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

7/24/2013
01:11 AM
50%
50%

Visualization Helps Attackers Spot Flaws In Software's Armor

Using data visualization techniques, researchers make memory and randomization flaws easier to recognize, spotting vulnerabilities in anti-exploitation technology such as ASLR and DEP

Simple data visualization techniques can be used to find weaknesses in the software technologies designed to protect operating systems from exploitation, according to a pair of researchers who will present their findings at Black Hat USA next week.

Click here for more of Dark Reading's Black Hat articles.

The researchers, Georg Wicherski and Alexandru Radocea of security startup CrowdStrike, used space-filling fractals known as Hilbert Curves--the most famous of which are the heat maps for visualizing the Internet's address space--to map out memory page tables, using brighter colors to indicate more dangerous areas. The technique can help researchers better see problems in anti-exploitation techniques such as address-space layout randomization (ASLR) and data-execution prevention (DEP), Wicherski says.

"We wanted to find ways to make these concepts more accessible to more researchers," he says. "How do you see what is randomized, what is not randomized, and what is a potential vulnerability?"

Using the techniques, the researchers found that Android and other versions of Linux have flaws on the ARM architecture that significantly weaken exploitation mitigations. On ARM, the whole Linux kernel memory area is both writable and executable, allowing any memory-corruption bug to overwrite the kernel code, Wicherski says.

"You don't have to do any advanced exploitation techniques on ARM at all," Wicherski says.

The researchers also plan to demonstrate some weaknesses of iOS using visualizations of the operating system's address space.

To produce the maps, the researchers first categorized areas of memory by their permissions, whether each one was writable, executable or both. Attackers look for pages that are writable and executable and in a consistent location, because they can write their own malicious code to that section of memory and then execute it.

[Attackers cheated two widely respected Microsoft security features to wage targeted attacks via a previously unknown flaw in Internet Explorer. See New IE Zero-Day Attack Bypasses Key Microsoft Security Measures.]

Technologies like data-execution prevention (DEP) attempt to virtually separate the parts of memory to which data can be written and the parts of memory that can be executed. Address space layout randomization (ASLR) makes it hard for attackers to know where a certain section of memory will be located. Analyzing the implementation of these technologies can be hard, but visualization can help researchers spot patterns that they might not otherwise detect, says Ollie Whitehouse, associate director of the NCC Group, a security testing and compliance firm.

"Being able to identify pages that are both readable and writable is important," Whitehouse says. "The way that they did it is innovative, because humans are very visual and good at pattern recognition, so giving them visual representations of these problems can work extremely well."

The technique does not work against logic flaws or other types of code analysis. Yet, it could be a useful way for developers to visualize the way their code uses memory and more easily spot implementation flaws, says CrowdStrike's Wicherski. Vulnerability researchers can also use it to gauge the relative strength of a program's mitigations.

"If you have a new operating system that you want to attack and you want to understand how these mitigations work there and how effective they are, you can use this as a real tool," he says.

In addition, the technique could help developers that are not intimately familiar with how to identify and find memory flaws and weaknesses to see problems with their code, says NCC Group's Whitehouse.

"If you take security problems into the visualization realm, you open them up to people who might not be hardcore reverse engineers and security software analysts," he says.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Add Your Comment" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message. Veteran technology journalist of more than 20 years. Former research engineer. Written for more than two dozen publications, including CNET News.com, Dark Reading, MIT's Technology Review, Popular Science, and Wired News. Five awards for journalism, including Best Deadline ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Mobile Banking Malware Up 50% in First Half of 2019
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  1/17/2020
Active Directory Needs an Update: Here's Why
Raz Rafaeli, CEO and Co-Founder at Secret Double Octopus,  1/16/2020
New Attack Campaigns Suggest Emotet Threat Is Far From Over
Jai Vijayan, Contributing Writer,  1/16/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Current Issue
The Year in Security: 2019
This Tech Digest provides a wrap up and overview of the year's top cybersecurity news stories. It was a year of new twists on old threats, with fears of another WannaCry-type worm and of a possible botnet army of Wi-Fi routers. But 2019 also underscored the risk of firmware and trusted security tools harboring dangerous holes that cybercriminals and nation-state hackers could readily abuse. Read more.
Flash Poll
How Enterprises are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
How Enterprises are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
Organizations have invested in a sweeping array of security technologies to address challenges associated with the growing number of cybersecurity attacks. However, the complexity involved in managing these technologies is emerging as a major problem. Read this report to find out what your peers biggest security challenges are and the technologies they are using to address them.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2020-5216
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-23
In Secure Headers (RubyGem secure_headers), a directive injection vulnerability is present in versions before 3.9.0, 5.2.0, and 6.3.0. If user-supplied input was passed into append/override_content_security_policy_directives, a newline could be injected leading to limited header injection. Upon seei...
CVE-2020-5217
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-23
In Secure Headers (RubyGem secure_headers), a directive injection vulnerability is present in versions before 3.8.0, 5.1.0, and 6.2.0. If user-supplied input was passed into append/override_content_security_policy_directives, a semicolon could be injected leading to directive injection. This could b...
CVE-2020-5223
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-23
In PrivateBin versions 1.2.0 before 1.2.2, and 1.3.0 before 1.3.2, a persistent XSS attack is possible. Under certain conditions, a user provided attachment file name can inject HTML leading to a persistent Cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerability. The vulnerability has been fixed in PrivateBin v1.3...
CVE-2019-20399
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-23
A timing vulnerability in the Scalar::check_overflow function in Parity libsecp256k1-rs before 0.3.1 potentially allows an attacker to leak information via a side-channel attack.
CVE-2020-7915
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-22
An issue was discovered on Eaton 5P 850 devices. The Ubicacion SAI field allows XSS attacks by an administrator.