Kernel Hardening

Android 8.0 added kernel hardening features to help mitigate kernel vulnerabilities and find bugs in kernel drivers. The features are in kernel/common in branches android-3.18, android-4.4, and android-4.9.


To acquire these features, device manufacturers and SOCs should merge all hardening patches from kernel/common to their kernel tree and enable the following kernel configuration options:

  • Hardened usercopy: CONFIG_HARDENED_USERCOPY=y
  • PAN emulation - arm64: CONFIG_ARM64_SW_TTBR0_PAN=y
  • PAN emulation - arm: CONFIG_CPU_SW_DOMAIN_PAN=y
  • KASLR - 4.4 and later kernels: CONFIG_RANDOMIZE_BASE=y

KASLR also requires bootloader support for passing hardware entropy through either the device tree node /chosen/kaslr-seed or by implementing EFI_RNG_PROTOCOL.

Also ensure existing hardening features are enabled:

  • Stack buffer overflow mitigation: CONFIG_CC_STACKPROTECTOR_STRONG=y
  • Internal memory protection: CONFIG_DEBUG_RODATA=y or CONFIG_STRICT_KERNEL_RWX=y
  • Restrict user-space access from kernel - x86 (enabled by default): CONFIG_X86_SMAP=y


To test your implementation, add CONFIG_LKDTM=y to the kernel configuration and confirm that each of the following commands lead to a kernel panic:

echo ACCESS_USERSPACE > /sys/kernel/debug/provoke-crash/DIRECT
echo EXEC_USERSPACE > /sys/kernel/debug/provoke-crash/DIRECT
echo WRITE_RO > /sys/kernel/debug/provoke-crash/DIRECT
echo WRITE_RO_AFTER_INIT > /sys/kernel/debug/provoke-crash/DIRECT
echo WRITE_KERN > /sys/kernel/debug/provoke-crash/DIRECT
echo EXEC_STACK > /sys/kernel/debug/provoke-crash/DIRECT
echo EXEC_RODATA > /sys/kernel/debug/provoke-crash/DIRECT
echo EXEC_KMALLOC > /sys/kernel/debug/provoke-crash/DIRECT
echo EXEC_VMALLOC > /sys/kernel/debug/provoke-crash/DIRECT
echo CORRUPT_STACK > /sys/kernel/debug/provoke-crash/DIRECT

For android-4.9:

echo USERCOPY_HEAP_SIZE_TO > /sys/kernel/debug/provoke-crash/DIRECT
echo USERCOPY_HEAP_SIZE_FROM > /sys/kernel/debug/provoke-crash/DIRECT

Common issues

These changes are likely to expose bugs in kernel drivers, which need to be fixed either by the device manufacturer or the owner of the kernel driver.

  • Hardened usercopy exposes incorrect bounds checking when copying data to/from user space. These should be fixed like any other memory corruption bugs.
  • PAN emulation exposes direct user space access from the kernel, which is not allowed. Drivers attempting to access user space memory need to be changed to use the standard copy_to_user()/copy_from_user() functions instead.