Implementing a System Call for OpenBSD


96 points | by soheilpro 149 days ago


  • snvzz 149 days ago

    Just keep in mind that adding syscalls increases the attack surface of the kernel, and complexity needs justification in general.

    Linux's syscall list is out of control. The many BSDs have managed to keep it more reasonable.

    • EdSchouten 149 days ago

      There is nothing specific about system calls that increases the attack surface. Individual sysctls, files in procfs, sysfs, ioctls, etc. are all separate attack vectors.

      The last time I checked, FreeBSD's list of system calls was larger than Linux's. This is because Linux tends to expose more functionality through sysfs, procfs, ioctl, while FreeBSD uses dedicated system calls. <- max = 313 <- max = 576, 356 marked 'STD'

      • cyphar 149 days ago

        That Linux table is quite a bit out-of-date -- it's at least older than Linux 3.14 (2014) based on sched_setattr's absence from the list. [1] is a much more modern table (and is updated more frequently), but it's probably simpler to just look at the actual syscall table[2]. On x86_64, there are currently 401 syscalls (syscall numbers 387 through 423 are reserved and 436 is used by a syscall not-yet-merged).

        [1]: [2]:

        • EdSchouten 149 days ago

          Thanks for the correction! It confirms that Linux’s system list is by no means ‘out of control’.

          • snvzz 148 days ago

            If 400+ syscalls doesn't scream out of control to you, I doubt I can convince you.

            • ajross 148 days ago

              Again, there is nothing special about a "system call", it's one of MANY entry points into the kernel. Counting them in isolation means nothing. And, again, Linux has historically been very careful to resist arbitrary subsystem-specific bloat in syscall variety. Almost all of its new kernel-exposed functionality uses other mechanisms (e.g. sysfs, new filesystems like cgroup, etc...) which are more auditable and amenable to userspace-managed authorization via stuff like filesystem permissions, chroot and containers.

              And of course, as with everything else, virtually all this new functionality is modular. Don't want the system call (or whatever)? Don't put it in your kernel.

              Basically: you're wrong here. Cite the specific functionality you think is being shipped in an insecure way.

              • snvzz 141 days ago

                >it's one of MANY entry points

                Just because the kernel does things wrong all over the place, it doesn't mean having too many syscalls specifically is not itself wrong.

                >Cite the specific functionality you think is being shipped in an insecure way.

                The whole Linux kernel. Complexity in privileged code is cancer.

                For an example of how to do a kernel properly, refer to seL4[0].


        • vertex-four 149 days ago

          There's an argument that files can generally just, not be visible for specific processes using the same tooling that protects other files, but none of the kernels make this particularly easy as far as I can tell.

          • EdSchouten 149 days ago

            On the other hand, the 'everything is a file' paradigm does sometimes cause issues where you can make kernels crash by doing unexpected things with them.

            - macOS could once easily be panicked by calling something like fpathconf() on a message queue.

            - If you want to have fun, try calling revoke(2) on character devices that are not TTYs. I remember fixing a bug in FreeBSD once, where you could make the system panic by calling that function on /dev/bpf.

            • brynet 148 days ago

              > If you want to have fun, try calling revoke(2) on character devices that are not TTYs. I remember fixing a bug in FreeBSD once, where you could make the system panic by calling that function on /dev/bpf.

              IIRC there's a lot of problems with revoke(2) on anything that's not a tty device, so on OpenBSD revoke(2) returns ENOTTY in those cases.



              This was discovered earlier on during pledge(2) development.

              • himinlomax 149 days ago

                On the other hand, having a single abstraction / entry point makes it easier to implement generic sanity checks. If you add a check for that kind of problem at the right layer, it will cover other / future interfaces. On the other hand, if you use ad-hoc system calls, any mitigation or fix will typically only cover that one specific call.

                • cyphar 148 days ago

                  Unfortunately, generic sanity checks are often not enough. You immediately run into problems where very file-specific concepts (owner, RWX permissions) aren't sufficient to handle certain types of represented-as-files objects (such as procfs files, where privileges with regard to a process aren't accurately described through Unix DAC permissions).

                  And then you get into some of the really hairy issues -- any user can trick a privileged program into writing or reading from any file by simply spawning a setuid program with stdio set to the file they wish to operate on. Thus, any interface which is administrative is simply unsafe to expose through the standard open/read/write interfaces -- which means that you have to come up with some alternative interface anyway.

              • yjftsjthsd-h 148 days ago

                Wasn't this plan 9's whole deal? I mean, sure, no major kernel, but it has been done.

              • pjmlp 149 days ago

                Have you also counted the syscalls masked as ioctls or eBPF scripts?

              • twic 149 days ago

                Hey, at least Linux has now added eBPF and io_uring, both of which are ways of feeding the kernel an increasingly wide range of instructions without needing a syscall for each one!

                • saagarjha 149 days ago

                  Yup, these examples are just toys but they have some issues. One is mentioned in the post itself; see if you can find more :)

                  • panpanna 148 days ago

                    Yes, but Linux also have a number of security mechanisms to limit access to syscalls (e.g. seccomp).

                  • poolpOrg 148 days ago

                    Sorry, removed the article because it was a draft not meant to be published yet, I didn't think someone would spot my drafts directory... :-)

                    Will finish and republish in a few days.

                    • lewis1028282 149 days ago

                      The font on that site is awful and too small. I’m on a MacBook Pro Retina 2015

                      • anthk 149 days ago

                        Use the reader mode in your browser.

                        • zwirbl 148 days ago

                          Still a weird choice of font for a website. It looks somehow ok in firefox, but unreadably thin in chromium

                          • jolmg 148 days ago

                            Looks the same in both to me.

                          • Enginerrrd 148 days ago

                            Or just zoom in. This site works fine. It's when web developers break zoom that the sin becomes unforgiveable.

                          • 0xdeadb00f 149 days ago

                            Isn't this the default LaTeX font?

                            • lewis1028282 149 days ago

                              Probably but reading something online is different to print

                              • messe 148 days ago

                                It is, but it doesn't look good in that size on a screen. Increasing the font size would help enormously.

                                • masklinn 148 days ago

                                  Isn't the default latex font still Computer Modern? This is Latin Modern which derives from CM.

                                  • messe 148 days ago

                                    I mean it depends. Xelatex and Lualatex, which are actively maintained, use Latin Modern. If you just use pdflatex then yes it's Computer Modern that gets used.

                                    The typefaces are close enough though that it is quite difficult to notice the difference.

                              • masklinn 148 days ago

                                Indeed the font size is way too small, both for the font and in general.

                                • lewis1028282 148 days ago

                                  Yep I just changed the font size to 18px in my dev tools and it looks better. Still don't think serif fonts are the best for a blog but guess that's just my opinion.