Author: Zhuo Liang


XNU supports Shared Memory for inter process communication. The kernel provides two kinds of memory-sharing mechanisms: POSIX shared memory and System V shared memory.

int main( int argc, char** argv ) {
    int fd;
    unsigned* addr;
    /* Create a new memory object */
    fd = shm_open( "/bolts", O_RDWR | O_CREAT, 0777 );
    /* Set the memory object's size */
    ftruncate( fd, sizeof( *addr ) );
    /* Map the memory object */
    addr = mmap( 0, sizeof( *addr ), PROT_READ | PROT_WRITE, 
                MAP_SHARED, fd, 0 );

    /* Write to shared memory */
    *addr = 1;

    /* The memory object remains in the system after the close */
    close( fd );
     * To remove a memory object you must unlink it like a file.
     * This may be done by another process.
    shm_unlink( "/bolts" );
    return EXIT_SUCCESS;

Listing 1 is a typical usage of POSIX shared memory. The steps can be divided into following items:

  1. shm_open Create a new shared memory object and put it into cache. Several times of shm_open is supported and they will share the common shared memory object from kernel cache.

  2. ftruncate Allocate backend sharing memory for shared memory object and this operation will mark the object as PSHM_ALLOCATED.

  3. mmap Map the allocated memory into the process's space and the returned value is the start of the shared memory.

  4. Direct Read/Write Since the memory is already mapped in the process's task space, the process can read and write the shared memory now.

  5. close Release the file descriptor and decrease the reference of the shared memory object.

  6. shm_unlink Unlink the path, this operation would decrease the reference count of shared memory object and mark the object as PSHM_REMOVED.

Leak Issue

This issue is about the management of shared memory object. The close operation of POSIX shared memory object is pshm_closefile which will call pshm_close.

// bsd/kern/posix_shm.c
static int
pshm_close(struct pshminfo * pinfo, int dropref)
    int error = 0;
    struct pshmobj *pshmobj, *pshmobj_next;

     * If we are dropping the reference we took on 
     * the cache object, don't enforce the 
     * allocation requirement.
    if (!dropref && 
        ((pinfo->pshm_flags & PSHM_ALLOCATED) 
        != PSHM_ALLOCATED)) { // [a]
        return (EINVAL);
    }                /* DIAGNOSTIC */
    pinfo->pshm_usecount--; /* release this fd's reference */ // [b]

At [a], PSHM_ALLOCATED is checked and this flag is only set in ftruncate. pshm_closefile passes 0 as the second parameter to this function and this means if we open the shared memory and close at once, the pshm_usecount will not be decreased. Let's see what would happen if we perform following steps:

    const char *shm_name = "/test.shm";
    int shm_fd = shm_open(shm_name, O_RDWR | O_CREAT, 0666); // [c]
#define MAX_OPEN_TIMES 0xff
    for (size_t i = 0; i < MAX_OPEN_TIMES; i++) {
        int reopen_shm_fd = shm_open(shm_name, O_RDWR); // [d]
        close(reopen_shm_fd); // [e]

1.[c] Create the memory object and the put it into cache, the pshm_usecount is 2 now. One for file descriptor and the other for cache.

2.[d] Open the same path, this will search the object from kernel cache and increase the pshm_usecount.

    // bsd/kern/posix_shm.c
    shm_open(proc_t p, struct shm_open_args *uap, int32_t *retval) { 
         * If we find the entry in the cache, this 
         * will take a reference, allowing us to 
         * unlock it for the permissions check.
        error = pshm_cache_search(&pinfo, &nd, &pcache, 1);

3.[e] Close the reopened file descriptor, recall the aforementioned close operation that this will not decrease the pshm_usecount because ftruncate has not been called yet.

After above steps, the pshm_usecount will be 0x101. One for shm_fd which we still hold, one for cache and 0xff for reopened file descriptors which we already closed. And the pshm_usecount is a 32 bit integer which means if we set MAX_OPEN_TIMES to 0xffffffff, the result of pshm_usecount will be 1, but we still hold one file descriptor. If we unlink the path, which will decrease the usecount and of course release the object memory, and then do anything on that file descriptor, an use-after-free issue occurs!


Apple adds a function named pshm_deref, which will be called when closing a handle of POSIX shared memory object or unlinking the path, to fix this issue.

int64 pshm_deref(__int64 a1, __int64 a2)
  __int64 v2; // rsi
  int v3; // eax
  __int64 result; // rax
  _QWORD *i; // rbx
  _DWORD *v6; // r13
  __int64 v7; // rax
  __int64 v8; // [rsp-8h] [rbp-30h]

  v8 = a1;
  v2 = 1LL;
  lck_mtx_assert(&psx_shm_subsys_mutex, 1LL);
  v3 = *(_DWORD *)(a2 + 4);
  result = (unsigned int)(v3 - 1);
  *(_DWORD *)(a2 + 4) = result;
  if ( !(_DWORD)result )
  return result;


  1. 2018/12/04 Discovery of this issue.

  2. 2018/12/11 Reported to product-security\

  3. 2019/03/13 Checked that the issue was fixed in Beta4.

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