Fix Dirty COW on the Raspberry Pi

Hi gang, Rob from The MagPi here. We have a new issue out on Thursday but before that, here comes a PSA.

You may have seen the news recently about a bug in the Linux kernel called Dirty COW – it’s a vulnerability that affects the ‘copy-on-write’ mechanism in Linux, which is also known as COW. This bug can be used to gain full control over a device running a version of Linux, including Android phones, web servers, and even the Raspberry Pi.

We're not sure why a bug got a logo but we're running with it

We’re not sure why a bug got a logo but we’re running with it

You don’t need to worry though, as a patch for Raspbian Jessie to fix Dirty COW has already been released, and you can get it right now. Open up a terminal window and type the following:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install raspberrypi-kernel

Once the install is done, make sure to reboot your Raspberry Pi and you’ll be Dirty COW-free!


Dougie Lawson avatar

Gaining full control relies on having minimal access to start with. For the average Raspberry used by the average user behind a home router (which includes some intrusion detection) that’s an exceedingly unlikely scenario. Almost a likely as your phone getting hacked with the “Dirty COW” exploit.

The machines that are most at risk have open ports (done with port forwarding), or OpenVPN tunnels. Even then there are no hackers exploiting this on ARM processors at the current time.

I think the world of Linux users is making a mountain out of this worm cast (it’s not even mole hill sized) for a bug that’s been in the kernel for twenty years. It’s also present in your Android tablet and Android phone and your phone makers aren’t waving their flags over this thing.

Richard avatar

The exploit is VERY easy and the code is out in the open. Computerfile just released a video showing it in action. Run an app from a basic account, boom you’re root. Not sure if it is a big deal for the RPi as you don’t need a root password anyway…. :-/

Greg avatar

The device does not have to havve open ports through the Gateway. Dirty Cow can be snuck in through a advertisement or even be placed into code on a Github project.

Dirty Cow is bad for anything that allows Root or even with Android, if someone leaves USB access on.

We are talking a lot of devices, which includes vehicle systems that use Linux, along with Military servers and gear that uses embedded Linux.

Dirty Cow has been out there for 11 years. I remember when it first came up in discussions and Linus made some minor fixes to try and close the problem, until he could come up with the fix that he did last week.

DCGM avatar

I get this:
pi@raspberrypi ~ $ sudo apt-get install raspberrypi-kernel
Reading package lists… Done
Building dependency tree
Reading state information… Done
E: Unable to locate package raspberrypi-kernel

I made the update and upgrade before.

Nommo avatar

Are you running Rasbian Jessie or Wheezy?

dn avatar


DCGM avatar

I don’t remember. Probably Wheezy. How to know?
I get this:
pi@raspberrypi ~ $ uname -a
Linux raspberrypi 4.1.19+ #858 Tue Mar 15 15:52:03 GMT 2016 armv6l GNU/Linux

pi@raspberrypi ~ $ cat /proc/version
Linux version 4.1.19+ (dc4@dc4-XPS13-9333) (gcc version 4.9.3 (crosstool-NG crosstool-ng-1.22.0-88-g8460611) ) #858 Tue Mar 15 15:52:03 GMT 2016

Nommo avatar

If you’re using ‘Wheezy’ and do an ‘apt-get update’ it’ll list things like this:

“Hit wheezy Release.gpg”

If you’re on ‘Jessie’ it’ll say:

“Hit jessie Release.gpg”

DCGM avatar

pi@raspberrypi ~ $ sudo apt-get install raspberrypi-
raspberrypi-artwork raspberrypi-bootloader raspberrypi-net-mods raspberrypi-ui-mods

These are the available packages I find.

stupidcowboy avatar

Once I read the link a Google+, I came here and did the command and … then I remember that my distro was Ubuntu Mate on my raspi3 :)

mahjongg avatar

Dirty COW bug fix discussed in the forum here:

and here:

According to Dougie Lawson:
“If you run sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get -y dist-upgrade you’ll get the 4.4.26+ kernel (which includes the Dirty COW fix).”

