Barriers to successful IoT bug bounties

Bug bounties are the new(ish) hotness in security assessment, and bounty companies are making fairly bold claims about how great and effective their crowd-sourced services are. Whilst I think they have well and truly earnt their place amongst the classic broad spectrum of assessment products and services, there’s one particular area they face challenges that I haven’t seen tackled in any sensible form yet: IoT (the S in IoT stands for security).

Here are a small handful of things that are preventing IoT succeeding in the bug bounty space:

  • Cost of entry: If bounty hunters have to shell out $300 to have an IoT widget sent to them before they can get started, you’ve diminished the pool of talent to a tiny percent. If the bounty hunter earns $300 off a bug, they’ve only cut even; or are in the negative if they value their time.
  • Patch cycle duration: A lot of bounty schemes only pay out when the bug is fixed, not when it is confirmed. In the IoT/embedded space, development lifecycles commonly extend for months, unlike online services which are known to be patched in hours. Bounty hunters might be without rent money for half a year. A further problem is that duplicate submissions go through the roof. If a bug is being “remediated” for 3 months, the chances that someone else spends time re-discovering that bug is fairly significant.
  • Skillsets: The learning curve for picking up a copy of burp and web app hackers handbook is fairly gentle; the talent pool for people who understand web development is fairly sizable. The same cannot be said for embedded systems or reverse engineering native compiled binaries. Chances are, if you can reverse ARM binaries, you’ve got a decent enough job that a few hundred dollars for a days effort bounty hunting doesn’t light you up with excitement.
  • Systemic/Design vulnerabilities: Anyone who has taken a look at a typical IoT device knows they’re full of bad choices: by the time you’ve tripped over the 154th call to system(), you realize that what these developers need is not a list of bugs to patch ad-hoc, but secure development training and to redesign the product. An optimist might argue that they’re using the bug bounty a feedback learning loop for incremental improvements, but really they’re just taking the slow road to learning a bunch of lessons the rest of the tech industry learnt in 1994.

Fortunately, for most of the above I think there are improvements that can be made; some lie directly with the bug bounty companies, but most of the pressure should be on the vendor.

If vendors stopped treating security as an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff and involved security teams earlier on in the process, they’d have a lot less bugs coming out during bounties. That would allow them to increase the bounty and attract a lot more high-quality submissions.


RHME3 Exploitation Writeup

The following is my writeup of how I took on the RHME3 exploitation challenge. I’m fairly new to CTF, so this post is a fairly verbose tale of fails and successes as I worked my way through.

We’re given two binaries and a port on a host:

This binary is running on Analyze it and find a way to compromise the server. You’ll find the flag in the filesystem.
- main.elf

Ok, what do we have here:

$ file * ELF 64-bit LSB shared object, x86-64, version 1 (GNU/Linux), dynamically linked, interpreter /lib64/, BuildID[sha1]=088a6e00a1814622219f346b41e775b8dd46c518, for GNU/Linux 2.6.32, stripped

main.elf:  ELF 64-bit LSB executable, x86-64, version 1 (SYSV), dynamically linked, interpreter /lib64/, for GNU/Linux 2.6.32, BuildID[sha1]=ec9db5ec0b8ad99b3b9b1b3b57e5536d1c615c8e, not stripped

Running strings across libc showed it was version 2.23; fairly recent. There aren’t going to be any walk-in-the-park exploits against this. Given that I’m entirely new to glibc exploitation, I pulled a copy of the source to have nearby.

A quick run over with checksec showed that there was no ASLR and no full RELRO. nice.

Connecting to the host provided gives us a basic menu system:

0.- Exit                     
1.- Add player               
2.- Remove player            
3.- Select player            
4.- Edit player              
5.- Show player              
6.- Show team     

Straight away it looked like someone had put together a program with the ability to add, remove, modify bits of data. It felt like it was going to be heap related. I had a bit of a tinker with the program, and a pretty obvious thing stood out to me: the Select player function seemed independent of two others: you could Select a player, and when you asked to Remove, it asked you independently which player you’d like to remove. Perhaps we have some kind of use-after-free?

Ok, time to look at the binary locally. It wouldn’t fire up, so I threw a copy in IDA and started walking through the startup code. With a bit of trial and error I realized it needed to have a user ‘pwn’ on the system to setuid() to, and a directory /opt/riscure/pwn. I created these and the binary happily fired up. The binary forks for every connection, so I setup a script to attach gdb to the forked process as soon as I connect. Of course, I also wanted to make sure I had LD_LIBRARY_PATH set to the libc version I’d been provided, to make sure any addresses or offsets are valid.

While in IDA, I had a quick look at the layout of the add_player function, and took some basic notes on what the main struct looked like… this will be very relevant shortly:

add_player() in IDA

Jumping between IDA and gdb, I managed to get a crash pretty quick. Sure enough, if you Select a player, then Remove that player, you have a stale pointer to memory that has been free’d.

