SELinux/Tutorials/Controlling file contexts yourself

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Controlling file contexts yourself

Now that we understand that processes run within a certain SELinux domain, and that this domain is used by SELinux to check the permissions against files with a particular context, we now need to find out how to set the file contexts ourself and how to make this manageable. After all, if a denial gives us a hint about a wrong context, we need to rectify this.

The context of a file (or directory) in SELinux is set through its extended attribute, but having to manually set the context for every file would require a huge database of all possible file paths and their associated SELinux context. As this is not really manageable, SELinux uses file context definitions using regular expressions.

Building a file context definition/expression

In our example of the audit logs, it is safe to assume that every file within /var/log/audit is to be used for audit logging purposes. So expression-wise, we could say that /var/log/audit/.* is a good match for files which should have the auditd_log_t type. Although correct, it leaves /var/log/audit itself undefined.

What most SELinux policy writers do in such a case is to use a regular expression that matches both the directory as well as its content:


Next is to define which context to assign to it. In our example, we use the system_u:object_r:auditd_log_t context. So we have

/var/log/audit(/.*)?                      system_u:object_r:auditd_log_t

We are still missing the class(es) for which this is applicable. As we have an expression that matches both a directory and files, we generally say that all classes (well, file related classes since we are talking about a file system) are applicable. So we have:

/var/log/audit(/.*)?      all files       system_u:object_r:auditd_log_t

With semanage fcontext, we can query the existing SELinux file context definitions. To get to the definition for the audit logs:

root #semanage fcontext -l | grep auditd_log_t
/var/log/audit(/.*)?                               all files          system_u:object_r:auditd_log_t 

All file context definitions

The semanage fcontext -l command will display all file context definitions that SELinux policy writers have provided.

It is important to remember that this 'database' of file contexts is provided by SELinux policy writers: if you ever need to write your own application policy, you will have to define the contexts in a similar way as well as part of the policy. On distributions such as RedHat Enterprise Linux, where the installed (and loaded) SELinux policy is the full policy set of all applications that are supported on RedHat Enterprise Linux, you will notice that this list is huge. That is because all policies are already loaded and, as such, all context definitions are as well.

The semanage utility uses the files in /etc/selinux/*/contexts/files as its source.

Distributions such as Gentoo, which only load the policies that are applicable to your system (additional policies are loaded as you install additional software using a standard dependency structure), this list is still big but more manageable.

The semanage command takes this information from flat files stored in /etc/selinux. Sadly, the command is also crippled in its function: it does not display all contexts and expressions that are applicable on the system. It only shows those that are not part of any 'auto-generated' contexts, such as with home directory contexts. To get information on what the context ought to be (according to the SELinux configuration files), you can use matchpathcon.

user $/usr/sbin/matchpathcon /home/swift/.config
/home/swift/.config      staff_u:object_r:xdg_config_home_t

Applying contexts on files

Having the correct contexts on the files in your system is extremely important, so much so that I'm going to re-iterate this in a nicely formatted paragraph.

Ensuring that the target files and directories have the right SELinux context is essential to get your system to behave as it should. Too many times users disable SELinux because SELinux is prohibiting certain access, whereas the problem is just that their files are not labeled correctly.

Once we've established the security context for files in the SELinux policy, we still need to actually apply the context to the files by storing it in their extended attributes. This is where the restorecon utility comes into play.

The restorecon utility will check the contexts of the files and match those against the contexts that are defined in the SELinux policy. It uses a special mapping algorithm to make sure that it matches the expression that is most likely applicable to the file, checks its should-be context against the existing context and, if it doesn't match, changes the context of the file.

The special mapping algorithm will look through the expressions and filter those expressions that match the file. From that set of expressions, it

  1. checks if there is an expression without wildcards (like /var/log/audit/audit\.log)
  2. if not, it looks for the expression with the wildcard the furthest from the start (so with /var/log/audit(/.*)? and /var/log/audit/.*, the latter has its wildcard the furthest from the start)
  3. if there are multiple expressions with the same wildcard distance, it looks for the expression with the most characters in it (so with /var/log/audit(/.*)? and /var/log/audit(/.*)\.log the latter has the most characters in it)

Although there are a few more rules to it, the above ones are the simplest to explain for now and suffice in 99.9% of the cases where you need to know this. You can also use the findcon utility to display all matching expressions. As far as we can tell, the lowest returned value is the one that will be picked (but I'm not sure, so use matchpathcon in these cases if you really want to be sure).

