Privilege escalation shellcode

The shellcodes of a kernel exploit and a user-land exploit are different in nature. The former is used for privilege escalation while the latter probably just steal the execution flow to his or her advantage. Remote kernel exploit shellcode share the characteristics of both world i.e. they steal the execution flow while they also perform a privilege escalation. The second difference originates from the fact that kernel exploit shellcodes are probably running in different context, the process context or in case of remote exploits interrupt context. In addition to these two differences, you do not need to worry for null bytes in your kernel exploit shellcode. For local exploits your shellcode will be smoothly compiled to your code and for remote exploits the shellcode is not readed as a string so you do need to worry that null bytes are interpreted as string termination character.

For privilege escalation a limited user needs stealing kernel path execution. X86 architecture has 4 levels of privileges as ring 1 to ring 4. Kernel codes are running in ring 1 and thus they have access to the full architecture instruction set. User applications are normally running under the ring 4 privilege. Except the limited instruction set, the application’s access to different system objects are explicitly defined by the operating system. For example an application with the super user privilege can access pretty much everything but a limited user is limited to what roles or privileges it has.

The logic behind a privilege escalation shellcode is simple; find the credential of the running process and append full privileges to its access token. In most of the times the previous logic can be implemented though sometimes we need to create a whole new set of privileges and spawn a child process using the created credentials. Implementation of this methodology on different operating systems is different, so we examine linux and windows in following sections. What is common on all kernel exploit shellcode is a recovery phase. As mentioned in the writing kernel exploits article, stealing a kernel path and triggering a vulnerability is not without cost. The stolen path may have acquired some Semaphore or lock or the exploit may have trashed some important kernel structure. Therefor to avoid a kernel crash and machine panic state we should recover our mess. In the last section I talk about remote privilege escalation shellcodes.

Linux privilege escalation

In linux world, privileges of a process are stored in a structure (process descriptor or process control block) that a pointer to it can be found at the bottom of the running process's stack. Getting a pointer to the bottom of the stack is as easy as masking the current stack pointer with the size of the stack which is typically 4KB or 8KB. Finding the exact offset to the access token can be done in two ways: either by using a kernel debugger and hardcoding the found offset or by using a heuristic approach. After that the privilege escalation is just the matter of writing 0 to the access token fields; 0 is the uid of the root account. If this method known as UID patching is not an option we can use system calls that create a whole new access token and append it to the process. Of course most of the times these system calls are not exported and you need to find their addresses in kernel in order to call them. In Linux searching for a specific system call can be done through /proc/kallsyms file which is accessible to any process.

Windows privilege escalation

Windows access management mechanism is more complex but it implements the same idea: every process has an access token and the privilege escalation is as easy as patching the access token. Access tokens do not contain just some ids like the linux uids. Access tokens contain complex objects as SIDs. In addition they also contain some privileges that are either defined as a bitmap or some ids. The structure that contains a pointer to the access token is EPROCESS structure (EPROCESS contains pointer to the access token, Process Control Block and etc.). A pointer to the EPROCESS can be found using the Kernel Processor Control Block (KPCB) which in turn can be found from Kernel Processor Control Region (KPCR). KPCR pointer can be found in FS segment or GS in case of Windows 64 bits. A kernel API also exists that does all the dirty works and gives us a reference to the EPROCESS. Again offset to the access token can be found using kernel debugger and hardcoding the value or using a heuristic approach. There is also a ZwCreateToken API which can be used in cases where patching is not an option. This API is undocumented and to use it you should find its address by searching the kernel memory.

Remote privilege escalation shellcode

For a remote kernel exploit you should find a vulnerable network driver. A driver often runs in an interrupt context. This means either you have to run your shellcode in an interrupt context or escape from that context. An interrupt context has the same level of privilege as a process context (the context which most system calls are running under it) but it cannot be interrupted with another interrupt or be rescheduled by operating system. Therefor most of the system calls because of this reason cannot be called in an interrupt context. These limits guide us to escape this context and go to the process context before executing our privilege escalation code. After our privilege escalation is done we probably should return a remote shell but how? The journey of our exploit to execute the shellcode has begun from a hardware interrupt (by the network card) so there is no supporting process that allows us to spawn a child process. To understand the concept, compare the situation with a local kernel exploit. In that situation you probably have issued a system call to a vulnerable path and then after privilege escalation you terminate the process execution normally because you have control over the running application. In a remote scenario however things are different. To escape the interrupt context for example you have to modify the system call table and wait for a process to call the system call. After the system call is issued, your privilege escalation code kicks in and elevates the privileges of the running process but the task is not done. You need to return to the caller, and run a code to spawn a shell for you and connect it to a port. To do that, you need to return to the user-land in a subtle manner that is not only safe but also leads to the execution of the rest of your shellcode. Using the IRET/IRETQ instruction and overwriting the caller address on the stack with the address of the rest of your shellcode (in the user-land), you can get the shell spawning and connect back code to be executed successfully. As you may notice our shellcode had 3 stages and in each stage just part of the shellcode is executed. On each stage the code for the next stage may be copied somewhere.

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