Wednesday, 10 August 2016

TAOSSA code auditing tips

A summary (copy-paste) of all "auditing tips" from the (still!) awesome TAOSSA book

Ch 6

Auditing Tip: Type Conversions
Even those who have studied conversions extensively might still be surprised at the way a compiler renders certain expressions into assembly. When you see code that strikes you as suspicious or potentially ambiguous, never hesitate to write a simple test program or study the generated assembly to verify your intuition.
If you do generate assembly to verify or explore the conversions discussed in this chapter, be aware that C compilers can optimize out certain conversions or use architectural tricks that might make the assembly appear incorrect or inconsistent. At a conceptual level, compilers are behaving as the C standard describes, and they ultimately generate code that follows the rules. However, the assembly might look inconsistent because of optimizations or even incorrect, as it might manipulate portions of registers that should be unused.
Auditing Tip: Signed/Unsigned Conversions
You want to look for situations in which a function takes a size_t or unsigned int length parameter, and the programmer passes in a signed integer that can be influenced by users. Good functions to look for include read(), recvfrom(), memcpy(), memset(), bcopy(), snprintf(), strncat(), strncpy(), and malloc(). If users can coerce the program into passing in a negative value, the function interprets it as a large value, which could lead to an exploitable condition.
Also, look for places where length parameters are read from the network directly or are specified by users via some input mechanism. If the length is interpreted as a signed variable in parts of the code, you should evaluate the impact of a user supplying a negative value.
As you review functions in an application, it’s a good idea to note the data types of each function’s arguments in your function audit log. This way, every time you audit a subsequent call to that function, you can simply compare the types and examine the type conversion tables in this chapter’s “Type Conversions” section to predict exactly what’s going to happen and the implications of that conversion. You learn more about analyzing functions and keeping logs of function prototypes and behavior in Chapter 7, “Program Building Blocks.”
Auditing Tip: Sign Extension
When looking for vulnerabilities related to sign extensions, you should focus on code that handles signed character values or pointers or signed short integer values or pointers. Typically, you can find them in string-handling code and network code that decodes packets with length elements. In general, you want to look for code that takes a character or short integer and uses it in a context that causes it to be converted to an integer. Remember that if you see a signed character or signed short converted to an unsigned integer, sign extension still occurs.
As mentioned previously, one effective way to find sign-extension vulnerabilities is to search the assembly code of the application binary for the movsx instruction. This technique can often help you cut through multiple layers of typedefs, macros, and type conversions when searching for potentially vulnerable locations in code.
Auditing Tip: Truncation
Truncation-related vulnerabilities are typically found where integer values are assigned to smaller data types, such as short integers or characters. To find truncation issues, look for locations where these shorter data types are used to track length values or to hold the result of a calculation. A good place to look for potential variables is in structure definitions, especially in network-oriented code.
Programmers often use a short or character data type just because the expected range of values for a variable maps to that data type nicely. Using these data types can often lead to unanticipated truncations, however.
Auditing Tip
Reviewing comparisons is essential to auditing C code. Pay particular attention to comparisons that protect allocation, array indexing, and copy operations. The best way to examine these comparisons is to go line by line and carefully study each relevant expression.
In general, you should keep track of each variable and its underlying data type. If you can trace the input to a function back to a source you’re familiar with, you should have a good idea of the possible values each input variable can have. Proceed through each potentially interesting calculation or comparison, and keep track of potential values of the variables at different points in the function evaluation. You can use a process similar to the one outlined in the previous section on locating integer boundary condition issues.
When you evaluate a comparison, be sure to watch for unsigned integer values that cause their peer operands to be promoted to unsigned integers. sizeof and strlen () are classic examples of operands that cause this promotion.
Remember to keep an eye out for unsigned variables used in comparisons, like the following:
if (uvar < 0) ...  
if (uvar <= 0) ...
The first form typically causes the compiler to emit a warning, but the second form doesn’t. If you see this pattern, it’s a good indication something is probably wrong with that section of the code. You should do a careful line-by-line analysis of the surrounding functionality.
Auditing Tip: sizeof
Be on the lookout for uses of sizeof in which developers take the size of a pointer to a buffer when they intend to take the size of the buffer. This often happens because of editing mistakes, when a buffer is moved from being within a function to being passed into a function.
Again, look for sizeof in expressions that cause operands to be converted to unsigned values.
Auditing Tip: Unexpected Results
Whenever you encounter a right shift, be sure to check whether the left operand is signed. If so, there might be a slight potential for a vulnerability. Similarly, look for modulus and division operations that operate with signed operands. If users can specify negative values, they might be able to elicit unexpected results.
Auditing Tip
Pointer arithmetic bugs can be hard to spot. Whenever an arithmetic operation is performed that involves pointers, look up the type of those pointers and then check whether the operation agrees with the implicit arithmetic taking place. In Listing 6-29, has sizeof() been used incorrectly with a pointer to a type that’s not a byte? Has a similar operation happened in which the developer assumed the pointer type won’t affect how the operation is performed?

