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[Full-disclosure] NUL Character Evasion

Date: Tue Sep 13 2005 - 16:24:42 CDT

The Problem:
Internet Explorer ignores NUL characters
-- i.e. ascii characters with the value 0x00 -- most
security software does not. This behaviour of IE
does not depend on the charset in the Content-Type-Header.

En Detail

You can embed NUL characters at any place in an HTML
document, even inside of tags. IE parses the file, as
if they were not there. The number of NUL characters
does not matter: a single one is ignored as well as
5000 en bloc after every single valid character. In
tests I sucessfully infected an unpatched Windows
system from html pages containing 5000 NUL


Both versions work with all tested versions of IE:

< script>alert("Hello world");</script>

< s\0x0cript>alert("Hello world");</script>

(\0x0 stands for a charachter with a value of 0,
the blanks in the script tags have been inserted

The consequences:
Protection mechanisms against evil embedded in
HTML can be evaded. Intrusion Detection/Prevention
Systems and Antivirus programms don't recognize
exploits for known browser problems any more, if they
are obfuscated by embedded NUL characters. Filtering
of JavaScript or ActiveX may fail.

Test results


I took a standard mhtml exploit, that was recognized by
ten AV programms:

AntiVir HTML/Exploit.OBJ-Mht
BitDefender Exploit.Html.MhtRedir.Gen (suspected)
ClamAV Exploit.HTML.MHTRedir-8
eTrust-VET HTML.MHTMLRedir!exploit
F-Secure Exploit.HTML.Mht
Fortinet HTML/MHTRedir.A
McAfee Exploit-MhtRedir.gen
Kaspersky Exploit.HTML.Mht
Panda Exploit/Mhtredir.gen
Symantec Bloodhound.Exploit.6

After I modified it by inserting NUL characters none
of the AV scanners found anything suspicious --
although the exploits were still fully

Intrusion Prevention

A recent IE exploit using the HHCtrl addon to execute
arbitrary commands (see
was detected and blocked by ISS Proventia (Desktop
Edition). After I inserted NUL characters, Proventia
did not detect the exploit any more, but the demo was
working. heise Security informed ISS and they promised to
publish new signatures, detecting NUL character evasion.

Other ID/IP Systems were not tested, but are likely to
show similar behaviour. Ask your vendor or test
yourself. We have setup a web page to demonstrate
NUL character evasion, where you can test your
AV/IDS/IPS solution. See:


Not affected:

Content Security Solutions that sanitize HTML
before delivering it to the client. I checked Webwasher
CSM 5.2. Its Proxy replaces embedded NUL characters (0x00)
with spaces (0x20) by default. Pure Proxies like squid
deliver NULs to the client.


As far as I know, Andreas Marx from AV-Test
(www.av-test.de) discovered this strange behaviour.
He started informing AV vendors and other vendors of
security products over a year ago.

Microsoft Security Response Center considers the
behaviour of Internet Explorer correct:

We have investigated this issue and have determined
that this is actually by design as IE is processing the
MIME type as expected. For details on how this is
handled, please see

Please note, that the behaviour of IE is not a security
problem itself but a problem for security software.
In combination with a security hole, it can be used
to evade protection by Antivirus software
and or ID/IP Systems.


The antivirus tests have been done with help of AV-Test

Further information:

"Null Problemo", article on heise Security (german)

NUL Demos

Juergen Schmidt editor in chief heise Security www.heisec.de
Heise Zeitschriften Verlag, Helstorferstr. 7, D-30625 Hannover
Tel. +49 511 5352 300 FAX +49 511 5352 417 EMail juheisec.de
GPG-Key: 0x38EA4970, 5D7B 476D 84D5 94FF E7C5 67BE F895 0A18 38EA 4970

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