KASLR Bypass Mitigations in Windows 8.1


As some of you may know, back in June of 2013, I gave atalkatRecon, a security conference in Montreal, about KASLR Information Bypasses/Leaks in the Windows NT kernel, entitled “I got 99 problems but a kernel pointer ain’t one”. The point of thepresentationwas both to collect and catalog the many ways in which kernel pointers could be leaked to a local userspace attacker (some of which were known, others not so much), as well as raise awareness to the inadequate protection, and sometimes baffling leaking of, such data.

After sharing my slides and presentation with some colleagues from Microsoft, I was told to “expect some changes in Windows 8.1″. I was initially skeptical, because it seemed that local KASLR bypasses were not at the top of the security team’s list — having been left behind to accumulate for years (a much different state than Apple’s OS X kernel, which tries to take a very strong stance against leaking pointers). As Spender likes to point out, there will always be KASLR bugs. But in Windows, there were documented APIs to serve them on a platter for you.

Restricted Callers

Our investigation begins with an aptly named new Windows 8.1 kernel function:

ExIsRestrictedCaller (
    _In_ KPROCESSOR_MODE PreviousMode
    PTOKEN Token;
    NTSTATUS Status;
    BOOLEAN IsRestricted;
    ULONG IntegrityLevel;
    // Kernel callers are never restricted
    if (PreviousMode == KernelMode)
        return FALSE;
    // Grab the primary token of the current process
    Token = PsReferencePrimaryToken(PsGetCurrentProcess());
    NT_ASSERT(Token != NULL);
    // Get its integrity level
    Status = SeQueryInformationToken(Token,
    // If the integrity level is below medium, or cannot be
    // queried, the caller is restricted.
    if (!NT_SUCCESS(Status) ||
        IsRestricted = TRUE;
        IsRestricted = FALSE;
    // Return the caller's restriction state
    return IsRestricted;

This now introduces a new security term in the Windows kernel lingo — a “restricted caller”, is a caller whose integrity level is below Medium. For those unfamiliar with the conceptof integrity levels, this includes most applications running in a sandbox, such as Protected Mode IE, Chrome, Adobe Reader and parts of Office. Additionally, in Windows 8 and higher, it includes all Modern/Metro/TIFKAM/MoSH/Immersive/Store applications.

So, what is it exactly that these restricted callers cannot do?

System-wide Information Mitigations

First of all, STATUS_ACCESS_DENIED is now returned when calling NtQuerySystemInformation, with the following classes:

SystemModuleInformation — Part of my (and many others) presentation, this disables the EnumSystemDrivers API and hides the load address of kernel drivers (finally!).

SystemModuleInformationEx — A new information class that was recently added in Vista and leaked as much as the one above.

SystemLocksInformation — Part of my presentation (and also found by j00ru), this leaked the address of ERESOURCE locks in the system.

SystemStackTraceInformation — Indirectly mentioned in the ETW/Performance section of my presentation, this leaked kernel stack addresses, but only if the right global flags were set.

SystemHandleInformation — Part of my presentation, and well known beforehand, this was NT’s KASLR-fail posterboy: leaking the kernel address of every object on the system that had at least one handle open (i.e.: pretty much all of them).

SystemExtendedHandleInformation — Another new Vista information class, which was added for 64-bit support, and leaked as much as above.

SystemObjectInformation — Part of my presentation, if the right global flags were set, this dumped the address of object types and objects on the system, even if no handles were open.

SystemBigPoolInformation — Part of my presentation, this dumped the address of all pool (kernel heap) allocations over 4KB (so-called “big” allocations).

SystemSessionBigPoolInformation — The session-specific little brother of the above, perfect for those win32k.sys exploits.

Thread Information Mitigations

But that’s not all! Using the well-known SystemProcessInformationinformation class, which famously dumps the entrypoint addresses of system threads (pretty much giving you a function pointer into almost all loaded drivers), as well as the kernel stack base and stack limit of all the threads on the system (used by j00ru in his GS-stack-cookie-guessing attacks, since the cookie is partly generated with this information), now introduces some additional checks.

First of all, there are now three information classes related to this data.

SystemProcessInformation, which is well-understood.

SystemExtendedProcessinformation, which was documented by j00ruand wj32. This returns the SYSTEM_EXTENDED_THREAD_ INFORMATION structure containing the stack base, limit, and Win32 start address.

