Awesome Open Source
Awesome Open Source

raru: run as random user

Does it concern you if your browser can read your SSH keys? Do you think that on most personal systems, a user account is equally valuable as root?

You can talk endlessly about secure coding practices. Ultimately, your applications probably have holes, your system probably has holes, and your kernel probably has holes. For the most part, the problems get progressively more dangerous the further you get down the stack, but they start with the user account. If you run two processes as one user and one of them is hacked, it can generally run amok and do whatever it wants to to the other process.

Good ways to thwart this:

  1. Capsicum. It's in FreeBSD, pretty much a system call (cap_enable()) to drop the current processes' privileges. This seems to work great for applications you are coding and has already been done to some of the userland utilities on FreeBSD. So in a nutshell, if you are running gzip in a pipe, it doesn't need to access files other than it's open file descriptors to stdin, stdout, and stderr. You can either open a file for reading or pretty much immediately drop its privileges before the exciting code comes into place, where there's more likely to be some sort of buffer overflow. So, if you're writing something where this is relevant, use it even if you have to #ifdef it.

  2. Jails, containers, or VMs. Not the lightest thing around, but you can make it work. You do have a lot of overhead having to maintain two "systems" and make sure what you want is on the target. This can be scripted, automated, and cleaned up, but may always be a bit overkill for some things. And as always, the easier security is, the more you'll do it.

  3. Run a process as a different user ID. As long as your home is chmod 700ed, this pretty much drops off the front door entrace to your SSH keys, your cookies, your AWS keys, etc. This also is generally clunky and is not used as much as it should.

So, raru. A user account doesn't need to have an /etc/passwd or an /etc/shadow entry to be used. It will simply pick random UIDs and they will show up in ps as that UID, not as some username.

One interesting behavior: If you setuid() in a folder tree of /chmod700/chmod755, you can poke around in ., even if you could never get there normally. raru will work with local paths if it has explict access to the current working directory. If it does not, it changes its directory to /.

raru effectively wraps your command and arguments. Unfortunately, it has to be setuid to work. It sets a random UID and GID (both to the same) and runs the program. raru will try to to stay in . if 'everyone' has explict access to it. It will attempt to chdir(getcwd()), effectively, and if that fails it will chdir("/"), instead. This means that if you are working out of a home folder, raru shouldn't be able to access any of the files. You will have to copy them, perhaps, into /tmp, and then run raru from there. If you are unsure of raru's cwd behavior, run pwd and compare with raru pwd.


raru [program] <arguments>

NOTE: raru does pass along the whole environment. So run raru env to see what this is. If you don't like that, run env -i PATH=$PATH raru. You should probably set that as an alias.

Potential use examples:

raru ./fishy-app-youve-never-ran-before

raru bash # Whole shell as a random user.

raru curl https://fishysite


Browsers are almost certainly the easiest way into your system. With Javascript, optional plugins, and millions of lines required to do anything and even more to do it well, they are complicated. If they have working file dialogs beyond one directory, they probably aren't sandboxed fully. An attacker doesn't need to break your VPN, find an root-access remote hole, and then poke around your infrastructure. They just need to send you a link, compromise your system, and own you from there.

xraru makes this slightly less bad by sandboxing the application with Xvnc and connecting to it with vncviewer. It's slower, not resizable, not convient, and currently only supports one application at a time. It needs a lot of work. But, xraru chrome should load up Chrome and you can start poking away, and only worry about the dozens of millions of lines of code beneath on the system down, and not the dozens of millions of lines from the user up. Please note that copy/paste buffers are sort of transparently handled, [possibly only shared when the window is given focus] ( This may or may not be secure enough for you. If you have passwords touch your copy/paste buffers, you should be concerned.

We have to start somewhere, right?


xraru [X program] <arguments>

xraru only sets PATH and HOME environment variables. HOME is set to a temporary directory that should be cleaned up afterwards. Cleanup is buggy (best to kill with ctrl+c, not X'ing out of Chrome). Only one VNC connection is allowed, so one compromised can't spy on the others, hopefully.

If you have autocutsel installed, it should help manage copy/paste buffers on the sandboxed side. If you have dwm installed, it will run and probably make your experience slightly better.

Potential use examples

  1. xraru chrome
  2. xraru tor-browser
  3. xraru thunderbird # Except you have to resetup your account every time.
  4. xraru some-game-probably-not-in-3d
  5. xraru sxiv defconownsyou.jpg
  6. xraru openoffice memo.ppx
  7. xraru wine TA.exe
  8. xraru QT_X11_NO_MITSHM=1 pybitmessage


  • /bin/sh
  • tightvnc
  • Optional: autocutsel, dwm

Building and installing

$ make



These are probably far more than listed. However, at least be aware of the following:

  1. You probably want to alias raru='env -i PATH=$PATH raru'
  2. raru, to work, is setuid
  3. Run raru whoami a couple times to be certain that it's working.
  4. raru ls . does not work if 'everyone' does not have access to ., anywhere from / on up.


Unlicense/Public domain

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