The findcon application is only available in older setools versions. Recent setools (version 4 onward) no longer contains the findcon utility.
user $findcon /etc/selinux/strict/contexts/files/file_contexts -p /var/cache/gorg/doc
/.*             system_u:object_r:default_t
/var/.*         system_u:object_r:var_t
/var/cache/gorg(/.*)?           system_u:object_r:gorg_cache_t

Let's run restorecon against a few files and directories.

root #restorecon -v /var/log/audit/audit.log

No output is good, since it means that the context was correct to begin with. Let's try a recursive one:

root #restorecon -Rv /etc
restorecon reset /etc/resolv.conf.tail context staff_u:object_r:etc_t->staff_u:object_r:net_conf_t
restorecon reset /etc/dnsmasq.conf context staff_u:object_r:etc_t->staff_u:object_r:dnsmasq_etc_t
restorecon reset /etc/csh.env context staff_u:object_r:etc_t->staff_u:object_r:etc_runtime_t

In this example, restorecon has changed the contexts of three files. For instance, the dnsmasq.conf file was labeled with the etc_t type and has now been set to the dnsmasq_etc_t type.

Not all contexts will be reset by default through restorecon. Certain types, called customizable types, are types that are meant to be set anywhere on the system so that a fixed location is difficult to define. restorecon will not reset the context of a file whose context contains a customizable type, unless you add in the -F option. You also need to specify the -F option if you want to reset all the context instead of just the type (third field) of the security context.

Other methods for applying contexts

There are other methods for applying SELinux contexts on files, but these have their drawbacks...

Some distributions support a .autorelabel file which you can place in the root file system. When you do this, the distribution will run restorecon on all files at the next boot.

root #touch /.autorelabel
root #reboot

You need to check your distributions' documentation to see if this is supported or not. And the fact that you need to wait for a reboot isn't really usable in most situations.

Another method is to use chcon. This tool, which stands for change context, allows you to change the SELinux context of a file directly, without consulting the SELinux context definitions from the policy. This has the downside that the next restorecon will reset the context back to what is defined in the SELinux context definitions. The chcon command is only recommended to test out context changes before really registering them against the context definitions, or when you are dealing with the before mentioned customizable types (we'll get to that in a later tutorial).

Adding your own definition rules

When you're dealing with SELinux file contexts, you will need to set the context yourself. Be it because you use a non-standard location, or because the locations depend on things like server-name and the current policy cannot handle this well - setting the contexts yourself is something you will need to learn.

First, you need to know what the context needs to be for a file. Let's say that you configured the audit daemon to log on /srv/logs/audit instead of /var/log/audit. By default, SELinux will probably assume that this directory should have the var_t context.

root #matchpathcon /srv/logs/audit
/srv/logs/audit system_u:object_r:var_t:s0

This will cause problems, since the auditd_t domain has little rights to do anything with var_t. We can query the currently loaded SELinux policy using sesearch (we have done that a few times in the previous tutorials as well).

root #sesearch -s auditd_t -t var_t -SA
Found 9 semantic av rules:
   allow auditd_t file_type : filesystem getattr ;
   allow domain var_t : file { read getattr } ;
   allow daemon var_t : dir { getattr search open } ;
   allow domain var_t : dir { getattr search open } ;
   allow domain var_t : sock_file { read write getattr } ;
   allow auditd_t var_t : dir { getattr search open } ;
In the above example, you will notice that allow statements are shown not only for the requested domain (auditd_t) but also for domain and daemon. These are two examples of SELinux' support for attributes, which are assigned to types and domains. For instance, all types that are meant for processes (and thus are domains that will 'act'), are given the domain attribute. Generic policies (like Allow all domains to search through the var_t labeled directories) can then name the domain attribute instead of iterating over every domain individually. As the auditd_t domain is also labeled with the daemon and domain attributes, we can see the allow statements for those as well. The command "seinfo -t auditd_t -x" will show you extended information about the auditd_t type, including the attributes assigned to it.

So what we need to do is to mark /srv/logs as var_log_t and /srv/logs/audit and subdirectories/files as auditd_log_t. This can be accomplished using semanage followed by a restorecon.

root #semanage fcontext -a -t var_log_t "/srv/logs(/.*)?"
root #semanage fcontext -a -t auditd_log_t "/srv/logs/audit(/.*)?"
root #restorecon -Rv /srv/logs
restorecon reset /srv/logs context unconfined_u:object_r:var_t->unconfined_u:object_r:var_log_t
restorecon reset /srv/logs/audit context unconfined_u:object_r:var_t->unconfined_u:object_r:auditd_log_t

What we did was tell the SELinux management utilities to add (-a) a file context definition (fcontext) with type var_log_t (-t var_log_t) and auditd_log_t, for the given expressions at the end. Then, we used restorecon to update the contexts of the files according to the newly created definitions. Note that SELinux' management tools will accept and quierly convert types such as 'var_log_t' into a full security context such as unconfined_u:object_r:var_log_t.

The semanage utility is the main utility you will use to modify and alter SELinux settings on your system. So it comes to no surprise that deleting context definitions you set earlier on is done through this utility as well. All we need to do is use -d (to delete) instead of -a.

root #semanage fcontext -d -t var_log_t "/srv/logs(/.*)?"

What you need to remember

What you should remember from this tutorial is that

  1. the context of a file is one of the most important parts of an SELinux secured system,
  2. that wrong contexts are the most common source of SELinux-related denials and permission problems,
  3. that contexts are defined by mapping types with regular expressions through semanage fcontext, and
  4. that contexts are then best applied through restorecon