Today we released MS12-001, which addresses an issue that can enable an attacker to bypass a defense in depth feature known as SafeSEH. This bypass is limited in scope to applications that make use of binaries that were built with Microsoft Visual C++ .NET 2003 RTM. Binaries that have been built with Microsoft Visual C++ .NET 2003 Service Pack 1 and beyond are not affected. In this blog post we wanted to provide more details on the issue that has been addressed and what impact it has. In addition, we’ll clarify the parameters of the “Security Feature Bypass” vulnerability category assigned to this bulletin.

What is SafeSEH?

SafeSEH is a defense–in-depth security feature that is designed to make it more difficult for attackers to exploit certain types of vulnerabilities. In particular, SafeSEH is designed to prevent attackers from using an attack technique known as an “SEH overwrite”. More details on how this is accomplished can be found in a report we released in July of last year:

Microsoft released support for SafeSEH in Visual Studio 2003 RTM. Windows XP Service Pack 2 and Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1 were the first versions of Windows to be built with SafeSEH enabled.

What issue is being addressed?

This issue can result in SafeSEH not being enforced for a binary that has been built with support for SafeSEH. This occurs when a binary that was built with Microsoft Visual C++ .NET 2003 RTM is loaded by an application running on a version of Windows that is affected by MS12-001.

The reason that SafeSEH is not enforced in this scenario is because Microsoft Visual C++ .NET 2003 RTM produces binaries with metadata that is a different size than what the Windows loader expects. As a result, the loader conservatively falls back to assuming that the binary does not support SafeSEH. MS12-001 addresses this issue by allowing binaries to have metadata of the size that is produced by Microsoft Visual C++ .NET 2003 RTM.

What impact does this issue have?

Failing to enforce SafeSEH for a binary can enable an attacker to more easily develop an exploit for a vulnerability. The attacker must have found a vulnerability that can enable code execution for this to be possible; the issue addressed by MS12-001 does not enable code execution in and of itself. Furthermore, it does not enable elevation of privilege, information disclosure, or the like. For this reason, we’ve assigned MS12-001 to the very small category of “Security Feature Bypass” vulnerabilities. Though failure to enforce SafeSEH is by no means desirable, the issue in itself does not constitute an exploit vector.

Although the set of binaries affected by this issue is limited, some of the affected binaries are extensively used by applications. For example, the redistributable C runtime DLLs (such as msvcrt.dll) from Visual Studio 2003 are affected by this issue. These DLLs also do not enable support for ASLR and are therefore an attractive target for use in developing an exploit. EMET can be used to better mitigate these concerns by enabling mandatory ASLR and SEHOP for applications that make use of such DLLs.

Do I need to rebuild my binaries if they were built with Visual C++ 2003?

Installing the update for MS12-001 will fully address this issue without requiring any binaries to be rebuilt. Alternatively, this issue can also be resolved by rebuilding affected binaries with Microsoft Visual C++ .NET 2003 Service Pack 1 or later. You can determine if your binary is affected by this issue by using the Microsoft Visual C++ linker command “link.exe /dump /headers binary.dll”. Binaries with a Load Config Directory size of 0x48 are affected as shown below.

File Type: DLL
            7.10 linker version
          100000 size of heap reserve
            1000 size of heap commit
               0 loader flags
              10 number of directories
           3AC74 [    43E0] RVA [size] of Export Directory
           49298 [      28] RVA [size] of Import Directory
           52000 [     3B8] RVA [size] of Resource Directory
               0 [       0] RVA [size] of Exception Directory
               0 [       0] RVA [size] of Certificates Directory
           53000 [    2B64] RVA [size] of Base Relocation Directory
           39B48 [      38] RVA [size] of Debug Directory
               0 [       0] RVA [size] of Architecture Directory
               0 [       0] RVA [size] of Global Pointer Directory
               0 [       0] RVA [size] of Thread Storage Directory
           49078 [      48] RVA [size] of Load Configuration Directory

Thanks to Gerardo Di Giacomo and our colleagues in Windows Sustained Engineering for their work on addressing this issue.

Matt Miller, MSEC Security Science