Friday, March 29, 2024

SSH server compromised by xz/liblzma 5.6.0 and 5.6.1

backdoor compromising SSH server introduced in xz/liblzma 5.6.0 and 5.6.1 was reported today to oss-security by Andres Freund. According to the analysis, when the sshd binary is initialized by the dynamic linker at startup, the initialization code in liblzma installs a hook to the dynamic linker that modifies subsequent dynamic library symbol tables (before they are made read-only) that replaces SSH RSA encryption functions with malicious code.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

The xz repository provides a widely used data compression command line program “xz” as well as a library “liblzma” that allows the compression algorithm to be used in other programs. SSH is a remote secure login server. Although SSH does not use liblzma directly, many distributions such as Debian and Redhat patches it to integrate with systemd notification, which uses liblzma.

The malicious code in liblzma was introduced as obfuscated binary test data in a git commit and patched into compiled binary using an obfuscated M4 macro as part of the build system. The malicious git commit was introduced by JiaT75, who has been contributing xz commits for about two years while taking advantage of the mental health issues of the original author of xz, who maintained it as an unpaid hobby project. Most of Jia's commits are non-technical fixes such as translation or documentation. Jia reportedly urged Redhat and Debian maintainers of the xz package to push the new version to production, which suggests that it is premeditated. The attack was only discovered because Andres Freund noticed that his SSH login got slower and decided to investigate.

It is nearly impossible to manually audit supply chain attacks like this, but there is one way to mitigate this attack vector: all setuid binaries should be statically linked with the static-PIE linking option. Static linking eliminates the dynamic linking attack vector, while PIE enables address-space layout randomization (ASLR) to make it impossible for malicious actors to patch code in runtime. Allegedly, OpenBSD already compiles system binaries this way.

Some may have concerns about static linking, but they can read the refutation by Gavin D. Howard.

Advisory About Go

Static linking alone does not completely guard against runtime code patching, but we need address-space layout randomization (ASLR) for both code and data. That is because the data sections also contain function pointers that could alter the code path. Without ASLR for data, any function pointer in heap-allocated objects can be compromised by supply chain attack.

Go does not support heap data ASLR (golang/go#27583). This means that malicious code using the unsafe package could traverse the heap and override interface function pointers to change the behavior of existing code. This is despite the fact that Go language always compiles and statically links on the whole-program, and has a -buildmode=pie for code ASLR. Unfortunately, the Go cryptossh, tls, and net/http packages all make ample use of interfaces, and every one of these can be an attack vector.

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