Author Archives: phocean

Msf docker image now in REMnux!

Just a quick note to say that I am very happy about this Metasploit docker image being useful to some people, according to the feedback I got.

And Lenny was kind enough to integrate it into his Linux distro, REMnux, well known among reversing people. He also came up with very good suggestions and helped me to bring some improvements, so many thanks to him.

Don’t miss reading his blog article on how to use the image in REMnux : “Run Metasploit Framework as a Docker Container Without Installation Pains”.
Stay tuned ;-)

Lessons learned with Docker, Nodejs apps and volumes


I have kept playing with Docker recently, just for fun and to learn.

It is very powerful, but still young. It quickly shows some limit when it comes to security or persistence. There are some workarounds, yet more or less complex, more or less hacky.

Indeed, I had some issues with Etherpad, which is a Nodejs application, and its integration into Docker.

Initially, I made something quite simple, so my Dockerfile ended like that:

USER etherpad
CMD ["node","/opt/etherpad-lite/node_modules/ep_etherpad-lite/node/server.js"]

Thus, I simply start the app with a low privileges user.

It worked, but I had two issues:

  1. Docker was not able to stop it nicely. Instead, it timed out after 10 sec and finally killed the app and the container altogether.
  2. No persistence of any kind, of course.

I decided to tackle these two issues to understand what was going on behind.

The PID 1 issue

I could not understand immediately the first issue: why was Docker unable to terminate the container properly?

After wandering a few hours on wrong paths (trying to get through with Nodejs nodemon or supervisor), I finally found some good articles, explaining that Docker misses an init system to catch signals, wich causes some issues with applications started with a PID = 1, which cannot be killed, or with Bash (the shell doesn’t handle transmitted signals.

I am not going to repeat poorly what has already been explained very well, so I encourage you to read this two excellent posts:

You will also find a lot of bug reports in the Docker github about this issue, and a lot of hacky or overkilling solutions.

In my opinion, the most elegant solution among them is to use a launcher program, very simple and dedicated to catch and handle signal.

I chose to use Dumb-init, as it is well packaged (there are plenty of options) and seems to be well maintained.

So, after installing Dump-init in the Dockerfile, the CMD line should now look like this:

USER etherpad
CMD ["dumb-init","node","/opt/etherpad-lite/node_modules/ep_etherpad-lite/node/server.js"]

And indeed, as expected, docker stop now works flawlessly.

Volume permissions

This is where I had the toughest issue, although it is supposed to be straightforward with volumes.

Volumes enable to share files or folders between host and containers, or between containers solely. There are plenty of possibilities, nicely illustrated on this blog:

And it works very well…. as long as you application runs as root.

In my case, for instance, Etherpad runs with a low privileged user, which is highly recommended. At startup, it creates a sqlite database, etherpad.db,  in its ./var folder.

Mounting a volume, of any kind, over the ./var folder, would result in a folder with root only permissions. Subsequently, of course, the launch of Etherpad from the CMD command would fail miserably.

Simple solutions like chown in the Dockerfile don’t work, because they apply before the mount. The mount occurs at runtime and works like a standard Linux mount: it is created by the docker daemon, with root permissions, over possibly existing data.

My solution was to completely change the way Etherpad is started. I now use an external script which is started at runtime:

  1. First, it applies the appropriate permissions to the mounted volume with chown,
  2. Then, it starts Etherpad with a low privileged user thanks to a su hack.

So now the Dockerfile ends with:

VOLUME /opt/etherpad-lite/var
ADD ./bin/
CMD ["./bin/"]

And here is the script:


chown -R etherpad:etherpad /opt/etherpad-lite/var
su etherpad -s /bin/bash -c  "dumb-init node /opt/etherpad-lite/node_modules/ep_etherpad-lite/no

I use a data volume for persistency, so the run command looks like this:

docker run -d --name etherpad -p 80:9001 -v etherpad:/opt/etherpad-lite/var -t debian-etherpad

Far from being ideal, but it works. I really hope some features are coming to bring more options in this area, especially in the Dockerfile.

Some final thoughts

Globally, we can still hope a lot of improvements in security, because when I look at many Dockerfiles around, I see two behaviors:

  • A lot of people don’t care and everything is happily running as root, from unauthenticated third-party images or binaries…
  • Some people do care but end up with dirty hacks, because there is no other way to do so.

It is scary and so far from the Linux philosophy. Let’s wait for the enhancements to come.

You can find the complete updated Dockerfile on this github page.

While we are on this topic, have a look to this nice post with some nice tips and tricks for Docker.

Small improvements to the Metasploit-framework Dockerfile

I made a few improvements (at least, I think they are) to the metasploit-frameword Dockerfile :

  • A volume from the container /root/.msf4 to $HOME/.msf4, so that you can benefit from your customized prompt, scripts and modules anytime and have persistence on them. In other words, just manage them on your host and they will be readily available to the msf container.
  • A volume from the container /tmp/data to the host /tmp/msf, so that you can get access to dump files and stuff like that.
  • Tmux window manager tool, so that you can easily navigate between msfconsole, bash and other sessions.
  • nmap network scanner, just because sometimes it may be useful (along with its ncat).
  • nasm, to support your custom encoders.

