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Date: Sun, 16 Nov 2014 23:58:25 +0100
From: Robert Święcki <>
Subject: Re: Fuzzing findings (and maybe CVE requests) -
 Image/GraphicsMagick, elfutils, GIMP, gdk-pixbuf, file, ndisasm, less

2014-11-16 21:59 GMT+01:00 Joshua Rogers <>:
> On 17/11/14 07:43, Michal Zalewski wrote:
>>> However, even if tools like file/ndisasm/gimp/readelf can be used by
>>> > many (w/o strong system isolation boundaries) to analyze untrusted
>>> > inputs (for reverse engineering, malware analysis and similar
>>> > purposes) - I'd simply put a blame on those users
>> Well, it's always the easy option, but keep in mind that there are
>> countless tutorials that tell people to use 'file' or 'strings' to
>> examine sketchy file, or use tools such as objdump to do hobby
>> forensics.
> I agree with Michal on this.
> It's like saying Ritchie's fault for the fact that C does not have
> inbuilt bound checking, allowing for buffer overflows...
> I won't really expand on this, but my opinion is that _any_ program that
> is 'trusted', such as `file' and `strings', that contains a flaw in it
> that could pwn the running user, is a security risk.

Depends on the definition of trusted I guess.

Trust (or, to be more precise, certain level of trust) must be
acquired - either by seeing and evaluating the code ourselves, or by
trusting somebody's else expertise (auditors that we might hire or
people whose knowledge and skills we believe in), or by trusting the
community's continuous review processes in case of projects that have
sufficient attention of security-minded engineers.

Not to play saint here - it happened to me as well that I used
'strings' on files that I did not completely trusted, but I can only
say that it was my fault, no matter how strings' counter-intuitive
behavior was.

> I'll also add, from the `file' manpage:
>>   There has been a file command in every UNIX since at least Research
>> Version 4 (man page dated November, 1973).  The System V version intro‐
>>      duced one significant major change: the external list of magic
>> types.  This slowed the program down slightly but made it a lot more
>> flexible.
> `file' is also used by internals of most programs that handle any input
> too. Or some variant of it(probably libmagic).
> And one last point.. `vlc' is used with untrusted input(i.e .mp4s, avis,
> mp3s, etc.). If somebody gets pwned because they try to watch a video
> they download, is it their fault?..

It's something else than 'blame the victim'..

The criminal liability would be on the attacker's side, but if
"somebody's" objective (esp. in a professional context) is not to get
pwnd (or let others be pwnd) then the lack of understanding (to the
technically best possible degree) of technologies used would be their

Having said that - I'm completely for continuous improvement of tools
available to users who don't have technical expertise to perform this
kind of  security analysis themselves. And there are many efforts
related to his goal (various types of client sandboxes bundled with
client projects, as well as code review and testing/fuzzing performed
by various companies and individuals), so maybe in time we'll be able
to run strings/file on untrusted inputs. Just, I don't think it'll
happen by the virtue of fuzzing, more by changing execution paradigms
- and those tools will run in local sandboxes/VMs/fault isolation
containers, or on the cloud (where the problem of isolation would be
somebody else's problem), and all we'll see will be just input/output
in a terminal (e.g. in a web browser).

Robert Święcki

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