Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Application Security

11/10/2020
06:10 PM
50%
50%

Flaws in Privileged Management Apps Expose Machines to Attack

The Intel Support Assistant is the latest Windows utility to be found that could expose millions of computers to privilege-escalation attacks through file manipulation and symbolic links.

Intel issued a patch on Nov. 10, fixing a vulnerability in the way the Intel Support Assistant interacts with files that could impact millions of Windows systems and could lead to privilege-escalation attacks.

The vulnerability is the latest issue disclosed by access-security firm CyberArk during an 18-month effort to seek out specific types of patterns that could lead to vulnerabilities, analyzing widespread management utilities for flaws that would allow malware or a local attacker to gain system privileges on a victim's computer. In this case, the Intel Support Assistant interacts insecurely with nonprivileged data and directories, giving attackers the ability to execute code as the privileged program by modifying a nonprivileged file.

Related Content:

Microsoft Fixes Privilege Escalation 0Day Under Active Attack

The Changing Face of Threat Intelligence

New on The Edge: The Double-Edged Sword of Cybersecurity Insurance

The attack only requires a malicious program or user to copy malicious code to a directory used by the utility, according to Eran Shimony, a security researcher with CyberArk. The issues, which allow an attacker to manipulate files, result in raising the permissions of any malware program, giving it the ability to "do a bunch of things that you couldn't do as a mere user," the researcher says. 

"To trigger the ability is pretty simple: You abuse some of the features of the Intel Support Assistant, and through that, you can escalate into a system account," he says. "And, if you have local admin, then it is pretty much game over."

The vulnerabilities underscore the impact that simple errors — such as failing to protect the directories used by system utilities with high-level permissions or running those utilities with reduced access rights — can have on system security. Shimony's research effort, conducted over 18 months, aimed to provide "a complementary approach to fuzzing" to find new vulnerabilities. By June 2020, the CyberArk research group had discovered more than 60 distinct vulnerabilities.

The research has resulted in a series of security notices from CyberArk and advisories from affected firms about privilege-escalation vulnerabilities in a passel of system utilities — from Microsoft's Windows Defender to Dell's Update Package. 

Shimony disclosed a vulnerability in Windows Defenders in October 2019, for example, that abused symbolic links, or symlinks — files that link to other files — to allow any file to be deleted on any Windows system without the fix. A few weeks later, the researcher released details of a class of vulnerability caused by the vendors' failure to protect the directories used by their software installers. An attacker could replace an installed file with malicious code of the same name and then wait for the administrator to run the installer to run the code. Dell's Update Package, for example, would run whenever there was an update.

The researcher notified Intel of the latest vulnerability more than a year ago. The company needed time to inform all of its partners and work together on a fix, Shimony says. The notification of the Intel Support Assistant vulnerability (CVE-2020-22460) came on Tuesday.

While the vendors have released patches for the vulnerabilities, Shimony urges developers to be aware of this particular class of flaws and has two recommendations for programmers. First, developers should always protect the directories and files used by privileged programs from modification — whether creation, deletion, or manipulation — by regular users. Second, coders should always execute specific operations at the least privilege needed to manipulate local files, by adopting the appropriate role.

"Often, the privileged program can do the same things in the context of the administrator or the system, or it can do the same things in the context of the regular user," he says. "If the developer can, they should impersonate the local user whenever at all possible. If they do that, we cannot do any file manipulation attack, because we would not have the necessary permissions to do them."

The researcher also disclosed a second vulnerability in Intel's Support Assistant that is more complex to exploit and which allows an attacker to delete an arbitrary file. 

This is not the first time that the Intel Support Assistant has been a vehicle for privilege escalation. In early September, the company also issued a notice that a similar scenario — a user exploiting file permissions — can lead to escalation of privilege.

Veteran technology journalist of more than 20 years. Former research engineer. Written for more than two dozen publications, including CNET News.com, Dark Reading, MIT's Technology Review, Popular Science, and Wired News. Five awards for journalism, including Best Deadline ... View Full Bio
 

Recommended Reading:

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Commentary
Ransomware Is Not the Problem
Adam Shostack, Consultant, Entrepreneur, Technologist, Game Designer,  6/9/2021
Edge-DRsplash-11-edge-ask-the-experts
How Can I Test the Security of My Home-Office Employees' Routers?
John Bock, Senior Research Scientist,  6/7/2021
News
New Ransomware Group Claiming Connection to REvil Gang Surfaces
Jai Vijayan, Contributing Writer,  6/10/2021
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
The State of Cybersecurity Incident Response
In this report learn how enterprises are building their incident response teams and processes, how they research potential compromises, how they respond to new breaches, and what tools and processes they use to remediate problems and improve their cyber defenses for the future.
Flash Poll
How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
Recent breaches of third-party apps are driving many organizations to think harder about the security of their off-the-shelf software as they continue to move left in secure software development practices.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2021-20733
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-22
Improper authorization in handler for custom URL scheme vulnerability in ????????? (asken diet) for Android versions from v.3.0.0 to v.4.2.x allows a remote attacker to lead a user to access an arbitrary website via the vulnerable App.
CVE-2021-20734
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-22
Cross-site scripting vulnerability in Welcart e-Commerce versions prior to 2.2.4 allows remote attackers to inject arbitrary script or HTML via unspecified vectors.
CVE-2021-20735
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-22
Cross-site scripting vulnerability in ETUNA EC-CUBE plugins (Delivery slip number plugin (3.0 series) 1.0.10 and earlier, Delivery slip number csv bulk registration plugin (3.0 series) 1.0.8 and earlier, and Delivery slip number mail plugin (3.0 series) 1.0.8 and earlier) allows remote attackers to ...
CVE-2021-20736
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-22
NoSQL injection vulnerability in GROWI versions prior to v4.2.20 allows a remote attacker to obtain and/or alter the information stored in the database via unspecified vectors.
CVE-2021-20737
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-22
Improper authentication vulnerability in GROWI versions prior to v4.2.20 allows a remote attacker to view the unauthorized pages without access privileges via unspecified vectors.