9.3. Advisory TFV-3 (CVE-2017-7563)


RO memory is always executable at AArch64 Secure EL1




06 Apr 2017

Versions Affected

v1.3 (since Pull Request #662)

Configurations Affected

AArch64 BL2, TSP or other users of xlat_tables library executing at AArch64 Secure EL1


Unexpected Privilege Escalation

Fix Version

Pull Request #924



The translation table library in ARM Trusted Firmware (TF) (under lib/xlat_tables and lib/xlat_tables_v2) provides APIs to help program translation tables in the MMU. The xlat_tables client specifies its required memory mappings in the form of mmap_region structures. Each mmap_region has memory attributes represented by the mmap_attr_t enumeration type. This contains flags to control data access permissions (MT_RO/MT_RW) and instruction execution permissions (MT_EXECUTE/MT_EXECUTE_NEVER). Thus a mapping specifying both MT_RO and MT_EXECUTE_NEVER should result in a Read-Only (RO), non-executable memory region.

This feature does not work correctly for AArch64 images executing at Secure EL1. Any memory region mapped as RO will always be executable, regardless of whether the client specified MT_EXECUTE or MT_EXECUTE_NEVER.

The vulnerability is known to affect the BL2 and Test Secure Payload (TSP) images on platforms that enable the SEPARATE_CODE_AND_RODATA build option, which includes all ARM standard platforms, and the upstream Xilinx and NVidia platforms. The RO data section for these images on these platforms is unexpectedly executable instead of non-executable. Other platforms or xlat_tables clients may also be affected.

The vulnerability primarily manifests itself after Pull Request #662. Before that, xlat_tables clients could not specify instruction execution permissions separately to data access permissions. All RO normal memory regions were implicitly executable. Before Pull Request #662. the vulnerability would only manifest itself for device memory mapped as RO; use of this mapping is considered rare, although the upstream QEMU platform uses this mapping when the DEVICE2_BASE build option is used.

Note that one or more separate vulnerabilities are also required to exploit this vulnerability.

The vulnerability is due to incorrect handling of the execute-never bits in the translation tables. The EL3 translation regime uses a single XN bit to determine whether a region is executable. The Secure EL1&0 translation regime handles 2 Virtual Address (VA) ranges and so uses 2 bits, UXN and PXN. The xlat_tables library only handles the XN bit, which maps to UXN in the Secure EL1&0 regime. As a result, this programs the Secure EL0 execution permissions but always leaves the memory as executable at Secure EL1.

The vulnerability is mitigated by the following factors:

  • The xlat_tables library ensures that all Read-Write (RW) memory regions are non-executable by setting the SCTLR_ELx.WXN bit. This overrides any value of the XN, UXN or PXN bits in the translation tables. See the enable_mmu() function:

    sctlr = read_sctlr_el##_el();               \
    sctlr |= SCTLR_WXN_BIT | SCTLR_M_BIT;       \
  • AArch32 configurations are unaffected. Here the XN bit controls execution privileges of the currently executing translation regime, which is the desired behaviour.

  • ARM TF EL3 code (for example BL1 and BL31) ensures that all non-secure memory mapped into the secure world is non-executable by setting the SCR_EL3.SIF bit. See the el3_arch_init_common macro in el3_common_macros.S.