Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Heap Spraying

Heap Spraying is a technique using which an attacker can write certain sequence of bytes at a predetermined memory location of a process and then exploit that to facilitate execution of arbitrary malicious code.

Let's try to understand what it actually is.

What is Heap

A process in execution uses different sections of memory for different purposes.

To name a few :

Text Section : Text Section is used to store static code of the program. It is usually marked as read-only and cannot be modified by the program.

Data Section : Data Section is used to store static and global variables.

Stack Section : Usually every function uses some local variables. They are in use as long as the process executes that particular function and after that they are not needed anymore. A process uses Stack Section to store those local variables. Memory is allocated when the function is called and it is freed upon returning from the function.

Heap Section : Many a times it is not possible for a process to know in advance how much memory it would need for a certain variable. A dynamic array or a linked list may be a good example of that. For that purpose, the process dynamically allocates memory for that variable at run time. For storing these dynamically allocated data, a process uses Heap Section.

In Heap Spraying, the attacker writes series of bytes in Heap Section of a process and later exploit that for malicious purposes, usually in a separate attack.

How is Heap Spraying perpetrated

In Heap Spraying, the attackers exploit the fact that heap is usually deterministic. It often starts at a predetermined location in memory and located in consecutive manner.

So, the attackers first use some mechanism to put their shellcode to some predictable location in the heap and then, trigger a bug to make the EIP instruction pointer to directly point to the location.

A browser is an easy mechanism to do this. The attackers can use scripting support to spray the heap and then trigger the bug.

The attackers can even use other mechanisms like JavaScript or Actionscript in Adobe Reader to put the shellcode in predetermined location in the heap.

So, to summarize, in Heap Spraying the attackers first take scripting support to put their shellcode in the heap section of the process. After that, they trigger a bug and make the instruction pointer point to the predetermined location.

Detection and Prevention

There are a couple of ways of detection and prevention of Heap Spraying :

  • The Nozzle Project of Microsoft Research aims to detect and prevent Heap Spraying.
  • BuBBle is another countermeasure which can be used in detecting and prevention Heap Spraying. BuBBle is basically a JavaScript Engine level countermeasure for Heap Spraying.

So, beware of various security vulnerabilities so that you can protect your systems in a better way. And, stay safe, stay protected.

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