Inside the 2020 Ping of Death Vulnerability

Inside the 2020 Ping of Death Vulnerability

Ping of Death Vulnerability

What is the 2020 Ping of Death?

Ping of Death vulnerabilities are nothing new. These vulnerabilities arise from issues in memory allocation in the TCP/IP stack. If memory is improperly allocated and managed, a buffer overflow vulnerability can be created that leaves the application vulnerable to exploitation.

The original Ping of Death was discovered in 1997 and was the result of an implementation error in how operating systems handled IPv4 ICMP packets.    ICMP ECHO_REQUEST packets (aka ping) are intended to be 64 bytes, but this length was not enforced. Any ping packet with a length greater than 65536 bytes (the expected maximum value of the length field) would cause a system to crash.

In August 2011, Microsoft fixed another Denial of Service in its TCP/IP Stack that occurred when processing a sequence of specially crafted Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP) messages

In August 2013, a third ping of death vulnerability was announced and patched in the Windows operating system. This time it was specific to the IPv6 protocol.

Yesterday (October 2020), Microsoft revealed its second IPv6 Ping of Death vulnerability as part of its October Patch Tuesday release. Exploitation of this vulnerability could allow an attacker to perform a Denial of Service attack against an application and potentially achieve remote code execution.

Inside the 2020 Ping of Death Vulnerability

2020 Ping of Death Technical Details

The Ping of Death vulnerability arises from an issue in how Microsoft’s tcpip.sys implements the Recursive DNS Server (RDNSS) option in IPv6 router advertisement packets. This option is intended to provide a list of available recursive DNS servers.

The issue that creates the Ping of Death vulnerability is that tcpip.sys does not properly handle the possibility that the router advertisement packet contains more data than it should. Microsoft’s implementation trusts the length field in the packet and allocates memory accordingly on the stack.

An unsafe copy of data into this allocated buffer creates the potential for a buffer overflow attack. This enables the attacker to overwrite other variables on the stack, including control flow information such as the program’s return address.

How the Vulnerability Can Be Exploited

In theory, the buffer overflow vulnerability can be exploited to achieve a couple of different goals:

  1. Denial of Service: Exploitation of the buffer overflow vulnerability enables “stack smashing” that can crash the application.
  2. Remote Code Execution: Using return-oriented programming, a buffer overflow exploit could cause a function to return to and execute attacker-provided shellcode.

In practice, a Denial of Service attack is the most likely use for this exploit. In order to perform a successful Denial of Service attack, all an attacker needs to do is attempt to write outside of the memory accessible to it (triggering a segmentation fault) or to overwrite a critical value within the program stack.

One of these key values is the stack canary, which is also one of the reasons why exploitation of this vulnerability is unlikely to allow RCE. A stack canary is a random value placed on the stack that is designed to detect attempts to overwrite the function return address via a buffer overflow attack. Before attempting to return from a function (by going to the location indicated by the return address), a protected program checks to see if the value of the stack canary is correct. If so, execution continues. If not, the program is terminated.

The existence of a stack canary makes it more difficult to exploit the vulnerability for RCE, and the use of Address Space Layout Randomization (ASLR), which makes functions useful to attackers harder to locate in memory, exacerbates this issue. However, it is possible to bypass both of these protections in certain cases, so an exploit may be developed that enables the 2020 version of the ping of death to be used for RCE. If this is the case, the repercussions could be severe as tcpip.sys is a kernel-level module within the Windows operating system.

Ping of Death in the Wild

A patch for this vulnerability was included in the October 2020 Patch Tuesday release of updates. At the time, the vulnerability was not publicly disclosed, meaning that (theoretically) no one knew about it previously and could develop an exploit.

Based on the Microsoft description of the vulnerability, a Proof of Concept for using it for a DoS attack has already been created. Additionally, the vulnerability has been given an exploitability value of 1, meaning that it is very likely to be exploited but has not yet been observed in the wild.

