Process privileges

In systems where security is important, applications should run with the fewest privileges possible. Doing this helps reduce the impact of possible compromises and can also help lower the privilege escalation attack surface of the device.

The more difficult it is for attackers to elevate an application's privileges, the better; forcing attackers to chain multiple attacks against various applications that each have minimal sets of permissions is ideal.

Services and other system processes usually have to be started as root so that they can do privileged things. To improve security, some of these services and processes implement a -U command-line option that specifies the user and group IDs to run as.

This option takes one of these forms:

For example, -U99:98 specifies that the process is to run as user ID 99 and group ID 98. An integration team can assign the appropriate permissions for each user and group.

After the process starts up and carries out any privileged functionality it requires, and possibly obtains capabilities to retain some privileged permissions, it's expected to lower its permission to those specified by the -U option.

The liblogin library includes a standard helper function called set_ids_from_arg() that you can use to do this. In order to use set_ids_from_arg(), you have to include the <login.h> file and build with the -llogin linker option. The following example shows how to handle the -U argument simply:

case 'U':
    if( set_ids_from_arg( optarg ) != 0 ) {
        // insert appropriate logging and error handling
        log("Invalid user/group specified [%s]", optarg);
        return EXIT_FAILURE;

If your application can't lower privileges as soon as it parses the -U option's argument, you should save the argument and pass it to set_ids_from_arg() later.

You should lower application privileges as soon as possible, in stages if necessary. For instance, a resource manager typically needs to register a name in the path space by calling resmgr_attach(); in order to do this, it requires the PROCMGR_AID_PATHSPACE ability. The service should obtain this ability and immediately drop to the privileges provided by the -U option. After registering the name in the path space, the process should drop the ability if it doesn't need to register any more names.