iSEC Research Labs

Shellshock Advisory

25 Sep 2014 - iSEC Partners

Executive Summary

Immediate patches are required to fix a vulnerability in bash that allows arbitrary code execution from unauthenticated users.

The full impact of vulnerable vectors may never be enumerated, so patching is required immediately, as in-the-wild attacks are being seen.

The vulnerability is not fully resolved by the available patch, so a second round of patching will be required once the subsequent patch is available.

It is not necessary to restart computers or processes following patching.

Impact & Determining Exposure

Shellshock enables code execution, arbitrary file disclosure, and system compromise from unauthenticated remote attackers. The ways that a system could be vulnerable to this bug are numerous, and no exhaustive list could be compiled. However, some of the common scenarios are:

  • Web servers using CGI scripts that are written in bash
  • Web servers using CGI scripts that are written in other languages that invoke certain function calls:
    • C-based scripts calling system() or popen()
    • Python-based scripts that call os.system() or os.popen()
    • PHP-based scripts that call system() or exec() (when run in CGI mode)
    • Perl-based scripts that invoke shell commands
  • Restricted SSH shells using ForceCommand can be bypassed. Some git and subversion deployments use such restricted shells.
  • If an attacker is in a position to forge DHCP responses, it can enable root-level code execution in DHCP clients
  • Set-UID applications may allow local escalation to root
  • CUPS-based printer daemons are likely to be affected
  • Mac and Linux Desktops are affected, and are likely to allow privilege escalation to a root user

Certain common deployments are not affected:

  • Regular use of SSH is not affected as users already have shell access
  • PHP scripts that use mod_php are not affected, nor is mod_python or mod_perl
  • Sudo by itself is not affected

Finally, there is no need to restart services after patching. Running processes have passed the window of vulnerability and new processes will be running the new, patched code.


Linux Operating Systems have deployed patches:

Mac OS X is not yet patched, but manual instructions to recompile bash from source are available at:

An Imperfect Fix

Unfortunately, the patch supplied is incomplete. As noted by Tavis Ormandy, other vectors still exist to bypass protections and perform invalid actions, such as overwriting files. While no one has publicly demonstrated code execution for this bypass, it seems likely to be possible. A second CVE (CVE-2014-7169) has been created to track this issue.

Red Hat has an experimental mitigation that requires many manual steps to use available at:

Red Hat and NCC both advise deploying the available patch immediately and being prepared to deploy a second patch, when one becomes stable and tested shortly.

In the Wild Attacks

Shellshock is being actively scanned for and exploited on the Internet at-large currently.

Robert Graham is one security researcher who has initiated an Internet-wide scan from the IP address His scan, and many others, use a ping command to call back to a server, alerting them that your server is vulnerable – although this is not the only mechanism one could use.

Besides internet scans, several Metasploit modules are available, and a few exploits have been posted online. These include exploits that provide shell access to a server, read arbitrary files the web server has access to read, and a report of a payload that exploits a kernel vulnerability. The kernel exploit is not yet confirmed to exploit a previously known or unknown vulnerability.

IDS Signatures and Detection

IDS vendors are producing rules that will attempt to detect and block attempted exploitation of this issue. Rules are available for:

Technical Details of the Flaw

The vulnerability was discovered by Stephane Chazelas and can be tested for manually using the following command:

env x='() { :;}; echo vulnerable' bash -c "echo this is a test"

If it outputs ‘vulnerable’, the system is vulnerable. This bug arises because of an unusual feature of bash that allows exporting functions as well as environment variables. This feature is specific to bash, and no other shells are known to be vulnerable. (However, on some systems, other shells will actually be symlinks to bash.)

The actual vulnerability is in the parser for these exported functions. It does not parse the function correctly, and upon invocation will automatically execute trailing code defined after the function.

Any variable beginning with “() {“ is automatically treated as a function – but the aspect that makes this bug so prevalent is that environment variables are populated in unexpected places from user input. For example, environment variables like HTTP_COOKIE and HTTP_USER_AGENT are often populated for CGI scripts. And PHP, Perl, Python, and other scripts are often run as CGI scripts under a web server.

This results in a perfect storm of unexpected vectors of automatic remote code execution, most commonly on web servers. For more details, a good technical blog post is:


Perfect Forward Security Whitepaper

04 Sep 2014 - Pratik Guha Sarkar

Encrypted communication channels were created so nobody could read confidential communications - this means not only during the conversation, but also any time after it. But adversaries have the ability to monitor, record, and attack communication retroactively. Disclosure of state sponsored monitoring of electronic communications and the threat of retroactive decryption of traffic of millions of people has created an urge for an extra layer of security and privacy for all electronic communications.

iSEC has published a whitepaper that looks into how Forward Security can be used to protect online communication - but covering much more than just TLS. Besides explaining the groundwork, we also explore the difference between Forward Security and Perfect Forward Security and mechanisms outside any specific implementation, modeling a generic protocol and building it up showing how Forward Security can be achieved. And on the implementation level, we also cover how to enable Forward Security in protocols you have deployed in your network today - giving a simple explanation, real life applications, advantages, and implementation in protocols like Off-the-Record (OTR) Messaging, Secure Shell (SSH), Wireless Protected Access II Protocol (WPA2-EAP-PWD), Virtual Private Networks (VPN), and of course TLS.

