The tool checksec.sh is used to examine compile time hardening options such as NX, RELRO, PIE and so on.enter image description here

It also reports if the binary has RPATH or RUNPATH set, using the following logic: enter image description here

These are flagged as red when present.

What is the security risk of having RPATH or RUNPATH set?

1 Answer 1


TL;DR: R*PATH has an unfortunate history of introducing new ways of running untrusted (attacker-controlled) libraries. RPATH/RUNPATH is usually avoidable and should be avoided.

Firstly, it might be worth reviewing the non-security reasons for why we want these binaries flagged: distros (Eg. Debian Wiki on RPATH) don't like that it takes precedence over the local LD_LIBRARY_PATH and /etc/ld.so.conf settings/configs and conventions. It makes it harder to reason about libraries through more visible means than running readelf for every binary we want to think about, and it complicates life for maintainers who are juggling a lot of intertwined dependencies through these other mechanisms which are easily broken by RPATH/RUNPATH. But there are exceptions - here's Debian's policy:

The only time a binary or shared library in a Debian package should set RPATH or RUNPATH is if it is linked to private shared libraries in the same package.

Secondly, relative RPATH (i.e. foo.so rather than /usr/lib/foo.so) can go quite wrong: your user might be running from a working directory (Eg. /tmp) that's subject to attacker control who could plant a malicious version of /tmp/foo.so. This was an observation made in Debian bug #754278 against openjdk.

This might sound benign, but it can lead to privesc particularly on setuid/setgid programs like IBM's DB2 privesc CVE-2014-0907: simply run the suid binary from a directory primed to abuse whatever RPATH is set, and your code will run in the context of the privileged program. Other examples include Slackware's packaging of llvm CVE-2013-7171, Gentoo's packaging of Imagemagick CVE-2005-3582, SuSE's packaging of CVSup CVE-2004-2133, ..). It's been such a steady trickle that Apple's equivalent avoids relative RPATH in "restricted" (suid/sgid) binaries.

Thirdly, the special $ORIGIN variable (calling executable path) has been one way of avoiding an absolute path, while anchoring the search somewhere. But it's had issues: glibc CVE-2011-0536 failed to expand it properly which gave attackers an equivalent of the relative RPATH case where the author of an executable using $ORIGIN thought they were getting something slightly more robust.

With that in mind, you probably really do want checksec.sh to flag RPATH/RUNPATH - it's not always bad, but checksec.sh doesn't have the bigger picture available to make that call for you like the distro linters can, so it needs manual review.

Addendum: Breaking the links: Exploiting the linker by Tim Brown was mentioned in the replies to your Twitter conversation, this is a great paper on attack surface more generally for POSIX style linkers and astute readers should definitely take a look. The most pertinent thing there not covered already is this:

On GNU/Linux at least, when the DT_RPATH or DT_RUNPATH exists within the ELF headers of a binary then these will be honoured first when looking for shared libraries. Additionally, the keyword $ORIGIN within this header is expanded to be the path of the directory where the object is found, while both . and the empty directory specification are honoured, even for binaries with the setUID bit set. From an attackers pespective, setUID binaries with DT_RPATH are particularly nice, since we can make use of hard links to manipulate the runtime linker into using an $ORIGIN which we can control.

... as observed elsewhere in the paper, most systems ignore user-supplied environment variables such as LD_LIBRARY_PATH on setuid binaries most of the time, but as you can see a careless RPATH gives the attacker an equivalent gift.

2nd addendum: ContextIS have a great writeup covering RPATH attacks.

  • 1
    Thanks, awesome answer, especially with all of the references. Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 21:01

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .