Signed kernel drivers – Unguarded gateway to Home windows’ core

ESET researchers take a look at malware that abuses vulnerabilities in kernel drivers and description mitigation methods towards such a exploitation

There are numerous sorts of kernel drivers; the primary that come to thoughts are gadget drivers that present a software program interface to {hardware} units like plug and play interfaces or filter drivers. These low-level system parts have a strict improvement course of together with scrutiny relating to safety. Nonetheless, there are extra “software program” drivers which might be designed to run in Ring 0 and supply particular, non-hardware associated options like software program debugging and diagnostics, system evaluation, and so forth. As you possibly can see under, these are inclined to increase the assault floor considerably.

Whereas straight loading a malicious, unsigned driver is now not potential within the newer variations of Home windows (except driver signature enforcement is explicitly disabled throughout boot) and kernel rootkits are thought of to be a factor of the previous, there are nonetheless methods to load malicious code into the kernel. Whereas precise vulnerabilities and exploits that obtain that get a number of consideration, there’s a a lot simpler means: abusing authentic, signed drivers. There are lots of drivers from numerous {hardware} and software program distributors mendacity round that supply performance to totally entry the kernel with minimal effort.

Vulnerabilities in signed drivers are principally utilized by sport cheat builders to bypass anti-cheat mechanisms, however they’ve additionally been noticed being utilized by a number of APT teams and in commodity malware alike.

This paper discusses the sorts of vulnerabilities that generally happen in kernel drivers, supplies a number of case research of malware using such susceptible drivers, analyzes examples of susceptible drivers that we found throughout our analysis, and descriptions efficient mitigation methods towards such a exploitation. Whereas this downside just isn’t new and related analysis concerning the subject has been offered up to now, primarily throughout 2018 and 2019 ([1], [2], [3]), it’s nonetheless an issue as of this writing.

Frequent sorts of driver vulnerabilities

Whereas each vulnerability is completely different, comparable sorts of vulnerabilities appear to be recurrent in unrelated kernel drivers. This can be partially attributable to (ancient) driver code samples that have been created again when entry to kernel mode was not restricted to signed drivers and builders didn’t take safety into consideration (malware may merely load unsigned rootkit drivers as a substitute). The next sections describe the vulnerabilities most often noticed in drivers from a big number of, and even high-profile, {hardware} and software program distributors.

MSR learn/write

Model-specific registers (MSRs) have been launched in Pentium 80586 CPUs in 1993. MSRs will be considered “world variables” of a CPU (or of a selected core). Some include numerous details about the processor or particular CPU core – comparable to temperature, energy, …. Moreover, there are additionally many MSRs that include information important for the working of a system, comparable to IA32_LSTAR (0xC0000082) for SYSCALL or IA32_SYSENTER_EIP (0x00000176) for SYSENTER, each of which include tips that could an handle within the kernel the place the CPU jumps when a SYSCALL or SYSENTER instruction is executed. On newer Home windows x64 platforms comparable to Home windows 10 or 11, SYSCALL is used for each AMD and Intel CPUs the place IA32_LSTAR ought to level to the KiSystemCall64 perform present in ntoskrnl.exe. The mechanism of the transition to Home windows kernel when executing SYSCALL is displayed in Determine 1.

Determine 1. How SYSCALL is dealt with in x64 Home windows

MSRs are listed by a quantity and accessed by the privileged RDMSR and WRMSR directions, which may solely be executed in kernel mode. Many business drivers implement performance for user-mode purposes to entry these directions by way of an IOCTL mechanism. That is normally supposed to have the ability to learn or write just a few particular harmless MSRs (like CPU voltage, temperature, …), however builders typically don’t add any extra checks to limit entry to important MSRs, comparable to the instance seen in Determine 2. This offers potential attackers a possibility to, for instance, patch the SYSCALL/SYSENTER entry level MSRs, that are tips that could a perform that handles any system name from consumer mode.

Determine 2. Susceptible MSR IOCTL handler within the AMDPowerProfiler.sys driver

Overwriting the system name pointer was trivial and really highly effective on older CPUs and programs earlier than mitigations like Supervisor Mode Execution Prevention (SMEP) have been launched. On such programs, merely altering the pointer to the handle of an arbitrary user-mode executable buffer containing malicious code, after which instantly executing a system name instruction on a similar CPU core, was sufficient to realize kernel-level code execution. That is now not the case with newer programs as a result of fashionable exploitation mitigations. That being stated, with intelligent use of varied methods, it’s nonetheless potential to bypass most of those mitigations and obtain kernel-level code execution on Home windows 10 and even brand-new Home windows 11 programs (as of December 2021).

