[slurm-users] Heterogeneous HPC

Michael Jennings mej at lanl.gov
Fri Sep 20 01:06:31 UTC 2019

On Thursday, 19 September 2019, at 19:27:38 (-0400),
Fulcomer, Samuel wrote:

> I obviously haven't been keeping up with any security concerns over the use
> of Singularity. In a 2-3 sentence nutshell, what are they?

So before I do that, if you have a few minutes, I do think you'll find
it worth your time to go to https://youtu.be/H6VrjowOOF4?t=2361 (it'll
start about 39 minutes in) and watch at least those next 8 or so minutes.
I go into some detail about the security track records of multiple
container runtimes and provide factual data so that folks can make their
own risk assessments rather than just giving my personal opinion.  (The
video does cut off the right side of the slides, but the slide deck is
available at https://permalink.lanl.gov/object/tr?what=info:lanl-repo/lareport/LA-UR-19-22663
for anyone interested.)

If you really don't want to watch the video, though, I can provide a few
of the data points.

First off, if you have not read it before, you really should read
Matthias Gerstner's assessment after doing a code review and security
audit on Singularity 2.6.0 to see if it could be packaged for SuSE:
The quotes I used on the slide for my talk came from comments he made in
the linked SuSE Bugzilla bug -- which, for unknown reasons, was
re-locked by SuSE after previously being unlocked once the bug report
was public! -- regarding whether or not, and under what constraints, to
include and support Singularity on SuSE.  Matthias is a widely respected
security expert in the OSS community, so I trust his assessment and
insight.  And his audit alone found 5 or 6 CVE-worthy vulnerabilities at

Additionally, as I mentioned in the video, during the 3-year period
2016-2018, there were at least 17 different vulnerabilities found in
Singularity.  Also, of the 9 releases they did during 2018, 7 of those
were security releases to fix vulnerabilities (and frequently more than
1 at a time).  That's...not great.  Especially in an environment like
ours where saying "security is important" is an understatement of
nuclear proportions! ;-)

And finally, while we were hopeful that the rewrite in Go (version 3.0
and above) would correct the security failings in the code, there've
already been multiple serious vulnerabilities (all grouped together
under a single CVE identifier, CVE-2019-11328), at least one of which
was essentially a replica of one of the flaws fixed in 2.6.0 under
CVE-2018-12021!  And you don't need to take my word for it, either:

It's hard to say if the above trend will continue...but not all sites
can afford to take those kinds of risks.

And while Shifter's security track record is spotless to date, I would
still summarize the overall lesson to be learned as, "Don't use
privileged container runtimes.  Use user namespaces.  That's what
they're there for."  And before anyone yells at me, yes I know
Singularity advertises user namespace support and non-setuid operation.
But it doesn't seem to be very widely used or adequately exercised, and
AFAICT the default mode of operation in both RPMs and build-from-src is
via setuid binaries.  So using a natively unprivileged runtime still
seems the less risky choice, in my personal assessment.

Yes, I know that was more than a "2-3 sentence nutshell," but hopefully
it was helpful anyway! :-)


Michael E. Jennings <mej at lanl.gov>
HPC Systems Team, Los Alamos National Laboratory
Bldg. 03-2327, Rm. 2341     W: +1 (505) 606-0605

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