Dear Qubes Community,
We have just published Qubes Security Bulletin (QSB) #37: Information leaks due to processor speculative execution bugs. The text of this QSB is reproduced below. This QSB and its accompanying signatures will always be available in the Qubes Security Pack (qubes-secpack).
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---===[ Qubes Security Bulletin #37 ]===--- January 11, 2018 Information leaks due to processor speculative execution bugs Changelog ========== 2018-01-11: Original QSB published 2018-01-23: Updated mitigation plan to XPTI; added Xen package versions Summary ======== On the night of January 3, two independent groups of researchers announced the results of their months-long work into abusing modern processors' so-called speculative mode to leak secrets from the system's privileged memory . As a response, the Xen Security Team published Xen Security Advisory 254 (XSA-254) . The Qubes Security Team did _not_ receive notice of these vulnerabilities via the Xen security pre-disclosure list before XSA-254 was publicly released. In the limited time we've had to analyze the issue, we've come to the following conclusions about the practical impact on Qubes OS users and possible remedies. We'll also share a plan to address the issues in a more systematic way in the coming weeks. Practical impact and limiting factors for Qubes users ====================================================== ## Fully virtualized VMs offer significant protection against Meltdown Meltdown, the most reliable attack of the three discussed, cannot be exploited _from_ a fully-virtualized (i.e. HVM or PVH) VM. It does not matter whether the _target_ VM (i.e. the one from which the attacker wants to steal secrets) is fully-virtualized. In Qubes 3.x, all VMs are para-virtualized (PV) by default, though users can choose to create fully-virtualized VMs. PV VMs do not protect against the Meltdown attack. In Qubes 4.0, almost all VMs are fully-virtualized by default and thus offer protection. However, the fully-virtualized VMs in Qubes 3.2 and in release candidates 1-3 of Qubes 4.0 still rely on PV-based "stub domains", making it possible for an attacker who can chain another exploit for qemu to attempt the Meltdown attack. ## Virtualization makes at least one variant of Spectre seem difficult Of the two Spectre variants, it _seems_ that at least one of them might be significantly harder to exploit under Xen than under monolithic systems because there are significantly fewer options for the attacker to interact with the hypervisor. ## All attacks are read-only It's important to stress that these attacks allow only _reading_ memory, not modifying it. This means that an attacker cannot use Spectre or Meltdown to plant any backdoors or otherwise compromise the system in any persistent way. Thanks to the Qubes OS template mechanism, which is used by default for all user and system qubes (AppVMs and ServiceVMs), simply restarting a VM should bring it back to a good known state for most attacks, wiping out the potential attacking code in the TemplateBasedVM (unless an attacker found a way to put triggers within the user's home directory; please see  for more discussion). ## Only running VMs are vulnerable Since Qubes OS is a memory-hungry system, it seems that an attacker would only be able to steal secrets from VMs running concurrently with the attacking VM. This is because any pages from shutdown VMs will typically very quickly get allocated to other, running VMs and get wiped as part of this procedure. ## PGP and other cryptographic keys are at risk For VMs that happen to be running concurrently with the attacking VM, it seems possible that these attacks might allow the attacker to steal cryptographic keys, including private PGP keys. ## Disk encryption and screenlocker passwords are at risk There is one VM that is always running concurrently with other VMs: the AdminVM (dom0). This VM contains at least two important user secrets: - The disk (LUKS) encryption key (and likely the passphrase) - The screenlocker passphrase In order to make use of these secrets, however, the attacker would have to conduct a physical attack on the user's computer (e.g. steal the laptop physically). Users who use the same passphrase to encrypt their backups may also be affected. Additional remedies available to Qubes users ============================================= Thanks to the explicit Qubes partitioning model, it should be straightforward for users to implement additional hygiene by ensuring that, whenever less trusted VMs are running, highly sensitive VMs are shut down. Additionally, for some of the VMs that must run anyway (e.g. networking and USB qubes), it is possible to recreate the VM each time the user suspects it may have been compromised, e.g. after disconnecting from a less trusted Wi-Fi network, or unplugging an untrusted USB device. In Qubes 4.0, this is even easier, since Disposable VMs can now be used for the networking and USB VMs (see ). The Qubes firewalling and networking systems also make it easy to limit the networking resources VMs can reach, including making VMs completely offline. While firewalling in Qubes is not intended to be a leak-prevention mechanism, it likely has this effect in a broad class class of attack scenarios. Moreover, making a VM completely offline (i.e. setting its NetVM to "none") is a more robust way to limit the ability of an attacker to leak secrets stolen from memory to the outside world. While this mechanism should not be considered bullet-proof -- it is still possible to mount a specialized attack that exploits a covert channel to leak the data -- it could be considered as an additional layer of defense. Finally, Qubes offers mechanisms to allow for additional protection of user secrets, especially cryptographic keys, such as PGP keys used for encryption and signing. Qubes Split GPG  allows the user to keep these keys in an isolated VM. So, for example, the user might be running her "development" qube in parallel with a compromised qube, while keeping the GPG backend VM (where she keeps the signing key that she uses to sign her software releases) shut down most of the time (because it's only needed when a release is being made). This way, the software signing keys will be protected from the attack. The user could take this further by using Qubes Split GPG with a backend qube running on a physically separate