All of the mitigations within the following sections are in place on most fashionable machines and have to be bypassed to realize profitable kernel-mode exploitation.


SMEP is a safety mechanism launched in 2011 in Intel processors based mostly on the Ivy Bridge structure and enabled by default since Home windows 8.0. It prevents execution of code in user-mode pages from Ring 0, and is carried out by assigning a user-mode or kernel-mode worth to a flag bit on each digital reminiscence web page within the web page desk. If a system makes an attempt to execute code in a user-mode web page from kernel area, a 0x000000FC error (ATTEMPTED_EXECUTE_OF_NOEXECUTE_MEMORY) will likely be triggered and trigger a BSOD. SMEP will be dynamically toggled on and off throughout execution with its standing saved within the CR4 register for every CPU core individually (see Determine 3).

Determine 3. CR4 register flags of a CPU (picture credit score: Wikipedia)

SMEP mitigates the naïve exploitation strategy of abusing an MSR R/W IOCTL with a view to change the LSTAR MSR to level on to malicious user-mode code. That being stated, because the attacker is answerable for the stack that’s handed to kernel mode on system calls, they might make the most of a method known as a ROP chain to govern the stack. By putting a sequence of return addresses on the stack, the attacker can prepare to execute a fastidiously picked set of directions in kernel mode by altering the LSTAR MSR through a susceptible IOCTL. With the stack suitably ready, executing the system name instruction leads to the primary “gadget” within the ROP chain executing and when full its code will “return” to the following gadget within the chain, which was provided on the stack with the remainder of the chain.

The performance of such a ROP chain is proscribed by the supply of appropriate code chunks, known as devices, obtainable within the kernel’s modules. Since an attacker can learn kernel modules from the file system and is aware of at which addresses the modules are loaded, the devices will be simply seemed up and if these devices exist, a working ROP chain can then be constructed.

To correctly initialize the transition to kernel, the ROP chain must swap the GS register utilizing the SWAPGS instruction. On 64-bit Home windows, the GS register holds the handle of the Thread Surroundings Block (TEB) in consumer mode, and the handle of the Kernel Processor Management Area (KPCR) in kernel mode. Subsequently, it’s essential that these two addresses change earlier than any operations occur within the kernel. It’s no shock that the SWAPGS instruction can be the primary instruction within the Home windows kernel KiSystemCall64 perform.

The following step is restoring the unique worth of the LSTAR MSR utilizing the WRMSR instruction, with a view to keep away from executing the ROP chain on the following execution of the SYSCALL instruction.

At this level, the malicious code correctly executes within the kernel and the attacker can execute no matter payload is desired. This may be extra ROP devices to, for instance, disable SMEP or SMAP protections by overwriting CR4, and even be direct calls to an exported ntoskrnl API perform.

The attacker can overwrite CR4 using a MOV CR4 gadget to disable SMEP and in addition SMAP, which is roofed within the subsequent part. They then can proceed to execute a user-mode payload straight. The one issue with this method is precalculating a legitimate CR4 worth. Though a lot of the CR4 values will be guessed from consumer mode by operating the CPUID instruction, there could also be some inconsistencies between completely different variations of Home windows.

To transition again to consumer mode safely, as soon as the attacker’s ROP chain has run they should execute the SWAPGS instruction once more after which execute the SYSRET instruction.

Older exploits bypassing SMEP are described in [4], (2015).


Supervisor Mode Entry Prevention (SMAP) is a more moderen mitigation that has been launched to enrich SMEP and additional prohibit entry from the kernel to user-mode pages – it disallows each reads and writes. Simply as SMEP, its standing is saved as a bit within the CR4 register (see Determine 3).

SMAP ought to render the beforehand described ROP chain method ineffective, because the stack containing the ROP chain is in truth a user-mode web page. A system with SMAP energetic will bluescreen the second it tries to entry the stack after transitioning to the kernel through the system name.

