Posts Tagged security

Tickle! See? Gee, I …

A montage of TCL and Tcl-related logos


Ah, TCL, the Tool Command Language. Based on the research conducted by myself and my colleagues here at Security Objectives (most notably Shane Macaulay,) we have concluded that Tcl has a multitude of security issues, especially when being used in a network environment; and contemporarily speaking, network usage is almost unavoidable. In essence, we are urging the use of extreme caution in Tcl-based web development–whether it’s being used directly or indirectly. To generalize, we also advise against using Tcl for any network application or protocol (not just HTTP.) Security Objectives has published an in-depth analysis of practical Tcl vulnerabilities. The whitepaper, entitled “Tickling CGI Problems”, outlines the theoretical backbone of the phenomena in the first half and presents cases of real-world exploitation in the second half. However, the background theory along with some general programming and Hyper-Text Transfer Protocol knowledge is recommended in order to gain a firm understanding of the exploits themselves.

This is not to say that Tcl should not be used ever, so as a disclaimer we are not advocating any programming language over another.  Our position is that the traditional approach to web security with Tcl has much room for improvement. Like any other programming language it works nicely in certain areas such as academic research, scientific computing, extensions, and software testing. With that being said, one project that comes to mind is regfuzz, a regular expression fuzzer written in Tcl which is quite useful. The distinction here is that regfuzz is not intended to be exposed to a public (or even a private) network. Surely, Safe-Tcl could successfully serve network clients in a hardened production environment given that assessed risks were rated low enough to suffice as acceptable. The problem is, that’s not the type of operations that occur in practice as evidenced by an overwhelming majority of cases.

The vulnerabilities exposed by the whitepaper affect TclHttpd, Lyris List Manager, cgi.tcl (which also uses Expect) as well as the Tcl language itself and interpreters thereof. Some of the attack methodologies and vulnerabilities identified are new to the public. Others are similar to well-known attacks or simply subversions of previous security patches, e.g. CVE-2005-4147. As time unfolds, there will surely be a surge in publicized Tcl weaknesses due to the research which is elaborated on within the whitepaper. If you’re interested in discovering vulnerabilities in Tcl software yourself, then there’s a grand list of references to Tcl-related things at There is also a USENET newsgroup dedicated to it which is naturally called comp.lang.tcl.

For those of you attending CanSecWest 2011 in Vancouver, we are sponsoring the event. Professionals from Security Objectives will be in attendance to answer your queries regarding Tcl/Tk security or other areas of specialized research (information assurance, software assurance, cloud security, etc.) Of course, our professionals will also be available to field questions regarding Security Objectives’ product and service offerings as well. In addition, CanSecWest 2011 attendees receive special treatment when purchasing licenses for BlockWatch, the complete solution to total cloud security.

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The “X” Files


It’s been a little while since we last posted so I wanted to get a blog out there so everybody knows we’re still alive! We just finalized the XML schema for our soon to be released BlockWatch product so with all the XML tags, elements, attributes, and such running through my head I figured I’d blog about XML security. I’m sure the majority of penetration testers out there routinely test for the traditional web application vulnerabilities when looking at Web Services. The same old authentication/authorizations weaknesses, faulty encoding/reencoding/redecoding, session management issues, et al. are still all there and it’s not uncommon for a SOAP Web Service to hand off an attack string to some middleware app that forwards it on deep into the internal network for handling by the revered legacy mainframe. Some organizations process so much XML over HTTP that they place XML accelerator devices on their network perimeter. I have a feeling that this trend will increase the amount of private IP web servers that feel the effects of HTTP Request Smuggling.

Additionally, XML parsers that fetch external document references (e.g. remote URI’s embedded in tag attributes) open themselves up to client-side offensives from evil web servers. Crafted file attachments can come in the form of a SOAP DIME element or the traditional multipart HTTP POST file upload. With those things in consideration, Phillippe Lagadec’s ExeFilter talk from CanSecWest 2008 made some pretty good points on why verifying filename extensions and file header contents or magic numbers isn’t always good enough.

The new manifestations of these old problems should be cause for concern but I personally find the newer XML-specific bugs the most exciting. For example: XPath injection, infinitely nesting tags to cause resource exhaustion via a recursive-descent parser, XXE (XML eXternal Entity) attacks, etc.

