How to use the new Docker Seccomp profiles

Monday, January 4, 2016 ยท 4 min read

In case you missed it, we recently merged a default seccomp profile for Docker containers. I urge you to try out the default seccomp profile, mostly so we can rest easy knowing the defaults are sane and your containers work as before. You can download the master version of Docker Engine from or

We even have a doc describing the syscalls we purposely block and security vulnerabilities the profile blocked.

But that’s not what this blog post is about. This post is about how you can create your own custom seccomp profiles for your containers. And how to debug when your profile is missing a syscall.

So this is not the most sane thing in the world, I even tried in the process to create a bash script that takes the output from strace, collects the syscalls, and generates a profile. But like all tools of this sort (eg. aa-genprof) it missed some, well to be exact it missed 6. Which is no small feat to debug, so this post is in the format: learn by example. I am going to take you step by step through what I did.

  1. Wake up go to starbucks… just kidding… not that specific.

I wanted to make a custom profile for my chrome container. I decided to get the syscalls it used by changing the entrypoint for my chrome/Dockerfile to ENTRYPOINT [ "strace", "-ff", "google-chrome" ]. So the only things that changed was wrapping the command in strace and of course installing strace in the container. The -ff option makes sure strace follows forks. Which is essential for chrome because they fork a bunch of processes (fun fact: each tab is a process with it’s own PID namespace).

Cool beans, moving on.

So I used chrome the entire day like this to create the most verbose strace output so I wouldn’t miss any syscalls.

At the end of the day I saved this output into a file by running docker logs chrome > $HOME/chrome-strace.log 2>&1.

Then I used the world’s most janky bash script to generate a profile:

set -e
set -o pipefail

	local file=$1
	local name=$(basename "$0")

	if [[ -z "$file" ]]; then
		cat >&2 <<-EOF
		${name} [strace-output-filename]

		You must pass a filename that has the strace output.

	# get just the syscalls
	local IFS=$'\n'
	raw=( $(perl -lne 'print $1 if /([a-zA-Z_]+\()/' "$file" | sort -u) )
	unset IFS

	syscalls=( )

	tmpfile=$(mktemp /tmp/seccomp-strace.XXXXXX)

	curl -sSL -o "$tmpfile"

	for syscall in "${raw[@]}"; do
		# clean the trailing (

		if grep -R -q -w $syscall "$tmpfile"; then
			syscalls+=( $syscall )

	# start the seccomp profile
	cat <<-EOF > "$tmpfile"
		"defaultAction": "SCMP_ACT_ERRNO",
		"syscalls": [

		for syscall in "${syscalls[@]}"; do
			cat <<-EOF
				"name": "${syscall}",
				"action": "SCMP_ACT_ALLOW",
				"args": null
		done >> "$tmpfile"

		# remove trailing comma
		sed -i '$s/,$//' "$tmpfile"

		cat <<-EOF >> "$tmpfile"

	cat "$tmpfile"
	rm "$tmpfile"

main $@

You use this script like so:

$ ./ chrome-strace.log

Now you have a whitelist generated from your strace output. But it’s super bad and when you try to run your container with it you get a vague error and Operation not permitted.

Just for this example the error was: [1:1:0104/] Bad NaCl helper startup ack (0 bytes).

So now we have to use our brains. WHAT!? NOOOOO!

So I opened the generated profile and took a look at what it was allowing.

Now I know a little bit about how chrome uses namespaces/seccomp to create a sandbox, so my first thought was let’s make sure we allow unshare, clone, seccomp and setns. Sure enough, unshare and setns were missing… thanks strace you really sucked that one up, even I know chrome calls those.

After further thought I realized it was also missing setgid and exit/exit_group.

This all took a super long time of guessing and checking but I ended up with this profile.

Obviously noone else is going to do this, debug for hours the syscalls that are missing. This is why the default profile is so important, we wanted to create sane defaults that would protect people but also not cause all this pain.

So please, please, please try it out and open an issue if you find your container that used to run perfectly is now giving Operation not permitted.

If you are curious about syscalls or are trying to track down what you are missing, this is a great syscall table:

Also, things are going to get better. We are working on sane security profiles for containers that don’t make you want to pull your hair out. You can read up on the proposal at docker/docker#17142.