This means that we can expect to see DoS attacks using this vulnerability shortly, and the potential exists that an attacker will successfully create a RCE exploit using it as well. If this is the case, the wormability of the exploit makes it likely to be used to spread ransomware and similar malware (like Wannacry and EternalBlue).

Protecting Against the 2020 Ping of Death

The vulnerability in tcpip.sys was patched in an update included in the October 2020 Patch Tuesday release. Installing this update will fix the vulnerability and protect a system from exploitation.

Beyond installing the update, it is a good idea to minimize your attack surface by disabling unnecessary functionality. If you currently do not use the functionality, then disabling IPv6 in general or RDNSS in particular can eliminate the potential exploitability of this and any other vulnerabilities within the Microsoft implementation of this functionality. Instructions for doing so are included in Microsoft’s description of the vulnerability.

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Karen Huggins

Chief Financial, HR and Admin Officer
Karen joined the Netragard team in 2017 and oversees Netragard’s financial, human resources as well as administration functions. She also provides project management support to the operations and overall strategy of Netragard.
Prior to joining Netragard, she worked at RBC Investor Services Bank in Luxembourg in the role of Financial Advisor to the Global CIO of Investor Services, as well as several years managing the Financial Risk team to develop and implement new processes in line with regulatory requirements around their supplier services/cost and to minimize the residual risk to the organization.
With over 20 years of experience in finance with global organizations, she brings new perspective that will help the organization become more efficient as a team. She received her Bachelor of Finance from The Florida State University in the US and her Master of Business Administration at ESSEC Business School in Paris, France.

Philippe Caturegli

Chief Hacking Officer
Philippe has over 20 years of experience in information security. Prior to joining Netragard, Philippe was a Senior Manager within the Information & Technology Risk practice at Deloitte Luxembourg where he led a team in charge of Security & Privacy engagements.

Philippe has over 10 years of experience in the banking and financial sector that includes security assessment of large and complex infrastructures and penetration testing of data & voice networks, operating systems, middleware and web applications in Europe, US and Middle East.

Previously, Philippe held roles within the information system security department of a global pharmaceutical company in London. While working with a heterogeneous network of over 100,000 users across the world and strict regulatory requirements, Philippe gained hands-on experience with various security technologies (VPN, Network and Application Firewalls, IDS, IPS, Host Intrusion Prevention, etc.)

Philippe actively participates in the Information Security community. He has discovered and published several security vulnerabilities in leading products such as Cisco, Symantec and Hewlett-Packard.

He is a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH), PCI Qualified Security Assessors (PCI-QSA), OSSTMM Professional Security Analyst (OPSA), OSSTMM Professional Security Tester (OPST), Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC)and Associate Member of the Business Continuity Institute (AMBCI).

Adriel Desautels

Chief Technology Officer
Adriel T. Desautels, has over 20 years of professional experience in information security. In 1998, Adriel founded Secure Network Operations, Inc. which was home to the SNOsoft Research Team. SNOsoft gained worldwide recognition for its vulnerability research work which played a pivotal role in helping to establish today’s best practices for responsible disclosure. While running SNOsoft, Adriel created the zeroday Exploit Acquisition Program (“EAP”), which was transferred to, and continued to operate under Netragard.
In 2006, Adriel founded Netragard on the premise of delivering high-quality Realistic Threat Penetration Testing services, known today as Red Teaming. Adriel continues to act as a primary architect behind Netragard’s services, created and manages Netragard’s 0-day Exploit Acquisition Program and continues to be an advocate for ethical 0-day research, use and sales.
Adriel is frequently interviewed as a subject matter expert by media outlets that include, Forbes, The Economist, Bloomberg, Ars Technica, Gizmodo, and The Register. Adriel is often an invited keynote or panelist at events such as Blackhat USA, InfoSec World, VICELAND Cyberwar, BSides, and NAW Billion Dollar CIO Roundtable.