This Week In Security: XZ, ATT, And Letters Of Marque

The xz backdoor is naturally still the top story of the week. If you need a refresher, see our previous coverage. As expected, some very talented reverse engineers have gone to work on the code, and we have a much better idea of what the injected payload does.

One of the first findings to note is that the backdoor doesn’t allow a user to log in over SSH. Instead, when an SSH request is signed with the right authentication key, one of the certificate fields is decoded and executed via a system() call. And this makes perfect sense. An SSH login leaves an audit trail, while this backdoor is obviously intended to be silent and secret.

It’s interesting to note that this code made use of both autotools macros, and the GNU ifunc, or Indirect FUNCtions. That’s the nifty feature where a binary can include different versions of a function, each optimized for a different processor instruction set. The right version of the function gets called at runtime. Or in this case, the malicious version of that function gets hooked in to execution by a malicious library. Continue reading “This Week In Security: XZ, ATT, And Letters Of Marque”

Security Alert: Potential SSH Backdoor Via Liblzma

In breaking news that dropped just after our weekly security column went live, a backdoor has been discovered in the xz package, that could potentially compromise SSH logins on Linux systems. The most detailed analysis so far seems to be by [Andres Freund] on the oss-security list.

The xz release tarballs from 5.6.0 in late February and 5.6.1 on March 9th both contain malicious code. A pair of compressed files in the repository contain the majority of the malicious patch, disguised as test files. In practice, this means that looking at the repository doesn’t reveal anything amiss, but downloading the release tarballs gives you the compromised code.

This was discovered because SSH logins on a Debian sid were taking longer, with more CPU cycles than expected. And interestingly, Valgrind was throwing unexpected errors when running on the liblzma library. That last bit was first discovered on February 24th, immediately after the 5.6.0 release. The xz-utils package failed its tests on Gentoo builds.

Continue reading “Security Alert: Potential SSH Backdoor Via Liblzma”

Webserver Runs On Android Phone

Android, the popular mobile phone OS, is essentially just Linux with a nice user interface layer covering it all up. In theory, it should be able to do anything a normal computer running Linux could do. And, since most web servers in the world are running Linux, [PelleMannen] figured his Android phone could run a web server just as well as any other Linux machine and built this webpage that’s currently running on a smartphone, with an additional Reddit post for a little more discussion.

The phone uses Termux (which we’ve written about briefly before) to get to a Bash shell on the Android system. Before that happens, though, some setup needs to take place largely involving installing F-Droid through which Termux can be installed. From there the standard SSH and Apache servers can be installed as if the phone were running a normal Linux The rest of the installation involves tricking the phone into thinking it’s a full-fledged computer including a number of considerations to keep the phone from halting execution when the screen locks and other phone-specific issues.

With everything up and running, [PelleMannen] reports that it runs surprisingly well with the small ARM system outputting almost no heat. Since the project page is being hosted on this phone we can’t guarantee that the link above works, though, and it might get a few too many requests to stay online. We wish it were a little easier to get our pocket-sized computers to behave in similar ways to our regular laptops and PCs (even if they don’t have quite the same amount of power) but if you’re dead-set on repurposing an old phone we’ve also seen them used to great effect in place of a Raspberry Pi.

This Week In Security: Bitwarden, Reverse RDP, And Snake

This week, we finally get the inside scoops on some old stories, starting with the Bitwarden Windows Hello problem from last year. You may remember, Bitwarden has an option to use Windows Hello as a vault unlock option. Unfortunately, the Windows credential API doesn’t actually encrypt credentials in a way that requires an additional Windows Hello verification to unlock. So a derived key gets stored to the credential manager, and can be retrieved through a simple API call. No additional biometrics needed. Even with the Bitwarden vault locked and application closed.

There’s another danger, that doesn’t even require access to the the logged-in machine. On a machine that is joined to a domain, Windows backs up those encryption keys to the Domain Controller. The encrypted vault itself is available on a domain machine over SMB by default. A compromised domain controller could snag a bitwarden vault without ever even running code on the target machine. The good news is that this particular problem with Bitwarden and Windows Hello is now fixed, and has been since version 2023.10.1.

Reverse RDP Exploitation

We normally think about the Remote Desktop Protocol as dangerous to expose to the internet. And it is. Don’t put your RDP service online. But reverse RDP is the idea that it might also be dangerous to connect an RDP client to a malicious server. And of course, multiple RDP implementations have this problem. There’s rdesktop, FreeRDP, and Microsoft’s own mstsc that all have vulnerabilities relating to reverse RDP.

The technical details here aren’t terribly interesting. It’s all variations on the theme of not properly checking remote data from the server, and hence either reading or writing past internal buffers. This results in various forms of information leaks and code executions problems. What’s interesting is the different responses to the findings, and then [Eyal Itkin]’s takeaway about how security researchers should approach vulnerability disclosure.