SystemFullProcessInformation, which is new to Windows 8.1. This returns the SYSTEM_PROCESS_INFORMATION_EXTENSION below:

+0x000 DiskCounters : _PROCESS_DISK_COUNTERS (the new Windows 8 I/O counters at the disk level, copied from EPROCESS)
+0x028 ContextSwitches : Uint8B (Copied from KPROCESS)
+0x030 Flags : Uint4B (See below)
+0x030 HasStrongId : Pos 0, 1 Bit (in other words, strongly named -- AppContainer)
+0x030 Spare : Pos 1, 31 Bits (unused)
+0x034 UserSidOffset : Uint4B (The offset, hardcoded to 0x38, of the primary user SID)

(By the way, I hear Microsoft is taking suggestions on the upcoming 4th information class in Windows 9. Current leader is SystemFullExtendedProcessInformation.)

It’s unfortunate that Microsoft continues to keep these APIs undocumented — the documented Win32 equivalents require up to 12 separate API calls, all of which return the same data 12 times, with the Win32 interface only picking one or two fields each time.

Back to our discussion about KASLR, the behavior of this information class is to also apply the restricted caller check. If the caller is restricted, then the stack limit, stack base, start address, and Win32 start address fields in the thread structures will all be zeroed out. Additionally, to use the new “full” information class, the caller must be part of the Administrators group, or have the Diagnostic Policy Service SID in its token. Interestingly, in these cases the restricted caller check is not done — which makes sense after all, as a Service or Admin process should not be running below medium integrity.

Process Information Mitigations

The checks for restricted callers do not stop here however. A few more interesting cases are protected, such as in NtQueryInformationProcess, in which ProcessHandleTracing is disabled for such callers. I must admit this is something I missed in my KASLR analysis (and no obvious hits appear on Google) — this is an Object Manager feature (ironically, one which I often use) related to !obtrace and global flags, which enables seeing a full stack trace and reference count analysis of every object that a process accesses. Obviously, enabling this feature on one own’s process would leak the kernel pointers of all objects, as well as stack traces of kernel code and drivers that are in the path of the access (or running in the context of the process and performing some object access, such as during an IRP).

Another obvious “d’oh!” moment was when seeing the check performed when setting up a Profile Object. Profile Objects are a little-talked about feature of NT, which primarily power the “kernrate” utility that is now rather deprecated (but still useful for analyzing drivers that are not ETW-friendly). This feature allows the caller to setup “buckets” — regions of memory — in which every time the processor is caught with its instruction pointer/program counter cause a trace record to be recorded. In a way similar to some of the cache/TLB prediction attacks shown recently, in which the processor’s trace buffer is queried for address hits, the same could be setup using an NT profile object, which would reveal kernel addresses. In Windows 8.1, attempts to setup buckets above the userspace barrier will result in failure if the caller is restricted.

Last but not least, the ProcessWorkingSetWatch and ProcessWorkingSetWatchEx classes of NtQueryInformationProcess are also now protected. I didn’t talk about these two at Recon, and again I’m not aware of any other public research on these, but they’ve always been my favorite — especially because PSAPI, documented on MSDN, exposes Win32 friendly versions of these (see GetWsChanges). Basically, once you’ve turned WS Watch on your process, you are given the address of every hard fault, as well as the instruction pointer/program counter at the time of the fault — making it a great way to extract both kernel data and code addresses. Instead of going through the trouble of pruning kernel accesses from the working set watch log, the interface is now simply completely disabled for restricted callers.


Well, there you have it folks! Although a number of undocumented interfaces and mechanisms still exist to query protected KASLR pointers, the attack surface has been greatly decreased — eliminating almost all non-privileged API calls, requiring at least Medium IL to use them (thus barring any Windows Store Apps from using them). This was great work done by the kernel security team at Microsoft, and continues to showcase the new lengths at which Windows is willing to go to maintain a heightened security posture. It’s only one of the many other exciting security changes in Windows 8.1.







Alex Ionescu

Alex Ionescu

Chief Architect at Crowdstrike, Alex Ionescu is a world-class security architect and expert in low-level system software, kernel development, security training and reverse engineering. He is coauthor of the last two editions of the Windows Internals series, along with Mark Russinovich and David Solomon. His work has led to the fixing of many critical kernel vulnerabilities, as well as to over a few dozen non-security bugs. Ionescu is also the founder of Winsider Seminars & Solutions Inc., a company that specializes in low- level system software, reverse engineering and security trainings for various institutions.


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