A frustrating issue with SELinux label aliasing

Note, if the patchset below ever gets accepted, I’ll mark this post as deprecated

I recently did a workshop at an information security conference in Vancouver called BSides Vancouver. This was targeted at developers, sysadmins and information security specialists. For those that are interested those materials are here.

The motivations for doing that workshop was so I could show people how straightforward these tools are IF you find the right path of reading materials on the web. While preparing for the talk I was really focussed on showing the “easiest path”, however there was one point of frustration that if I used a home directory for the workshop e.g ~/web the SELinux labelling wouldn’t work as prescribed. I “hand-waved” this during the talk by requiring the participants to use a directory that wasn’t victim of this bug, but that is really unfortunate as they might try to redo what they’d learned in a home directory and to their frustration, it wouldn’t work properly!!!


For those unfamiliar with SELinux (I’d recommend reviewing the workshop materials above 😉) there is a file in the set of SELinux policy files called the file contexts file (.fc). This is used by the various SELinux file labelling tools to tag files with their user_type, role_type and context_type (sometimes called domain_type)

Here is an example agnostic of common Linux directories so as not to distract from the issue:

/citrus/lemon/.*        --       gen_context(system_u:object_r:lemon_domain_t,s0)
/banana/.*              --       gen_context(system_u:object_r:banana_domain_t,s0)

Around 2015-ish SELinux developers tried to get a bit #crafty with filepath aliasing so that some rules could be applied to many paths, e.g. /usr/bin vs /bin, however the aliasing didn’t stop at sym/hardlinked directories, you could (and they did) alias things that were totally different contents! 😕

The aliases mostly live in the files: "/etc/selinux/{targeted,default}/contexts/files/file_contexts.subs_dist"

Following the above example if we then update that file to map the aliases

# alias origin
/citrus /banana

When running one of the labelling tools to check which is matched:

$ ./libselinux/utils/selabel_lookup_best_match -p /citrus/lemon/foo
Best match context: system_u:object_r:banana_domain_t:s0

Surely the user’s expectation is that the lemon_domain_t would be returned as that is a “more-specific” match pattern. Don’t worry the design isn’t so crazy to be the “least-specific” match wins, that would be maddening! (cough “/*”)


In the userland libselinux source code I found the function that was responsible for this decision logic: libselinux/src/label_file.c

lookup_common(struct selabel_handle *rec, const char *key, int type, bool partial) {

we encounter a call to

selabel_sub_key(struct saved_data *data, const char *key)

In the example above the candidate path we’re trying to match (referred to as the key in the code) is “canonicalized” to the /banana alias but the regex being evaluated is not.


My colleague Travis Szucs and I submitted a patch to the SELinux-mailing-list for this issue:

diff --git a/libselinux/src/label_file.c b/libselinux/src/label_file.c
index 560d8c3..98a8d1b 100644
--- a/libselinux/src/label_file.c
+++ b/libselinux/src/label_file.c
@@ -848,7 +848,7 @@ static struct spec *lookup_common(struct selabel_handle *rec,
    struct saved_data *data = (struct saved_data *)rec->data;
    struct spec *spec_arr = data->spec_arr;
-   int i, rc, file_stem;
+   int i, rc, file_stem, orig_file_stem;
    mode_t mode = (mode_t)type;
    const char *buf;
    struct spec *ret = NULL;
@@ -879,8 +879,12 @@ static struct spec *lookup_common(struct selabel_handle *rec,
    sub = selabel_sub_key(data, key);
-   if (sub)
+   orig_file_stem = -1; 
+   if (sub) {
+      orig_file_stem = find_stem_from_file(data, &key);
        key = sub;
+   }   
    buf = key;
    file_stem = find_stem_from_file(data, &buf);
@@ -896,7 +900,8 @@ static struct spec *lookup_common(struct selabel_handle *rec,
         * stem as the file AND if the spec in question has no mode
         * specified or if the mode matches the file mode then we do
         * a regex check        */  
-       if ((spec->stem_id == -1 || spec->stem_id == file_stem) &&
+       if ((spec->stem_id == -1 || spec->stem_id == file_stem ||  
+            spec->stem_id == orig_file_stem) &&
            (!mode || !spec->mode || mode == spec->mode)) {
            if (compile_regex(data, spec, NULL) < 0)
                goto finish;

I think there is still some simplification that could be done with aliases. They really shouldn’t have a direction (e.g. alias → original) instead they should go both ways and if there is a tie it should go by the ordering of the global combined contexts list.

Seemingly this “implicit” behaviour is dangerous from a security perspective as a developer of an SELinux policy, may not know the contents or directionality of the file_contexts.subs_dist file ahead of time or when it might change.

Eagerly awaiting this fix to be accepted, but nothing from RedHat as of yet…