Wayne Ridley avatar

Tried the distribution update now the Pi won’t restart. Suggestions? I saw errors in the update where the kernel update failed as well as some other packages such as libreoffice.

Tom avatar
PD avatar


sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get -y dist-upgrade

failed to upgrade me to Jessie and thus

sudo apt-get install raspberrypi-kernel


sudo apt-get update still includes only wheezy references. FYI:

$ uname -a
Linux gw 4.4.15+ #897 Tue Jul 12 18:38:58 BST 2016 armv6l GNU/Linux

Bob avatar

Seems to be missing on Wheezy.

AEM avatar

So what is the solution for Wheezy?

rogerthn avatar

I am also waiting for an update for wheezy

beta-tester avatar

why i never see “/var/run/reboot-required” and “/var/run/reboot-required.pkgs”, when i use apt-get update/upgrade, on raspbian, to see if a reboot is required.
after a new kernel it must be there for sure, but i can not see.

AEM avatar

Hi, I found that for Wheezy, the command “rpi-update” is used to update the kernel. I ran it and rebooted and I am no longer vulnerable. Hope that helps!

rogerthn avatar


David Palmer avatar

Also, if your username is pi and your password is raspberry, then Dirty Cow is not your top concern.

Reduced snark helpful comment:
Use the ‘passwd’ command to change your password to something strong.
If you are not using the ‘pi’ account, either change its password as well, or delete the account entirely with userdel or deluser.

And Leon, runner4567 is not a strong password. (I only promised reduced snark, not snark-free.)

Mike avatar

Full Snark was the funniest tho :D

Greg avatar

Linus published a patch two years ago to fix it. He knows that this has been in the Kernel for 11 years, but it would mean having to rewrite the whole Kernel ans end up with alot of bugs to fix.

The fix was released last week a day after the Microsoft Fanboys tried to make it sound like Windows is failsafe.

” Last week a very serious vulnerability in the Linux kernel, the so called Dirty COW, was reported. Our dedicated Linux kernel team immediately addressed the issues and were able to patch it in less than 24 hours on the majority of our servers. What is more, we managed to do this without server reboot and we avoided the downtime that normally results from such kernel update activities.”

This is the code and email how he patched it.

commit 19be0eaffa3ac7d8eb6784ad9bdbc7d67ed8e619 upstream.

This is an ancient bug that was actually attempted to be fixed once
(badly) by me eleven years ago in commit 4ceb5db9757a (“Fix
get_user_pages() race for write access”) but that was then undone due to
problems on s390 by commit f33ea7f404e5 (“fix get_user_pages bug”).

In the meantime, the s390 situation has long been fixed, and we can now
fix it by checking the pte_dirty() bit properly (and do it better). The
s390 dirty bit was implemented in abf09bed3cce (“s390/mm: implement
software dirty bits”) which made it into v3.9. Earlier kernels will
have to look at the page state itself.

Also, the VM has become more scalable, and what used a purely
theoretical race back then has become easier to trigger.

To fix it, we introduce a new internal FOLL_COW flag to mark the “yes,
we already did a COW” rather than play racy games with FOLL_WRITE that
is very fundamental, and then use the pte dirty flag to validate that
the FOLL_COW flag is still valid.

Reported-and-tested-by: Phil “not Paul” Oester
Acked-by: Hugh Dickins
Reviewed-by: Michal Hocko
Cc: Andy Lutomirski
Cc: Kees Cook
Cc: Oleg Nesterov
Cc: Willy Tarreau
Cc: Nick Piggin
Cc: Greg Thelen
Cc: [email protected]
Signed-off-by: Linus Torvalds
[wt: s/gup.c/memory.c; s/follow_page_pte/follow_page_mask;
Signed-off-by: Willy Tarreau

include/linux/mm.h | 1 +
mm/memory.c | 14 ++++++++++++–
2 files changed, 13 insertions(+), 2 deletions(-)

