Neohapsis is currently accepting applications for employment. For more information, please visit our website www.neohapsis.com or email hr@neohapsis.com
Subject: [LSD] IRIX telnetd remote vulnerability
From: LSD (contactLSD-PL.NET)
Date: Mon Aug 14 2000 - 14:51:55 CDT

We've found a very severe vulnerability in the IRIX telnetd service that upon
successful exploitation can give remote root access to any IRIX 6.2-6.5.8[m,f]

The bug discussed here appeared in IRIX 5.2-6.1 systems and was the result of
SGI efforts to patch a security vulnerability reported by CERT back in 1995
(CERT Advisory CA-95:14). Because it was introduced to the IRIX 5.2-6.1 systems
along with the 1010/1020 security patches, their default "clean" installations
are rather immune from this vulnerability. All later IRIX editions are by
default vulnerable to the bug presented in this post.

The vulnerability we've found belongs to the most recently discussed class of
the so-called "format bugs". IRIX telnetd service upon receiving the
IAC-SB-TELOPT_ENVIRON request to set one of the _RLD family environment
variables calls the syslog() function with a partially user supplied format
string. The syslog message that is generated upon detecting such an attempt
is of the following format: "ignored attempt to setenv(%.32s,%.128s)".
The strings enclosed by the setenv() brackets are adequately: variable name
and variable value. If variable name/value pairs are appropriately constructed,
arbitrary telnetd process image memory values can be overwritten and execution
flow can be redirected to the user supplied machine code instructions.

After some careful investigation we've managed to exploit the vulnerability.
A proof of concept code was developed and it is available at our website.
We have also implemented a quick fix, so that people can protect their IRIX
boxes from being exploited. By releasing the exploit code we take the
opportunity to discuss the specifics of its development as it was somewhat
different from what is already known and exploited by people working with x86
operating systems.

When we noticed that IRIX telnetd uses syslog() function with partially user
supplied strings, the first attempt that we undertook was to try to overwrite
its stack by using the "[shellcode]%[space padding].c[return address]" attack
scheme. Unfortunately, it turned out to be ineffective, as we could not seize
control over the telnetd PC. This was mainly caused by the fact that the number
of spaces in the format string could not be adjusted in such a way so that PC
would have been loaded with our arbitrary return address value.
We could not either use the

    "%[space padding].c[shellcode][address]"
    "%[pad1]x%[pad2]x%[pad3]x%[pad4]x%[param number]$n"

attack scheme because of the MIPS big endianness and the fact that the machine
code implementing the %n feature was using the sw (store word) instruction.
On MIPS and other RISC machines compilers usually generate code with a speed in
mind. So, if the c language *(int*)var=val equivalent operation is encountered
in the source code it is usually processed in such a way that produces the sw
instruction in the output assembly code. And since it is the sw store, it must
be 4 bytes aligned on MIPS. If this is not the case BUSERROR is signalled to
the process and it core dumps.

The processor big endianness and aligned memory load/writes were the primary
difficulties that we had encountered when exploiting the format string telnetd
bug. The other problem we noticed was that only 100 bytes long buffer could
be used for telnet IAC-SB command.

Because we do not give up so easily, another try was made to the telnetd
exploit. After some deep analysis of all the environment constraints, we decided
to use the

    "%[pad1]x%[param number1]$hn%[pad2]x%[param number2]$hn"

string at our attack. We simply changed from %n to %hn scheme and performed two
short integer writes instead of one common int write. The values of pad1 and
pad2, although kept in 32 bit registers are stored by the %hn feature as 16 bit
values using sh (store halfword) machine instruction. If carefully adjusted,
they can form high and low nibbles of the 32 bit value stored at a given memory
address (addrlo for first %hn store, and addrhi for the second one). We've come
up to the point where we were able to store arbitrary values in telnetd process
memory locations. The problem we faced next was how to effectively get control
over the program counter. Performing an overwrite of the return address stored
in a local function frame is one of the obvious ways to achieve that, but since
we were not able to remotely inspect the telnetd stack it seemed to be rather
ineffective. This is why we decided to make a jump through the process GOT
table. On IRIX every call to the function from the shared library linked with
a given program is made with the use of the following instruction sequences:

    lw t9,-got_offset(gp)
    jalr ra,t9

If GOT entry for a shared library function called from within a telnetd would
be overwritten with an arbitrary address, the next time this function would be
executed, the PC would be loaded with that address and in a result control over
the process would be gained. The most important thing here is that GOT entries
for a given function call do not differ so much from one to other binary.
The other advantage is that they are 32 bit entities, regardless of whether ELF
32 or N32 binaries are in use. It is important as long as IRIX 6.4 and up use
64 bit pointers for $ra and $gp, which are usually difficult to overwrite with
most often occuring str* buffer overflows.

