I've just heard of this bug "Dirty COW" that allows any user with read access to files to also write to them and gain administrative access. How do I protect against this bug?

3 Answers 3


The Ancient Dirty COW Bug

This bug has been around since Kernel version 2.6.22. It allows a local user with read access to gain administrative privileges. A warning has been issued (Softpedia: Linux Kernels 4.8.3, 4.7.9 & 4.4.26 LTS Out to Patch "Dirty COW" Security Flaw) and users are urged to upgrade to Kernel Linux kernel 4.8.3, Linux kernel 4.7.9, and Linux kernel 4.4.26 LTS. THIS LINK IS MISLEADING because these Kernel versions are not supported by Ubuntu.

This answer is tailored for Ubuntu users and tells you:

  • Recommended Kernel Versions for Ubuntu users
  • How to display your current Kernel Version
  • How to apply fix for Ubuntu Supported Kernels
  • How to apply fix for Non-Supported Ubuntu Kernels

Ubuntu users "Dirty COW" recommended Kernels

Ubuntu released security updates on October 20, 2016 to patch the Kernel used by all supported Ubuntu versions: Softpedia: Canonical Patches Ancient "Dirty COW" Kernel Bug in All Supported Ubuntu OSes

Canonical is urging all users to patch their systems immediately by installing:

  • linux-image-4.8.0-26 (4.8.0-26.28) for Ubuntu 16.10
  • linux-image-4.4.0-45 (4.4.0-45.66) for Ubuntu 16.04 LTS
  • linux-image-3.13.0-100 (3.13.0-100.147) for Ubuntu 14.04 LTS
  • linux-image-3.2.0-113 (3.2.0-113.155) for Ubuntu 12.04 LTS
  • linux-image-4.4.0-1029-raspi2 (4.4.0-1029.36)

The Xenial HWE kernel for Ubuntu 14.04 LTS was updated as well, to version linux-image-4.4.0-45 (4.4.0-45.66~14.04.1), and the Trusty HWE kernel for Ubuntu 12.04 LTS to version linux-image-3.13.0-100 (3.13.0-100.147~precise1).

Please update your Ubuntu installations immediately by following the instructions provided by Canonical at: https://wiki.ubuntu.com/Security/Upgrades .

Display your current Kernel Version

To display your current running Kernel version open the terminal with Ctrl+Alt+T and then type:

uname -a

The kernel version you booted with is then displayed like this:

Linux dell 4.8.1-040801-generic #201610071031 SMP Fri Oct 7 14:34:10 UTC 2016 x86_64 x86_64 x86_64 GNU/Linux

Remember after you install the new kernel with the patches, you can still boot older kernel versions from Grub. Older versions will not have the patch applied, which is the case of this kernel version 4.8.1.

Once again remember kernel version 4.8.1 is not supported by Ubuntu.

How to fix for Ubuntu supported Kernels

Since Ubuntu has released the fix of the bug, All users need to do is upgrade their system. If daily security updates are enabled the kernel upgrade has already been done. Check your kernel version to the list of kernels above.

If Ubuntu has not automatically upgraded your kernel version then run:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get dist-upgrade
sudo reboot

After rebooting check your current kernel version by repeating the previous section instructions.

How to fix for Non-supported Ubuntu Kernels

Some installations with newer hardware may be using an unsupported Kernel such as 4.8.1 or greater. If so you will need to manually upgrade the Kernel. Although the bug report link above says to use Kernel 4.8.3, As of October 30, 2016, 4.8.5 is the most recent and this is how to install it:

cd /tmp
wget http://kernel.ubuntu.com/~kernel-ppa/mainline/v4.8.5/linux-headers-4.8.5-040805_4.8.5-040805.201610280434_all.deb
wget http://kernel.ubuntu.com/~kernel-ppa/mainline/v4.8.5/linux-headers-4.8.5-040805-generic_4.8.5-040805.201610280434_amd64.deb
wget http://kernel.ubuntu.com/~kernel-ppa/mainline/v4.8.5/linux-image-4.8.5-040805-generic_4.8.5-040805.201610280434_amd64.deb
sudo dpkg -i *.deb
sudo reboot

After rebooting check your current kernel version by repeating the instructions two sections back.