SMAP can be quickly disabled by setting the AC flag within the EFLAGS CPU register. This characteristic can be the downfall of this mitigation in regard to MSR exploitation – it seems the AC flag will be set from consumer mode, proper earlier than transitioning to kernel mode, by using the POPF and PUSHF directions. That is attributable to the SFMASK MSR that controls which EFLAGS register bits are cleared when the SYSCALL instruction is executed. Even on the most recent Home windows 11 machines, the masks doesn’t have the AC flag bit set, which suggests it isn’t cleared upon transitioning to the kernel so SMAP will be disabled by the consumer.

Because the SFMASK is managed by one other MSR (0xC0000084), even when Microsoft modified SFMASK to implicitly clear the AC flag, theoretically the attacker may patch this MSR previous to the exploitation anyway.

It’s price noting that SMAP has solely not too long ago been enabled by default in Home windows 10 x64 with newer {hardware}.

KVA shadowing

KVA shadowing was launched as a software program mitigation for the Meltdown CPU vulnerability found on the finish of 2017.

The fundamental thought of this mitigation is that the digital handle area is cut up into two – consumer mode and kernel mode. The user-mode handle area has entry solely to very restricted elements of the ntoskrnl module, particularly a single code part known as .KVASCODE that’s liable for low-level operations like coming into and leaving the kernel when dealing with a system name. That is dealt with by implementing “Shadow” equivalents of the accountable capabilities, like KiSystemCall64Shadow that works as the unique KiSystemCall64, however incorporates variations liable for dealing with KVA shadowing and switching the handle area context correctly (see Determine 4). The remainder of the kernel is totally separated and mapped to its personal handle area and can’t be accessed even straight by the CPU from user-mode handle area till the context is appropriately switched.

Determine 4. Comparability of KiSystemCall64 and KiSystemCall64Shadow variations of the system name handler – minor variations will be noticed initially of the perform

Whereas KVA shadowing was designed as a repair for the Meltdown vulnerability, it additionally probably causes hassle for different kinds of vulnerabilities, together with the MSR one.

There are usually two approaches to disable the mitigation – one is to disable it as a setting within the registry. This requires admin entry and a reboot afterwards for the adjustments to take impact.

Alternatively, when constructing a ROP chain for MSR exploitation, an attacker tries to seek out devices completely within the .KVASCODE part of the ntoskrnl module – since that part handles the system name transition, it’s potential to construct a working ROP chain.

Comparable mitigation was additionally launched in Linux programs, the place it’s known as Kernel Web page Desk Isolation (KPTI).

Bodily reminiscence learn/write

Having the ability to straight learn and write bodily reminiscence appears to be a typical characteristic in lots of low-level kernel drivers. That is achieved by mapping a selected vary of bodily reminiscence to a digital reminiscence buffer that may be learn or written and even handed to a user-mode utility. There are a number of methods to realize this, the commonest one being a capability to map the DevicePhysicalMemory part to digital reminiscence, as proven in Determine 5.

Determine 5. Bodily reminiscence map vulnerability in Passmark DirectIO64.sys driver

A possible downside for the attackers is that they first have to translate the digital handle to a bodily one. Drivers that implement bodily reminiscence I/O typically additionally supply an IOCTL for bodily to digital handle translation, however even when the driving force doesn’t have any such handle conversion, there are nonetheless some ways to make the most of this characteristic.

Essentially the most easy use case is just to stroll by way of all of the bodily reminiscence in search of particular artifacts that symbolize important information buildings that the attacker desires to seek out. For instance, the attacker may attempt to search for the EPROCESS construction of the malicious course of and elevate it to SYSTEM privileges by stealing a token from a extra privileged course of or modifying its rights. A few of these methods are demonstrated here and here.

Since bodily reminiscence mappings disregard any digital reminiscence safety options, it’s also potential to put in writing to executable reminiscence pages. This offers the attacker a possibility to search for particular kernel modules and chunks of code, fastidiously modify them and, if patched code will be executed through a system API or an IOCTL of a driver, to realize malicious kernel-level code execution.

Digital reminiscence learn/write

Digital reminiscence entry IOCTLs aren’t as generally present in these drivers as bodily reminiscence ones, however they’ve very comparable repercussions. Using these is even simpler, as there is no such thing as a handle translation wanted and all of the digital kernel addresses discovered from consumer mode will be accessed straight. A possible draw back is that the entry is proscribed by the reminiscence safety of the goal handle, so it isn’t potential to put in writing read-only reminiscence pages with out altering the safety first.