We inspected what function calls telnetd was using by viewing its GOT table.
We also found that after processing the TELOPT_ENVIRON telnet protocol suboption
telnetd was waiting on a read() function call. So, we decided to overwrite the
GOT entry of the read() function. Its address was obtained by issuing
odump -Dg /usr/etc/telnetd | grep "\[read\]" command:

    [ 77]: 0x0fa38654 -32444(gp), 7fc4981c [read]

and was 0x7fc4981c.

So we solved the "where to store" problem and could control the value of PC,
but "where to jump" location was still unknown for us since it was also placed
somewhere on a stack of which parameters were unpredictable. This is why we
decided to change our format string and used the following one instead:

   "%[space padding].c[shellcode]"
   "[addrlo][addrhi]%[pad1]x%[param number1]$hn%[pad2]x%[param number2]$hn"

Because space paddings are before shellcode instructions and the space value is
0x20 they could act as 0x20202020 NOPs (addi $zero,$at,8224). By using a large
decimal value for space padding we could make our NOP buffer large and
simultaneously, jump address was becoming much more predictable. This is what
we did, but very soon got disappointed.

Everything seemed to be working fine. The telnetd GOT entry for the read()
function was overwritten in two shots with our start address pointing to
the middle of the NOP buffer. The jump was made but we were always getting
ILLEGAL INSTRUCION signal and telnetd core dumped after executing several
0x20202020 NOPs. We knew very well what was going on. After a couple of years
of IRIX buffer overflow exploitation that was nothing than a classic example of
the MIPS cache incoherence behaviour. We usually avoided that cache problems by
supplying large NOP buffers to the program input so that cache had time to
"flush". But that didn't work in the telnetd case and we were stuck again.

The enlightenment came after careful telnetd memory inspection. We found out
that one of its global symbols was used for storing telnet protocol options.
It was called subbuffer and its location was predictable since it was stored
in a telnetd GOT table.
We used odump -Dg /usr/etc/telnetd | grep "\[subbuffer\]" command:

    [ 186]: 0x7fc4cf98 -32008(gp), 7fc499d0 [subbuffer]

and obtained the forementioned buffer address - 0x7fc4cf98.

The format string was changed again and we got rid of the padding spaces in it
since they were not needed any more. Jumping to the location within a subbuffer
turned out to be effective but not on all platforms. We had still cache
problems on R4600 systems. To solve that we decided to use a trick that has
been first applied by us back in 1998 in our named exploit. We were overwriting
the same memory location for 2 times with a time period between each single
write. By doing so processor cache usually has enough time to "become coherent".
This is usually the case because during that time process sleeps on a read()
syscall, and its context is switched. This is why in our telnetd exploit we set
environment variables for two times. The first setting places only shellcode
and data in a subbuffer. This is the second operation, which triggers the memory
overwrites and makes the exploit go run.

So, we had a working exploit version on a 6.5 platform. We tested it and it
worked fine on all 6.5.x systems we had in our operating environment. It was
time to move to another IRIX versions. And this is where new problems with the
exploit popped out.

First, we noticed that on IRIX 6.2 and 6.3 different format strings had to be
used. That became quite apparent to us when we inspected the telnetd binary and
found out that it was an ELF o32 binary, not the new N32 ELF used on IRIX 6.4
and above. So, we had to deal with appropriate format strings for different

The second, much more painful difference we noticed was that on IRIX 6.2-6.4
even if the right telnetd GOT entry for the read() call was overwritten our
code was not executed. Instead, we always were ending up with a sigabort()
function call. Overwritting the abort() function seemed to be the only way to
get control over telnetd program counter. What was not promising for us was
that sigabort was called from within the syslog function of which definition is
located within libc.so.1. We went through several IRIX boxes and checked out
the differences between their standard c language libraries. And it all looked
like a mess for us. We knew that some patches changed libc.so.1. We somewhat
found out that what odump/elfdump was showing about the libc.so.1 GOT entries
was not usually how the things were really looking like. We were forced to use
the following scheme to obtain the address of the libc.so.1 GOT entry for
a given function:


where got_base_address and function_index_in_got ware obtained with the
following commands:
odump -h -n .got /usr/lib/libc.so.1 | grep got
odump -Dg /usr/lib/libc.so.1 | grep "\[abort\]"

