Dear Qubes Community,

We have just published Qubes Security Bulletin (QSB) #38: Qrexec policy bypass and possible information leak. 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 #38 ]===---

                          February 20, 2018

          Qrexec policy bypass and possible information leak


One of our developers, Wojtek Porczyk, discovered a vulnerability in the way
qube names are handled, which can result in qrexec policies being bypassed, a
theoretical information leak, and possibly other vulnerabilities. The '$'
character, when part of a qrexec RPC name and/or destination
specification (like '$adminvm', '$default', or one of the variants of
'$dispvm') is expanded according to shell parameter expansion [1]
after evaluating the qrexec policy but before invoking the RPC handler


1. Potential policy bypass. The qrexec argument value that is delivered to the
   handler executable can be different from the value that is present in the
   RPC policy at the time the policy is evaluated. This is especially
   problematic when the policy is defined as a blacklist of arguments rather
   than a whitelist, e.g.  "permit any arguments to example.Call but
   PROHIBITED". If an attacker were to call 'example.Call+PROHIBITED$invalid',
   the argument would not match the blacklisted variable at the time of policy
   evaluation, so it would be admitted.  However, performing shell parameter
   expansion on the argument results in the prohibited value, which is what the
   actual handler receives.

2. Potential information leak. If the qrexec handler acts upon the argument,
   the attacker could read or deduce the contents of those variables.

3. Other potential vulnerabilities. Some of the variables present in the
   environment, like $HOME and $PATH, also contain characters that are not
   permissible in qrexec names or arguments that could theoretically lead to
   other classes of vulnerabilities, such as directory traversal.

Technical details

The '$' character is used in several places in qrexec and is therefore an
allowed character in parameters to Qubes RPC calls. It is also allowed as part
of the RPC name. The validation code is as follows [2]:

    static void sanitize_name(char * untrusted_s_signed, char *extra_allowed_chars)
        unsigned char * untrusted_s;
        for (untrusted_s=(unsigned char*)untrusted_s_signed; *untrusted_s; untrusted_s++) {
            if (*untrusted_s >= 'a' && *untrusted_s <= 'z')
            if (*untrusted_s >= 'A' && *untrusted_s <= 'Z')
            if (*untrusted_s >= '0' && *untrusted_s <= '9')
            if (*untrusted_s == '$' ||
                   *untrusted_s == '_' ||
                   *untrusted_s == '-' ||
                   *untrusted_s == '.')
            if (extra_allowed_chars && strchr(extra_allowed_chars, *untrusted_s))
            *untrusted_s = '_';

and is invoked as [3]:

    sanitize_name(untrusted_params.service_name, "+");
    sanitize_name(untrusted_params.target_domain, ":");

Those arguments are part of the basis of policy evaluation. If policy
evaluation was successful, the parameters are then forwarded to the destination
domain over qrexec, and the call is executed using the qubes-rpc-multiplexer
executable, which is invoked by a POSIX shell. The exact mechanism differs
between dom0 and other qubes [4]:

    if == 'dom0':
        cmd = '{multiplexer} {service} {source} {original_target}'.format(
        cmd = '{user}:QUBESRPC {service} {source}'.format(
            user=(self.rule.override_user or 'DEFAULT'),

    # ...

    try:[QREXEC_CLIENT] + qrexec_opts + [cmd])

For the dom0 case, these are the relevant parts from the executable referenced
as QREXEC_CLIENT above [5]:

    /* called from do_fork_exec */
    void do_exec(const char *prog)
        execl("/bin/bash", "bash", "-c", prog, NULL);

    /* ... */

    static void prepare_local_fds(char *cmdline)
        /* ... */
        do_fork_exec(cmdline, &local_pid, &local_stdin_fd, &local_stdout_fd,

    /* ... */

    int main(int argc, char **argv)
        /* ... */

        if (strcmp(domname, "dom0") == 0) {
            /* ... */


For qubes other than dom0, the command line is reconstructed from the command
passed through qrexec [6]:

    void do_exec(const char *cmd)
        char buf[strlen(QUBES_RPC_MULTIPLEXER_PATH) + strlen(cmd) - RPC_REQUEST_COMMAND_LEN + 1];
        char *realcmd = index(cmd, ':'), *user;

        /* ... */

        /* replace magic RPC cmd with RPC multiplexer path */
        if (strncmp(realcmd, RPC_REQUEST_COMMAND " ", RPC_REQUEST_COMMAND_LEN+1)==0) {
            strcpy(buf, QUBES_RPC_MULTIPLEXER_PATH);
            strcpy(buf + strlen(QUBES_RPC_MULTIPLEXER_PATH), realcmd + RPC_REQUEST_COMMAND_LEN);
            realcmd = buf;

        /* ... */

    #ifdef HAVE_PAM
        /* ... */
        shell_basename = basename (pw->pw_shell);
        /* this process is going to die shortly, so don't care about freeing */
        arg0 = malloc (strlen (shell_basename) + 2);

        /* ... */

        /* FORK HERE */
        child = fork ();

        switch (child) {
            case -1:
                goto error;
            case 0:
                /* child */

                if (setgid (pw->pw_gid))
                if (setuid (pw->pw_uid))
                /* This is a copy but don't care to free as we exec later anyways.  */
                env = pam_getenvlist (pamh);

                execle(pw->pw_shell, arg0, "-c", realcmd, (char*)NULL, env);

    /* ... */

        execl("/bin/su", "su", "-", user, "-c", realcmd, NULL);

Notice that the '$' character is unescaped in all cases when it is passed to
the shell and is interpreted according to the rules of parameter expansion [1].

