CVE-2013-4788 - Eglibc PTR MANGLE vulnerability

Authors:Hector Marco & Ismael Ripoll
Dates:March 2013 - Discovered the vulnerability


This vulnerability was discovered in March 2013 while we were developing the RAF SSP technique. The glibc vulnerability makes it easy to take advantage of common errors such as buffer overflows allows in these cases redirect the execution flow and potentially execute arbitrary code.


All statically linked applications compiled with glibc and eglibc are affected, independent of the operating system distribution. Note that this problem is not solved by only patching the eglibc, but it is also necessary to recompile all static executables.
As far I know there are a lot of routers, embedded systems etc., which use static linked applications. Since the vulnerability is from the beginning of the PTR_MANGLE implementations (years 2005-2006) there are a ton of vulnerable devices.

Vulnerable packages

The vulnerability has been propagated to all the static code compiled with all versions, on all architectures, of glibc from 2.4 (06-Mar-2006) to 2.17 (Current version).


The vulnerability is caused due to the non initialization to a random value (it is always zero) of the "pointer guard" by the glibc only when generating static compiled executables. Dynamic executables are not affected. Pointer guard is used to mangle the content of sensible pointers (longjmp, signal handlers, etc.), if the pointer guard value is zero (non-initialized) then it is not effective.

An example:
Library functions like "setjmp()" or "longjmp()" use PTR_MANGLE and PTR_DEMANGLE. These macros are used to protect structures like jmp_buf. Basically consist on XOR-ing the pointer value with a random 32/64-bit value. Since the pointer guard (random value) is 0x0 the attacker can easily calculate off-line the value of a target address. By overwriting the "env" structure with the pre-computed address the vulnerability is triggered when longjmp() is called and the execution flow is redirected to attacker address.


The vulnerability was tested with Debian 7.1 and Ubunu 12.04 LTS and 13.04). I already created a proof of concept to exploit this vulnerability for 32 and 64 bits x86 architectures as well as ARM.

The proof of concept poc-bug-mangle.c redirect the execution flow to a function which prompt a shell. This exploit can be compiled for i386, x86_64 and ARM architectures. More architectures can be added easily by adding the correspondent defines.

Compilation for i386:
  gcc poc-bug-mangle.c -o poc-bug-mangle -static
Compilation for x86_64:
  gcc poc-bug-mangle.c -o poc-bug-mangle_32 -static -m32
  gcc poc-bug-mangle.c -o poc-bug-mangle_64 -static -m64
Execution output:$ ./poc-bug-mangle_32
  [+] Exploiting ...
  [+] hacked !!
Compilation for ARM on x86:
  arm-linux-gnueabi-gcc poc-bug-mangle.c -o poc-bug-mangle_arm -static
Execution output on non-native ARM:$ qemu-arm ./poc-bug-mangle_arm
  [+] Exploiting ...
  [+] hacked !!
Note: Pointer mangling is not yet supported on ARM for eglibc <= 2.17


Note that the bug can not be fixed only by patching the eglibc. It is necessary to recompile all static executables. I have created a non official patch for eglibc-2.17.

Patch for eglibc 2.17:
  diff -rupN glibc-2.17/csu/libc-start.c glibc-2.17-mangle-fix/csu/libc-start.c
  --- glibc-2.17/csu/libc-start.c 2012-12-25 04:02:13.000000000 +0100
  +++ glibc-2.17-mangle-fix/csu/libc-start.c      2013-07-10 00:13:48.000000000 +0200
  @@ -38,6 +38,12 @@ extern void __pthread_initialize_minimal
      in thread local area.  */
   uintptr_t __stack_chk_guard attribute_relro;
   # endif
  +uintptr_t __pointer_chk_guard_local
  +     attribute_relro attribute_hidden __attribute__ ((nocommon));
  +# endif
  @@ -184,6 +190,14 @@ LIBC_START_MAIN (int (*main) (int, char
   # else
     __stack_chk_guard = stack_chk_guard;
   # endif
  +    uintptr_t pointer_chk_guard = _dl_setup_pointer_guard (_dl_random,
  +                          stack_chk_guard);
  +      THREAD_SET_POINTER_GUARD (pointer_chk_guard);
  +# else
  +      __pointer_chk_guard_local = pointer_chk_guard;
  +# endif
     /* Register the destructor of the dynamic linker if there is any.  */
[ ptr_mangle-eglibc-2.17.patch ]

Patching eglibc-2.17:
  cd glibc-2.17
  patch -p1 < ../ptr_mangle-eglibc-2.17.patch


Although this vulnerability is not exploitable by itself, the truth is that the PTR Mangle encryption is useless. The goal of the protection technique is not achieved.
This can be seen as the canary stack is set to 0x0, although is not exploitable by itself is clearly an issue. What about whether the canary has been set to zero from 2006 to today ? This is what happened with the pointers protected with this mechanism.

According to Ulrich Drepper to use "encryption pointers (instead of canaries) to protect structures like jmp_buf is at least as secure and in addition faster". Following the above and since the protection mechanism is useless from the first implementation, the number of potentially affected systems could be huge.

Hector Marco -