Yocto Hardening: Finding & Fixing CVEs

Find all of the Yocto hardening texts from here!

Last time when we were talking about Yocto hardening we focused on setting up extra users to prevent unauthorized root access and to avoid situations where the users would have too open permission sets. Getting these right is a good low-hanging fruit, but there are plenty of other things to consider for hardening the system. One of the most important things to do is to eliminate (or at least minimize) the security vulnerabilities weakening the overall system defenses.

What are CVEs?

Despite what one may be inclined to think, open-source code is not always perfect. It may contain bugs, which is a bit annoying, but it may also contain vulnerabilities, which is potentially a bit dangerous. These can lead to denial of service attacks, data leaks, or even unauthorized accesses & system takeovers. Not good. Very bad. The usual stuff.

Panic Omg GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

CVE (Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures) is a system maintained by The United States National Cybersecurity FFRDC and operated by Mitre Corporation. The system contains information about, well, vulnerabilities and exposures. “CVE” as a noun can also mean vulnerability or exposure. Or at least I often use the acronym in with that meaning. Checking your Yocto system against this database of vulnerabilities can help to detect security issues lurking in the open-source code components.

Checking vulnerabilities in Yocto

Every CVE doesn’t necessarily lead to unauthorised root access, and there may be vulnerabilities that don’t have a CVE identifier. However, scanning through the CVEs in your system should provide a fairly good image of how vulnerable your system is against possible CVE exploits. At least at the time of the scan, there are constantly new issues popping up which means you have to keep doing it often. Also it’s good to keep in mind that this kind of a scan does not check for other kind of weaknesses in the system. But at least performing the CVE check in the Yocto system is fairly simple. Something is simple in Yocto, what?

Mood What GIF by NBC - Find & Share on GIPHY
My whole worldview is being shattered.

In all simplicity, just add this line to local.conf to check your packages & images for common vulnerabilities.

INHERIT += "cve-check"
# I had some issues with slow download speeds. If you get weird timeouts
# when fetching issue database, try adding this line as well:

Now when you run the build you’ll most likely end up with more warnings than before. Yocto’s CVE checker prints a warning to the build output for every vulnerability it detects, and depending on the complexity and age of your system your terminal may end up quite yellow. It’s more useful to inspect the CVE reports than to try and remember the build output as it scrolls by. These reports can be found in <build-folder>/tmp/deploy/cve folder, and we’ll inspect them a bit later. It’s worth knowing that this CVE checker may not be perfect, meaning that there may be some vulnerabilities lurking around that it does not detect. But it’s at least better than going through all the source code eyeballing it.

Analysing the results

Ok, now you’ve proved to yourself that your system has holes that need to be plugged. How to get over this uneasy feeling of constant doom looming over your system? The first thing is listing out all the CVE IDs and checking their status & severity to get a bit more stressed. Or relaxed, depends a bit on how well your system is maintained.

Sponge Bob Reaction GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY
Let’s be real, this is most likely going to be the most accurate reaction.

Further information for the CVEs can be found on MITRE’s CVE site, and some more complementary information can be found on NIST’s (National Institute of Standards and Technology) NVD (National Vulnerability Database). Plenty of acronyms. NVD is a system containing the same CVE IDs as MITRE’s site, but with severity scores and usually some extra information. Both are definitely useful, but for practical purposes NVD tends to be more useful. MITRE’s site can contain some new info not yet present in NVD, but NVD contains the information in a more easily digestible format.

Let’s take CVE-2023-22451 as an example. CVE listing for the vulnerability shows a short summary, affected versions, and a bunch of links. NVD entry has the same information, severity score, modification date, and a bit more information about the links so you won’t have to guess which link is the patch and which is some advisory (this can be useful on bigger issues where there are a dozen of links). For what it’s worth, Yocto’s CVE checker uses NVD’s database.