Subsequently, this vulnerability is often used to govern numerous kernel information buildings to realize issues like elevating a malicious course of to SYSTEM rights by stealing tokens from such kernel buildings.

The most typical means this vulnerability arises is through an IOCTL with a easy pointer dereference in kernel mode, so it may be laborious to detect this vulnerability utilizing heuristic strategies.

Case research

When malware actors have to run malicious code within the Home windows kernel on x64 programs with driver signature enforcement (DSE) in place, carrying a susceptible signed kernel driver appears to be a viable possibility for doing so. This system is called Carry Your Personal Susceptible Driver (BYOVD) and has been noticed getting used within the wild by each high-profile APT actors and in commodity malware.

Within the following sections we current some examples.

Slingshot APT

Slingshot is a cyberespionage platform that was uncovered by Kaspersky in 2018 [5] and is believed to have been energetic since no less than 2012. The actors behind this malware determined to implement their principal module, known as Cahnadr, as a kernel-mode driver. On older x86 programs, the driving force could be loaded straight by the user-mode module. On newer programs with energetic DSE, they determined to implement a customized driver loader that leverages the next signed kernel drivers with MSR vulnerabilities: Goad, SpeedFan (CVE-2007-5633), Sandra (CVE-2010-1592), and ElbyCDIO (CVE-2009-0824). The exploitation focused pre-Home windows 8 programs, so the exploitation was a easy modification of the LSTAR MSR to level to a malicious payload in a user-mode buffer.

Observe that the Kaspersky researchers estimated these risk actors to have been energetic from 2012 to 2018, which signifies that these exploits have been fairly outdated and well-known, however that was no motive for the attackers to cease utilizing them because the certificates of these susceptible drivers have been by no means revoked.


In 2018, fellow ESET researchers uncovered a complicated APT actor that they named InvisiMole [6]. The group has been tracked by ESET ever since and in 2020 an intensive white paper concerning the group and its toolset was printed. In that white paper, our colleagues reported that InvisiMole used the BYOVD method, exploiting the MSR vulnerability within the speedfan.sys driver (CVE-2007-5633) to load a malicious unsigned driver. Whereas this marketing campaign was focusing on older x86 programs and the exploitation utilizing a malicious driver was trivial from the fashionable standpoint, because of the truth there have been no mitigations like SMEP in place, it was nonetheless an fascinating case displaying that the group behind this malware could be very technically succesful.

Later throughout that investigation, nonetheless, a more moderen variant of the InvisiMole malware utilizing the BYOVD method was found. This variant is the one case thus far that we now have noticed of MSR exploitation on Home windows 10 x64 programs getting used within the wild by a malicious actor. It employs superior methods to bypass mitigations like SMEP and even SMAP. That being stated, the exploitation is mitigated by KVA shadowing, which the authors did not handle. Coincidentally, MSR exploitation was used to deploy a malicious driver that tried to disable our safety merchandise. Though the entire compromise chain is extra in depth, we are going to give attention to a selected a part of the malware that leverages the BYOVD method and MSR exploitation that occurs in the principle user-mode module.

Person-mode module

InvisiMole’s authors appear to have developed a complicated ROP chain exploitation framework that they use for MSR exploitation – though the pattern incorporates many debug messages within the code, we weren’t capable of establish and hyperlink them to any recognized tasks. This leads us to consider the framework is an unique work of those malware authors and that non-negligible sources have been spent on growing it. The framework is an intensive C++ codebase with numerous lessons.

It seems that InvisiMole’s authors didn’t learn about the potential for setting the AC flag with the PUSHF and POPF directions as described within the SMAP part, and as a substitute selected a really complicated ROP gadget discovered within the MiDbgCopyMemory kernel perform that begins with the privileged STAC instruction, which is devoted to setting the AC flag (see Determine 6). On high of that, InvisiMole makes use of the IRETQ instruction after each gadget that explicitly units the RFLAGS register with the AC flag set, which stabilizes the exploit even additional.

