Skip to main content
August 12, 2008

BlackHat Recap

Another BlackHat has come and gone. As usual, it was a very busy week juggling customer meetings, recruiting, conference planning, vendor parties, and, oh yes, the actual BlackHat presentation My favorite talk, as expected, was the Sotirov/Dowd talk on "How To Impress Girls With Browser Memory Protection Bypasses". The attack is a conceptually simple, yet completely reliable technique for exploiting vulnerabilities in web browsers. Of course, the media has sensationalized the impact of their findings, but ultimately, this is still significant as far as browser-based exploits are concerned (here is a more accurate report). It's worth mentioning that part of the technique allowing them to load a .NET DLL at an arbitrary location under Vista was reliant on an implementation bug wherein the OS disables ASLR if the version in the .NET COR header was below a certain value. However, the address space spraying and stack spraying techniques are likely to be extended to other platforms utilizing similar memory protection mechanisms.s. I had a fantastic time catching up with old friends and finally getting the opportunity to meet more of the Security Twits and others in the security community. I didn't submit a talk this year, but nevertheless, fake Dan Kaminsky was still excited to see me. As for the girls? I can report first-hand that the ladies at TAO on Wednesday night were hanging on Alex's every word. They were particularly impressed when he whipped out the laptop for a live demo. Unfortunately, none of the dozen iPhone owners in the immediate vicinity thought to snap a picture (too busy Twittering). Oh well. I also enjoyed Hovav Shacham's talk on return-oriented programming. Simply put, he described a generalization of the return-to-libc shellcode approach with the intent to demonstrate that one could achieve Turing-complete computation using "found code" in process images. By chaining together series of mini-computations ending in return (RET) instructions, it was possible to build higher-level programming constructs such as branches and loops. The nature of the x86 instruction set provides some flexibility because instructions are interpreted differently depending on how you align the instruction pointer (i.e. the old shellcode trick of searching the process image for any JMP EBX instruction and using that as your EIP). In RISC architectures such as SPARC, however, you don't have that luxury; if your %pc isn't aligned properly you get a bus error. So it was quite interesting to see that they were able to extend the concept to RISC. The practicality of the attack technique is limited by the fact that the shellcode is tuned to a particular binary image -- if the shellcode was built using instructions extrapolated from glibc 2.3.5, it won't work for a system running glibc 2.4. I thought Scott Stender's talk on Concurrency Attacks in Web Applications was interesting as well. In a nutshell, spewing thousands of simultaneous requests at web application transactions that are not thread-safe can create interesting problems. In the presentation, Scott ran his demo against a VM running on the attack machine. I found myself wondering how effective the same attack would be over the Internet -- would it be significantly less reliable (or not at all)? Race conditions are generally easier to exploit locally than remotely due to more predictable execution conditions. Certainly this is an under-tested vulnerability class though. One presentation I wasn't able to attend but want to follow up on is Nate McFeters, John Heasman, and Rob Carter's talk which discussed the GIFAR attack I've been hearing so much about lately. The gist is that you can create a file that is both a valid GIF and a valid JAR, then use some Java applet tricks to initiate HTTP requests on behalf of the victim. Finally, the Pwnie Awards didn't fail to disappoint. Drama ensued over the Most Overhyped award, but at least this year some of the winners showed up to claim their awards! Halvar rapping Symantec lyrics was also quite memorable. All in all, a fun and informative week, but as usual, I was relieved to get the hell out of Vegas and head home on Friday morning. P.S. For a much more entertaining BlackHat/Defcon Recap, read Jennifer Jabbusch's account of the week's events. It's my favorite one so far!

Chris Eng, Chief Research Officer, is responsible for integrating security expertise into Veracode’s technology. In addition to helping define and prioritize the security feature set of the Veracode service, he consults frequently with customers to discuss and advance their application security initiatives. With over 15 years of experience in application security, Chris brings a wealth of practical expertise to Veracode.

Love to learn about Application Security?

Get all the latest news, tips and articles delivered right to your inbox.