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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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22.2.6 Security Bugs

Beyond the obvious problems that stem from giving special privileges to systems as flexible as scripts, on many versions of Unix, set-id scripts are inherently insecure right from the start. The problem is a race condition in the kernel. Between the time the kernel opens the file to see which interpreter to run and when the (now-set-id) interpreter turns around and reopens the file to interpret it, the file in question may have changed, especially if you have symbolic links on your system.

Fortunately, sometimes this kernel "feature" can be disabled. Unfortunately, there are two ways to disable it. The system can simply outlaw scripts with any set-id bit set, which doesn't help much. Alternately, it can simply ignore the set-id bits on scripts.

However, if the kernel set-id script feature isn't disabled, Perl will complain loudly that your set-id script is insecure. You'll need to either disable the kernel set-id script feature, or put a C wrapper around the script. A C wrapper is just a compiled program that does nothing except call your Perl program. Compiled programs are not subject to the kernel bug that plagues set-id scripts. Here's a simple wrapper, written in C:

#define REAL_PATH "/path/to/script"
main(ac, av)
    char **av;
{
    execv(REAL_PATH, av);
}

Compile this wrapper into a binary executable and then make it rather than your script setuid or setgid.

In recent years, vendors have begun to supply systems free of this inherent security bug. On such systems, when the kernel passes the name of the set-id script to open to the interpreter, rather than using a pathname subject to meddling, it instead passes /dev/fd/3. This is a special file already opened on the script, so that there can be no race condition for evil scripts to exploit. On these systems, Perl should be compiled with -DSETUID_SCRIPTS_ARE_SECURE_NOW. The Configure program that builds Perl tries to figure this out for itself, so you should never have to specify this yourself. Most modern releases of SysVr4 and BSD 4.4 use this approach to avoid the kernel race condition.

ISBN 9781906966027Perl Language Reference ManualSee the print edition