Mitigating factors

Only the '$' shell special character character was allowed, so only the
corresponding simple form of parameter expansion is permitted [1]. The '{}'
characters are prohibited, so other forms of parameter expansion are not
possible. Had other characters like '()', been permitted, which is not the
case, this vulnerability would amount to code execution.

The qrexec calls that are present in a default Qubes OS installation and that
have, by default, a policy that would actually allow them to be called:

  - do not contain the '$' character; and
  - do not act upon differences in their arguments.

Therefore, this vulnerability is limited to custom RPCs and/or custom policies.

The attacker is constrained to preexisting environment variables and shell
special variables, which do not appear to contain very valuable information.

Since writing policies in the blacklist paradigm is a poor security practice in
general, it is perhaps less common among the security-conscious Qubes userbase.
All users who write custom RPCs or policies are henceforth advised to adopt the
whitelist paradigm.


We've decided to deprecate the '$' character from qrexec-related usage.
Instead, to denote special tokens, we will use the '@' character,
which we believe is less likely to be interpreted in a special way
by the relevant software.

This is a forward-incompatible change for existing systems, specifically in
policy syntax, remote domain parameters to the qrexec-client and
qrexec-client-vm tools, and the API exposed to the qrexec handler script. In
order to maintain backward compatibility, these tools will accept older
keywords while parsing policy and command line parameters, then translate them
to the new keywords before evaluating the policy or invoking the actual call,

It will no longer be possible to define calls and receive arguments containing
the '$' character. However, we believe that no such calls exist. Had they
existed, this bug would have been disclosed earlier.

In addition, the shell will not be used to call qubes-rpc-multiplexer.

The environment variable specifying the original target qube will also be
specified differently for cases that, in the past, would have contained the '$'
character. However, this wasn't working as specified anyway, so we believe the
impact of this change to be minimal. The new variables will be as follows:

    with value of either 'name' or 'keyword'
    set only when QREXEC_REQUESTED_TARGET_TYPE set to 'name'
    set only when QREXEC_REQUESTED_TARGET_TYPE set to 'keyword'


The specific packages that resolve the problem discussed in this bulletin are
as follows:

  For Qubes 3.2, dom0:
  - qubes-utils 3.2.7
  - qubes-core-dom0-linux 3.2.17

  For Qubes 3.2, domUs:
  - qubes-utils 3.2.7
  - qubes-core-vm (Fedora) / qubes-core-agent (Debian) 3.2.24

  For Qubes 4.0, dom0:
  - qubes-utils 4.0.16
  - qubes-core-dom0 4.0.23
  - qubes-core-dom0-linux 4.0.11

  For Qubes 4.0, domUs:
  - qubes-utils 4.0.16
  - qubes-core-agent 4.0.22

The packages for dom0 are to be installed in dom0 via the Qubes VM Manager or
via the qubes-dom0-update command as follows:

  For updates from the stable repository (not immediately available):
  $ sudo qubes-dom0-update

  For updates from the security-testing repository:
  $ sudo qubes-dom0-update --enablerepo=qubes-dom0-security-testing

The packages for domUs are to be installed in TemplateVMs and StandaloneVMs via
the Qubes VM Manager or via the respective package manager:

  For updates to Fedora from the stable repository (not immediately available):
  $ sudo dnf update

  For updates to Fedora from the security-testing repository:
  $ sudo dnf update --enablerepo=qubes-vm-*-security-testing

  For updates to Debian from the stable repository (not immediately available):
  $ sudo apt update && sudo apt dist-upgrade

  For updates to Debian from the security-testing repository:
  First, uncomment the line below "Qubes security updates testing repository" in
  $ sudo apt update && sudo apt dist-upgrade

A restart is required for these changes to take effect. In the case of dom0,
this entails a full system restart. In the case of TemplateVMs, this entails
shutting down the TemplateVM before restarting all the TemplateBasedVMs based
on that TemplateVM.

These packages will migrate from the security-testing repository to the current
(stable) repository over the next two weeks after being tested by the


2011-07-22  Commit c23cc48 permits '$' character [7].
2016-03-27  Commit 0607d90 introduces qrexec arguments [8][9].
2018-02-14  The vulnerability is discovered and reported internally.
2018-02-20  The vulnerability is patched, and this bulletin is released.


The issue was discovered by Wojtek Porczyk.



The Qubes Security Team