Requiring privileges

Some kernel APIs should be restricted only to “special” binaries/users.

Here’s an example, from fs_snapshot syscall, on how it’s often done on kernel side:

fs_snapshot(__unused proc_t p, struct fs_snapshot_args *uap,
    __unused int32_t *retval)
	int error;
	vfs_context_t ctx = vfs_context_current();

	error = priv_check_cred(vfs_context_ucred(ctx), PRIV_VFS_SNAPSHOT, 0);
	if (error)
		return (error);
	// perform requested action -- userland has required privileges

And priv_check_cred is essentially a wrapper for mac_priv_check + mac_priv_grant, which have similar structure:

mac_priv_check(kauth_cred_t cred, int priv)
	int error;

	if (!mac_cred_check_enforce(cred))
		return 0;

	MAC_CHECK(priv_check, cred, priv);

	return (error);

As you can see, those functions don’t even get to callout to MACF policies if mac_cred_check_enforce returns false.

static __inline__ bool mac_cred_check_enforce(kauth_cred_t cred)
	return (cred != proc_ucred(kernproc));

Getting the privileges

So, if you want the privilege to be granted, you either should actually posess everything that is required for that, or have kernel’s ucred.

The latter was the standard approach before iOS 11:

So, starting with iOS 11 it no longer works – simply “stealing” kernel’s ucred unleashes panic on you with meaningless message.

So, everyone just switched to the former approach:

  • if you need to be root – just patch up your posix part of ucred (uid/gid and friends)
  • to bypass some checks just zero out your macf label’s perpolicy slots
  • if that doesn’t work, hotswap amfi’s perpolicy slot with OSDictionary containing arbitrary entitlements
  • or just execute a program which does have privileges you need, sigstop it, and steal it’s ucred

Looking deeper into mitigation

Searching for panic string or looking at panic backtrace quickly leads to following snippet in the sandbox kext:

void sb_evaluate(uint64_t retbuf[3], void *sbx_mac_ctx, unsigned int op, sbx_ctx_t* sbx_ctx) {
  uint64_t retval[3] = {0};

  retval[0] = (uint32_t) derive_cred(sbx_ctx);
  if (LOW(retval[0])) {
  	HIGH(retval[0]) = 1;
  	goto end;

  struct ucred* cur_ucred = sbx_ctx->ucred;
  // struct ucred *is_kernel_cred_kerncred is a global variable
  struct ucred* kernel_cred = is_kernel_cred_kerncred;
  if (!kernel_cred) {
    struct ucred* tmp = kauth_cred_proc_ref(kernproc);
    if (!OSCompareAndSwapPtr(NULL, &tmp, &is_kernel_cred_kerncred)) {
    kernel_cred = is_kernel_cred_kerncred;

  if (kernel_cred == cur_ucred) {
    if (!sbx_ctx->refheld_proc) {
      cur_proc = sbx_ctx->proc;
      if (cur_proc && cur_proc != kernproc) {
    retval[2] = 0;
    retval[1] = 0;
    retval[0] = 0;
    goto end;

  // actual checks using eval

  if (!sbx_ctx->no_free) {
    free_filter_context(sbx_ctx, sbx_mac_ctx);

  retbuf[2] = retval[2];
  retbuf[1] = retval[1];
  retbuf[0] = retval[0];

So, the sb_evaluate explicitly checks against kernel ucred and allows everything without even eval’ing. However, it also checks that proc matches kernproc – and panics otherwise.

The address of kernel’s ucred is cached in a global pointer is_kernel_cred_kerncred, which is set on first access and cached afterwards.


So, if the cached pointer is not null and is not equal to any ucred pointer, the check would be always skipped – so, just overwrite the is_kernel_cred_kerncred with invalid kernel pointer (0xca13feba37be :) to never see shenanigans panic.

I am not sure what the consequences of (possibly) rejecting kernel in sandbox might be, so it’d be better to reverse the overwrite once kernel ucred is no longer possessed by your proc.