computer, as has been demonstrated with the Qubes USB Armory project . (Proper) patching ================== ## Qubes 4.0 As explained above, almost all the VMs in Qubes 4.0 are fully-virtualized by default (specifically, they are HVMs), which mitigates the most severe issue, Meltdown. The only PV domains in Qubes 4.0 are stub domains, which we plan to eliminate by switching to PVH where possible. This will be done in Qubes 4.0-rc4 and also released as a normal update for existing Qubes 4.0 installations. The only remaining PV stub domains will be those used for VMs with PCI devices. (In the default configuration, these are sys-net and sys-usb.) To protect those domains, we will provide the Xen page-table isolation (XPTI) patch, as described in the following section on Qubes 3.2. ## Qubes 3.2 Previously, we had planned to release an update for Qubes 3.2 that would have made almost all VMs run in PVH mode by backporting support for this mode from Qubes 4.0. However, a much less drastic option has become available sooner than we and the Xen Security Team anticipated: what the Xen Security Team refers to as a "stage 1" implementation of the Xen page-table isolation (XPTI) mitigation strategy . This mitigation will make the most sensitive memory regions (including all of physical memory mapped into Xen address space) immune to the Meltdown attack. In addition, this mitigation will work on systems that lack VT-x support. (By contrast, our original plan to backport PVH would have worked only when the hardware supported VT-x or equivalent technology.) Please note that this mitigation is expected to have a noticeable performance impact. While there will be an option to disable the mitigation (and thereby avoid the performance impact), doing so will return the system to a vulnerable state. The following packages contain the patches described above: - Xen packages, version 4.6.6-36 Suggested actions after patching ================================= While the potential attacks discussed in this bulletin are severe, recovering from these potential attacks should be easier than in the case of an exploit that allows the attacker to perform arbitrary code execution, resulting in a full system compromise. Specifically, we don't believe it is necessary to use Qubes Paranoid Backup Restore Mode to address these vulnerabilities because of the strict read-only character of the attacks discussed. Instead, users who believe they are affected should consider taking the following actions: 1. Changing the screenlocker passphrase. 2. Changing the disk encryption (LUKS) passphrase. 3. Re-encrypting the disk to force a change of the disk encryption _key_. (In practice, this can be done by reinstalling Qubes and restoring from a backup.) 4. Evaluating the odds that other secrets have been compromised, such as other passwords and cryptographic keys (e.g. private PGP, SSH, or TLS keys), and generate new secrets. It is unclear how easy it might be for attackers to steal such data in a real world Qubes environment. Technical discussion ===================== From a (high-level) architecture point of view, the attacks discussed in this bulletin should not concern Qubes OS much. This is because, architecture-wise, there should be no secrets or other sensitive data in the hypervisor memory. This is in stark contrast to traditional monolithic systems, where there is an abundance of sensitive information living in the kernel (supervisor). Unfortunately, for rather accidental reasons, the implementation of the particular hypervisor we happen to be using to implement isolation for Qubes, i.e. the Xen hypervisor, undermines this clean architecture by internally mapping all physical memory pages into its address space. Of course, under normal circumstances, this isn't a security problem, because no one is able to read the hypervisor memory. However, the bugs we're discussing today might allow an attacker to do just that. This is a great example of how difficult it can be to analyze the security impact of a feature when limiting oneself to only one layer of abstraction, especially a high-level one (also known as the "PowerPoint level"). At the same time, we should point out that the use of full virtualization prevents at least one of the attacks, and incidentally the most powerful one, i.e. the Meltdown attack. However, we should also point out that, in Qubes 3.2, even HVMs still rely on PV stub domains to provide I/O emulation (qemu). In the case of an additional vulnerability within qemu, an attacker might compromise the PV stub domain and attempt to perform the Meltdown attack from there. This limitation also applies to HVMs in release candidates 1-3 of Qubes 4.0. Qubes 4.0-rc4, which we plan to release next week, should be using PVH instead of HVM for almost all VMs without PCI devices by default, thus eliminating this avenue of attack. As discussed in the Patching section, VMs with PCI devices will be the exception, which means that the Meltdown attack could in theory still be conducted if the attacker compromises a VM with PCI devices and afterward compromises the corresponding stub domain via a hypothetical qemu exploit. Unfortunately, there is not much we can do about this without cooperation from the Xen project . Here is an overview of the VM modes that correspond to each Qubes OS version: VM type \ Qubes OS version | 3.2 | 4.0-rc1-3 | 4.0-rc4 | ---------------------------------- | --- | --------- | ------- | Default VMs without PCI devices | PV | HVM | PVH | Default VMs with PCI devices | PV | HVM | HVM | Stub domains - Default VMs w/o PCI | N/A | PV | N/A | Stub domains - Default VMs w/ PCI | N/A | PV | PV | Stub domains - HVMs | PV | PV | PV | Credits ======== See the original Xen Security Advisory. References ===========  https://googleprojectzero.blogspot.com/2018/01/reading-privileged-memory-with-side.html  https://meltdownattack.com/  https://meltdownattack.com/meltdown.pdf  https://spectreattack.com/spectre.pdf  https://xenbits.xen.org/xsa/advisory-254.html  https://www.qubes-os.org/doc/split-gpg/  https://github.com/inversepath/qubes-qrexec-to-tcp  https://www.qubes-os.org/news/2017/04/26/qubes-compromise-recovery/  https://lists.xenproject.org/archives/html/xen-devel/2018-01/msg00403.html  https://www.qubes-os.org/news/2017/10/03/core3/  https://blog.xenproject.org/2018/01/04/xen-project-spectremeltdown-faq/ -- The Qubes Security Team https://www.qubes-os.org/security/