A single file format for everything is supposed to make things more simple but the lion’s share of real-world implementations over-complicate the fleeting markup language tags to the point where they become a breeding ground for old school exploits and new attack techniques alike–we’re all familiar with the cliche regarding failure of a “system of systems” with too many moving parts. I’ll touch on some more advanced XML attacks later in the post, but first let’s take a step back and remember XML when it still had a fresh beginning.

Towards the end of the twentieth century, when I first started taking notice of all the hype surrounding XML (the eXtensible Markup Language) I held a fairly skeptic attitude towards it as I tend to do with many fledgling technologies/standards. Perhaps I’ve been over-analytical in that respect but look how long it’s taken IPv6 to amass even a minuscule amount of usage! Albeit, a formal data representation grammar certainly was needed in that “dot-bomb” era, a time when mash-up web applications were near impossible to maintain since consistently pattern matching off-site content demanded continuous tweaking of regular expressions, parsers, etc. The so-called browser war of Netscape Navigator vs. Internet Explorer couldn’t have helped things either. If that was a war, then we must be on the brink of browser Armagaeddon now that there’s Chromium, FireFox3, IE8 RTM, Safari4 Beta, Opera, Konqueror, Amaya, w3m, lynx, etc. The good news? We now have Safari for Win32. The bad news? Microsoft no longer supports IE for MacOS..bummer.

I think it’s fairly rational to forecast continued adoption of XML Encryption and WS-* standards for SOAP Web Services that handle business-to-business and other communications protocol vectors. If you’re bored of the same old Tomcat/Xerces, WebLogic/SAX, etc. deployments then prepare for applications written in newer API’s to arrive soon; namely Microsoft WCF and Oslo, the Windows Communication Foundation API and a modeling platform with design tools (respectively.) From the surface of .NET promotional hype it appears as if WCF and Oslo will be synthesized into a suitereminiscent of BizTalk Server’s visual process modeling approach. WCF has commissioned many Web Services standards including WS-Security but of course not all major software vendors are participating in the all of the standards. The crew in Redmond have committed to REST in WCF and it wouldn’t surprise me to see innovative XML communications techniques arising from the combination of Silverlight 3 and .NET RIA Services; for those of you who still don’t know, RIA is an acronym for Rich Internet Applications! Microsoft is leveraging the interoperability of this extensible markup language for the long-proprietary document formats of their Office product suite as part of their Open Specification Promise. Even the Microsoft Interactive Canvas, essentially a table that provides I/O through touch uses a form of XML (XAML) for markup.

Blogosphereans, Security Twits, and other Netizens alike seem to take this Really Simple Syndication thing for granted. Over the past several years or so there’s been a trend of malicious payloads piggybacking on banner ads. Since RSS and Atom are capable of syndicating images as well, I’d like to see a case study detailing the impact of a shellcode-toting image referenced from within an XML-based syndication format. Obvious client-side effects that occur when the end user’s browser renders the image are to be expected (gdiplus.dll, anyone?) What else could be done? Web 2.0 search engines with blog and image search features often pre-process those images into a thumbnail as a part of the indexing process. A little recon might discover the use of libMagick by one and libgd by another. Targeting one specific spiderbot over another could be done by testing the netmask of the source IP address making the TCP connection to the web server or probably even as simple as inspecting the User Agent field in the HTTP request header. Crafting a payload that functions both before and after image resizing or other additional processing (ex. EXIF meta-data removal) would be quite an admirable feat. Notwithstanding, I was quite surprised how much Referer traffic our blog got from after Shane included a picture of the great Charlie Brown in his “Good Grief!” post…but I digress.

Several years ago when I was still living in New York, I became fascinated with the subtle intricacies of XML-DSig while studying some WS-Security literature. XML Signature Validation in particular had attracted my attention in earnest. In addition to the characteristics of traditional digital signatures, XML Signatures exhibit additional idiosyncrasies that require a bit of pragmatism in order to be implemented properly and therefore also to be verified properly as well (ex. by a network security analyst.) This is mainly because of the Transform and Reference elements nested within the Signature elements–References and Transforms govern the data to be provided as input to the DigestMethod which produces the cryptic DigestValue string. A Reference element contains a URI attribute which represents the location of the data to be signed. Depending on the type of Transform element, data first dereferenced from the Reference URI is then transformed (i.e. via an XPath query) prior to signature calculation. That’s essentially how it works. Something that may seem awkward is that the XML being signed can remain exactly the same while the digital signature (e.g. the DigestValue element value) has changed. I’ve decided to leave some strange conditions that often come about as an exercise for the reader:

What happens to an XML Digital Signature if … ?