Tor Browser Research Report Released

13 Aug 2014 - Tom Ritter, Andy Grant

As part of our work with the Open Technology Fund, we recently worked with the Tor Project to see how Tor Browser stands up in terms of modern exploit mitigations, and what could be done to make it harder to develop exploits for.

Tor Browser is based on Firefox, so it inherits the strengths and weaknesses of Firefox — but one of the things Tor Project is working on is a security slider that will let people disable features of the browser depending on their security posture. If you’re extra paranoid you’ll ratchet it all the way up and disable Javascript; if you’re less paranoid, you can put it on ‘Low’ and disable things like obscure font rendering features only used in South East Asia.

Tor Project has published a blog post that summarizes the report from their point of view and links to a number of issues on their bugtracker and other documentation.

This project was more of a research engagement than a security assessment — a lot of this engagement was identifying features that should be placed on the slider, and making recommendations for where they should land. But we looked at a lot of other more general hardening items too. We checked the status of DEP and ASLR on Windows and Mac, and found an interesting lack of exception handling on the Windows build, due to the MinGW build process (this throws SafeSEH and SEHOP out the window). We also went through, with the cooperation of the Mozilla Security team, and categorized over a hundred past security vulnerabilities in Firefox into feature category and bug type (Use-After-Free wins the latter overwhelmingly.) We analyzed a few public and private exploits, and also investigated enabling assertions in certain classes in Firefox. We have a skeleton patch for the latter, but it’s more a proof of concept than something we think they should use. One of the other major items was looking at replacing Firefox’s memory allocator (jemalloc) with a more hardened allocator (PartitionAlloc from Chrome). Fortunately, Mozilla makes this pretty easy, so most of the work is in adapting PartitionAlloc and making full use of its partition features. There are several other parts to the report, including looking at protocol handlers, media formats, and making regression tests for DOM object exposure.

We had a ton of fun working on this project and we’d like to thank Mike Perry at Tor for working with us so closely, OTF for sponsoring the work, and all the people inside iSEC and the security community we talked about this project with who gave us ideas — especially Chris Evans from Google (the author of PartitionAlloc). The report clocks in at about 30 pages, but with the appendices (which have patch files), it balloons up to a whopping 150 pages. You can find the report, and all the patch files in our publications repository.

ZigTools: An Open Source 802.15.4 Framework

04 Aug 2014 - Mike Warner

ZigTools is a Python framework, which was developed to reduce the complexity in writing additional functionality in communicating with a Freakduino (a low cost Arduino based 802.15.4 platform). Features such as initializing the radio, changing channels, sniffing network traffic, sending raw data and processing that data can be written in just a few lines. This allows developers to focus on writing more complex and feature rich applications without worrying about low level communications between the radio and system.


  • Sniffed data is saved in a pcap format, which can later be dissected by popular applications
  • Replay packets directly from pcap file
  • All aspects of the packet can be modified, allowing developers to test Layer 2 and 3 functionality of 802.15.4 and Zigbee systems

iSEC Partners is pleased to publicly release this version of the ZigTools framework at Black Hat USA 2014 Arsenal, a tools/demos area.

Tool Release: You'll Never (Ever) Take Me Alive!

09 May 2014 - Tom Ritter

A year ago, we released You’ll Never Take Me Alive — a tool that helps protects Full Disk Encrypted Windows computers from DMA and cold boot attacks.

YoNTMA runs as a background service and begins monitoring your computer any time the screen is locked. If the power cable or Ethernet cable is disconnected from the system while your laptop is locked, YoNTMA will immediately hibernate the machine to ensure that the disk encryption keys do not remain in RAM. This ensures that if a thief walks off with your powered-on laptop, your encrypted data stays protected.

It’s been a great tool that I’ve used happily, but when I got a new Macintosh, I ran up against Issue #3 — there’s no Mac version! Until today. We’re releasing a new version of YoNTMA for Macs. The source is still open and the .dmg can be downloaded from Github. Due to some tricks of how Macintoshes hibernate, you’ll need to provide your administrative password (just once) to update the power management settings to enable a secure hibernation. Or, if you’re paranoid, you can run those commands yourself and re-launch the app — don’t worry, you won’t hurt my feelings.

The only issue we’re aware of is a lingering issue in OS 10.9; that said, while I’ve experienced this issue in the past, I’m currently running 10.9 and haven’t had issues in the past few months. Feel free to test and if you have problems, open an issue on Github.