Echoes - Echoes camshot
jeudi 13 octobre 2011 (1 post)

The issue

This morning (while I was running late for an appointement) I had a very weird stuff happening on my Thinkpad T61 laptop. Since I recently offered myself a shiny Thinkpad x201s, I have to admit I don't use much my T61 anymore. But this morning I had to print a page (for this appointement) and, as I didn't yet configured my printer on the x201s, I went to the T61. But I noticed that the network was down. I've tried quickly on wireless but, bad luck, my current wifi setup selects the channel automatically and it prefers choosing channels which aren't available in the US. Guess what, my T61 comes from the US and has those channels completely disabled, so no wireless available either.

The investigation

I first tried to

modprobe -r e1000e
modprobe e1000e

to see if it fixed the problem, but it didn't. Worse, the interface disappeared and never reappeared. I tried to reboot but it didn't fix the problem, the link was still down. Running really late, I put the file on a usb key and printed it from the powerbook and postponed the fix for later.

Now, this evening, I tried to investigate a bit more. Symptoms weren't only that the nic wasn't working, but there was a high load on the system (1-2 at idle), unresponsiveness every second or so, and watching top I could see spikes of high cpu usage for the kworker kernel thread. Typing that on google you can find a lot of people running on this issue, usually starting around kernel 2.6.36 or 2.6.37. Now, I might have upgraded the kernel recently to 3.0.0-4, but that didn't look related since the problem first appeared when the laptop was up and running. And I tried to reboot under 2.6.39, 2.6.38 and even 2.6.32 and the problem was still present. Each time, unloading the module would fix the problem, but loading it again wouldn't make the interface reappear. People advised to boot with pcie_ports=compat but that didn't do anything. I tried to boot without intel_iommu=force (disable Intel Vt-d) and pcie_aspm (Active State Power Management) but nothing either.

Considering a userland issue, I've tried to boot a grml live distro (always keep a grml.iso in your /boot, extlinux-update will even put it in your menu automatically), and the problem was still present. So not a Debian kernel issue, not a userland issue, only thing left was the laptop. I didn't update the Bios recently, so I wondered exactly what could be the problem. I started to feel a little bad, since I still really like that laptop, and that I already decided to lend it to my sister since her own T61 is sitting with a dead system board in my shelf. I know she might have some negative waves, but she was not even landed when the problem first appear.

The fix

Then I had a flash. It's not mystery that I'm used to break network cards, and I had the bright idea to shutdown the laptop, disconnect AC and battery, then let it idle a bit. I even tried the secret Thinkpad power button code but I think it's unrelated. Then I re-plugged the battery, booted to grml and the issue was gone. I rebooted on the standard Debian and the link was up, network was working.

So what happenned?

The (tentative) explanation

My guess is that, somehow, the network card firmware has an issue and choked on something (a network frame or an attack exactly like the one we demonstrated on ASF firmware). In fact, no, I don't think it's the e1000e firmware. My T61 comes with Intel vPro, which includes AMT (Active Management Technology), a remote management solution a bit like ASF but more advanced. As far as I know, AMT firmware always runs, even when it's disabled, it's just completely idle. Idle, but in this case I think it choked on something, and a reboot isn't enough to restart the AMT firmware. But a real hard reset without any power seems to do the trick.

What next?

Well, a part of me is pretty scared, but another is just bored. I mean, we know about that, that's exactly the kind of issue we are warning people of. I have no idea what exactly happened, and there's no way I'll be able to reproduce that, but I'm pretty sure it's something lying at a pretty low level in the platform, and which can severely disable your workstation. Now if it happens again I won't lose too much time on this.

TL;DR: helping other people

In case you came here because you searched on google terms like “kworker cpu usage”, e1000e, interrupts, it might be a good idea to first reboot on a live CD to eliminate installation issues, then shutdown the laptop, remove the battery and let it few seconds idle. This might be enough to reset “something” inside and fix the situation.

Corsac@22:44:53 (Debian)

mercredi 19 octobre 2011 (1 post)

I received recently a mail about my attempt to provide Grsecurity kernels in Debian. The sender found the bug by accident, and asked me why I didn't do some more publicity here. So here we are.