  • Instead of "this link is misleading", which seems too strong a word to me, I would say something along the lines of "those instructions do not apply to Ubuntu users".
    – fkraiem
    Oct 21, 2016 at 4:00
  • @WinEunuuchs2Unix I was going to suggest "This link, as-is, is misleading, because the mentioned kernel versions are not supported by Ubuntu." Also not sure why you're bolding dates everywhere?
    – Thomas Ward
    Oct 21, 2016 at 4:04
  • Having Ubuntu 16.04 LTS, I found this command showed me that all was good: apt list --installed | grep linux-image-4.4.0-45 - it returned linux-image-4.4.0-45-generic/xenial-updates,xenial-security,now 4.4.0-45.66 amd64 [installed,automatic].
    – user643722
    Oct 21, 2016 at 12:41

I am not an expert at all, but having read up on the "Dirty COW" a bit, I felt I really wanted to check whether I am alright after completing my most recent update only a couple of hrs ago.

From the results of my keyword search I picked this article & discussion as sounding promising. Now, I have easily managed to verify the "COW-patched" status of my Xenial Xerox system by first following the above article's instructions to Display your current Kernel Version (turns out, it's: linux-image-4.4.0.-45). Though uname -a does not detail the patches, it displayed the currently installed kernel version, which allowed me to follow user 643722's suggestion - and successfully so:

apt list --installed | grep linux-image-4.4.0-45

Although an unexpected extra line was displayed...

WARNING: apt does not have a stable CLI interface. 
Use with caution in scripts.

... the hoped-for information followed in the next line:

linux-image-4.4.0-45-generic/xenial-updates,xenial-security,now 4.4.0-45.66 amd64  [Installiert,automatisch]

Thanks to all - for speedy implementation of solutions into updates by Linux/Ubuntu contributors, and speedy diffusion of knowledge among users.

  • 1
    The warning goes away if you use apt-get instead of apt by itself. Oct 23, 2016 at 3:34
  • Thank you, @WinEunuuchs2Unix. I am learning every day, all the time...
    – Ano Nyma
    Oct 23, 2016 at 8:37

You need to upgrade your packages using apt-get:

sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get dist-upgrade

Also you can enable the livepach service :

Coincidentally, just before the vulnerability was published, we released the Canonical Livepatch Service for Ubuntu 16.04 LTS. The thousands of users who enabled canonical-livepatch on their Ubuntu 16.04 LTS systems with those first few hours received and applied the fix to Dirty COW, automatically, in the background, and without rebooting!

  1. Go to https://ubuntu.com/livepatch and retrieve your livepatch token Install the canonical-livepatch snap

    $ sudo snap install canonical-livepatch

  2. Enable the service with your token

    $ sudo canonical-livepatch enable [TOKEN]

  3. check the status at any time using:

    $ canonical-livepatch status --verbose

  4. Upgrade

    `$ sudo apt install unattended-upgrades

  5. Older versions of Ubuntu (or Ubuntu systems that upgraded to 16.04) might need to enable this behavior using:

    $ sudo dpkg-reconfigure unattended-upgrades


  • Your words makes it sound like you work for Canonical, if so thank you for insider information :) Nov 16, 2016 at 12:19
  • @WinEunuuchs2Unix just a Newbie Linux user :)
    – GAD3R
    Nov 16, 2016 at 12:22
  • Oh well thanks for your answer anyway. I'm afraid you'll have to live with the false comment about being a Canonical employee for 11 hours until I get home and can delete it from my computer. Nov 16, 2016 at 12:46
  • $ sudo snap install canonical-livepatch error: cannot install "canonical-livepatch": snap not found Help? May 6, 2017 at 2:12

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