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Perl Language Reference Manual
by Larry Wall and others
Paperback (6"x9"), 724 pages
ISBN 9781906966027
RRP £29.95 ($39.95)

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22.2.5 Cleaning Up Your Path

For "Insecure $ENV{PATH}" messages, you need to set $ENV{'PATH'} to a known value, and each directory in the path must be absolute and non-writable by others than its owner and group. You may be surprised to get this message even if the pathname to your executable is fully qualified. This is not generated because you didn't supply a full path to the program; instead, it's generated because you never set your PATH environment variable, or you didn't set it to something that was safe. Because Perl can't guarantee that the executable in question isn't itself going to turn around and execute some other program that is dependent on your PATH, it makes sure you set the PATH.

The PATH isn't the only environment variable which can cause problems. Because some shells may use the variables IFS, CDPATH, ENV, and BASH_ENV, Perl checks that those are either empty or untainted when starting subprocesses. You may wish to add something like this to your setid and taint-checking scripts.

delete @ENV{qw(IFS CDPATH ENV BASH_ENV)};   # Make %ENV safer

It's also possible to get into trouble with other operations that don't care whether they use tainted values. Make judicious use of the file tests in dealing with any user-supplied filenames. When possible, do opens and such after properly dropping any special user (or group!) privileges. Perl doesn't prevent you from opening tainted filenames for reading, so be careful what you print out. The tainting mechanism is intended to prevent stupid mistakes, not to remove the need for thought.

Perl does not call the shell to expand wild cards when you pass system and exec explicit parameter lists instead of strings with possible shell wildcards in them. Unfortunately, the open, glob, and backtick functions provide no such alternate calling convention, so more subterfuge will be required.

Perl provides a reasonably safe way to open a file or pipe from a setuid or setgid program: just create a child process with reduced privilege who does the dirty work for you. First, fork a child using the special open syntax that connects the parent and child by a pipe. Now the child resets its ID set and any other per-process attributes, like environment variables, umasks, current working directories, back to the originals or known safe values. Then the child process, which no longer has any special permissions, does the open or other system call. Finally, the child passes the data it managed to access back to the parent. Because the file or pipe was opened in the child while running under less privilege than the parent, it's not apt to be tricked into doing something it shouldn't.

Here's a way to do backticks reasonably safely. Notice how the exec is not called with a string that the shell could expand. This is by far the best way to call something that might be subjected to shell escapes: just never call the shell at all.

use English '-no_match_vars';
die "Can't fork: $!" unless defined($pid = open(KID, "-|"));
if ($pid) {           # parent
    while (<KID>) {
        # do something
    }
    close KID;
} else {
    my @temp     = ($EUID, $EGID);
    my $orig_uid = $UID;
    my $orig_gid = $GID;
    $EUID = $UID;
    $EGID = $GID;
    # Drop privileges
    $UID  = $orig_uid;
    $GID  = $orig_gid;
    # Make sure privs are really gone
    ($EUID, $EGID) = @temp;
    die "Can't drop privileges"
        unless $UID == $EUID  && $GID eq $EGID;
    $ENV{PATH} = "/bin:/usr/bin"; # Minimal PATH.
    # Consider sanitizing the environment even more.
    exec 'myprog', 'arg1', 'arg2'
        or die "can't exec myprog: $!";
}

A similar strategy would work for wildcard expansion via glob, although you can use readdir instead.

Taint checking is most useful when although you trust yourself not to have written a program to give away the farm, you don't necessarily trust those who end up using it not to try to trick it into doing something bad. This is the kind of security checking that's useful for set-id programs and programs launched on someone else's behalf, like CGI programs.

This is quite different, however, from not even trusting the writer of the code not to try to do something evil. That's the kind of trust needed when someone hands you a program you've never seen before and says, "Here, run this." For that kind of safety, you might want to check out the Safe module, included standard in the Perl distribution. This module allows the programmer to set up special compartments in which all system operations are trapped and namespace access is carefully controlled. Safe should not be considered bullet-proof, though: it will not prevent the foreign code to set up infinite loops, allocate gigabytes of memory, or even abusing perl bugs to make the host interpreter crash or behave in unpredictable ways. In any case it's better avoided completely if you're really concerned about security.

ISBN 9781906966027Perl Language Reference ManualSee the print edition