CVE-2021-4034: why is pkexec still a thing?

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Hi folks!

For anyone who hasn't seen it yet - there's quite a kerfuffle today
about a major security issue in polkit:

turns out that ever since it was invented, `pkexec` has had a bug
allowing for local root privilege escalation. Which is...bad.

The issue and some of the comments around it prompted me to wonder -
why is `pkexec` still a thing? Particularly, why is it still a thing we
are shipping by default in just about every Fedora install?

My best recollection is that pkexec was kinda a kludge to allow us to
get rid of consolehelper: some apps weren't getting rewritten to the
Right Way of doing things under policykit, they still just wanted to
have the entire app run as root, and pkexec was a way to make that

But that was then, and this is now. Does anything in Workstation use
pkexec? Does anything in KDE use it? I'm pretty sure (at least I really
hope!) nothing in Server uses it. I don't think any of our
documentation recommends its use for interactive execution of things as
root (these days we tend to just specify `sudo` for that and assume the
install has an admin user).

Should we just split it out of the polkit package into a subpackage and
stop shipping the subpackage on those editions/spins at least? If
there's anything in other desktops still using it, it can grow a
dependency on the subpackage...

Am I forgetting some other reason we still need it?
Adam Williamson
Fedora QA
IRC: adamw | Twitter: adamw_ha

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