What is selinux on linux


Security-Enhanced Linux (SELinux) is a Linux feature that provides a variety of security policies, including U.S. Department of Defense style Mandatory Access Control (MAC), through the use of Linux Security Modules (LSM) in the Linux kernel. It is not a Linux distribution, but rather a set of modifications that can be applied to Unix-like operating systems, such as Linux and BSD.

Running SELinux under a Linux distribution requires three things: An SELinux enabled kernel, SELinux Userspace tools and libraries, and SELinux Policies (mostly based on the Reference Policy). Some common Linux programs will also need to be patched/compiled with SELinux features.


Current status in Arch Linux

SELinux is not officially supported (see [1][2]). The status of unofficial support is:

Name Status Available at
SELinux enabled kernel Implemented for all officially supported kernels Available in official repositories since 4.18.8.
SELinux Userspace tools and libraries Implemented in AUR: https://aur.archlinux.org/packages/?O=0&K=selinux Work is done at https://github.com/archlinuxhardened/selinux
SELinux Policy Work in progress, using Reference Policy as upstream Upstream: https://github.com/SELinuxProject/refpolicy (since release 20170805 the policy has integrated support for systemd and single-/usr/bin directory)

Summary of changes in AUR as compared to official core packages:

Name Status and comments
linux, linux-lts, linux-zen, linux-hardened Need to set the lsm= kernel parameter
coreutils Need a rebuild with —with-selinux flag to link with libselinux
cronie Need a rebuild with —with-selinux flag
dbus Need a rebuild with —enable-libaudit and —enable-selinux flags
findutils Need a rebuild with libselinux installed to enable SELinux-specific options
iproute2 Need a rebuild with —with-selinux flag
logrotate Need a rebuild with —with-selinux flag
openssh Need a rebuild with —with-selinux flag
pam Need a rebuild with —enable-selinux flag for Linux-PAM ; Need a patch for pam_unix2, which only removes a function already implemented in a recent versions of libselinux
pambase Configuration changes to add pam_selinux.so to /etc/pam.d/system-login
psmisc Need a rebuild with —with-selinux flag
shadow Need a rebuild with —with-selinux flags
sudo Need a rebuild with —with-selinux flag
systemd Need a rebuild with —enable-audit and —enable-selinux flags
util-linux Need a rebuild with —with-selinux flag

All of the other SELinux-related packages may be included without changes nor risks.

Concepts: Mandatory Access Controls

Before you enable SELinux, it is worth understanding what it does. Simply and succinctly, SELinux enforces Mandatory Access Controls (MACs) on Linux. In contrast to SELinux, the traditional user/group/rwx permissions are a form of Discretionary Access Control (DAC). MACs are different from DACs because security policy and its execution are completely separated.

An example would be the use of the sudo command. When DACs are enforced, sudo allows temporary privilege escalation to root, giving the process so spawned unrestricted systemwide access. However, when using MACs, if the security administrator deems the process to have access only to a certain set of files, then no matter what the kind of privilege escalation used, unless the security policy itself is changed, the process will remain constrained to simply that set of files. So if sudo is tried on a machine with SELinux running in order for a process to gain access to files its policy does not allow, it will fail.

Another set of examples are the traditional (-rwxr-xr-x) type permissions given to files. When under DAC, these are user-modifiable. However, under MAC, a security administrator can choose to freeze the permissions of a certain file by which it would become impossible for any user to change these permissions until the policy regarding that file is changed.

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As you may imagine, this is particularly useful for processes which have the potential to be compromised, i.e. web servers and the like. If DACs are used, then there is a particularly good chance of havoc being wreaked by a compromised program which has access to privilege escalation.

Installing SELinux

Package description

All SELinux related packages belong to the selinux group in the AUR. Before you manually install any of these, read #Installation to see recommended options for a comprehensive installation.

SELinux aware system utilities

SELinux userspace utilities

SELinux policy packages

Other SELinux tools


There are three methods to install the requisite SELinux packages.

Via binary package on GitHub

This article or section is a candidate for merging with Unofficial user repositories#Unsigned.

All packages are maintained at https://github.com/archlinuxhardened/selinux . The repository provides a binary package, available by adding the repository to /etc/pacman.conf :

The package can then be installed via pacman. Additionally, the base package can be replaced with base-selinux during the arch-bootstrap stage of system installation.