Finally, we went through the SGI patchbase in order to find out what patches
could change the libc.so.1 file in the IRIX system. This is what we found:

/usr/lib/libc.so.1 patches:

IRIX 6.2
    patchSG0003490.eoe_sw.irix_lib (libc rollup + Y2K fixes + MIPS ABI)
    patchSG0003723.eoe_sw.irix_lib (libc rollup + Y2K fixes + MIPS ABI)
    patchSG0003771.eoe_sw.irix_lib (libc rollup + Y2K fixes + MIPS ABI)
    patchSG0001918.eoe_sw.irix_lib (libc rollup)
    patchSG0002086.eoe_sw.irix_lib (libc rollup)

IRIX 6.3
    patchSG0003535.eoe_sw.irix_lib (libc bug fixes and enhancements + y2k)
    patchSG0003737.eoe_sw.irix_lib (libc bug fixes and enhancements + y2k)
    patchSG0003770.eoe_sw.irix_lib (libc bug fixes and enhancements + y2k)

IRIX 6.4
    patchSG0003491.eoe_sw.irix_lib (6.4-S2MP+O + y2k + 64-bit strcoll segv fix)
    patchSG0003738.eoe_sw.irix_lib (6.4-S2MP+O + y2k + 64-bit strcoll segv fix)
    patchSG0003769.eoe_sw.irix_lib (6.4-S2MP+O + y2k + 64-bit strcoll segv fix)

IRIX 6.5
    no patches available

After applying each patch separately on appropriate IRIX versions and by
checking the addresses of the abort() function GOT table entries it turned out
that from our "GOT overwriting" point of view some libraries were equivalent.

Similar elf binary inspection was applied to the telnetd program (remember
subbuffer jump address), of which different versions could be installed in the
system due to the following patch matrix:

/usr/etc/telnetd patches:

IRIX 6.2

IRIX 6.3 6.4 6.5
    no patches available

This is how we managed to reduce the possible number of abort() function GOT
entry/telnetd subbufer address locations from 39 to 13. The final table of all
possible combinations for all IRIX 6.x systems looked like this:

    irix 6.2 libc.so.1: no patches telnetd: no patches
    irix 6.2 libc.so.1: 1918|2086 telnetd: no patches
    irix 6.2 libc.so.1: 3490|3723|3771 telnetd: no patches
    irix 6.2 libc.so.1: no patches telnetd: 1485|2070|3117|3414
    irix 6.2 libc.so.1: 1918|2086 telnetd: 1485|2070|3117|3414
    irix 6.2 libc.so.1: 3490|3723|3771 telnetd: 1485|2070|3117|3414
    irix 6.3 libc.so.1: no patches telnetd: no patches
    irix 6.3 libc.so.1: 2087 telnetd: no patches
    irix 6.3 libc.so.1: 3535|3737|3770 telnetd: no patches
    irix 6.4 libc.so.1: no patches telnetd: no patches
    irix 6.4 libc.so.1: 3491|3769|3738 telnetd: no patches
    irix 6.5-6.5.8m 6.5-6.5.7f telnetd: no patches
    irix 6.5.8f telnetd: no patches

This is how we've come up to the ending point.

The shellcode we use in the exploit code is a slightly modified version of our
40 byte long IRIX MIPS shellcode. It couldn't be longer because of the space
limits imposed on a telnet protocol options buffer. The following command
shows that we have only 100 bytes available for suboptions data:
odump -Dt /usr/etc/telnetd | grep subbuffer

We use 97 out of these 100 bytes. As you see this is far enough to take control
over the IRIX box.

Primarily aim of this story was to show how much effort must be usually made to
develop an exploit code. The guys who just use them do not even think about it.
Each exploit code has its own story. Only exploit coders who know what it takes
to write them are familiar with that pain of development.

Below we provide link to exploit and fix codes:


lsd folks