Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Backward Compatibility Plays to Malware’s Hands

Backward Compatibility Plays to Malware’s Hands:
Maintaining backward compatibility in software products is
hard. Technology evolves on a daily basis, and while it feels “right” to go
ahead and ditch the old technology in favor of the new, it sometimes might
cause issues, especially when a software platform which millions of developers develop
for is in question. However, it turns out that the desire of software vendors
to keep backward compatibly is abused by malware authors.
Let’s have a look at a piece of malware recently spotted in
the wild:

Most of you will find it familiar, since it is the latest MS
XML Core Services vulnerability (CVE-2012-1889) along with the notorious
heaplib which became popular once more thanks to this vulnerability. But wait,
something is weird about this snippet from heaplib… look at the if-else
statement at the beginning of the screenshot – it was modified from the
original version and now has those semicolons. So why did the malware authors
put them there?
Let’s have a look at a simpler case:

All modern browsers consider this code as an invalid
JavaScript, and won’t execute even a single line of it. IE, on the other hand,
considers this as a perfectly legitimate JavaScript, and will execute the alert
function with x=3.
So why did the malware author modify heaplib like this? It
should be quite clear now that:
  1. It can be used as an
    evasion technique and avoid running unnecessary heap spraying on browsers that
    aren’t relevant to this specific CVE.
  2. It can be used as a method
    to trick various dynamic analysis engines such as Wepawet and JS-Unpack. Such
    engines usually handle well only strict JavaScript, based on the RFC, without
    vendor quirks.
Great, so we know what the problem is, and what it is good
for, but what about a solution?

We tried to get an answer from MS regarding why would IE allow such syntax for
JavaScript, and were responded that it is supported in IE versions <9 and in
the compatibility mode of 9 and 10. Since the compatibility mode can be easily
requested by the page (X-UA-Compatible), even users who use the most modern
version of Microsoft’s browsers are still vulnerable to this trick.
We learn 2 things from this event:
  1. Straying too far away from
    standards and supporting all sorts of quirks not only can, but will, turn into a
    security risk.
  2. Malware authors continue
    with their efforts to not only discover new vulnerabilities, but also to find interesting
    to evade security engines.
Unfortunately, it is not possible to force IE to use the
standards mode for internet sites, so our best advice for IE users would be to
keep the system up-to-date with the latest security updates at all times.