It’s a privilege escalation vulnerability:
Linux users on Tuesday got a major dose of bad news—a 12-year-old vulnerability in a system tool called Polkit gives attackers unfettered root privileges on machines running most major distributions of the open source operating system.
Previously called PolicyKit, Polkit manages system-wide privileges in Unix-like OSes. It provides a mechanism for nonprivileged processes to safely interact with privileged processes. It also allows users to execute commands with high privileges by using a component called pkexec, followed by the command.
It was discovered in October, and disclosed last week—after most Linux distributions issued patches. Of course, there’s lots of Linux out there that never gets patched, so expect this to be exploited in the wild for a long time.
Of course, this vulnerability doesn’t give attackers access to the system. They have to get that some other way. But if they get access, this vulnerability gives them root privileges.
Posted on January 31, 2022 at 6:18 AM •
If you plug a Razer peripheral (mouse or keyboard, I think) into a Windows 10 or 11 machine, you can use a vulnerability in the Razer Synapse software—which automatically downloads—to gain SYSTEM privileges.
It should be noted that this is a local privilege escalation (LPE) vulnerability, which means that you need to have a Razer devices and physical access to a computer. With that said, the bug is so easy to exploit as you just need to spend $20 on Amazon for Razer mouse and plug it into Windows 10 to become an admin.
Posted on August 26, 2021 at 6:28 AM •
From SentinelLabs, a critical vulnerability in HP printer drivers:
Researchers have released technical details on a high-severity privilege-escalation flaw in HP printer drivers (also used by Samsung and Xerox), which impacts hundreds of millions of Windows machines.
If exploited, cyberattackers could bypass security products; install programs; view, change, encrypt or delete data; or create new accounts with more extensive user rights.
The bug (CVE-2021-3438) has lurked in systems for 16 years, researchers at SentinelOne said, but was only uncovered this year. It carries an 8.8 out of 10 rating on the CVSS scale, making it high-severity.
Look for your printer here, and download the patch if there is one.
EDITED TO ADD (8/13): Here’s a better list of affected HP and Samsung printers.
Posted on July 22, 2021 at 10:41 AM •
Citizen Lab has identified yet another Israeli company that sells spyware to governments around the world: Candiru.
From the report:
- Candiru is a secretive Israel-based company that sells spyware exclusively to governments. Reportedly, their spyware can infect and monitor iPhones, Androids, Macs, PCs, and cloud accounts.
- Using Internet scanning we identified more than 750 websites linked to Candiru’s spyware infrastructure. We found many domains masquerading as advocacy organizations such as Amnesty International, the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as media companies, and other civil-society themed entities.
- We identified a politically active victim in Western Europe and recovered a copy of Candiru’s Windows spyware.
- Working with Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) we analyzed the spyware, resulting in the discovery of CVE-2021-31979 and CVE-2021-33771 by Microsoft, two privilege escalation vulnerabilities exploited by Candiru. Microsoft patched both vulnerabilities on July 13th, 2021.
- As part of their investigation, Microsoft observed at least 100 victims in Palestine, Israel, Iran, Lebanon, Yemen, Spain, United Kingdom, Turkey, Armenia, and Singapore. Victims include human rights defenders, dissidents, journalists, activists, and politicians.
- We provide a brief technical overview of the Candiru spyware’s persistence mechanism and some details about the spyware’s functionality.
- Candiru has made efforts to obscure its ownership structure, staffing, and investment partners. Nevertheless, we have been able to shed some light on those areas in this report.
We’re not going to be able to secure the Internet until we deal with the companies that engage in the international cyber-arms trade.
Posted on July 19, 2021 at 10:54 AM •
Most troublingly, Activision says that the “cheat” tool has been advertised multiple times on a popular cheating forum under the title “new COD hack.” (Gamers looking to flout the rules will typically go to such forums to find new ways to do so.) While the report doesn’t mention which forum they were posted on (that certainly would’ve been helpful), it does say that these offerings have popped up a number of times. They have also been seen advertised in YouTube videos, where instructions were provided on how gamers can run the “cheats” on their devices, and the report says that “comments [on the videos] seemingly indicate people had downloaded and attempted to use the tool.”
Part of the reason this attack could work so well is that game cheats typically require a user to disable key security features that would otherwise keep a malicious program out of their system. The hacker is basically getting the victim to do their own work for them.
“It is common practice when configuring a cheat program to run it the with the highest system privileges,” the report notes. “Guides for cheats will typically ask users to disable or uninstall antivirus software and host firewalls, disable kernel code signing, etc.”
Posted on April 2, 2021 at 6:00 AM •
Interesting research: Earlence Fernandes, Jaeyeon Jung, and Atul Prakash, “Security Analysis of Emerging Smart Home Applications“:
Abstract: Recently, several competing smart home programming frameworks that support third party app development have emerged. These frameworks provide tangible benefits to users, but can also expose users to significant security risks. This paper presents the first in-depth empirical security analysis of one such emerging smart home programming platform. We analyzed Samsung-owned SmartThings, which has the largest number of apps among currently available smart home platforms, and supports a broad range of devices including motion sensors, fire alarms, and door locks. SmartThings hosts the application runtime on a proprietary, closed-source cloud backend, making scrutiny challenging. We overcame the challenge with a static source code analysis of 499 SmartThings apps (called SmartApps) and 132 device handlers, and carefully crafted test cases that revealed many undocumented features of the platform. Our key findings are twofold. First, although SmartThings implements a privilege separation model, we discovered two intrinsic design flaws that lead to significant overprivilege in SmartApps. Our analysis reveals that over 55% of SmartApps in the store are overprivileged due to the capabilities being too coarse-grained. Moreover, once installed, a SmartApp is granted full access to a device even if it specifies needing only limited access to the device. Second, the SmartThings event subsystem, which devices use to communicate asynchronously with SmartApps via events, does not sufficiently protect events that carry sensitive information such as lock codes. We exploited framework design flaws to construct four proof-of-concept attacks that: (1) secretly planted door lock codes; (2) stole existing door lock codes; (3) disabled vacation mode of the home; and (4) induced a fake fire alarm. We conclude the paper with security lessons for the design of emerging smart home programming frameworks.
