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Date: Sat, 15 Nov 2014 21:42:35 +0300
From: Alexander Cherepanov <>
Subject: Re: Re: strings / libbfd crasher

On 2014-11-12 05:01, Michal Zalewski wrote:
>> Is codebase generally much better? You aim at "the more difficult or
>> better-fuzzed targets" but what about other software? Or put it another way:
>> how big portion of widely used software you consider "the more difficult or
>> better-fuzzed targets"?
> Most of the open-source libraries used in browsers (libpng,
> libjpeg-turbo, zlib, etc), as well as most of the mature and popular
> network daemons (Apache, OpenSSH, etc) and other components
> well-understood to be critical to security (e.g., most setuids, most
> compression utilities) are comparatively better. They are not perfect,
> but it is widely accepted that you'd need a lot of effort and luck to
> find bugs in them.

Ok, this reflects a quite traditional approach to prioritization of 
targets for audit, e.g.,
(but with a natural twist regarding browsers:-)

OTOH the "most" part in "most compression utilities" is somewhat 
questionable. There are quite a number of them. E.g. File Roller 
supports arj, lha, zoo...

> The problem with libbfd is that it had genuinely very little range
> checking in place, probably because it wasn't designed to be ever run
> on binaries you do not intend to execute.

Yes, and the one of the main reasons for this is probably that it is 
from the era of non-hostile environment. There are many other programs 
from that era and I understand how, e.g., zoo can retain the status quo 
but I'm not sure how such active projects as binutils can. Perhaps the 
culture of nineties poison new developers as they join:-)

> The default operation of
> /usr/bin/strings and the way many people ended up using it arguably
> violates that assumption in a particularly pronounced way. Tools such
> as objdump are a bit of a grey area, too.

Why is that? I think using objdump to analyze malware is quite common.

> There are several other libraries and tools that are probably a bit
> wonky when you factor way their popularity (e.g., tcpdump probably
> leaves something to be desired - it's fairly easy to hit crashes when
> fuzzing pcaps;

Not good. Haven't you looked into it -- are these crashes due to 
malformed pcap format or due to malformed traffic?

> ImageMagick used to be relatively bad, too, although it
> probably have improved in recent years;

Hm, now, it took me more time to find out how to get a list of supported 
formats from it than to wait for a crash. Tools from the bundle accepts 
all supported formats as input (unlike netpbm). Very convenient:-)

BTW any crash in imagemagick during image processing is regarded as a 
security issue? Probably a grateful target for fuzzing.
> ffmpeg and poppler are other
> examples of things you should probably vaguely worry about; font
> parsers and GL drivers, as exposed through the browser, are another
> interesting risk).

I started (or stopped, depending on the POV:-) to worry when I found out 
that `file` is easy to crash with .doc files and elfs. It probably also 
have improved in recent years but it have got more then 10 CVEs during 
this year only.

> There is also plenty of emerging projects, especially on the cloud /
> web front, that have received minimal scrutiny.
> Now, the quality of the *average* OSS project is probably comparable
> to libbfd, but the average OSS project is probably less likely to be
> exposed to untrusted inputs under normal operating conditions.

Sorry, I don't understand your stance. There is a whole world of desktop 
tools and applications -- from `file` and `strings` to LibreOffice and 
Blender. And most of them process files received from untrusted sources. 
And desktop apps are used in attacks (e.g. against Tibetan activists). 
Is there a program to view .doc files which doesn't have the quality 
comparable (or worse) to libbfd? I doubt it but I would be glad to be 
proved wrong.

In some sense these programs are indeed less likely to be exposed to 
untrusted inputs comparing to browsers but is the difference really 

>> This leads to a question: how to deal with it.
> Well, hard to say. The simplest option is to dump all the test cases
> or the fuzzer onto the maintainer. Some will get busy troubleshooting
> the issues or will even set up their own fuzzing jobs, some will give
> you funny looks.
> When that happens, you can either try to research and prioritize the
> test cases, or make everything public and hope that others will sort
> it out. But it may very well be that if you do that without
> researching exploitability, people won't notice or care, unless you
> have a good publicist or do a really catchy conference presentation.
> Even with a lot of PR, success isn't necessarily guaranteed. The
> Mayhem fuzzing effort ( comes to
> mind as a fairly prominent example of a high-profile PR event coupled
> with dumping an immense amount of almost universally non-security bugs
> into the Debian tracker; but more than a year later, something like
> 800 of them are still open, so ultimately, the results are somewhat
> inconclusive.

Yeah, I remember reading about it but I don't remember seeing any 

And I remember media player debacles -- and e.g. 

> In the end, unless you can make a plausible argument that something is
> probably a security risk, you don't have a lot of ground to stand on.
> Can be a bad thing, can be a good one =)

Sure. I was hoping that it's possible to have quick-and-dirty but widely 
acceptable way to assess the level of security risk.

Alexander Cherepanov

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