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.

Vulnerabilities / Threats

10/29/2008
04:44 PM
Connect Directly
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Hack Turns Application Code Against Itself

New attack uses application flaws to force good code to go rogue

Turns out you don't need malware to exploit a security flaw in an application: A pair of researchers has found a way to automatically make good code do bad things.

Researchers from the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) have devised a technique that basically lets an attacker bypass built-in system defenses aimed at blocking malware, and then execute instructions from inside the application. The process uses an application's vulnerability to turn it against the system on which it runs.

An attacker could take advantage of a flaw in a Web browser, for instance, to force the browser to spam the user's address book using only the browser's own code, according to the researchers.

"Most computer security defenses are based on the notion that preventing the introduction of malicious code is sufficient to protect a computer," said Stefan Savage, a UCSD computer science professor and co-author of the newly published paper, "When Good Instructions Go Bad: Generalizing Return-Oriented Programming to RISC" (PDF). "This assumption is at the core of trusted computing, antivirus software, and various defenses like Intel and AMD's no-execute protections. There is a subtle fallacy in the logic, however: Simply keeping out bad code is not sufficient to keep out bad computation."

Another UCSD researcher at Black Hat USA in August demonstrated a more manual technique for this -- against x86-based systems. But UCSD graduate students Erik Buchanan and Ryan Roemer in this latest research took it to the next level and automated the process, as well as extended it to RISC-based processors.

The researchers automated the development of malicious programs from code with "gadgets" to streamline the process. Since malware isn't involved, an attacker could hijack the application and force it to behave badly.

"The researchers' breakthrough is the ability to quickly extract patterns that can be used in such an attack to execute instructions that should be prevented by the OS," as well as using this so-called return-oriented technique against the RISC processing platform, says Pierre-Marc Bureau, a researcher with Eset.

While such an attack isn't likely a big threat today, it demonstrates how seemingly benign software bugs could become lethal. "You're not going to bother fixing a buffer overflow because it doesn't seem exploitable. But this shows that these kinds of flaws might be exploitable [after all] with these techniques," says Chris Wysopal, CTO at Veracode. "These aren't new exploits. But they are coming up with a generalized technique for exploiting some of those vulnerabilities we already know about."

Such an attack would take a relatively skilled hacker, says Randy Abrams, director of technical education at Eset. "For the criminal element, they'll go after the low-hanging fruit, and that is the user," Abrams says.

Aside from fixing certain types of application flaws or creating other security measures to protect against such attacks, the researchers say their finding could shift the focus to more behavior-based security. "We may be forced to abandon the convenient model that code is statically either good or bad, and instead focus on dynamically distinguishing whether a particular execution stream exhibits good or bad behavior," they wrote in their paper.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.

Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
News
A Startup With NSA Roots Wants Silently Disarming Cyberattacks on the Wire to Become the Norm
Kelly Jackson Higgins, Executive Editor at Dark Reading,  5/11/2021
Edge-DRsplash-10-edge-articles
Cybersecurity: What Is Truly Essential?
Joshua Goldfarb, Director of Product Management at F5,  5/12/2021
Commentary
3 Cybersecurity Myths to Bust
Etay Maor, Sr. Director Security Strategy at Cato Networks,  5/11/2021
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Write a Caption, Win an Amazon Gift Card! Click Here
Latest Comment: Google Maps is taking "interactive" to a whole new level!
Current Issue
2021 Top Enterprise IT Trends
We've identified the key trends that are poised to impact the IT landscape in 2021. Find out why they're important and how they will affect you today!
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-2020-18194
PUBLISHED: 2021-05-17
Cross Site Scripting (XSS) in emlog v6.0.0 allows remote attackers to execute arbitrary code by adding a crafted script as a link to a new blog post.
CVE-2020-18195
PUBLISHED: 2021-05-17
Cross Site Request Forgery (CSRF) in Pluck CMS v4.7.9 allows remote attackers to execute arbitrary code and delete a specific article via the component " /admin.php?action=page."
CVE-2020-18198
PUBLISHED: 2021-05-17
Cross Site Request Forgery (CSRF) in Pluck CMS v4.7.9 allows remote attackers to execute arbitrary code and delete specific images via the component " /admin.php?action=images."
CVE-2020-21831
PUBLISHED: 2021-05-17
A heap based buffer overflow vulnerability exists in GNU LibreDWG 0.10 via read_2004_section_handles ../../src/decode.c:2637.
CVE-2020-21842
PUBLISHED: 2021-05-17
A heap based buffer overflow vulnerability exists in GNU LibreDWG 0.10 via read_2004_section_revhistory ../../src/decode.c:3051.