I hate SELinux

I am not a security-savvy person, even though I know pretty well how to code defensively to avoid security issues in my C code, my security knowledge in a Linux system is pretty average (use firewall, do not run services as root etc). No wonder I really don’t know how to use or configure SELinux. But there is one thing I know about it. It can be a pain in the ass sometimes. This blog post is to describe 2 problems I have faced with SELinux. The easy solution would have been to disable SELinux. So I’ll start by showing you how to disable it in case you don’t want to mess with it at all.

– To disable SELinux. Edit /etc/selinux/config and change the SELINUX policy from enforcing to


Be aware that you are disabling security “features”, whatever that means. So you may want to read this other article about disabling SELinux.

I wasn’t lucky enough to have SELinux disabled as an option. Developing with SELinux enabled is a good idea so you can notice compatibility problems with SELinux in your development environment before a customer that really *needs* SELinux enabled discovers them in your software, which, from the customer point of view is a plain bug.

The first problem I noticed after some CentOS upgrade, change the hard-drive or something along those lines, was that the command “ping” wasn’t working, it’s been a while since I had the problem so I don’t quite remember the exact error when pinging other systems, but it was most likely something like permission denied. Probably other network commands did not work either, but I could just notice ping at that moment. So, I used the good old strace to find out what was causing the problem.

The underlying ping problem was because the open() system call was failing with EACCESS when trying to open /etc/hosts. However I was able to “cat /etc/hosts”. So it wasn’t a simple permission problem, but a bit more complex SELinux problem. Eventually I found out that the solution was:

restorecon reset /etc/hosts

At which point the SELinux security context for this file got screwed up? I certainly don’t know. But that command restored it. The Z option of the ls command will show you the SELinux security context for any file.

ls -Z /etc/hosts

The second problem was that some libraries of one of the programs I am responsible for were not being loaded. Again, the problem was due to permission denied errors, this time when loading the shared libraries that required text relocation.

The solution was to recompile the shared libraries with the -fPIC option.

I am sure SELinux has its uses, however I have the feeling that sometimes makes things more complicated than needed in some environments. I recommend reading this blog post and particularly the comments in there.

This entry was posted in C/C++, GNU/Linux General, linux. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to I hate SELinux

  1. Moises Silva says:

    lol, buena analogía, gracias por la liga al artículo en alcancelibre, muy útil.

  2. Joel Barrios says:

    Probablemente te interese leer este documento: http://www.alcancelibre.org/article.php/utilizando-se-linux-centos5-fedora10
    Aplica también para Fedora 11 y 12

    Te sugiero dejaría activo SELinux. Es igual que los condones: Más vale tenerlo y no necesitarlo, que necesitarlo y no tenerlo.

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