Determine 6. ROP gadget utilized by InvisiMole to disable SMAP mitigation

The preliminary gadget jumps on to the STAC instruction, which instantly disables SMAP by setting the AC flag. Since this gadget seems in the course of the MiDbgCopyMemory perform, the malware fastidiously prepares the stack and registers to soundly depart the perform. As soon as the MiDbgCopyMemory perform returns, the ROP chain proceeds to the SWAPGS gadget [7] with a view to correctly swap to kernel mode, adopted by the WRMSR gadget to set the LSTAR MSR again to its unique worth. At this level, InvisiMole will proceed with executing the payload, which can be an exported kernel perform or the entry level of a loaded malicious driver.

Driver loader

The motive force loading method is sort of complicated – InvisiMole will first set up a “driver loader” – one other kernel driver module that’s used to load the malicious payload (one more driver) handed as an argument. To initialize the driving force loader, InvisiMole executes a number of separate MSR exploitations, the place each occasion carries a devoted ROP chain with a single API name payload. The malware will begin by executing ExAllocatePoolWithTag to allocate an executable kernel reminiscence buffer for the loader, adopted by making ready the picture in consumer mode to mirror its future handle within the kernel – sections are moved to their digital offsets; imports are resolved, and relocations mounted. As soon as the picture is prepared, it’s copied over from consumer mode to the allotted kernel buffer utilizing memcpy from the ntoskrnl module.

To switch code execution to the loader as soon as it’s copied to the kernel, InvisiMole’s authors additionally leverage the MSR vulnerability and designed a number of devoted PE exports within the loader (see Determine 7 for an instance) which might be supposed to deal with transitions from user-mode system calls. It really works very equally to the ROP chain devices – swap the GS register, swap the user-mode and kernel-mode stacks, save all registers on the stack, restore the unique LSTAR MSR worth after which name the precise perform. As soon as completed, this course of is reversed.

Determine 7. Exported perform within the driver loader module that is known as by altering LSTAR MSR

When the loader is correctly initialized within the kernel, an export named _Start64 is executed by altering LSTAR MSR to the export handle within the kernel. After dealing with the transition to the kernel, _Start64 registers a deferred routine that’s liable for loading the payload driver, and returns to consumer mode. The deferred loader routine will try and initialize the payload driver in a “correct” vogue – creating registry keys and kernel driver objects, performing all the mandatory steps to register the driving force within the system as if the working system have been loading the driving force itself, and finally calling IoCreateDriver. The right initialization method was chosen so the loaded payload driver can course of I/O request packets and talk with a user-mode module utilizing IOCTLs.

Payload driver

The payload driver presents IOCTL performance for disabling numerous notification callbacks (see Determine 8), principally aimed toward disarming third-party safety options, and the potential for defending a file within the file system. The particular instructions are handed from the user-mode module. Apparently, the user-mode module will try and disable numerous elements of ESET safety within the kernel.

Determine 8. IOCTL handler within the InvisiMole payload driver


Seeing a BYOVD method in commodity malware that goals to succeed in as many individuals as potential is uncommon, however the RobbinHood ransomware household exhibits that it could nonetheless show helpful [8].

This ransomware leverages a susceptible GIGABYTE motherboard driver GDRV.SYS (CVE-2018-19320; see Determine 9 and Determine 10) to disable DSE with a view to set up its personal malicious driver.

Determine 9. GIODrv driver exploitation in RobbinHood pattern

The best way DSE is disabled will depend on the Home windows model – on Home windows 7 and older, an nt!g_CiEnabled variable is modified straight within the ntoskrnl module. On newer Home windows 8 by way of Home windows 11 programs, the variable ci!g_CiOptions within the ci.dll module is modified as a substitute. Discovering this variable is barely extra sophisticated and it seems just like the authors adopted a technique present in an open-source undertaking known as DSEFix that’s obtainable on GitHub. Furthermore, since Home windows 8.1, the variables in ci.dll are protected by PathcGuard and tampering with the module will finally trigger the system to BSOD, even when the variable is modified again to an unique worth.

The malicious driver is then used to kill an extended record of processes and delete their recordsdata, primarily specializing in endpoint safety software program and different utilities. Because the termination is finished from kernel mode, most self-protection mechanisms employed by safety software program are circumvented and the method is extra more likely to succeed than trying to disarm the protections from consumer mode.

