Just another day at the office

The following does not take place over a 24 hour period. But any one of these situations is a good example of a typical day at Root Labs.

Attack Windows device driver protection scheme

Certain drivers in Windows must implement software protection (PMP) in order to prevent audio/video ripping attacks. Since drivers run in ring 0, they can do a lot more than just the standard SEH tricks. It’s 1992 all over again as we dig into the IDT and attempt to find how they are trying to protect their decryption process.

Whitebox cryptography is a method of combining a key and cipher implementation to create a keyed cipher. It can only do whatever operation it was initialized with and uses a hard-coded key. The entire operation becomes a series of table lookups. The intermediate values are obscured by randomness merged into the tables. But it’s not impossible to defeat.

To get at the cipher though, we’re going to need a way to bypass some of these anti-debugging traps. Since ring 0 code has direct access to all the CPU’s registers (including the debug registers, MSRs, and page tables), it is free to wreak havoc with our attempts to circumvent it. A common approach is to disable any breakpoints in the registers by overwriting them. A less common method is to use the debug registers as a local procedure call gate so that an attacker that writes to them breaks the main loop.

We write our own hook and patch into the int 1 handler at a point that isn’t integrity-checked and set the GD bit. This causes our hook to be called whenever anyone writes or reads the debug registers. The trap springs! There’s the heart of the protection code right there. Now to figure out what it’s doing.

Design self-reinforcing integrity checks

Preventing attackers from patching your code is very difficult. One approach is to insert small hash functions that verify a region of code or data has not been changed. Of course, there’s the obvious problem of “who watches the watcher?” Since it’s easy for attackers to NOP out the checksum routine or modify their patch to compensate if you use CRC, our mission today is to design and implement a more robust approach.

First, we analyze the general problem of mutually-reinforcing checks. The code and data for the check itself both need to be covered. But if two checks exactly mirrored each other, you’d have a chicken-and-egg problem in building them since a change in one would require changes in the other, and so on. It’s like standing between two mirrors, infinite recursion.

A data structure that describes the best we can do is a directed acyclic graph. There are no cycles so the checks (and checksums) can be generated in reverse order. But the multiple paths through the graph provide overlapping coverage so we can be certain that a single patch cannot bypass the protection. Of course, the roots of each of these paths needs to be hidden throughout the code. Putting them all in one big loop run by a single watchman thread would be a mistake. Now we have to come up with a way of automatically generating, randomizing, and inserting them into the code while also hiding the root nodes in various places.

Reverse-engineer RFID transponder

What exactly is in those FasTrak transponders? Do they securely identify themselves via cryptographic challenge/response? Do they preserve your privacy? What about this rumor that they are tracked by antennas all over Bay Area freeways?

Not being an existing user, we bought one at a local supermarket and took it apart. Inside was a microcontroller, some passive electronics, and not a whole lot else. An older one turned out to still have JTAG enabled, so it was simple to dump its firmware. The newer one did have the lock bit set, and Flylogic Engineering was kind enough to decap it and zap it for us. The firmware was identical. Does IDA have an MSP430 plugin? Well, there was one but it was on Geocities and then vaporized. Time to dig around a bit. Find the source code and hack it to work with the newer SDK.

Then it’s off to drop in the code and analyze it for switch statements (protocol handlers usually). Trace everything that starts from the IO pins that map to the receive side of the antenna. Then manually walk up the stack to see where it goes. Hey, there’s an over-the-air update function in here. Just send the magic handshake, then the next packet gets written to flash. There are some checks to try to maintain the writes within the area that stores the ID. But there are multiple paths to this function and one of them is obviously not tested because it pushes the wrong size argument on the stack (a 2-byte instead of 1-byte length argument). Time to notify the agency that 1 million transponders are at risk of a permanent DoS at best and code execution at worst.


If you’ve made it this far, you might be interested to know we’re hiring. We tackle difficult security problems in environments with clever, persistent adversaries. We’re just as likely to design a system as attack it (and often do both for the same customer). If this sounds like your kind of job, please see here for more details.

3 thoughts on “Just another day at the office

  1. Interesting. If you look at Flylogic’s website without JavaScript, you’ll see they’re link spamming a [pirate] software vendor. Pwn3d?

      1. Looks like they removed the links themselves but not the obfuscated JavaScript at the bottom. It’s an interesting piece of code. A few minutes analysis shows that it’s 90% randomly generated junk, with some basic string obfuscation to conceal the document.write(“blah { display:none }”) call.

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