I won't go into details on what grsecurity is, it's fairly complex. But it's basically a hardening patch for the Linux kernel, with three main components:

  • the PaX patch, which purpose is to harden the memory layout of the Linux kernel and improve existing options: enforcing of non-executable memory pages (userland and in kernel), W^X (no page marked as writable and executable), ASLR, prevention of invalid userland pointers dereference, copies between userland and kernel memory…
  • RBAC (Role Based Access Control), an implementation of Mandatory Access Control
  • various hardening features: /proc restrictions, chroot restrictions, kernel symbols hiding etc.

A lot of this touches low level stuff in the kernel, especially memory management. Ideally this patch would be pushed upstream, but Brad Spengler (grsecurity main developper) already said he wasn't interested in upstreaming it and upstream already said the patch was too huge and invasive to include it like that (especially since the original authors aren't interested in maintaining it upstream). There's an ongoing effort to split the patch and merge things little by little, but in the meanwhile having a mid-term solution would be nice.

I know Debian users rebuilding grsecurity-patched kernels themselves, and I know some of them would appreciate having them included in the Debian kernel. Fortunately, the linux-2.6 source package has a nice feature which is called featureset. Basically it's a way to build some (binary) packages using a different set of patches and a different config. For example this was used to provide xen/openvz/vserver patchsets, and is now used to provide rt kernels.

So I though it'd be nice to provide a grsec featureset, and starting doing the work. I have a working setup for producing those kernels, so I've opened a wishlist bug against the kernel (#605090) to have this merged.

Those packages follow the sid kernel. There's an ongoing work for Squeeze, but it's a bit harder there because both the grsecurity patchset and the Debian kernel ship a whole lot of backports to the Linux kernel, meaning the grsecurity patch doesn't apply directly to the Debian source package. Basically I need to remove some of the hunks (since they are already applied to the source) and port some others (since there are some backported code not present in the vanilla 2.6.32, for example the drm code).

Until the patches are merged and the bug is closed, I host some of the built packages at:

deb sid/

The repository is signed by my key which you can add to your apt setup using apt-key add. If you want to rebuild the packages yourself, here's the method:

mkdir kernel-grsec
cd kernel-grsec
svn checkout svn://
git clone git://
gpg --verify linux-3.0.tar.bz2
cd linux-2.6
apt-get build-dep linux-2.6
export QUILT_PATCHES=../grsec-patches
quilt push -a
python debian/bin/ ../linux-3.0.tar.bz2
debian/rules orig
fakeroot debian/rules source
fakeroot make -f debian/rules.gen binary-arch_amd64_grsec_amd64

You could also do dpkg-buildpackage, pdebuild or whatever. Kernel handbook is a nice reading too if you want more information on how to rebuild Debian kernels. The quilt push -a may fail if you checkout an svn version more recent than mine. I try to keep patches up to date but I usually have some delay.

Note that installing the kernel will require installing linux-grsec-base package. Binary is not yet available on my mirror but you can easily build it. Source can be found on

If you're interested by this, don't hesitate to mail me or the bug.

Yves-Alexis@23:09:58 (Debian)

lundi 31 octobre 2011 (1 post)

C'est peut être parce que cette année Noémie est avec nous (depuis plus de 72h), ou peut être parce que les américains sont revenus et que pour eux Halloween c'était signe de balade dans les rues pour voir la gay pride déguisée en zombies. Peut être parce que cette année (hormis Eurodisney et le parc Astérix) y'a pas eu de battage médiatique autour de ça.

Cette année j'ai bien aimé Halloween. On a croisé un zombie ou deux dans la rue, qui avaient en dessous de diz ans, et on a même eu trois petits monstres qui sont venus sonner à la porte en fin d'après-midi pour avoir des bonbons ! Bon par contre on n'était absolument pas préparés, du coup on n'avait que des bonbons au coquelicot du mariage à leur offrir, mais on leur a pas dit, c'était rouge, ça s'est pas vu, par contre ils auront peut être une surprise en les goûtant, ils essayeront de deviner ce que c'était, et pis comme ils étaient moyennement déguisé ça leur apprendra.

À petite dose, ça me va (et le doodle du jour était mignon, si je puis dire. (ils ont vraiment d'énormes citrouilles là bas).

Corsac@20:27:54 (Echoes)

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