It is all up-to-date in its github repo. I will keep adjusting it, if I feel something is missing.

I hope I did it the right way, let me know what you think!

Metasploit Dockerfile


Managing updates and dependencies of a Metasploit installation have definitely been too much trouble and repetitive.

Instead of keeping reproducing boring installation steps every x months, I decided to build a Dockerfile for once.

I chose Debian for its good compromise between features, stability and lightness. I am aware of the Kali Dockerfile, that I could have used as a base. But:

  •  It is a definitely over-killing image (more than 1 GB) and, at this cost, it does not come with a fully-featured Metasploit (no database connection, for instance).
  • I like keeping minimal and controlled stuff. In other words, I like doing things on my own.

So, this Debian-based Metasploit container comes with:

  • all dependencies installed,
  • automatic updates at startup,
  • a connection with the local Postgres database,
  • an improved prompt with timestamping and sessions/jobs status.

You can find it on my github.

If you have any trouble or suggestion on how to improve it, please let me know. Enjoy it and go ahead if you want to fork it!

Docker running msf

A few (convenient) dockerfiles

I just put on my github a few dockerfiles for virtual machines that I frequently use to get some quick work done or to temporary share some data.

Here they are:

I used to use VirtualBox guests, but maintaining them was a hassle (updates, snapshots, disk defragmation and shrinking, etc.).

It makes perfect sense to use Docker just for that, and on top of that it consumes much fewer resources. Starting with the disk usage : all these containers along with their image stands below 1 GB!

The fact that I am using Btrfs as the underlying storage driver is not for nothing: compression is extremely efficient on images!

Note that my Dockerfiles have nothing special, you can actually find others on the Internet (and I was inspired by some).

There are a few differences, however:

  • I care much about security, so at least I try to make Web services not running as root, even if it is inside a container (the root user is still the same as on the host, so let’s make a compromise as unlikely as possible).
  • I like simple things, so I tried to keep everything straightforward and simplified some stuff.
  • I don’t like to waste disk space. So when I some Dockerfiles based on Ubuntu, Debian Wheezy, Debian Jessie, Fedora, etc., I try to unify all of them under Debian “stable” (so as of today, Jessie). Why bother with useless images? I chose a versatile and common server distribution and I am trying to stick with it.

While I was playing, I had two things bothering me:

  • No quota support: for a Samba sharing guest that I have, I would have liked to implement quotas from within the container. There is no support for that at the moment, and the global limitation by container is not nice (and once you choose a big size, you can’t go backward for existing containers…). I have a dedicated partition for Docker, so, while not perfect, it is okay for now.
  • The devicemapper storage driver totally sucks at this time: free space is never reclaimed after you delete images or containers! So the more you use Docker, the more your partition gets full.

A journey with Btrfs


I have recently tested Btrfs as the file system for my /home partition (which was previously on ext4).

I have been impressed by what this file system enables to do, but also came to the conclusion that it is not for me.

As a quick reminder, the goal of this file system is to bring to Linux a fully featured file system similar to zfs. Some of these features promise a lot of awesomeness: snapshots, native RAID, automatic defragmentation and repairs, etc.

Wouldn’t it be cool to have such a file system for your data? Among them, snapshotting really is a killer feature. See it as a global git for all your data. You can track any file history, make a diff comparison on them and revert back to a chosen version, anytime and on-line.

Btrfs has been under development for a while and it is still undergoing. However, the first stable version has finally been released last year.

Many people warn that it is not production ready yet. It seems obvious for critical production systems, under heavy load or using the most advanced features (e.g. RAID). But what about a simple /home, mainly using snapshots (which have been around for a while)?

You will see that there are still some issues with virtualization.

Disclaimer 1: this is in no way a review or a benchmark of Btrfs. Consider it simply as some feedback for my specific use case.

Getting ready

This chapter is a summary of procedures found in various resources, along with my feedback.

Disclaimer 2: First of all, make several backup of your entire /home. And make sure that it is operational and complete. Anyway, beware that there is obviously some inherent risk for your data in manipulating your home partition. So, do not come back to insult me if you lose any data.

First, note that there is a conversion utility btrfs-convert, to convert an existing ext4 partition to btrfs. While this sounds cool, it did not work well with my partition, leading to many corrupted inodes.

So my advice is to just make a good backup of your home:

% rsync -av /home /your/backup/

Then, log out and format the partition as root:

# mount | grep home
/dev/mapper/system-home on /home type ext4 (rw,noatime,data=ordered)
# umount /home
# mkfs.btrfs /dev/mapper/system-home

Change the file system and its options in /etc/fstab. For example:

/dev/system/home     /home     ext4     defaults,noatime     1 1

should become (also note the change on the last digit):

/dev/system/home   /home    btrfs  defaults,noatime,ssd,space_cache,compress=lzo    1 0

Re-mount /home and you are done!