The following demonstrates this. I’ve redacted the printing of the entire menu each time:

nc 1337        
Welcome to your TeamManager (TM)!        
0.- Exit                                 
1.- Add player                          
2.- Remove player                        
3.- Select player                        
4.- Edit player                          
5.- Show player                          
6.- Show team                            
Your choice: 1                           
Found free slot: 0                       
Enter player name: tecnik                
Enter attack points: 1                   
Enter defense points: 2                  
Enter speed: 3                           
Enter precision: 4  
Your choice: 3                           
Enter index: 0                           
Player selected!                         
        Name: tecnik                     
        A/D/S/P: 1,2,3,4                 
Your choice: 2                           
Enter index: 0                           
She's gone!                              
Your choice: 5                           
        A/D/S/P: 24622640,0,3,4                                   

We’ve managed to retain a reference to a player which has been removed and when viewed, a pointer has been shown as part of displaying the players stats.

So at this point I did a load of reading up on the glibc malloc implementation and classic attacks against it. I suspected maybe I could overwrite a players attack/defense/etc points to corrupt heap metadata and overwrite the forward & backward freelist pointers. After a load of getting it wrong, I looked for an alternative idea.

In the glibc heap, there are two major freelists which store chunks of data that have been malloc()’d and subsequently free()’d: bins and fastbins. Bins is a doubly-linked list of larger memory sizes with all kinds of nice features such as coalescing: two adjacent blocks of free memory will be merged together and shifted to the appropriately sized bins freelist. Fastbins on the other hand is for small allocations, and as the name suggests is designed for small and quick allocations.

I took a look at how memory was laid out when a player is created. There are two malloc’s for adding a player, and two free’s for removing one. This is what a player looks like in memory:

        <-- 64-bit -->
| attack      | defense       |
| speed       | precision     |
|                             |       +--------------+
|             +---------------------->+ name         |
|                             |       +--------------+

I need a new blog platform, wordpress is horrible for this.

So when a player is created, 0x18 bytes is allocated for the main player struct, and then however many bytes is needed for the name (based on strlen) is also allocated. Because the length of the name determines how many bytes are allocated, we can choose to have this allocation in bins or fastbins.

So our basic bug primitive is that we can allocate some data, get a pointer to that data, free that date, and continue to access the free’d chunk. Exactly what can we read/write to the chunk after it’s been freed? Heap metadata. A regular malloc_chunk looks roughly like this:

A +---> | Prev Size  | Size        |
B +---> | Fwd PTR    | Back PTR    |
        |                          |
        |                          |             
        |                          |
        |                          |

This is what a free chunk looks like: two size fields, and forward and back pointers to have the chunk on the linked list. Of course, on the fastbins freelist, the previous size and the Back Pointer aren’t used, so can be completely ignored. The Prev Size and Size fields are inaccessible to a normal user of malloc(), the pointer you receive when you call malloc would be pointing to location B; the pointer to location A is what the glibc heap manager uses internally. When this memory is in use (IE, you’ve called malloc), your data starts from B; given that your chunk is no longer on the freelist, the FD and BK pointers are not required, so you can read/write there.

So a quick recap; we have a pointer like B to a chunk of data on a singly-linked list, so by editing a player that has been selected and free’d, we end up overwriting heap freelist pointers. What can we do with this? we can overwrite the freelist data to point somewhere interesting, and after a couple of malloc’s, our interesting location will be handed to us via malloc. If you remember that the player name calls malloc and then lets us write arbitrary data in as a name, if malloc returns an address of our choosing we have a write-what-where primitive.

There’s a catch though. People have been messing with heap metadata for a long time, so some basic checks are in place to make sure the freelist hasn’t been screwed up too bad. Fortunately for us, the fastbins checks don’t have any of the fanciness that the regular bins list does (I guess it’s harder to check the integrity of a singly-linked list?). The key check we need to bypass is in the above malloc_chunk diagram, there’s a size field. When the heap code walks the freelist it needs to see that the chunk is indeed fastbins size; small.

If you don’t get this right, you see this:

malloc(): memory corruption (fast)

So we can overwrite a given piece of memory, assuming it is preceded by a small number. Given there is no RELRO, we can straight-up overwrite the GOT, but none of those addresses are preceded by a small value.

I spent a fair amount of time tinkering with this piece of code from the fantastic how2heap collection.

There’s a very obvious candidate for this: we can create a player whose ‘defense’ value is very small, and it’ll allow us to overwrite the name pointer to point to anything of our choosing. If we then edit the players name, we’re writing data of our choosing to a location of our choosing; win!

So here’s the workflow:

  1. Create a player, lets call him ‘fake’, with defense points of 0x21
  2. Add, Select, and Remove a player to get a stale pointer to the freelist
  3. Edit the player (overwrite the fastbins freelist pointer) to point to our fake player – where we’ve configured it to look like a fake heap chunk – and overwrite the fake players name pointer to point into the GOT
  4. Edit the fake players name (which is a pointer to the GOT), overwriting the address of a GOT function pointer
  5. Call that function, get EIP

After a load of trial and error, this resulted in getting control of the instruction pointer. I now started doing a bunch of looking into how to turn this into a shell, before realizing there is such a thing as a “one-gadget shell”, thanks to Gynvaels slide deck. Using the one_gadget tool, I found a nice address that only required clearing of r12 and RCX registers.

