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Before yesterdayZero Day Initiative - Blog

Is exploiting a null pointer deref for LPE just a pipe dream?

A lot of blog posts I have read go over interesting vulnerabilities and exploits but do not typically share the process behind discovery. I want to show how sometimes just manually poking around can quickly uncover vulnerabilities you might miss with other approaches to vulnerability discovery.

In my previous blog, I highlighted a tool named IO Ninja and shared why it is helpful when working with Inter-Process Communications (IPC). In this blog, I would like to show you how this tool helped me find two vulnerabilities: CVE-2021-4198 and CVE-2021-4199 in Bitdefender’s antivirus software on Windows. The exploit I wrote targets a named pipe used by the Vulnerability.scan.exe process. The first vulnerability results in a denial-of-service on almost any process within the AV. The second results in local privilege escalation by exploiting a link following issue.

Now you might be thinking, wait a minute... how does a tool that lets you communicate with named pipes allow you to find a link following vulnerability? That is what we are going to dive into next.

The pipelist tool from Sysinternals reveals that Bitdefender uses several pipes for IPC.

Figure 1 – Output of the pipelist utility from the Sysinternals tool suite.

bdservicehost.exe is one of the executables that runs as SYSTEM after installing Bitdefender. It uses these pipes to communicate with other processes on the system and might be an interesting target.

Figure 2 – List of named pipes used by bdservicehost.exe

Using IO Ninja, we can spawn a pipe server as our standard user to see if we can trigger a connection from the client. Without reading any code, we can poke around the agent GUI to see what IPC connections are being created and what the traffic looks like.

Figure 3 - Bitdefender Total Security GUI

The screenshot below shows that we receive a connection from the client of the pipe that sends data to our named pipe server every time we open the agent GUI. This can be done by double clicking the Bitdefender icon in the system tray or opening it from the start menu.

Figure 4 - Connection from client to our named pipe server

What is interesting here is that the connection remains open. This allows us to send data back to the client. I took the first 16 bytes of data that was being sent to the server and echoed it back to the client multiple times to see if anything interesting would happen. I was also looking to see if the pipe connection would remain open after sending the data.

Figure 5 - Pipe client disconnects after sending data to it

After sending several messages, the client disconnects, and we get a popup box from Bitdefender informing the user that something went wrong within the AV. Take note of the “x” at the top right for dismissing the dialog box. This will become relevant later.

Figure 6 - Bitdefender telling us that we broke something.

After seeing this message, I knew that debugging information in some shape or form must be getting saved or logged.  I fired up Process Monitor from Sysinternals to see if a crash dump file, which I can further analyze in a debugger, was created.

As it turns out, an executable named “BDReinit.exe”, which is Bitdefender’s own crash handler, produces a crash dump file for us on the system.

Figure 7 – Process Monitor showing crash dump files being created by BDReinit.exe.

Another interesting discovery here was finding out that the folder to which the .dmp file is being written to is readable and writeable by standard users.

Figure 8 - Permissions of the directory storing the dump files.

Unfortunately, after looking at the dump file, I concluded the crash alone was not very interesting, and the process being crashed runs as our current user. At this point, I knew I had a potential local DoS on the AV but there had to be more to chew on here.

Figure 9 - NULL pointer dereference: CVE-2021-4198

After crashing this first process “seccenter.exe,” which is Bitdefender’s main GUI interface, I realized that I was still getting connections to my named pipe server. I was able to crash almost any process related to the AV by simply spamming the incoming pipe connections with those 16 bytes as soon as a client connected. I sat in front of my computer, watching the AV processes fall like dominos one after the other in process explorer.

I knew that kicking off a “Vulnerability Scan” in the GUI would spawn vulnerability.scan.exe, which ran as SYSTEM. I quickly tried to see if I could also crash this privileged process.

Figure 10 - Process Monitor showing crash dump files being created by BDReinit.exe, this time running as SYSTEM.

Ahh, the same “BDReinit.exe” process runs again, but this time it runs as SYSTEM. Based on the file name of the dump, we know we can also crash “Vulnerability.scan.exe,” and it writes the dump to disk as SYSTEM.

When looking for link following vulnerabilities, there are a few directories that are of immediate interest.

         C:\Users\[standard user]\AppData

I often look for privileged file writes and delete operations in these directories.

In this case, a .dmp file is being written to this directory as SYSTEM when a highly privileged process that is part of the AV crashes. This alone is not very interesting as we do not control the contents of the dump being written, and it’s the same exact crash from before.

