Only in the same way that
modprobe "defeats" security by loading new code into the kernel.
For various reasons, sometimes it makes more sense to have semi-privileged code (like graphics drivers inside the X server) running in user-space rather than a kernel thread.
- Being able to
kill it more easily, unless it locks up the HW.
- Having it demand-page its code / data from files in the filesystem. (Kernel memory is not pageable)
- Giving it its own virtual address space where bugs in the X server might just crash the X server, without taking down the kernel.
It doesn't do much for security, but there are big reliability and software architecture advantages.
Baking graphics drivers into the kernel might reduce context switches between X clients and X server, like just one user->kernel->user instead of having to get data into another use-space process, but X servers historically are too big and too buggy to want them fully in kernel.
Yes, malicious code with these privs could take over the kernel if it wanted to, using
/dev/mem to modify kernel code.
Or on x86 for example, run a
cli instruction to disable interrupts on that core after making an
iopl system call to set its IO privilege level to ring 0.
But even x86
iopl "only" gives access to some instructions: in/out (and the string versions ins/outs), and cli/sti. It doesn't let you use
wrmsr to read or write "model specific registers" (e.g.
IA32_LSTAR which sets the kernel entry point address for the x86-64
syscall instruction), or use
lidt to replace the interrupt-descriptor table (which would let you totally take over the machine from the existing kernel, at least on that core.)
You can't even read control registers (like CR3 which holds the physical address of the top-level page-directory, which an attacking process might find useful as an offset into
/dev/mem to modify its own page tables as an alternative to
mmaping more of
invd (invalidate all caches without write-back!! (use case = early BIOS before RAM is configured)) is another fun one that always requires full CPL 0 (current privilege level), not just IOPL. Even
wbinvd is privileged because it's so slow (and not interruptible), and has to flush all caches across all cores. (See Is there a way to flush the entire CPU cache related to a program? and WBINVD instruction usage)
Bugs that result in a jump to a bad address running data as code thus can't execute any of these instructions by accident in a user-space X server.
The current privilege level (in protected and long mode) is the low 2 bits of
cs (the code segment selector).
mov eax, cs /
and eax, 3 works in any mode to read the privilege level.
To write the privilege level, you do a
jmp far or
call far to set
CS:RIP (but the GDT/LDT entry for the target segment can restrict it based on the old privilege level, which is why user-space can't do this to elevate itself). Or you use
syscall to switch to ring 0 at a kernel entry point.