I ended up overwriting the strlen() function, as it was called when I added a new user and gave me access to my own data on the stack. I called a stack pivot gadget which just slightly altered RSP to point into my data and was able to call a couple of basic ROP gadgets to clear the right registers and grab a shell.

I threw together a terribly kludgey python exploit using manually fetched addresses from leaking the a heap pointer (seen above when viewing a player) as well as leaking the libc base by forcing a malloc corruption error on the remote host, which resulted in a full error printout including addresses of all loaded libraries.

My final exploit with it’s hardcoded leaked addresses is available on this github gist. Having now seen what other people did using pwntools, I really need to up my game with CTF tooling.

I learnt a shit-ton, and thank the Riscure+Argus teams for putting this together. I spent a lot of time banging my head against the desk, but am happy to have persisted and learn a load.

Resources I leant on heavily:


How and Why you should disable Internationalized Domains

How well could you spot the difference between and а

They look identical, but to a computer they’re completely different strings of bits, and not equivalent at all. The second domain contains a Cyrillic ‘a’ character, as demonstrated here:

>>> 'a' == 'а'

Support for the worlds beautiful diverse languages in modern technology is an absolutely fantastic thing for providing access for people from every corner of the globe to the wealth of information the internet provides.

Unless you only speak english, in which case it’s a security nightmare. A recent harmless prank by a colleague showed that even a room full of security-minded individuals can be pretty quick to deem a site safe when a basic bit of pretexting, an internationalized domain (IDN), and a freshly minted letsencrypt cert are in play.

So, what to do about it? one option is to disallow your system from ever resolving IDNs.

Enter dnscrypt. dnscrypt is a tool that aims to solve one key challenge of name resolution; the fact that your local resolver will often feed you invalid or manipulated results. If you’re using a US-based ISP and have ever mistyped a URL, you’ll possibly know what I’m talking about. Instead of the expected DNS lookup failure, you’re served a horrifically ugly page full of ads and recommendations from you ISP. dnscrypt helps prevent that by signing request/response data between yourself and some resolver out on the internet that you trust more than your local ISP/hotel/cafe network.

Caveat: I have not looked over the dnscrypt code. I think it’s a worthwhile project and do intend to.

dnscrypt comes with a number of nice plugins and features, and the one that’s of particular interest when talking IDNs is the ability to block and log domains specified with wildcards. Even though an IDN may display as عم.عمان in the browser, an underlying algorithm (specified in RFC 3940) converts it back to regular ASCII text in order to do the name resolution. What you end up with after conversion, is a punycode URL such as xn--wkd-8cdx9d7hbd, always prefixed with “xn--” which we can block and log.

Implementing this is really simple:

  1. Follow the regular dnscrypt-proxy installation instructions; on MacOS you can fetch it from homebrew.
  2. Edit /usr/local/etc/dnscrypt-proxy.conf and uncomment the following lines
    • QueryLogFile /tmp/dns-queries.log

    • BlackList domains:“/etc/dnscrypt-blacklist-domains.txt” logfile:“/var/log/dnscrypt-blocked.log”

  3. $ sudo echo “*xn--*” > /etc/dnscrypt-blacklist-domains.txt

Test it out. Tail the /tmp/dnsqueries.log file while browsing the web, and watch DNS queries go out. Then tail /var/log/dnscrypt-blocked.log while hitting an IDN domain, such as

You should see those domains being blocked and will fail to resolve. Most of the sites that use IDN’s will have a regular non-punycode ASCII domain as well, so don’t worry about not being able to get to all of the internets best international cat pictures.

Teardown: E-Mods RS-1 handheld game

I recently bought a cheap NES-knockoff handheld off Amazon for $15.99 to tinker with, pull apart, and eventually reverse the flash image.

The initial teardown showed an unsurprisingly simple collection of components; amongst a small handful of SMT caps & resistors and switches of a few varieties is the LCD screen, an audio chip, an epoxy blob hiding the main processor, and finally a flash 128 Mbit flash chip.

The glorious E-mods RS-1
Case open, +ve wire already snapped off at solder joint
Front side showing LCD
The fun bits – 56 pin TSOP Flash & the main processor
The 128GBit NOR flash chip

The datasheet for the flash chip is here

In order to see what I might be up against trying to sit a logic analyzer on the flash data bus, I had a poke with my scope and saw the string of obvious initial boot reads followed by periodic read/writes at the menu screen.

Chip Enable line on the flash chip

Taking a closer look at the signal, it all seems fairly slow with nothing over 500kHz, easily sniffable even with a low-end logic analyzer.

Access to the flash chip was relatively slow

The next step will be to pull the flash chip and dump the contents.