  • No resource exists at the location referenced by the Reference element’s URI attribute value.
  • A circular reference is formed because a URI attribute value points to another Reference element whose URI attribute value is identical to the first.
  • The URI identifies the Signature element itself.
  • A resource exists at the URI, but it’s empty.
  • The Reference element has a URI attribute value which is an empty string, <Reference URI=””>

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The Philosophical Future of Digital Immunization

digital-trojan-horse-viriiUsually it’s difficult for me to make a correlation between the two primary subjects that I studied in college–computer science and philosophy. The first few things that pop into mind when attempting to relate the two are typically artificial intelligence and ethics. Lately, intuition has caused me to ponder over a direct link between modern philosophy and effective digital security.

More precisely, I’ve been applying the Hegelian dialectic to the contemporary signature-based approach to anti-virus while pontificating with my peers on immediate results; the extended repercussions of this application are even more fascinating. Some of my thoughts on this subject were inspired by assertions of Andrew Jacquith and Dr. Daniel Geer at the Source Boston 2008 security conference. Mr. Geer painted a beautiful analogy between the direction of digital security systems and the natural evolution of biological autoimmune systems during his keynote speech. Mr. Jacquith stated the current functional downfalls of major anti-virus offerings. These two notions became the catalysts for the theoretical reasoning and practical applications I’m about to describe.

Hegel’s dialectic is an explicit formulation of a pattern that tends to occur in progressive ideas. Now bear with me here–In essence, it states that for a given action, an inverse reaction will occur and subsequently the favorable traits of both the action and reaction will be combined; then the process starts over. A shorter way to put it is: thesis, antithesis, synthesis. Note that an antithesis can follow a synthesis and this is what creates the loop. This dialectic is a logical characterization of why great artists are eventually considered revolutionary despite  initial ridicule for rebelling against the norm. When this dialectic is applied to anti-virus, we have: blacklist, whitelist, hybrid mixed-mode. Anti-virus signature databases are a form of blacklisting. Projects such as AFOSI md5deep, NIST NSRL,  and Security Objectives Pass The Hash are all whitelisting technologies.

A successful hybrid application of these remains to be seen since the antithesis (whitelisting) is still a relatively new security technology that isn’t utilized as often as it should be. A black/white-list combo that utilizes chunking for both is the next logical step for future security software. When I say hybrid mixed-mode, I don’t mean running a whitelisting anti-malware tool and traditional anti-virus in tandem although that is an attractive option. A true synthesis would involve an entirely new solution that inherited the best of each parent approach, similar to a mule’s strength and size. The drawbacks of blacklists and whitelists are insecurity and inconvenience, respectively. These and other disadvantages are destined for mitigation with a hybridizing synthesis.

The real problem with mainstream anti-virus software is that it’s not stopping all of the structural variations in malware. PC’s continue to contract virii even when they’re loaded with all the latest anti-virus signatures. This is analogous to a biological virus that becomes resistant to a vaccine through mutation. Signature-based matching was effective for many years but now the total set of malicious code far outweighs legitimate code. To compensate, contemporary anti-virus has been going against Ockham’s Razor by becoming too complex and compounding the problem as a result. It’s time for the security industry to make a long overdue about-face. Keep in mind that I’m not suggesting that there be a defection of current anti-virus software. It does serve a purpose and will become part of the synthesization I show above.

The fundamental change in motivation for digital offensive maneuvers from hobbyist to monetary and geopolitical warrants a paradigm shift in defensive countermeasure implementation. For what it’s worth, I am convinced that the aforementioned technique of whitelisting chunked hashes will be an invaluable force for securing the cloud. It will allow tailored information, metrics and visualizations to be targeted towards various domain-specific applications and veriticals. For example: finance, energy, government, or law enforcement, as well as the associated software inventory and asset management tasks of each. Our Clone Wars presentation featuring Pass The Hash (PTH) at Source Boston and CanSecWest will elaborate on our past few blog posts and much more.. See you there!