Determine 10. WriteVirtualMemory IOCTL handler in GIODrv


In 2018, ESET researchers found the first-ever UEFI rootkit used in the wild. With a view to have entry to victims’ UEFI modules, the malware makes use of a robust utility known as RWEverything.

The RWEverything driver was not too long ago disabled by Microsoft straight in Home windows 10 and 11 utilizing the HVCI reminiscence integrity characteristic described within the Virtualization-based safety part.

Found vulnerabilities

Throughout our analysis we determined not solely to catalog present vulnerabilities, but in addition to search for new ones. We arrange YARA guidelines to hunt for kernel drivers with particular performance and indicators of being probably susceptible. We additionally created a proof-of-concept exploitation framework for testing the newly discovered drivers and confirming that they’re exploitable.

We went by way of a whole lot of various kernel drivers that matched our standards and other than discovering the already found drivers, we additionally discovered three drivers beforehand not recognized to be susceptible, some containing a number of unrelated bugs. The truth that even after a number of impartial analysis teams tackled this space we have been nonetheless capable of finding new vulnerabilities, even from respected distributors, exhibits that Home windows driver safety remains to be a problem.

Whereas we have been in search of all types of vulnerabilities described in earlier sections, discovering ones with MSR entry turned out to be the simplest, showing mostly as a result of using particular privileged directions (RDMSR/WRMSR) that give away this performance. Apparently sufficient, in lots of circumstances it might end up that this class of drivers additionally contained other forms of vulnerabilities like arbitrary bodily or digital reminiscence learn and write capabilities.

AMD μProf (CVE-2021-26334)

We’ve recognized an MSR vulnerability within the AMDPowerProfiler.sys kernel driver, which is part of AMD μProf profiling software program.

What makes this driver stand out is that when the underlying software program package deal is put in, the driving force runs on each system boot. The unfiltered MSR IOCTL entry mixed with the shortage of FILE_DEVICE_SECURE_OPEN flags (see Determine 11) and on-boot presence offers the attacker a very good alternative to use the driving force at the same time as an unprivileged consumer – this is a bonus in comparison with the BYOVD method when the attacker must load the driving force themselves.

Determine 11. AMD uProf kernel driver gadget creation with out the FILE_DEVICE_SECURE_OPEN flag permitting non-admin entry

Then again, the software program is a distinct segment utility for builders and never a package deal distributed to a lot of programs. We’ve not recognized another vulnerability within the driver.

The susceptible IOCTL is IOCTL_ACCESS_MSR (0x222030).

AMD acknowledged the vulnerability (CVE-2021-26334) and launched a repair within the November 2021 Patch Tuesday launch.

Passmark software program

Passmark is an organization providing numerous laptop benchmark and diagnostic instruments. To realize such performance in consumer mode, a number of low-level system options have to be accessed by leveraging a kernel-mode driver.

Passmark’s DirectIo32.sys and DirectIo64.sys kernel drivers are a typical framework shared and distributed amongst a number of of the seller’s purposes – particularly BurnInTest, PerformanceTest and OSForensics.

The motive force incorporates direct, unfiltered MSR R/W entry (CVE-2020-15480), a capability to map bodily reminiscence (CVE-2020-15481) for each studying and writing, and the IOCTL handler additionally incorporates a buffer overflow (CVE-2020-15479) as a result of blindly copying, with none dimension examine, an IOCTL enter buffer of arbitrary dimension to a neighborhood variable on the stack.

Passmark acknowledged these vulnerabilities and launched a set model quickly thereafter.


When the driving force receives an IOCTL request from a user-mode program, it would first copy the requested enter buffer into a neighborhood buffer on the stack. The scale of the memmove is predicated solely on the scale of the enter buffer (see Determine 12) and doesn’t take into account the capability of the stack buffer. This may occasionally result in a buffer overflow, if a big sufficient IOCTL buffer is supplied. There are a number of unchecked memmove calls within the IOCTL handler perform and several other IOCTLs can be utilized to leverage the buffer overflow.

Determine 12. Buffer overflows within the susceptible Passmark drivers


This driver presents RDMSR and WRMSR performance uncovered through an IOCTL that enables an unprivileged user-mode program to learn and write arbitrary CPU MSRs with none extra checks. The susceptible IOCTLs are IOCTL_READ_MSR (0x80112060) and IOCTL_WRITE_MSR (0x80112088).