I further analyzed the Process Monitor log and discovered that “BDReinit.exe” was doing two very dangerous things. First, it was writing a very permissive DACL to a file with a predictable name in a different directory. This directory also allowed a standard user read and write access, and the DACL write happened every time a crash occurred.

Figure 11 - Read and write access for everyone

The permissive DACL would get written to this file as SYSTEM if you crashed a process running as SYSTEM within Bitdefender. In this case, I just chose to again crash “Vulnerability.scan.exe” because of how easy it was to trigger. All I had to do was kick off a vulnerability scan in the GUI, and I would get a connection to my named pipe server from this process.

Figure 12 - Kicking off a vulnerability scan

Figure 13 - BDReinit.exe ACL write after crashing Vulnerability.scan.exe

One of my favorite parts about logic bugs like this is that exploiting them is typically very quick and easy. All we need to do to escalate to SYSTEM is redirect the permissive DACL write to a DLL used by the system, modify the contents of that DLL, and then have it get loaded. To do this redirection we just need one symbolic link and a target DLL.

One great candidate for the job is:


This is because a standard user can easily trigger a print job which will force svchost.exe to load our modified DLL as SYSTEM.

Figure 14 - Creating Symbolic link

Figure 15 - Redirecting BDReinit.exe DACL write

Figure 16 - Svchost.exe Loading modified DLL

Putting this all together, the following screenshot demonstrates executing code at SYSTEM using the techniques described.

Figure 17 - Putting it all together

The second major issue I found was related to the crash dump itself. If you clicked the “x” at the top right of the popup box I showed earlier, “BDReinit.exe” or “BdSubWiz.exe” which is the submission wizard, would delete the crash dump as your current user. If the user waited or ignored it for a while, the dialog box would timeout and delete the dump file as SYSTEM if the process that crashed was running as SYSTEM!

Figure 18- Log of BDReinit.exe arbitrary file deletion PoC

In the above screenshot, you can see how we can redirect this highly privileged file deletion to any file on the system. You can also use the techniques described in this blog to achieve privilege escalation and execute code at SYSTEM. Again, this is because the crash dump was being written and deleted from a location that our standard user had read and write access to regardless of the user that was running the crashed process. Furthermore, the files in that folder were not protected at all, so deleting them and replacing one with our link before the timeout was not an issue.

Figure 19 - Unrestricted file permissions


Sometimes vulnerability discovery isn’t super methodical and that’s okay! I did not spend any time reversing the functions responsible for IPC in this application to figure out what data to send over the pipe. However, I identified an attack surface and started poking around. This led me to an entirely different attack surface where there were some critical vulnerabilities.

I hope this blog inspires and enables you to do the same with your targets. Furthermore, I hope it reminds you to look at custom crash handlers and their dialog boxes – both for bugs and to make sure you aren’t unintentionally giving away your research. 😀

Below is a Procmon filter I use that you can download and import to search for link-following vulnerabilities. Just be sure to either change your username to “lowpriv,” or edit the filter before you use it. You can download it here.

Keep an eye out for future blogs where I will share details on other vulnerabilities I have found. Until then, you can follow me @izobashi and the team @thezdi on Twitter for the latest in exploit techniques and security patches.

Happy hunting!


Tools used:

-       IO Ninja
-       SysInternals
-       Symboliclink Testing Tools


Other Resources:

Is exploiting a null pointer deref for LPE just a pipe dream?

MindShaRE: Using IO Ninja to Analyze NPFS

18 November 2021 at 17:14

In this installment of our MindShaRE series, ZDI vulnerability researcher Michael DePlante describes how he uses the IO Ninja tool for reverse engineering and software analysis. According to its website, IO Ninja provides an “all-in-one terminal emulator, sniffer, and protocol analyzer.” The tool provides many options for researchers but can leave new users confused about where to begin. This blog provides a starting point for some of the most commonly used features. 

Looking at a new target can almost feel like meeting up with someone who’s selling their old car. I’m the type of person who would want to inspect the car for rust, rot, modifications, and other red flags before I waste the owner’s or my own time with a test drive. If the car isn’t super old, having an OBD reader (on-board diagnostics) may save you some time and money. After the initial inspection, a test drive can be critical to your decision. 

Much like checking out a used car, taking software for test drives as a researcher with the right tools is a wonderful way to find issues. In this blog post, I would like to highlight a tool that I have found incredibly handy to have in my lab – IO Ninja.

Lately, I have been interested in antivirus products, mainly looking for local privilege escalation vulnerabilities. After looking at several vendors including Avira, Bitdefender, ESET, Panda Security, Trend Micro, McAfee, and more, I started to notice that almost all of them utilize the Named Pipe Filesystem (NPFS). Furthermore, NPFS is used in many other product categories including virtualization, SCADA, license managers/updaters, etc.

