Jan 17, 2020

CVE-2019-19470: Rumble in the Pipe

This was originally posted on blogger here.

This blog post describes an interesting privilege escalation from a local user to SYSTEM for a well-known local firewall solution called TinyWall in versions prior to 2.1.13. Besides a .NET deserialization flaw through Named Pipe communication, an authentication bypass is explained as well.


TinyWall is a local firewall written in .NET. It consists of a single executable that runs once as SYSTEM and once in the user context to configure it. The server listens on a Named Pipe for messages that are transmitted in the form of serialized object streams using the well-known and beloved BinaryFormatter. However, there is an additional authentication check that we found interesting to examine and that we want to elaborate here a little more closely as it may also be used by other products to protect themselves from unauthorized access.

For the sake of simplicity the remaining article will use the terms Server for the receiving SYSTEM process and Client for the sending process within an authenticated user context, respectively. Keep in mind that the authenticated user does not need any special privileges (e.g. SeDebugPrivilege) to exploit this vulnerability described.

Named Pipe Communication

Many (security) products use Named Pipes for inter-process communication (e.g. see Anti Virus products). One of the advantages of Named Pipes is that a Server process has access to additional information on the sender like the origin Process ID, Security Context etc. through Windows’ Authentication model. Access to Named Pipes from a programmatic perspective is provided through Windows API calls but can also be achieved e.g. via direct filesystem access. The Named Pipe filessystem (NPFS) is accessible via the Named Pipe’s name with a prefix \.\pipe\ .

The screenshot below confirms that a Named Pipe “TinyWallController” exists and could be accessed and written into by any authenticated user.

Talking to SYSTEM

First of all, let’s look how the Named Pipe is created and used. When TinyWall starts, a PipeServerWorker method takes care of a proper Named Pipe setup. For this the Windows API provides System.IO.Pipes.NamedPipeServerStream with one of its constructors taking a parameter of System.IO.Pipes.PipeSecurity. This allows for fine-grained access control via System.IO.PipeAccessRule objects using SecurityIdentifiers and alike. Well, as one can observe from the first screenshot above, the only restriction seems to be that the Client process has to be executed in an authenticated user context which doesn’t seem to be a hard restriction after all.

But as it turned out (again take a look at the screenshot above) an AuthAsServer() method is implemented to do some further checking. What we want is to reach the ReadMsg() call, responsible for deserializing the content from the message received.

If the check fails, an InvalidOperationException with “Client authentication failed” is thrown. Following the code brought us to a “authentication check” based on Process IDs, namely checking if the MainModule.FileName of the Server and Client process match. The idea behind this implementation seems to be that the same trusted TinyWall binary should be used to send and receive well-defined messages over the Named Pipe.


Since the test for equality using the MainModule.FileName property could automatically be passed when the original binary is used in a debugging context, let’s verify the untrusted deserialization with a debugger first.

Testing Deserialization

Thus, to test if the deserialization with a malicious object would be possible at all, the following approach was taken. Starting (not attaching) the TinyWall binary out of a debugger (dnSpy in this case) would fulfill the requirement mentioned above such that setting a breakpoint right before the Client writes the message into the pipe would allow us to change the serialized object accordingly. The System.IO.PipeStream.writeCore() method in the Windows System.Core.dll is one candidate in the process flow where a breakpoint could be set for this kind of modification. Therefore, starting the TinyWall binary in a debugging session out of dnSpy and setting a breakpoint at this method immediately resulted in the breakpoint being hit.

Now, we created a malicious object with ysoserial.NET and James Forshaw’s TypeConfuseDelegate gadget to pop a calc process. In the debugger, we use System.Convert.FromBase64String("…") as expression to replace the current value and also adjust the count accordingly.

Releasing the breakpoint resulted in a calc process running as SYSTEM. Since the deserialization took place before the explicit cast was triggered, it was already too late. If one doesn’t like InvalidCastExceptions, the malicious object could also be put into a TinyWall PKSoft.Message object’s Arguments member, an exercise left to the reader.

Faking the MainModule.FileName

After we have verified the deserialization flaw by debugging the client, let’s see if we can get rid of the debugging requirement. So somehow the following restriction had to be bypassed:

The GetNamedPipeClientProcessId() method from Windows API retrieves the client process identifier for the specified Named Pipe. For a final proof-of-concept Exploit.exe our Client process somehow had to fake its MainModule.FileName property matching the TinyWall binary path. This property is retrieved from System.Diagnostics.ProcessModule’s member System.Diagnostics.ModuleInfo.FileName which is set by a native call GetModuleFileNameEx() from psapi.dll. These calls are made in System.Diagnostics.NtProcessManager expressing the transition from .NET into the Windows Native API world. So we had to ask ourselves if it’d be possible to control this property.

As it turned out this property was retrieved from the Process Environment Block (PEB) which is under full control of the process owner. The PEB by design is writeable from userland. Using NtQueryInformationProcess to get a handle on the process’ PEB in the first place is therefore possible. The _PEB struct is built of several entries as e.g. PRTL_USER_PROCESS_PARAMETERS ProcessParameters and a double linked list PPEB_LDR_DATA Ldr. Both could be used to overwrite the relevant Unicode Strings in memory. The first structure could be used to fake the ImagePathName and CommandLine entries but more interesting for us was the double linked list containing the FullDllName and BaseDllName. These are exactly the PEB entries which are read by the Windows API call of TinyWall’s MainModule.FileName code. There is also a nice Phrack article from 2007 explaining the underlying data structures in great detail.

Fortunately, Ruben Boonen (@FuzzySec) already did some research on these kind of topics and released several PowerShell scripts. One of these scripts is called Masquerade-PEB which operates on the Process Environment Block (PEB) of a running process to fake the attributes mentioned above in memory. With a slight modification of this script (also left to the reader) this enabled us to fake the MainModule.FileName.

Even though the PowerShell implementation could have been ported to C#, we chose the lazy path and imported the System.Management.Automation.dll into our C# Exploit.exe. Creating a PowerShell instance, reading in the modified Masquerade-PEB.ps1 and invoking the code hopefully would result in our faked PEB entries of our Exploit.exe.

Checking the result with a tool like Sysinternals Process Explorer confirmed our assumption such that the full exploit could be implemented now to pop some calc without any debugger.

Popping the calc

Implementing the full exploit now was straight-forward. Using our existing code of James Forshaw’s TypeConfuseDelegate code combined with Ruben Boonen’s PowerShell script being invoked at the very beginning of our Exploit.exe now was extended by connecting to the Named Pipe TinyWallController. The System.IO.Pipes.NamedPipeClientStream variable pipeClient was finally fed into a BinaryFormatter.Serialize() together with the gadget popping the calc.

Thanks to Ruben Boonen’s work and support of my colleague Markus Wulftange the final exploit was implemented quickly.

Responsible disclosure

The vulnerability details were sent to the TinyWall developers on 2019-11-27 and fixed in version 2.1.13 (available since 2019-12-31).