Via build script from GitHub

This repository also contains a script named build_and_install_all.sh which builds and installs (or updates) all packages in the needed order. Here is an example of a way this script can be used in a user shell to install all packages (with downloading the GPG keys which are used to verify the source tarballs of the package):

Of course, it is possible to modify the content of build_and_install_all.sh before running it, for example if you already have SELinux support in your kernel.


  • First, install SELinux userspace tools and libraries, in this order (because of the dependencies): libsepolAUR , libselinuxAUR , checkpolicyAUR , secilcAUR , setoolsAUR , libsemanageAUR , semodule-utilsAUR , policycoreutilsAUR , selinux-pythonAUR (which depends on python-ipy ), mcstransAUR and restorecondAUR .
  • Then install pambase-selinuxAUR and pam-selinuxAUR and make sure you can login again after the installation completed, because files in /etc/pam.d/ got removed and created when pambase got replaced with pambase-selinuxAUR .
  • Next you can recompile some core packages by installing: coreutils-selinuxAUR , findutils-selinuxAUR , iproute2-selinuxAUR , logrotate-selinuxAUR , openssh-selinuxAUR , psmisc-selinuxAUR , shadow-selinuxAUR , cronie-selinuxAUR
  • Next, backup your /etc/sudoers file. Install sudo-selinuxAUR and restore your /etc/sudoers (it is overridden when this package is installed as a replacement of sudo ).
  • Next come util-linux and systemd. Because of a cyclic makedepends between these two packages which will not be fixed (FS#39767), you need to build the source package systemd-selinuxAUR , install systemd-libs-selinuxAUR , build and install util-linux-selinuxAUR (with util-linux-libs-selinuxAUR ) and rebuild and install systemd-selinuxAUR .
  • Next, install dbus-selinuxAUR .
  • Next, install selinux-alpm-hookAUR in order to run restorecon every time pacman installs a package.

After all these steps, you can install a SELinux kernel (like linux ) and a policy (like selinux-refpolicy-arch AUR or selinux-refpolicy-git AUR ).

Enable SELinux LSM

To enable SELinux as default security model on every boot, set the following kernel parameter:

Custom kernel

When compiling the kernel, it is required to set at least the following options:

To enable the SELinux Linux security model by default and omit the need to set kernel parameters, additionally set the CONFIG_LSM option and specify selinux as the first «major» module in the list:

Checking PAM

A correctly set-up PAM is important to get the proper security context after login. Check for the presence of the following lines in /etc/pam.d/system-login :

Installing a policy

Policies are the mainstay of SELinux. They are what govern its behaviour. The only policy currently available in the AUR is the Reference Policy. In order to install it, you should use the source files, which may be got from the package selinux-refpolicy-src AUR or by downloading the latest release on https://github.com/SELinuxProject/refpolicy/wiki/DownloadRelease#current-release. When using the AUR package, navigate to /etc/selinux/refpolicy/src/policy and run the following commands:

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to install the reference policy as it is. Those who know how to write SELinux policies can tweak them to their heart’s content before running the commands written above. The command takes a while to do its job and taxes one core of your system completely, so do not worry. Just sit back and let the command run for as long as it takes.

To load the reference policy run:

Then, make the file /etc/selinux/config with the following contents (Only works if you used the defaults as mentioned above. If you decided to change the name of the policy, you need to tweak the file):

Now, you may reboot. After rebooting, run:

to label your filesystem.

Now, make a file requiredmod.te with the contents:

and run the following commands:

This is required to remove a few messages from /var/log/audit/audit.log which are a nuisance to deal with in the reference policy. This is an ugly hack and it should be made very clear that the policy so installed simply patches the reference policy in order to hide the effects of incorrect labelling.

Testing in a Vagrant virtual machine

It is possible to use Vagrant to provision a virtual Arch Linux machine with SELinux configured. This is a convenient way to test an Arch Linux system running SELinux without modifying a current system. Here are commands which can be used to achieve this:

Post-installation steps

You can check that SELinux is working with sestatus . You should get something like:

To maintain correct context, you can enable restorecond.service .

