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Re^2: and untainting

by CountZero (Bishop)
on Jul 28, 2009 at 13:18 UTC ( #783917=note: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

in reply to Re: and untainting
in thread and untainting

The docs of Inline says as follows:

You must use this option whenever you use Perl's -T switch, for taint checking. This option tells Inline to blindly untaint all tainted variables. It also turns on SAFEMODE by default. (...)


Perform extra safety checking, in an attempt to thwart malicious code. This option cannot guarantee security, but it does turn on all the currently implemented checks.

There is a slight startup penalty by using SAFEMODE. Also, using UNTAINT automatically turns this option on. If you need your code to start faster under -T (taint) checking, you'll need to turn this option off manually. Only do this if you are not worried about security risks.

So you probably should not look at this code in isolation but together with the whole set-up of Inline. I agree it is strange that in order to be able to run Inline in taint mode you have to globally untaint all your environment variables.


A program should be light and agile, its subroutines connected like a string of pearls. The spirit and intent of the program should be retained throughout. There should be neither too little or too much, neither needless loops nor useless variables, neither lack of structure nor overwhelming rigidity." - The Tao of Programming, 4.1 - Geoffrey James

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Re^3: and untainting
by ELISHEVA (Prior) on Jul 28, 2009 at 14:10 UTC

    I may be misreading the source code, but it appears that the requirement to use UNTAINT when taint mode is turned on is in fact optional. does not check ^T (or ${^TAINT}) to see if taint mode is turned on, nor does it fail if taint mode is on but the module consumer fails to set the UNTAINT option. Thus the consumer module, may if it wishes provide an alternate untainting strategy. However, this strategy must be implemented in a BEGIN{...} block placed before use Inline.

    My guess is that the sledge hammer approach arises from the classic tension between ease of use and security. The import routine of Inline calls system (directly and via ExtUtils::MakeMaker) to prepare configuration files and compile any source code needed by the inlined subroutines. In taint mode there is a list of environment variables that will prevent system from working. In addition, many Perl language built-ins that make system calls will fail if passed tainted parameters. Given that many build process parameters are stored in environment variables, it may just have seemed easier to untaint the entire %ENV hash.

    As for SAFEMODE - that appears to be an idea that never fully got implemented. The only thing it appears to do is check to see if the DIRECTORY option is set. That option cleans out the build areas used by Inline so that no malicious garbage can be injected.

    I think it would be worth another set of monkish eyes to verify my observations about SAFEMODE and UNTAINT. This is one case where I would love to be wrong and simply have overlooked something.

    Best, beth

    Update: added comments about SAFEMODE and request for others to look at the source code.

      As for SAFEMODE .... The only thing it appears to do is check to see if the DIRECTORY option is set

      Yes, that's all it does.

      There's a bug report about the failure of Inline to work as intended wrt the UNTAINT option, which was submitted in June 2005. I think it's about time to fix that bug, to the extent that the behaviour is as the original author intended (no more, no less). I think it's ridiculous to leave a feature in an unusable state for such a length of time, irrespective of the value of that feature. (I'm the current maintainer, btw.)
      Patrick LeBoutillier has kindly written patches that fix the problem - except that the windows-specific aspect I've asked about here is not dealt with.

      I don't understand taint mode all that well - I certainly don't know what that not ((stat($_))[2] & 0022) stuff is all about, and I don't need to know. Assuming it does something valid, I just need to know its windows equivalent :-) Anyone ?

      At some stage in the future, someone who cares might provide enhancements to Inline's handling of taint mode - and such patches would be received gladly. But for the moment I'd just like to see it working as currently intended (and that ancient bug report closed). As noted, one is not forced to use the UNTAINT option.


        Thank you so much for responding - and for taking on the responsibility to maintain this module.

        IMHO the most important thing near term is to update the documentation so that it clearly describes the security issues along with recommendations for safe use. It needs to be explained more clearly that

        • SAFEMODE is not the least bit comprehensive. This can be nicely spun as "future implementation". All the same, I think one needs to make it very clear that some really obvious kinds of security are not being performed. For example, while reading through the code, I also noticed that rmpath calls _rmtree which disables taint protection on parameters to unlink by blindly passing them through /.*/. It also allows the entire tree under "/" to be deleted. There are probably others as well.
        • UNTAINT mode is optional - as CountZero points out the documentation implies the exact opposite. The only way to know that UNTAINT is optional is to scan the source code.
        • Using the UNTAINT option, effectively nukes Taint mode for the *entire* application, not just the portions controlled by Inline. This could have serious implications, especially in web applications that may be counting on Taint mode to break system calls using Environment variables.
        • I'd also add a note on the bug list about the security issues in the work-around for bug 13084 (Inline doesn't work in taint mode). The work-around suggested there nixes the only safety feature that SAFEMODE currently implements (it recommends setting CLEAN_AFTER_BUILD => 0).

        Also I would think twice about rushing to fix that UNTAINT bug. I see the long standing nature of that bug as good news. It means that security conscious developers are unlikely to be using this module in security sensitive production applications to any great degree simply because they can't. This has two benefits:

        • We have probably avoided some significant bad publicity about security issues in Perl's cross language support.
        • If you really do want to make this module work in taint mode, it buys you time until you or a volunteer is available to rethink the strategy for making this module work when TAINT mode is turned on. The current approach effectively boils down to "go away taint mode - I don't like you - you are in my way!". A developer (or corporation) that turns on taint mode is making a statement about their desired level of security. For those users, making a better sledge hammer to nuke taint mode is not going to be acceptable.

        Best, beth

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