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Short-Term Memory

Sometimes I get the feeling that too many Internet users (especially the younger generation) view 1995, or the beginning of commercialized Internet as the start of time itself. More specifically, I notice how people tend to have a short-term memory when it comes to security issues. A recent example of this was all the creative network exploitation scenarios that arose from the great DNS cache poisoning scare of 2008: intercepting e-mails destined for the MX of users who didn’t really click on “Forgot Password,” pushing out phony updates, innovative twists on spear phishing, etc. The fact of the matter is that man-in-the-middle attacks were always a problem; cache poisoning makes them easier but their feasibility has always been within reason. My point is that vendors should address such weaknesses before the proverbial fertilizer hits the windmill.

Too often, short-term memory is the catalyst for reoccurring breaches of information. Sometimes I wonder what (if anything) goes through the mind of one of those celebrities that just got their cell phone hacked for the third time. Maybe it’s something like, “Oh.. those silly hackers! They’ve probably gotten bored by now and they’ll just go away.” Then I wonder how often similar thoughts enter corporate security (in)decision–which is likely to be why cellular carriers neglect to shield their clientele’s voicemail from caller ID spoofing and other shenanigans. Nonetheless, the amusing charade that 2600 pulled on the Obama campaign for April Fool’s Day was simply a case of people believing everything they read on the Internet.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve seen some major improvements in how larger software vendors are dealing with vulnerabilities, but an overwhelming majority of their security processes are still not up to par. Short-term memory is one of those cases where wetware is the weakest link in the system.

The idea of the digital security industry using long-term memory to become more like insurance companies and less like firefighters is quite intriguing. Putting protective forethought into the equation dramatically changes the playing field. Imagine an SDLC where programmers don’t have to know how to write secure code, or even patch vulnerable code for that matter. I can say for sure that such a proposition will become reality in the not too distant future. Stay tuned…

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The Monster Mash


The buzz word “mashup” refers to the tying together of information and functionality from multiple third-party sources. Mashup projects are sure to become a monster of a security problem because of their very nature. This is what John Sluiter of Capgemini predicted at the RSA Europe conference last week during his “Trust in Mashups, the Complex Key” session. This is the abstract:

“Mashups represent a different business model for on-line business and require a specific approach to trust. This session sets out why Mashups are different,  describes how trust should be incorporated into the Mashup-based service using Jericho Forum models and presents three first steps for incorporating trust appropriately into new Mashup services.”

Jericho Forum is the international IT security association that published the COA (Collaboration Oriented Architectures) framework. COA advocates the deperimiterisation approach to security and stresses the importance of protecting data instead of relying on firewalls.

So what happens when data from various third-party sources traverses inharmonious networks, applications, and privilege levels? Inevitably, misidentifications occur; erroneous and/or malicious bytes pass through the perimeters. Sensitive data might be accessed by an unprivileged user or attack strings could be received. A good example of such a vulnerability was in the Microsoft Windows Vista Sidebar; a malicious HTML tag gets rendered by the RSS gadget and since it’s in the local zone, arbitrary JavaScript is executed with full privileges (MS07-048.)

New generations of automated tools will need to be created in order to test applications developed using the mashup approach. Vulnerability scanners like nessus, nikto, and WebInspect are best used to discover known weaknesses in input validation and faulty configurations. What they’re not very good at is pointing out errors in custom business logic and more sophisticated attack vectors; that’s where the value of hiring a consultant to perform manual testing comes in.

Whether it’s intentional or not, how can insecure data be prevented from getting sent to or received from a third-party source? A whitelist can be applied to data that is on its way in or out—this helps, but it can be difficult when there are multiple systems and data encodings involved. There is also the problem of determining the presence of sensitive information.

Detecting transmissions of insecure data can be accomplished with binary analyzers. However, static analyzers are at a big disadvantage because they lack execution context. Dynamic analysis is capable of providing more information for tainting data that comes from third-party sources. They are more adept at recognizing unexpected executions paths that tainted data may take after being received from the network or shared code.

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Exploit One-Liners

Very Small Shell Scripts

Every once in a while there are security vulnerabilities publicized that can be exploited with a single command. This week, Security Objectives published advisories for two such vulnerabilities (SECOBJADV-2008-04 and SECOBJADV-2008-05) which I’ll be describing here. I’ll also be revisiting some one-line exploits from security’s past for nostalgia’s sake and because history tends to repeat itself.