To switch to enforcing mode without rebooting, you can use:


If you have a swap file instead of a swap partition, issue the following commands in order to set the appropriate security context:

Working with SELinux

SELinux defines security using a different mechanism than traditional Unix access controls. The best way to understand it is by example. For example, the SELinux security context of the apache homepage looks like the following:

The first three and the last columns should be familiar to any (Arch) Linux user. The fourth column is new and has the format:

  1. User: The SELinux user identity. This can be associated to one or more roles that the SELinux user is allowed to use.
  2. Role: The SELinux role. This can be associated to one or more types the SELinux user is allowed to access.
  3. Type: When a type is associated with a process, it defines what processes (or domains) the SELinux user (the subject) can access. When a type is associated with an object, it defines what access permissions the SELinux user has to that object.
  4. Level: This optional field can also be know as a range and is only present if the policy supports MCS or MLS.

This is important in case you wish to understand how to build your own policies, for these are the basic building blocks of SELinux. However, for most purposes, there is no need to, for the reference policy is sufficiently mature. However, if you are a power user or someone with very specific needs, then it might be ideal for you to learn how to make your own SELinux policies.

This is a great series of articles for someone seeking to understand how to work with SELinux.


The place to look for SELinux errors is the systemd journal. In order to see SELinux messages related to the label system_u:system_r:policykit_t:s0 (for example), you would need to run:

Useful tools

There are some tools/commands that can greatly help with SELinux.

restorecon Restores the context of a file/directory (or recursively with -R ) based on any policy rules chcon Change the context on a specific file

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What is SELinux?


Security-Enhanced Linux (SELinux) is a security architecture for Linux® systems that allows administrators to have more control over who can access the system. It was originally developed by the United States National Security Agency (NSA) as a series of patches to the Linux kernel using Linux Security Modules (LSM).

SELinux was released to the open source community in 2000, and was integrated into the upstream Linux kernel in 2003.

How does SELinux work?

SELinux defines access controls for the applications, processes, and files on a system. It uses security policies, which are a set of rules that tell SELinux what can or can’t be accessed, to enforce the access allowed by a policy.

When an application or process, known as a subject, makes a request to access an object, like a file, SELinux checks with an access vector cache (AVC), where permissions are cached for subjects and objects.

If SELinux is unable to make a decision about access based on the cached permissions, it sends the request to the security server. The security server checks for the security context of the app or process and the file. Security context is applied from the SELinux policy database. Permission is then granted or denied.

If permission is denied, an «avc: denied» message will be available in /var/log.messages.

How to configure SELinux

There are a number of ways that you can configure SELinux to protect your system. The most common are targeted policy or multi-level security (MLS).

Targeted policy is the default option and covers a range of processes, tasks, and services. MLS can be very complicated and is typically only used by government organizations.

You can tell what your system is supposed to be running at by looking at the /etc/sysconfig/selinux file. The file will have a section that shows you whether SELinux is in permissive mode, enforcing mode, or disabled, and which policy is supposed to be loaded.

SELinux labeling and type enforcement

Type enforcement and labeling are the most important concepts for SELinux.

SELinux works as a labeling system, which means that all of the files, processes, and ports in a system have an SELinux label associated with them. Labels are a logical way of grouping things together. The kernel manages the labels during boot.

Labels are in the format user:role:type:level (level is optional). User, role, and level are used in more advanced implementations of SELinux, like with MLS. Label type is the most important for targeted policy.

SELinux uses type enforcement to enforce a policy that is defined on the system. Type enforcement is the part of an SELinux policy that defines whether a process running with a certain type can access a file labeled with a certain type.

Enabling SELinux

If SELinux has been disabled in your environment, you can enable SElinux by editing /etc/selinux/config and setting SELINUX=permissive. Since SELinux was not currently enabled, you don’t want to set it to enforcing right away because the system will likely have things mislabeled that can keep the system from booting.

You can force the system to automatically relabel the filesystem by creating an empty file named .autorelabel in the root directory and then rebooting. If the system has too many errors, you should reboot while in permissive mode in order for the boot to succeed. After everything has been relabeled, set SELinux to enforcing with /etc/selinux/config and reboot, or run setenforce 1.

If a sysadmin is less familiar with the command line, there are graphic tools available that can be used to manage SELinux.

SELinux provides an additional layer of security for your system that is built into Linux distributions. It should remain on so that it can protect your system if it is ever compromised.


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