The main purpose for me to test Btrfs was the snapshot feature, in the hope to keep a version history of each file and avoid accidental deletions and changes.

Of course, one could use the Btrfs commands and implement snapshots manually. But why reinventing the wheel?

The guys behind snapper  already made a service especially for that. It is basically a wrapper over Btrfs that will make automatic snapshots in the background, based on your frequency settings, and ease their handling.

Once installed, it can be enabled with the following command:

# snapper -c home create-config /home

It has the effect of creating a configuration file, where you can adjust the number of snapshots you want to keep per day, week, month, etc. Of course, don’t keep too much data as it will waste free space, especially if you happen to move large amounts of data. Hourly and daily snapshots are OK, as they would be cleaned up quickly. But monthly or yearly snapshots would consume a lot of space and would be pretty useless for a /home.

Here is what I used, without consuming much more than 10 GB:

# subvolume to snapshot

# filesystem type

# users and groups allowed to work with config

# sync users and groups from ALLOW_USERS and ALLOW_GROUPS to .snapshots
# directory

# start comparing pre- and post-snapshot in background after creating
# post-snapshot

# run daily number cleanup

# limit for number cleanup

# create hourly snapshots

# cleanup hourly snapshots after some time

# limits for timeline cleanup

# cleanup empty pre-post-pairs

# limits for empty pre-post-pair cleanup

Now, let’s play a little. In the following sequence, we create a file containing “Hello World!”, we then create a manual snapshot, change the file and display the differences:

# vim test.txt
# snapper -c home create --description "before test"
# vim test.txt
# sudo snapper -c home list
Type   | # | Pre # | Date                     | User | Cleanup  | Description  | Userdata
single | 0 |       |                          | root |          | current      | 
single | 1 |       | Sun Mar 13 19:44:21 2016 | root |          | before test  | 
single | 2 |       | Sun Mar 13 19:45:12 2016 | root |          | created test | 
single | 3 |       | Sun Mar 13 19:52:39 2016 | root |          | update test  | 
single | 4 |       | Sun Mar 13 20:00:01 2016 | root | timeline | timeline     | 
single | 5 |       | Sun Mar 13 21:00:01 2016 | root | timeline | timeline     | 
single | 6 |       | Sun Mar 13 22:00:01 2016 | root | timeline | timeline     | 
# snapper -c home status 1..0
--- "/home/.snapshots/2/snapshot/phocean/test.txt" 2016-03-13 19:44:53.370641373 +0100
+++ "/home/phocean/test.txt" 2016-03-13 19:45:27.226586459 +0100
@@ -1 +1,2 @@
Hell World!
+Good bye.
@@ -0,0 +1,2 @@
+Hell World!
+Good bye

Neat, isn’t it? Now, what if we decide to restore the file to this snapshot:

snapper -c home undochange 1..0 /home/phocean/test.txt

That’s it!

Note that all these operations can be done against the entire partition (no argument needed), a folder or a file.


Regarding regular files, I had no issue at all. After a week of intensive use, I already the occasion to enjoy the benefits of having snapshots and being able to restore a file.

On the performance side, even though I haven’t done any benchmark, it is a least as fast as ext4. It is said that under some conditions, compression can be a big read rate boost.

On the compression side, on my partition of 400 GB, it allowed me to reclaim around 20 GB of space. Of course, the gain you can expect is totally related to the sorts of files you have (you won’t gain much on files that are already compressed or encrypted).


As warned on the official wiki itself, you should not use Btrfs as-is with database or virtualization solutions.

Dixit the official wiki:

Files with a lot of random writes can become heavily fragmented (10000+ extents) causing trashing on HDDs and excessive multi-second spikes of CPU load on systems with an SSD or large amount a RAM.

Indeed, I quickly experienced some issues with Virtualbox. Under heavy I/O operations, and having several machines running at a time, I had the guest file systems corrupted more than once. And so badly that the guest machine was unrecoverable (even with snapshots). Sometimes I got plenty of ext4 errors, or sometimes it just froze, while copying a bunch of file or doing an apt-get upgrade...

The workarounds did not make it for me:

  1. I even did not test disabling CoW for the whole partition. It kills one of the main advantages of using Btrfs.
  2. I tried disabling CoW for all the VM folder. While the corruption frequency decreased, it still occurred after a while.

So, I would simply adivse of not putting any virtual machine on the Btrfs partitions, until this thing definitely get sorted. I use virtual machines intensively at work and need them to be reliable.


Btrfs is awesome and pretty stable at this time, unless you need to host virtual machines. You could still have a dedicate ext4 partition for you VMs, and enjoy Btrfs for the rest of your home.

To be honest, I did not bother (not wanting to manage several partitions), and switched back to ext4 for all, in the expectation of better days. I am not sure if this should be addressed on the Btrfs, or the Virtualbox side (or both).