generally unstable (e.g. ssh and su hang for 30 seconds since systemd is now integrated with the login system). All of this can be caused by a command that’s short enough to fit in a Tweet.

How to crash systemd in one Tweet:

NOTIFY_SOCKET=/run/systemd/notify systemd-notify

Ayer says that the problem is how systemd handles the command. He says that Systemd’s problems run far deeper than this one bug. ysstemd is defective by design and even good programmers would inevitably introduce bugs into a project of the scale and complexity of systemd. However, good programmers recognize the difficulty of writing bug-free software and understand the importance of designing software in a way that minimizes the likelihood of bugs or at least reduces their impact. The systemd developers understand none of this, opting to cram an enormous amount of unnecessary complexity into PID 1, which runs as root and is written in a memory-unsafe language.

Ayer says that it is not too late to stop this. Although almost every Linux distribution now uses systemd for their init system, init was a soft target for systemd because the systems they replaced were so bad. That’s not true for the other services which systemd is trying to replace such as network management, DNS, and NTP. Systemd offers very few compelling features over existing implementations, but does carry a large amount of risk. If you’re a system administrator, resist the replacement of existing services and hold out for replacements that are more secure. If you’re an application developer, do not use systemd’s non-standard interfaces. There will be better alternatives in the future that are more secure than what we have now. But adopting them will only be possible if systemd has not destroyed the modularity and standards-compliance that make innovation possible.
How to crash Linux Systemd with a single command line that fits in a tweet How to crash Linux Systemd with a single command line that fits in a tweet Reviewed by Chukwumah Rapheal on October 02, 2016 Rating: 5

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