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CAPEC-45: Buffer Overflow via Symbolic Links

Attack Pattern ID: 45
Abstraction: Detailed
Status: Draft
Presentation Filter:
+ Description
This type of attack leverages the use of symbolic links to cause buffer overflows. An attacker can try to create or manipulate a symbolic link file such that its contents result in out of bounds data. When the target software processes the symbolic link file, it could potentially overflow internal buffers with insufficient bounds checking.
+ Likelihood Of Attack


+ Typical Severity


+ Relationships

The table(s) below shows the other attack patterns and high level categories that are related to this attack pattern. These relationships are defined as ChildOf, ParentOf, MemberOf and give insight to similar items that may exist at higher and lower levels of abstraction. In addition, relationships such as CanFollow, PeerOf, and CanAlsoBe are defined to show similar attack patterns that the user may want to explore.

+ Relevant to the view "Mechanisms of Attack" (CAPEC-1000)
ChildOfStandard Attack PatternStandard Attack Pattern - A standard level attack pattern in CAPEC is focused on a specific methodology or technique used in an attack. It is often seen as a singular piece of a fully executed attack. A standard attack pattern is meant to provide sufficient details to understand the specific technique and how it attempts to accomplish a desired goal. A standard level attack pattern is a specific type of a more abstract meta level attack pattern.100Overflow Buffers
+ Execution Flow
  1. The attacker creates or modifies a symbolic link pointing to a resources (e.g., file, directory). The content of the symbolic link file includes out-of-bounds (e.g. excessive length) data.

  2. The target host consumes the data pointed to by the symbolic link file. The target host may either intentionally expect to read a symbolic link or it may be fooled by the replacement of the original resource and read the attackers' symbolic link.

  3. While consuming the data, the target host does not check for buffer boundary which can lead to a buffer overflow. If the content of the data is controlled by the attacker, this is an avenue for remote code execution.

+ Prerequisites
The attacker can create symbolic link on the target host.
The target host does not perform correct boundary checking while consuming data from a resources.
+ Skills Required
[Level: Low]
An attacker can simply overflow a buffer by inserting a long string into an attacker-modifiable injection vector. The result can be a DoS.
[Level: High]
Exploiting a buffer overflow to inject malicious code into the stack of a software system or even the heap can require a higher skill level.
+ Indicators
An attacker creating or modifying Symbolic links is a potential signal of attack in progress.
An attacker deleting temporary files can also be a sign that the attacker is trying to replace legitimate resources with malicious ones.
+ Consequences

The table below specifies different individual consequences associated with the attack pattern. The Scope identifies the security property that is violated, while the Impact describes the negative technical impact that arises if an adversary succeeds in their attack. The Likelihood provides information about how likely the specific consequence is expected to be seen relative to the other consequences in the list. For example, there may be high likelihood that a pattern will be used to achieve a certain impact, but a low likelihood that it will be exploited to achieve a different impact.

Unreliable Execution
Execute Unauthorized Commands
Read Data
Modify Data
+ Mitigations
Pay attention to the fact that the resource you read from can be a replaced by a Symbolic link. You can do a Symlink check before reading the file and decide that this is not a legitimate way of accessing the resource.
Because Symlink can be modified by an attacker, make sure that the ones you read are located in protected directories.
Pay attention to the resource pointed to by your symlink links (See attack pattern named "Forced Symlink race"), they can be replaced by malicious resources.
Always check the size of the input data before copying to a buffer.
Use a language or compiler that performs automatic bounds checking.
Use an abstraction library to abstract away risky APIs. Not a complete solution.
Compiler-based canary mechanisms such as StackGuard, ProPolice and the Microsoft Visual Studio /GS flag. Unless this provides automatic bounds checking, it is not a complete solution.
Use OS-level preventative functionality. Not a complete solution.
+ Example Instances
Attack Example: Overflow with Symbolic Links in EFTP Server

The EFTP server has a buffer overflow that can be exploited if an attacker uploads a .lnk (link) file that contains more than 1,744 bytes. This is a classic example of an indirect buffer overflow. First the attacker uploads some content (the link file) and then the attacker causes the client consuming the data to be exploited. In this example, the ls command is exploited to compromise the server software.

+ References
[REF-1] G. Hoglund and G. McGraw. "Exploiting Software: How to Break Code". Addison-Wesley. 2004-02.
+ Content History
Submission DateSubmitterOrganization
2014-06-23CAPEC Content TeamThe MITRE Corporation
Modification DateModifierOrganization
2018-07-31CAPEC Content TeamThe MITRE Corporation
Updated References

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Page Last Updated or Reviewed: July 31, 2018