Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Threat Intelligence

New Speculative Execution Vulnerability Gives CISOs a New Reason to Lose Sleep

The vulnerability, dubbed SWAPGS, is an undetectable threat to data security, similar in some respects to Spectre and Meltdown.

Bogdan Botezatu, director of threat research at BitDefender, leans across the table in a hotel lobby coffee shop to make his point. "When you're a CISO, there is no single of vulnerability you're aware of that doesn't keep you awake at night." The new vulnerability his team of researchers found — the vulnerability they will reveal in a press conference this evening — is one that he says should definitely contribute to CISO insomnia.

The new vulnerability, dubbed SWAPGS by the BitDefender research team, is a speculative execution vulnerability that Botezatu says is similar in some respects to Spectre and Meltdown. "What we have done is to manipulate this instruction called SWAPGS in order to sample information from the realm of the operating system memory into the user space," he explains.

SWAPGS is an instruction that swaps the contents of a particular register with the contents of a specific memory location. The instruction is defined as a privileged instruction that should be available only to system software, such as a hypervisor. One of the things that makes the instruction dangerous when exploited is that it can provide rapid access to certain data structures used by the operating system kernel.

When the instruction is manipulated, Botezatu says, "This can lead to all sorts of trouble like leaking out information about passwords, encryption, keys, tokens, authentication, cookies, and other sensitive information that goes through the processor."

Like many of the other speculative execution exploits that have been found, SWAPGS doesn't allow the attacker to manipulate the data being stored in the memory location — it only allows for the contents of that memory location to be monitored. "You just poke the memory, and run a time-based attack. If it's something interesting, it's fine. If not, you have just lost 20 seconds and you need to go back to square one," Botezatu explains.

As with most of the other speculative execution attacks, Botezatu sees SWAPGS as something that could be a tool for patient nation-state actors, not finance-focused criminals. Criminal actors, he says, can simply launch repeated phishing attacks to get the information that might become available through SWAPGS.

Still, he points out, a speculative execution attack like SWAPGS is dangerous because it bypasses hardware-based protection and is undetectable by normal security packages. Furthermore, while BitDefender followed responsible disclosure and Microsoft has issued a Window patch for the vulnerability, Botezatu says, "We know that in enterprises, patch adoption is not something that happens overnight. That can take anywhere from one to 180 days, if you're lucky."

Related content:

 

Black Hat USA returns to Las Vegas with hands-on technical Trainings, cutting-edge Briefings, Arsenal open-source tool demonstrations, top-tier security solutions, and service providers in the Business Hall. Click for information on the conference and to register.

Curtis Franklin Jr. is Senior Analyst at Omdia, focusing on enterprise security management. Curtis has been writing about technologies and products in computing and networking since the early 1980s. He has been on staff and contributed to technology-industry publications ... View Full Bio
 

Recommended Reading:

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Commentary
Ransomware Is Not the Problem
Adam Shostack, Consultant, Entrepreneur, Technologist, Game Designer,  6/9/2021
Edge-DRsplash-11-edge-ask-the-experts
How Can I Test the Security of My Home-Office Employees' Routers?
John Bock, Senior Research Scientist,  6/7/2021
News
New Ransomware Group Claiming Connection to REvil Gang Surfaces
Jai Vijayan, Contributing Writer,  6/10/2021
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Write a Caption, Win an Amazon Gift Card! Click Here
Latest Comment: Google's new See No Evil policy......
Current Issue
The State of Cybersecurity Incident Response
In this report learn how enterprises are building their incident response teams and processes, how they research potential compromises, how they respond to new breaches, and what tools and processes they use to remediate problems and improve their cyber defenses for the future.
Flash Poll
How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
Recent breaches of third-party apps are driving many organizations to think harder about the security of their off-the-shelf software as they continue to move left in secure software development practices.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2021-31664
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-18
RIOT-OS 2021.01 before commit 44741ff99f7a71df45420635b238b9c22093647a contains a buffer overflow which could allow attackers to obtain sensitive information.
CVE-2021-33185
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-18
SerenityOS contains a buffer overflow in the set_range test in TestBitmap which could allow attackers to obtain sensitive information.
CVE-2021-33186
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-18
SerenityOS in test-crypto.cpp contains a stack buffer overflow which could allow attackers to obtain sensitive information.
CVE-2021-31272
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-18
SerenityOS before commit 3844e8569689dd476064a0759d704bc64fb3ca2c contains a directory traversal vulnerability in tar/unzip that may lead to command execution or privilege escalation.
CVE-2021-31660
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-18
RIOT-OS 2021.01 before commit 85da504d2dc30188b89f44c3276fc5a25b31251f contains a buffer overflow which could allow attackers to obtain sensitive information.