Flatpak: Enhancing Security with Application Sandboxing

There are a few reasons for Flatpak’s popularity, but one of its most alluring features is how it utilizes application sandboxing to enhance the security of the host Linux system. Flatpak isolates all applications into their own sandbox environment, so they only have limited access to the host system’s resources and files. This enhances security by ensuring that malicious or vulnerable applications have limited opportunities to compromise any part of the host system.

In this tutorial, we will discuss this component of Flatpak in detail, to help users understand how application sandboxing enhances the security of your Linux system. Distribution independent package managers like Flatpak are commonly touted as the future of Linux package management, and their ability to sandbox applications is one feature that is gaining them a lot of widespread support.

In this tutorial you will learn:

  • How does Flatpak’s application sandboxing enhance Linux security?
Flatpak: Enhancing Security with Application Sandboxing
Flatpak: Enhancing Security with Application Sandboxing
Software Requirements and Linux Command Line Conventions
Category Requirements, Conventions or Software Version Used
System Any Linux distro
Software Flatpak package manager
Other Privileged access to your Linux system as root or via the sudo command.
Conventions # – requires given linux commands to be executed with root privileges either directly as a root user or by use of sudo command
$ – requires given linux commands to be executed as a regular non-privileged user

Flatpak: Enhancing Security with Application Sandboxing



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Overview

When installing an application in Flatpak, it will exist in its own secure environment, isolated from the majority of the host Linux system and from other applications installed with Flatpak or outside of Flatpak. This technology is known as “sandboxing,” and is not unique to Flatpak, although Flatpak does a very good job of enforcing it.

Flatpak does not rely on a lot of unique technologies to create a sandboxed environment, but rather pulls from many built in Linux components such as bind mounts, namespaces, and seccomp. Since the Linux kernel already has so much capacity to create a sandbox environment, Flatpak simply utilizes these built in technologies.

How does it work?

Applications run with Flatpak have very limited access to the host Linux system. Flatpak provides a rigid set of parameters for developers that need to program their application to access the network, file system, or other system components. An application is only expected to reach outside of its isolated sandbox under certain conditions which must be well defined in the program itself.

More explanation about Flatpak’s sandbox policies can be found in the official documentation.

Why does it matter?

Since applications are being developed by thousands of programmers the world over, it is an impossible task to search them all for malicious content or for potential vulnerabilites that nefarious users might be looking to exploit. Creating a sandbox environment for installed applications is a security measure that Flatpak can take in order to ensure that misbehaving applications can do very minimal damage to the rest of your system.

Applications installed with Flatpak do not have a lot of control over system resources, whether hardware of software. This means they will not have easy access to your data or to system components. This creates a very safe environemnt when installing lots of applications that you no doubt have no time to fully audit.

Closing Thoughts

In this tutorial, we learned about how Flatpak enhances security with application sandboxing on a Linux system. The biggest take away is that application sandboxing helps to enhance the security, resources, and stability of the host Linux system while still providing developers with an easy means to configure extraneous access to the host system when necessary.



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