Both issues that were discovered are related to Symantec’s Veritas Storage Foundation Suite. They rely on the default set-uid root bits being set on the affected binaries. Before Symantec and Veritas combined, Sun package manager prompted the administrator with an option of removing the set-id bits. The new Symantec installer just went ahead and set the bits without asking (how rude!)

On to the good stuff.. The first weakness is an uninitialized memory disclosure vulnerability. It can be leveraged like so:

/opt/VRTS/bin/qiomkfile -s 65536 -h 4096 foo

Now, the contents of file .foo (note that it is a dot-file) will contain uninitialized memory from previous file system operations–usually from other users. Sensitive information can be harvested by varying the values to the -s and -h flags over a period of time.

This next one is a bit more critical in terms of privilege escalation. It is somewhat similar to the Solaris srsexec hole from last year. Basically, you can provide any file’s pathname on the command line and have it displayed on stderr. As part of the shell command, I’ve redirected standard error back to standard output.

/opt/VRTSvxfs/sbin/qioadmin -p /etc/shadow / 2>&1

Some of these one-liner exploits can be more useful than exploits that utilize shellcode. Kingcope’s Solaris in.telnetd exploit is a beautiful example of that. The really interesting thing about that one was its resurrection–it originally became well-known back in 1994. In 2007, Kingcope’s version won the Pwnie award for best server-side bug.

telnet -l -fusername hostname

Let’s not forget other timeless classics such as the cgi-bin/phf bug, also from the mid-nineties:


..and Debian’s suidexec hole from the late nineties:

/usr/bin/suidexec /bin/sh /path/to/script

I’m not including exploits that have pipes/semi-colons/backticks/etc. in the command-line because that’s really more than one command being executed. Since the “Ping of Death” is a single command from a commonly installed system utility I’ll be including it here as well. I consider it a true denial of service attack since it does not rely on bandwidth exhaustion:

ping -s70000 -c1 host


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Updating the Updater

Professor John Frink Updates

Attacks against security components have been fairly common on server operating systems for decades; on PC’s this wasn’t always necessary because of security models that resembled swiss cheese. Since the beginning of the 21st century, Microsoft has been working diligently to close obvious holes (for the most part.) As a result, researchers have shifted their focus to the attack surface of security-centric code on PC’s. Case in point; in the past several years we’ve seen loads of advisories released for vulnerabilities in anti-virus software. Read the Yankee Group’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: The Hackers Turn Pro” for a more in-depth analysis of this trend. One area in particular where I feel PC protection is lacking is automated software security update mechanisms; there is a lot of room for improvement.

According to Hewlett-Packard, Digital Equipment Corporation was the first in the industry to perform patch delivery in 1983. Prior to this, updates were commonly delivered on tape by private courier. At one of 2600’s HOPE conferences, Kevin Mitnick spoke about an analog attack he had used to compromise this process during the social engineering panel. The gist of it was that he wore a UPS uniform (procured from a costume store) and delivered the “update” tape to his mark with a login trojan on it. Later, Mitnick became known for using SYN floods and TCP hijacking against Tsutomo Shimomura. Some sources even refer to this sort of digital man-in-the-middle as “The Mitnick Attack.”

Many software update components don’t use public key infrastructure to cryptographically verify the validity of the update server (i.e. SSL) or the updated package (i.e. digital signature.) This is a problem. Impersonating the software update server is usually trivial. Wi-Fi access point impersonation, DNS cache poisoning, ARP spoofing, session hijacking, and compromising the legitimate update server are all possibilities.

Some applications–I’m not going to name any names–rely on HTTP (note that I didn’t say HTTPS) for downloading packages after checking for updates instead of using a separate file transfer manager program or internal update component. This is much easier to reverse engineer than a custom update solution. Sometimes the attacker can allow the real update server to carry out most of the process and simply shoehorn their malcode into the update session(s) after initial preconditions are met.

SSL won’t save the day either unless it’s implemented properly. I’ve seen plaintext updaters with digital signatures that are safer than some HTTPS updaters. Gentoo’s Portage Tree (emerge and ebuild) is a good example of an effective plaintext digital signature approach. See SECOBJADV-2008-01 (CVE-2008-3249) for a description of a software updater with an erroneous SSL implementation.

The issue is further complicated because software updaters themselves need to be updated in order to resolve such vulnerabilities. Typically this requires a major architectural modification. What’s worse is that breaking the updater would force users to manually update. Hoyvin-Glayvin!

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