I began doing some research and realized there were not many tools that let you locally sniff and connect to these named pipes easily in Windows. The Sysinternals suite has a tool called Pipelist and it works exactly as advertised. Pipelist can enumerate open pipes at runtime but can leave you in the dark about pipe connections that are opening and closing frequently. Another tool also in the Sysinternals suite called Process Explorer allows you to view open pipes but only shows them when you are actively monitoring a given process. IO Ninja fills the void with two great plugins it offers.

An Introduction to IO Ninja  

When you fire up IO Ninja and start a new session, you’re presented with an expansive list of plugins as shown below. I will be focusing on two of the plugins under the “File Systems” section in this blog: Pipe Monitor and Pipe Server.  

Before starting a new session, you may need to check the “Run as Administrator” box if the pipes you want to interact with require elevated privileges to read or write. You can inspect the permissions on a given pipe with the accesschk tool from the Sysinternals Suite:

The powerful Pipe Monitor plugin in IO Ninja allows you to record communication, as well as apply filters to the log. The Pipe Server plugin allows you to connect to the client side of a pipe. 

IO Ninja: Pipe Monitor

The following screenshot provides a look at the Pipe Monitor plugin that comes by default with IO Ninja.

In the above screenshot, I added a process filter (*chrome*) and started recording before I opened the application. You can also filter on a filename ( name of the pipe), PID, or file ID. After starting Chrome, data started flowing between several pipe instances. This is a terrific way to dynamically gather an understanding of what data is going through each pipe and when those pipes are opened and closed. I found this helpful when interacting with antivirus agents and wanted to know what pipes were being opened or closed based on certain actions from the user, such as performing a system scan or update. It can also be interesting to see the content going across the pipe, especially if it contains sensitive data and the pipe has a weak ACL.

It can also help a developer debug an application and find issues in real-time like unanswered pipe connections or permission issues as shown below. 

Using IO Ninja’s find text/bin feature to search for “cannot find”, I was able to identify several connections in the log below where the client side of a connection could not find the server side. In my experience, many applications make these unanswered connections out of the box.

What made this interesting was that the process updatesrv.exe, running as NT AUTHORITY\SYSTEM, tried to open the client side of a named pipe but failed with ERROR_FILE_NOT_FOUND. We can fill the void by creating our own server with the name it is looking for and then triggering the client connection by initiating an update within the user interface.

As a low privileged user, I am now able to send arbitrary data to a highly privileged process using the Pipe Server plugin. This could potentially result in a privilege escalation vulnerability, depending on how the privileged process handles the data I am sending it.

IO Ninja: Pipe Server

The Pipe Server plugin is powerful as it allows you to send data to specific client connections from the server side of a pipe. The GUI in IO Ninja allows you to select which conversation you’d like to interact with by selecting from a drop-down list of Client IDs. Just like with the Pipe Monitor plugin, you can apply filters to clean up the log. Below you’ll find a visual from the Pipe Server plugin after starting the server end of a pipe and getting a few client connections.  

In the bottom right of the previous image, you can see the handy packet library. Other related IO Ninja features include a built-in hex editor, file- and script-based transmission, and packet templating via the packet template editor.

The packet template editor allows you to create packet fields and script custom actions using the Jancy scripting language. Fields are visualized in the property grid as shown above on the bottom left-hand side of the image, where they can be edited. This feature makes it significantly easier to create and modify packets when compared to just using a hex editor.


This post only scratches the surface of what IO Ninja can do by highlighting just two of the plugins offered. The tool is scriptable and provides an IDE that encourages users to build, extend or modify existing plugins.  The plugins are open source and available in a link listed at the end of the blog. I hope that this post inspires you to take a closer look at NPFS as well as the IO Ninja tool and the other plugins it offers.

Keep an eye out for future blogs where I will go into more detail on vulnerabilities I have found in this area. Until then, you can follow me @izobashi and the team @thezdi on Twitter for the latest in exploit techniques and security patches.

Additional information about IO Ninja can be found on their website. All of IO Ninja’s plugins are open source and available here.

Additional References

If you are interested in learning more you can also check out the following resources which I found helpful.

Microsoft - Documentation: Named Pipes

Gil Cohen - Call the plumber: You have a leak in your named pipe

0xcsandker - Offensive Windows IPC Internals 1: Named Pipes

MindShaRE: Using IO Ninja to Analyze NPFS