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TUCoPS :: Unix :: General :: smail4.htm

Sendmail - numerous race conditions



    Any systems running sendmail (tested on sendmail 8.11.0, 8.12.0-Beta5)


    Following  is  based  on  a  RAZOR  advisory  by  Michal Zalewski.
    Sendmail signal  handlers used  for dealing  with specific signals
    are vulnerable to numerous race conditions.

    Sendmail signal  handlers used  for dealing  with specific signals
    (SIGINT, SIGTERM, etc) are vulnerable to numerous race conditions,
    including  handler  re-entry,   interrupting  non-reentrant   libc
    functions and entering them again  from the handler.  This  set of
    vulnerabilities  exist  because  of  unsafe library function calls
    from signal handlers (malloc,  free, syslog, operations on  global
    buffers, etc).

    As sendmail  is setuid  root and  can be  invoked by  user, and  -
    moreover - keeps running with root privileges almost all the time,
    there is no problem with delivering signals at a specific moment.

    It is worth  mentioning that not  only sendmail is  suspectible to
    have this kind of problems.  Moreover, in some situations,  unsafe
    signal  handlers  can  be  even  exploited remotely, by delivering
    SIGURG over TCP stream (OOB message).  Whenever SIGURG is  handled
    in remote daemons in verbose  way using unsafe functions, this  is
    an exploitable  condition.   Note, sendmail  is not  vulnerable to

    One of  the attack  paths we  can see  is delivering SIGTERM while
    sendmail  is  working  in  'verbose  debugging'  mode (-d switch).
    SIGTERM handler works less or more this way:

        - ...
        - syslog(...) call with user-dependent information
        - ...
        - fclose(...)
        - free(...)
        - free(...)
        - ...
        - exit(...)

    This  is  important  that  syslog()  function  effectively   calls
    malloc() code to allocate a temporary buffer.  As exactly the same
    handler is used for SIGINT, and there is no re-entry protection in
    this handler, we can reach appropriate (usually the second) free()
    call, and deliver SIGTERM.   Then, already free()d memory will  be
    overwritten with user-dependent data from syslog() buffer, as  new
    memory chunk  would fit  in the  place of  free()d buffers.  Then,
    duplicate  free()   attempt  on   the  memory   region  containing
    user-dependent data will be performed, which would lead to program
    execution path  compromise.   This is  a difficult  race, but  can
    be attempted numerous times.

    Note that avoiding  re-entry into signal  handler is not  the only
    thing  that  has  to  be  done.   Other possibilities include e.g.
    re-entering functions like malloc() - in this case, signal has  to
    be delivered  only once,  in the  middle of  malloc() call.   That
    would  lead  to  heap  corruption.  Any  functions  that  are  not
    reentrant should be protected in a special way or not used at  all
    in signal handlers.


    Sendmail  team  agrees  with  Michal Zalewski's comments regarding
    the possibility of heap corruption  due to signal delivery.   They
    do not believe  the heap corruption  to be easily  exploitable due
    to the complexity involved with timing and the little control  the
    user has over the contents of memory in the signal handler.   This
    is  different  than  buffer  overflows  attacks which occur on the
    stack and allow users to  insert specific instructions at a  known
    location.  At  the present time,  there is no  proof that this  is
    exploitable as there are no known exploits.

    However,  the  corruption  could  crash  the process and they have
    taken measures to  reduce this possibility  in 8.11.4.   They have
    eliminated  the  ability  to  reenter  a signal handler making the
    attack discussed  above impossible.   Additionally, sendmail  8.12
    will no longer require a set-user-id root binary:

    For more  information on  signal delivery  race conditions, please
    refer to RAZOR whitepaper at:

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