Ch 7

Auditing Tip
When data copies in loops are performed with no size validation, check every code path leading to the dangerous loop and determine whether it can be reached in such a way that the source buffer can be larger than the destination buffer.
Auditing Tip
Mark all the conditions for exiting a loop as well as all variables manipulated by the loop. Determine whether any conditions exist in which variables are left in an inconsistent state. Pay attention to places where the loop is terminated because of an unexpected error, as these situations are more likely to leave variables in an inconsistent state.
Auditing Tip
Determine what each variable in the definition means and how each variable relates to the others. After you understand the relationships, check the member functions or interface functions to determine whether inconsistencies could occur in identified variable relationships. To do this, identify code paths in which one variable is updated and the other one isn’t.
Auditing Tip
When variables are read, determine whether a code path exists in which the variable is not initialized with a value. Pay close attention to cleanup epilogues that are jumped to from multiple locations in a function, as they are the most likely places where vulnerabilities of this nature might occur. Also, watch out for functions that assume variables are initialized elsewhere in the program. When you find this type of code, attempt to determine whether there’s a way to call functions making these assumptions at points when those assumptions are incorrect.

Ch 8

Auditing Tip
When attempting to locate format string vulnerabilities, search for all instances of printf(), err(), or syslog() functions that accept a nonstatic format string argument, and then trace the format argument backward to see whether any part can be controlled by attackers.
If functions in the application take variable arguments and pass them unchecked to printf(), syslog(), or err() functions, search every instance of their use for nonstatic format string arguments in the same way you would search for printf() and so forth.
Auditing Tip
You might find a vulnerability in which you can duplicate a file descriptor. If you have access to an environment similar to one in which the script is running, use lsof or a similar tool to determine what file descriptors are open when the process runs. This tool should help you see what you might have access to.
Auditing Tip
Code that uses snprintf() and equivalents often does so because the developer wants to combine user-controlled data with static string elements. This use may indicate that delimiters can be embedded or some level of truncation can be performed. To spot the possibility of truncation, concentrate on static data following attacker-controllable elements that can be of excessive length.
Auditing Tip
When auditing multicharacter filters, attempt to determine whether building illegal sequences by constructing embedded illegal patterns is possible, as in Listing 8-26.
Also, note that these attacks are possible when developers use a single substitution pattern with regular expressions, such as this example:
$path =~ s/\.\.\///g;
This approach is prevalent in several programming languages (notably Perl and PHP).

Ch 9

Auditing Tip
The access() function usually indicates a race condition because the file it checks can often be altered before it’s actually used. The stat() function has a similar problem.
Auditing Tip
It’s a common misunderstanding to think that the less specific permission bits are consulted if the more specific permissions prevent an action.

Ch 10

Auditing Tip
When auditing code that’s running with special privileges or running remotely in a way that allows users to affect the environment, verify that any call to execvp() or execlp() is secure. Any situation in which full pathnames aren’t specified, or the path for the program being run is in any way controlled by users, is potentially dangerous.
Auditing Tip
Carefully check for any privileged application that writes to a file without verifying whether writes are successful. Remember that checking for an error when calling write() might not be sufficient; they also need to check whether the amount of bytes they wrote were successfully stored in their entirety. Manipulating this application’s rlimits might trigger a security vulnerability by cutting the file short at a strategically advantageous offset.
Auditing Tip
Never assume that a condition is unreachable because it seems unlikely to occur. Using rlimits is one way to trigger unlikely conditions by restricting the resources a privileged process is allowed to use and potentially forcing a process to die when a system resource is allocated where it usually wouldn’t be. Depending on the circumstances of the error condition you want to trigger, you might be able to use other methods by manipulating the program’s environment to force an error.

Ch 14

Auditing Tip
Examine the TCP sequence number algorithm to see how unpredictable it is. Make sure some sort of cryptographic random number generator is used. Try to determine whether any part of the key space can be guessed deductively, which limits the range of possible correct sequence numbers. Random numbers based on system state (such as system time) might not be secure, as this information could be procured from a remote source in a number of ways.