Now that we’ve gone through some background information, we can investigate the results of the CVE check. The aforementioned <build-folder>/tmp/deploy/cve contains two summary files: cve-summary and cve-summary.json. These contain all the detected issues, both patched and unpatched, and the format of the files isn’t all that intuitive for getting an actual summary, so I wrote a simple Python-tool for summarising the results. The design is very human:

# Replace the file path with your path
python3 ./cve-parser.py -f build/tmp/log/cve/cve-summary.json

Very easy to use. By default the parser will output the unpatched CVEs, and from each CVE it will print the package name, CVE ID, CVSS scores, and the link to the NVD site for more info. There is more information per issue available, the results can be sorted, and the ignored & patched issues can also be printed if needed. To get the complete list of options, run:

python3 ./cve-parser.py -h

I’m not going to document the whole program here in case I decide to change it at some point. If your boss asks you to get the total amount of unpatched CVEs in the system, you can run the command below to get “extra info” from the parser. Currently, “extra info” just contains the number of displayed issues, but if you’ve got ideas for it feel free to let me know:

# -u display unpatched issues (default behavior, but added just in case)
# -e displays extra info
python3 ./cve-parser.py -u -e -f build/tmp/log/cve/cve-summary.json

If your boss asks how many of them actually need to be fixed, use this to sort the CVEs by severity score and count how many have a score higher than 8.3

# -u display unpatched issues
# -ss2 sort by CVSSv2 score
python3 ./cve-parser.py -u -ss2 -f build/tmp/log/cve/cve-summary.json

Just kidding, please fix them all.

Fry Reaction GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Fixing the CVEs

After you’ve justified your fears of getting hacked by realizing that your system has seven CVEs with a CVSS score higher than 9.5 (three of them in the kernel) and a few dozen more with just a slightly lower priority, it’s time to ask the big question: what can I do? What can I possibly do? This didn’t help with the feeling of constant doom at all.

The first step is going through the list of unpatched issues. There tend to be quite a few false positives that are not applicable to the current system. For example, a brand new Poky build reports an unpatched CVE-2017-6264 that’s been around six years already. This is a vulnerability in the NVIDIA GPU driver, and it’s applicable to Android products. Most certainly it’s a false positive in your Yocto system, but since the bad code is present in the source code, it’s reported as unpatched. You can ignore these false positives by adding the line below somewhere to your build configuration (local.conf works, but it’s maybe not the best place for it):

# The format is CVE_CHECK_IGNORE="<cve-id>", e.g.
# In the older Yocto versions this was called CVE_CHECK_WHITELIST
# so if ignore doesn't work, try the old whitelist variable

After ignoring the false positives fixing the rest of the CVE issues is easy, in theory. Just keep the Yocto at its newest (or relatively new LTS) version. This should keep the packages fresh. Sounds simple, but unfortunately this process tends to cause a big headache with incompatibilities and such. However, that’s the best advice I can give.

If there is a need to update the recipes even further than officially supported, or if you want to update a single recipe, copy the recipe in question to your own meta-layer, update the recipe version in the filename and fix SRCREV to match. When hacking around like this remember to hope that nothing falls apart in the system even more than during a regular Yocto version update.

Sometimes, updating the packages is not an option. Perhaps updating the package breaks the build, a newer version of the library isn’t compatible with your application, or there is some other Perfectly Good Reason you’re not allowed to do that. That’s when it’s time to do some patching to make the confusing build system even more spaghettified.

Noodles Spaghetti GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Basically, this approach consists of heading to the NVD entry for the CVE, checking if there’s a patch for the vulnerability, and if there is, porting the patch to the Yocto build. For example, the aforementioned CVE-2023-22451 mentions this commit as its patch in the NVD entry. Copy the contents of the commit to a patch file, create bbappend file for the recipe and add the patch to the recipe with that bbappend.

If there’s no patch you can wait. Or if you’re like a kid on Christmas and can’t wait, you can try digging the package’s git repositories for the corrective commit before it’s been released. It ain’t fun, and rarely it’s a productive use of time, but every now and then some fixes can be found like this before they are made official.

That’s a short explanation of how you can check and fix the CVE vulnerabilities in your system. The theory of the process is fairly simple. However, it tends to get a bit more complicated in the actual world, especially when trying to update older legacy systems where the stale, non-updated packages contain more patches than original code. But I guess that’s the problem with real life, it tends to mess up good theories.

You can find the next part about Yocto hardening here. It’s about firewalls.