diff –git a/include/linux/mm.h b/include/linux/mm.h
index 53b0d70..55590f4 100644
— a/include/linux/mm.h
+++ b/include/linux/mm.h
@@ -1715,6 +1715,7 @@ static inline struct page *follow_page(struct vm_area_struct *vma,
#define FOLL_HWPOISON 0x100 /* check page is hwpoisoned */
#define FOLL_NUMA 0x200 /* force NUMA hinting page fault */
#define FOLL_MIGRATION 0x400 /* wait for page to replace migration entry */
+#define FOLL_COW 0x4000 /* internal GUP flag */

typedef int (*pte_fn_t)(pte_t *pte, pgtable_t token, unsigned long addr,
void *data);
diff –git a/mm/memory.c b/mm/memory.c
index 10cdade..2ca2ee1 100644
— a/mm/memory.c
+++ b/mm/memory.c
@@ -1462,6 +1462,16 @@ int zap_vma_ptes(struct vm_area_struct *vma, unsigned long address,

+ * FOLL_FORCE can write to even unwritable pte’s, but only
+ * after we’ve gone through a COW cycle and they are dirty.
+ */
+static inline bool can_follow_write_pte(pte_t pte, unsigned int flags)
+ return pte_write(pte) ||
+ ((flags & FOLL_FORCE) && (flags & FOLL_COW) && pte_dirty(pte));
* follow_page_mask – look up a page descriptor from a user-virtual address
* @vma: vm_area_struct mapping @address
@@ -1569,7 +1579,7 @@ split_fallthrough:
if ((flags & FOLL_NUMA) && pte_numa(pte))
goto no_page;
– if ((flags & FOLL_WRITE) && !pte_write(pte))
+ if ((flags & FOLL_WRITE) && !can_follow_write_pte(pte, flags))
goto unlock;

page = vm_normal_page(vma, address, pte);
@@ -1877,7 +1887,7 @@ long __get_user_pages(struct task_struct *tsk, struct mm_struct *mm,
if ((ret & VM_FAULT_WRITE) &&
!(vma->vm_flags & VM_WRITE))
– foll_flags &= ~FOLL_WRITE;
+ foll_flags |= FOLL_COW;



DeathOfTime avatar

So linux. which is toted by many to be the most secure out there and doesn’t need things like anti virusses and configurable firewalls has had a extreme vulnerability for 11 years that went unpatched? yep, kinda glad i stuck with windows now. if i can’t tell who to trust i will stick with the one i can at least natively play all my games on.

kinda sucks though for my phone. i just got that thing and don’t really want to patch it. as i would have to do some iffy stuff to. the manufacturer stopped releasing patches last year. might try that out on the other older phones i got though. though all the best ones are currently in use and none of them being patched anymore.

updating the only active pi i currently have now. might update the inactive one next.

Rob Crawford avatar

Just imagine all the unpatched vulnerabilities that are in Windows, because no one (except MSFT and the US GOV) are allowed to see the source. Imagine all the mandated vulnerabilities that are in Windows.

Bugs happen. As others pointed out, this isn’t a “extreme” vulnerability, as the attacker would have already needed some access. Practice basic security and you’ll be OK.

hello_you avatar

Not sure it you’re aware but security fixes are released for Linux and all common open-source softwares on almost a daily basis. There’s no such thing as absolute security in computing.

Tom avatar

And this is why unattended upgrades should be on by default.

What if next time it isn’t so obscure ?

Colin avatar

Just one word of warning to anyone that has used berryboot to load Raspbian. If you try to apply this fix the pi won’t boot and your SD card will be unreadable and unformattable on your PC. I managed to re-format the card on my camera (really!) which then allowed to go through the whole new install process and of couorse lost all the content on my pi system.

gmugsit avatar

Just one word of warning to anyone ..
who faild to step0)back up .. and of couorse lost all

all ways back up

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