Ch 17

Auditing Tip
Examine all exposed static HTML and the contents of dynamically generated HTML to make sure nothing that could facilitate an attack is exposed unnecessarily. You should do your best to ensure that information isn’t exposed unnecessarily, but at the same time, look out for security mechanisms that rely on obscurity because they are prone to fail in the Web environment.
Auditing Tip
Look at each page of a Web application as though it exists in a vacuum. Consider every possible combination of inputs, and look for ways to create a situation the developer didn’t intend. Determine if any of these unanticipated situations cause a page use the input without first validating it.
Auditing Tip
Always consider what can happen if attackers visit the pages of a Web application in an order the developer didn’t intend. Can you bypass certain security checks by skipping past intermediate verification pages to the functionality that actually performs the processing? Can you take advantage of any race conditions or cause unanticipated results by visiting pages that use session data out of order? Does any page trust the validity of an information user’s control?
Auditing Tip
First, focus on content that’s available without any kind of authentication because this code is most exposed to Internet-based attackers. Then study the authentication system in depth, looking for any kind of issue that lets you access content without valid credentials.
Auditing Tip
When reviewing authorization, you need to ensure that it’s enforced consistently throughout the application. Do this by enumerating all privilege levels, user roles, and privileges in use.
Auditing Tip
Although this sample application might seem very contrived, it is actually representative of flaws that are quite pervasive throughout modern Web applications. You want to look for two patterns when reviewing Web applications:
  1. The Web application takes a piece of input from the user, validates it, and then writes it to an HTML page so that the input is sent to the next page. Web developers often forget to validate the piece of information in the next page, as they don’t expect users to change it between requests. For example, say a Web page takes an account number from the user and validates it as belonging to that user. It then writes this account number as a parameter to a balance inquiry link the user can click. If the balance inquiry page doesn’t do the same validation of the account number, the user can just change it and retrieve account information for other users.
  2. The Web application puts a piece of information on an HTML page that isn’t visible to users. This information is provided to help the Web server perform the next stage of processing, but the developer doesn’t consider the consequences of users modifying the data. For example, say a Web page receives a user’s customer service complaint and creates a form that mails the information to the company’s help desk when the user clicks Submit. If the application places e-mail addresses in the form to tell the mailing script where to send the e-mail, users could change the e-mail addresses and appear to be sending e-mail from official company servers.
Auditing Tip
Weaknesses in the HTTP authentication protocol can prove useful for attackers. It’s a fairly light protocol, so it is possible to perform brute-force login attempts at a rapid pace. HTTP authentication mechanisms often don’t do account lockouts, especially when they are authenticating against flat files or local stores maintained by the Web server. In addition, certain accounts are exempt from lockout and can be brute-forced through exposed authentication interfaces. For example, NT’s administrator account is immune from lockout, so an exposed Integrated Windows Authentication service could be leveraged to launch a high-speed password guessing attack.
You can find several tools on the Internet to help you launch a brute-force attack against HTTP authentication. Check the tools sections at
Auditing Tip
When you review a Web site, you should pay attention to how it uses cookies. They can be easy to ignore because they are in the HTTP request and response headers, not in the HTML (usually), but they should be reviewed with the same intensity you devote to GET and POST parameters.
You can get access to cookies with certain browser extensions or by using an intercepting Web proxy tool, such as Paros ( or SPIKE Proxy ( Make sure cookies are marked secure for sites that use SSL. This helps mitigate the risk of the cookie ever being transmitted in clear text because of deliberate attacks, such as cross-site scripting, or unintentional configuration and programming mistakes and browser bugs.
Auditing Tip
Tracking state based on client IP addresses is inappropriate in most situations, as the Internet is filled to capacity with corporate clients going though NAT devices and sharing the same source IP. Also, you might face clients with changing source IPs if they come from a large ISP that uses an array of proxies, such as AOL. Finally, there is always the possibility of spoofing attacks that allow IP address impersonation.
There are better ways of tracking state, as you see in the following sections. As a reviewer, you should look out for any kind of state-tracking mechanism that relies solely on client IPs.
Auditing Tip
If you see code performing actions or checks based on the request URI, make sure the developer is handling the path information correctly. Many servlet programmers use request.getRequestURI() when they intend to use request.getServletPath(), which can definitely have security consequences. Be sure to look for checks done on file extensions, as supplying unexpected path information can circumvent these checks as well.
Auditing Tip
Generally, you should encourage developers to use POST-style requests for their applications because of the security concerns outlined previously. One issue to watch for is the transmission of a session token via a query string, as that creates a risk for the Web application’s clients. The risk isn’t necessarily a showstopper, but it’s unnecessary and quite easy for a developer or Web designer to avoid.

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