So first up, Microsoft dismissed a vulnerability as unworthy of servicing. And then proceeded to research it internally, and present it as a novel attack without properly attributing [Eyal] for the original find. rdesktop contained quite a few of these issues, but were able to fix the problem in a handful of months. FreeRDP fixed some issues right away, in what could be described as a whack-a-mole style process, but a patch was cooked up that would actually address the problem at a deeper level: changing an API value from the unsigned size_t to a signed ssize_t. That change took a whopping 2 years to actually make it out to the world in a release. Why so long? Continue reading “This Week In Security: Bitwarden, Reverse RDP, And Snake”

This Week In Security: Triangulation, ProxyCommand, And Barracuda

It’s not every day we get to take a good look inside a high-level exploit chain developed by an unnamed APT from the western world. But thanks to some particularly dedicated researchers at Kaspersky, which just happens to be headquartered in Moscow, that’s exactly what we have today. The name Operation Triangulation was picked, based off part of the device fingerprinting code that rendered a yellow triangle on an HTML canvas.

The entire talk is available, given this week at the 37th Chaos Communication Congress, 37c3. The exploit starts with an iMessage attachment, delivered silently, that exploits an undocumented TrueType font instruction. Looking at the source code implies that it was a copy-paste error where a programmer didn’t quite get the logic right for a pointer calculation. That vulnerability gives a memory write primitive that pivots into code execution. What’s particularly interesting is that Apple silently fixed this bug January 2023, and didn’t make any public statements. Presumably there were an uptick of crash logs that pointed to this problem, but didn’t conclusively show attempted exploitation.

The exploits then moves to using NSExpression as a next stage. NSExpression is an ugly way to write code, but it does allow the exploit chain to get to the next stage, running JavaScript as an application, without Just In Time compilation. The JS payload is quite a beast, weighing in at 11,000 lines of obfuscated code. It manages to call native APIs directly from JS, which then sets up a kernel exploit. This is multiple integer overflow flaws that result in essentially arbitrary system memory reads and writes. Continue reading “This Week In Security: Triangulation, ProxyCommand, And Barracuda”

This Week In Security: SSH, FTP, And Reptar

It’s time to strap on our propeller beanies, because we’re going to talk crypto. The short version is that some SSH handshakes can expose enough information for a third party to obtain the host’s private signing key. That key is the one that confirms you are connecting to the SSH server you think you are, and if the key validation fails, you get a big warning:


The math that makes this warning work is public-private key cryptography. The problem we’re talking about today only shows up in RSA authentication. Specifically those that use the Chinese Remainder Theorem (CRT) to quickly calculate the modulos needed to generate the cryptographic signature. If something goes wrong during that calculation, you end up with a signature that is mathematically related to the secret key in a different way than intended. The important point is that knowing this extra value *significantly* weakens the security of the secret key.

This attack has been known for quite some time, but the research has been aimed at causing the calculation fault through power vaults or even memory attacks like Rowhammer. There has also been progress on using a lattice attack against captured handshakes, to make the attack practical with less known information. The real novel element of this week’s approach (pdf) is that it has been tested against SSH.

The paper’s authors performed weekly scans of the entire IPv4 public network space, capturing the handshake from any listening SSH server, and also had 5 years of historic data to draw from. And the results are mixed. There is a Cisco SSH server string that is extremely common in the dataset, and only once did one of these machines send a miscalculated handshake. Possibly a random ram bit flip to blame. And on the other hand, the string “SSH-2.0-Zyxel SSH server” had so many bad signatures, it suggests a device that *always* sends a miscalculated signature. Continue reading “This Week In Security: SSH, FTP, And Reptar”

SSH Can Handle Spaces In Command-line Arguments Strangely

One of the things ssh can do is execute a command on a remote server. Most of us expect it to work transparently when doing so, simply passing the command and its arguments on without any surprises in the process. But after 23 years of using OpenSSH on a nearly daily basis, [Martin Kjellstrand] got surprised.

It turns out that the usual rules around how things are parsed can have some troublesome edge cases when spaces are involved. [Martin] kicks off an example in the following way:

One would reasonably expect the commands figlet foobar bar\ baz and ssh localhost figlet foobar bar\ baz to be functionally equivalent, right? The former ultimately runs the command “figlet” with arguments “foobar” and “bar baz” on the local machine. The second does the same, except with ssh being involved in the middle. As mentioned, one would expect both commands to be functionally identical, but that’s not what happens. What happens is that ssh turns bar\ baz into two distinctly separate command-line arguments in the process of sending it for remote execution: “bar” and “baz”. The result is mystification as the command fails to run the way the user expects, if it runs at all.

What exactly is going on, here? [Martin] goes into considerable detail tracking down this odd behavior and how it happens, but he’s unable to ultimately explain why ssh does things this way. He suspects that it is the result of some design decision taken long ago. Or perhaps a bug that has, over time, been promoted to entrenched quirk.

Do you have any insights or knowledge about this behavior? If so, [Martin] wants to hear about it and so do we, so don’t keep it to yourself! Let us know in the comments, below.