IMO, it’s yet another example of mitigation which does nothing against malware writers, but does cause problems for jailbreakers.

Sorry if I’m making your private technique public :( Also, I won’t be surprised if apple moves the is_kernel_cred_kerncred into const section and initializes it with kext initializers – or even refactors everything and exposes a new symbol for kernel’s ucred.

P.S. thanks for asking me questions which make me want to reverse things to answer them, and thanks for the article name – you know who you are.


Extending patchfinder

patchfinder everyone and their dog are using only considers following type of function prologue when looking for start of function:

STP X, X, [SP, #imm1]!
STP X, X, [SP, #imm2]
STP X, X, [SP, #imm3]
ADD X29, SP, #addimm

It could be detected by looking for ADD X29, SP, #addimm and then for STP X, X, [SP, #imm1]!. And number of stps would be addimm/16 + 1 (1 for STP!).

However, at least in iOS 11.3.1, another type of prologue can be found (when function has larger stack?):

SUB SP, SP, #subimm
STP X, X, [SP, #imm1]
STP X, X, [SP, #imm2]
ADD X29, SP, #addimm

It could be detected by looking for ADD X29, SP, #addimm, and then for SUB SP, SP, #subimm within addimm/16 + 1 instructions, and checking that all instructions between ADD and SUB are STP/STR.

So, here’s the patch for bof64:

// after this original code
addr_t prev = where - ((delta >> 4) + 1) * 4;
uint32_t au = *(uint32_t *)(buf + prev);
if ((au & 0xFFC003E0) == 0xA98003E0) {
    // printf("%x: STP x, y, [SP,#-imm]!\n", prev);
    return prev;

// add this code
for (addr_t diff = 4; diff < delta/4+4; diff+=4) {
    uint32_t ai = *(uint32_t *)(buf + where - diff);
    // SUB SP, SP, #imm
    if ((ai&0xFFC003FF) == 0xD10003FF) {
        return where - diff;
    // Not stp and not str
    if (((ai & 0xFFC003E0) != 0xA90003E0) && (ai&0xFFC001F0) != 0xF90001E0) {

Finding the variable

  • Panic happens in sb_evaluate
  • _is_kernel_cred_kerncred is the first thing referenced in it
ADRP  X24, #[email protected]
LDR   X8, [X24,#[email protected]]
CBNZ  X8, ...

So, here’s what patchfinder does:

  • find xref to shenanigans panic string (in prelink)
  • find start of function (that’s sb_evaluate)
  • find first adrp/ldr pair
  • make sure it’s followed by cbnz
addr_t find_shenanigans(void) {
    addr_t ref = find_strref("\"shenanigans!", 1, 1);
    ref -= kerndumpbase;

    // find sb_evaluate
    ref = bof64(kernel, prelink_base, ref);

    // ADRP Xm, #[email protected]
    ref = step64(kernel, ref, 0x100, 0x90000000, 0x9F000000);

    // pc base
    uint64_t val = kerndumpbase;

    uint32_t *insn = (uint32_t*)(kernel+ref);
    // add pc (well, offset)
    val += ((uint8_t*)(insn) - kernel) & ~0xfff;
    uint8_t xm = *insn & 0x1f;
    // add imm: immhi(bits 23-5)|immlo(bits 30-29)
    val += (*insn<<9 & 0x1ffffc000) | (*insn>>17 & 0x3000);

    // LDR Xn, [Xm,#[email protected]]
    if ((*insn & 0xF9C00000) != 0xF9400000) {
        return 0;
    if (((*insn>>5)&0x1f) != xm) {
        return 0;
    // add pageoff
    val += ((*insn >> 10) & 0xFFF) << 3;
    uint8_t xn = (*insn&0x1f);

    // CBNZ Xn, ...
    if ((*insn & 0xFC000000) != 0xB4000000) {
        return 0;
    if ((*insn & 0x1f) != xn) {
        return 0;
    return val;