Blocking Code Injection on iOS and OS X

Yesterday I posted (twitter) a set of linker flags that can be set that will block types of code injection on iOS and OS X that came from a little known check inside the dynamic linker. This is an explanation as to how and why those flags work and what they do.


The dynamic linker (dyld) is the process that loads and runs binaries on OS X and iOS. This process also has some very special environment variables that can modify the normal behavior of it (You can check out the whole list here: man-page or web). One commonly used environment variable is "DYLD_INSERT_LIBRARIES":

    This is a colon separated list of dynamic libraries to load before the ones specified in the
    program. This lets you test new modules of existing dynamic shared libraries that are used in
    flat-namespace images by loading a temporary dynamic shared library with just the new modules.
    Note that this has no effect on images built a two-level namespace images  using a dynamic
    shared library unless DYLD_FORCE_FLAT_NAMESPACE is also used.

This is commonly used to inject dylibs into applications that modify behavior or patch specific functionality. This is how the vast majority of modifications on existing applications are run on jailbroken devices. However it also has some more mundane uses, such as for injecting code while performing analysis and debugging when in Xcode.

When an application is launched the binary is run through dyld and that processes the binary file. This finds what libraries it needs to load and link against to generate a complete symbol table. Doing this requires parsing through the binary header, while it does this it can trigger flags in dyld based on what segments are present in the binary. There is a special flag that will be set for binaries that are marked as "restricted". This special flag means that the dynamic linker should ignore any set environment variables.

Stopping dyld from Loading Code

There are three ways to flag a binary as "restricted" to the dynamic linker.

  1. Set restricted status by entitlements

    This option is only available to applications on OS X with special entitlements.

  2. setuid and setgid

    Any application that makes these two calls are going to be marked as restricted by the linker as a security measure.

  3. Restricted Segment of Header

    The final way to mark a binary as restricted is by telling the linker to add new section to the binary header that is named "__RESTRICT" and has a section named "__restrict" when you compile it. This can be done in Xcode by adding the following flags into your "Other Linker Flags"


    This segment type is not mentioned anywhere on Apple's documentation for the Mach-O ABI. Google results for how it works are also very sparse. The only place that this can be found documented is actually in the source code for dyld.


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