Research website. News article—copy and paste into a text editor to avoid the ad blocker blocker.
EDITED TO ADD: Another article.
Posted on May 2, 2016 at 9:01 AM •
The Project Zero team at Google has posted details of a new attack that targets a computer’s’ DRAM. It’s called Rowhammer. Here’s a good description:
Here’s how Rowhammer gets its name: In the Dynamic Random Access Memory (DRAM) used in some laptops, a hacker can run a program designed to repeatedly access a certain row of transistors in the computer’s memory, “hammering” it until the charge from that row leaks into the next row of memory. That electromagnetic leakage can cause what’s known as “bit flipping,” in which transistors in the neighboring row of memory have their state reversed, turning ones into zeros or vice versa. And for the first time, the Google researchers have shown that they can use that bit flipping to actually gain unintended levels of control over a victim computer. Their Rowhammer hack can allow a “privilege escalation,” expanding the attacker’s influence beyond a certain fenced-in portion of memory to more sensitive areas.
When run on a machine vulnerable to the rowhammer problem, the process was able to induce bit flips in page table entries (PTEs). It was able to use this to gain write access to its own page table, and hence gain read-write access to all of physical memory.
The cause is simply the super dense packing of chips:
This works because DRAM cells have been getting smaller and closer together. As DRAM manufacturing scales down chip features to smaller physical dimensions, to fit more memory capacity onto a chip, it has become harder to prevent DRAM cells from interacting electrically with each other. As a result, accessing one location in memory can disturb neighbouring locations, causing charge to leak into or out of neighbouring cells. With enough accesses, this can change a cell’s value from 1 to 0 or vice versa.
Very clever, and yet another example of the security interplay between hardware and software.
This kind of thing is hard to fix, although the Google team gives some mitigation techniques at the end of their analysis.
EDITED TO ADD (3/12): Good explanation of the vulnerability.
Posted on March 11, 2015 at 6:16 AM •
It’s easier than you think to create your own police department in the United States.
Yosef Maiwandi formed the San Gabriel Valley Transit Authority—a tiny, privately run nonprofit organization that provides bus rides to disabled people and senior citizens. It operates out of an auto repair shop. Then, because the law seems to allow transit companies to form their own police departments, he formed the San Gabriel Valley Transit Authority Police Department. As a thank you, he made Stefan Eriksson a deputy police commissioner of the San Gabriel Transit Authority Police’s anti-terrorism division, and gave him business cards.
Police departments like this don’t have much legal authority, they don’t really need to. My guess is that the name alone is impressive enough.
In the computer security world, privilege escalation means using some legitimately granted authority to secure extra authority that was not intended. This is a real-world counterpart. Even though transit police departments are meant to police their vehicles only, the title—and the ostensible authority that comes along with it—is useful elsewhere. Someone with criminal intent could easily use this authority to evade scrutiny or commit fraud.
Deal said that his agency has discovered that several railroad agencies around California have created police departments—even though the companies have no rail lines in California to patrol. The police certification agency is seeking to decertify those agencies because it sees no reason for them to exist in California.
The issue of private transit firms creating police agencies has in recent years been a concern in Illinois, where several individuals with criminal histories created railroads as a means of forming a police agency.
The real problem is that we’re too deferential to police power. We don’t know the limits of police authority, whether it be an airport policeman or someone with a business card from the “San Gabriel Valley Transit Authority Police Department.”
Posted on March 15, 2006 at 7:47 AM •
I just found an interesting paper: “Windows Access Control Demystified,” by Sudhakar Govindavajhala and Andrew W. Appel. Basically, they show that companies like Adobe, Macromedia, etc., have mistakes in their Access Control Programming that open security holes in Windows XP.
In the Secure Internet Programming laboratory at Princeton University, we have been investigating network security management by using logic programming. We developed a rule based framework—Multihost, Multistage, Vulnerability Analysis(MulVAL)—to perform end-to-end, automatic analysis of multi-host, multi-stage attacks on a large network where hosts run different operating systems. The tool finds attack paths where the adversary will have to use one or more than one weaknesses (buffer overflows) in multiple software to attack the network. The MulVAL framework has been demonstrated to be modular, flexible, scalable and efficient . We applied these techniques to perform security analysis of a single host with commonly used software.
We have constructed a logical model of Windows XP access control, in a declarative but executable (Datalog) format. We have built a scanner that reads access-control conguration information from the Windows registry, file system, and service control manager database, and feeds raw conguration data to the model. Therefore we can reason about such things as the existence of privilege-escalation attacks, and indeed we have found several user-to-administrator vulnerabilities caused by misconfigurations of the access-control lists of commercial software from several major vendors. We propose tools such as ours as a vehicle for software developers and system administrators to model and debug the complex interactions of access control on installations under Windows.
EDITED TO ADD (2/13): Ed Felten has some good commentary about the paper on his blog.
Posted on February 13, 2006 at 12:11 PM •
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.