Bodily reminiscence mapping performance is uncovered through a single management code – IOCTL_MAP_PHYSICAL_MEMORY (0x80112044). The implementation is cut up into two elements: the first model is finished by way of the ZwMapViewOfSection API; if for some motive this methodology fails, the perform additionally implements a secondary method as a backup, by way of the MmMapIoSpace and MmMapLockedPages kernel APIs. Each are illustrated in Determine 13.

Determine 13. Bodily reminiscence IOCTL implementation in Passmark’s drivers

Devid Espenschied PC Analyser

PC Analyser is one other utility for inspecting numerous particulars concerning the machine. The PCADRVX64.sys kernel driver distributed with the applying incorporates two separate vulnerabilities – unfiltered MSR entry (CVE-2020-28921) and talent to learn from and write to arbitrary bodily reminiscence addresses (CVE-2020-28922). When creating the driving force gadget, the FILE_DEVICE_SECURE_OPEN flag is unspecified, permitting unprivileged customers to retrieve a deal with to the driving force.

Devid Espenschied acknowledged the vulnerabilities and launched an up to date model.


As with earlier drivers, MSR entry is unrestricted (see Determine 14) and the IOCTL code handler incorporates FILE_ANY_ACCESS flags permitting even an unprivileged consumer to leverage the performance.

Determine 14. MSR IOCTL implementation in PC Analyser driver


The motive force’s bodily reminiscence learn and write performance is carried out with separate IOCTLs based mostly on the scale of the learn or write request. It presents the next management codes, none of which make any checks on the reminiscence addresses focused by the request:



Whereas we now have already talked about a number of mechanisms employed by the CPU and/or the working system, most of them will be bypassed with some intelligent methods and aren’t very efficient if the attacker prepares for them forward of time. On this part we want to point out some mitigation concepts which might be really efficient at utterly stopping the abuse of susceptible drivers.

Virtualization-based safety

Virtualization-based security or VBS is a characteristic launched in Home windows 10 that leverages {hardware} virtualization and makes the kernel sandboxed by a hypervisor with a view to safe the working system with numerous protections.

VBS presents a number of safety options with essentially the most outstanding one being Hypervisor-Protected Code Integrity (HVCI), which additionally comes as a standalone characteristic. HVCI enforces code integrity within the kernel and permits solely signed code to be executed. It additionally employs blocklisting performance, the place a recognized piece of code signed by a selected, legitimate signature will be blocklisted and never allowed to be run or to be loaded. One of many drivers that has been blocklisted already through this methodology is the RWEverything utility.

HVCI successfully prevents susceptible drivers from being abused to execute unsigned kernel code or load malicious drivers (whatever the exploitation methodology used) and plainly malware abusing susceptible drivers to load malicious code was one of many main motivations behind Microsoft implementing this feature:

VBS supplies vital safety features towards sensible assaults together with a number of we noticed final 12 months, together with human-operated ransomware assaults like RobbinHood and complicated malware assaults like Trickbot, which make use of kernel drivers and methods that may be mitigated by HVCI. Our analysis exhibits that there have been 60% fewer energetic malware experiences from machines reporting detections to Microsoft 365 Defender with HVCI enabled in comparison with programs with out HVCI. The Floor E book 3 shipped in Might 2020 and the Floor Laptop computer Go shipped in October 2020, and customers might not have observed they’re operating VBS and are subsequently higher protected based mostly on the work executed beneath the hood. [emphasis added]

Other than implementing kernel code integrity, VBS additionally secures necessary MSRs and disallows any adjustments to them. Unsurprisingly, this safety additionally impacts the LSTAR MSR and mitigates the entire exploitation prospects described above.

Whereas VBS is an efficient safety towards MSR exploitation and operating malicious code within the kernel on the whole, the adoption of this new characteristic is sort of restricted, because it has several hardware requirements that solely newer machines can fulfill. There are additionally some drawbacks with essentially the most notable being a performance hit, which can be fairly noticeable relying on the workload. Whereas some benchmarks estimate the performance hit being as high as 25% in particular video video games, the more detailed benchmarking by Tom’s Hardware estimates the efficiency hit being round 5% relying on the precise benchmarks and {hardware} configuration (see Determine 15), which remains to be not a negligible quantity and will lead some customers to contemplate turning this characteristic off. There may additionally be some compatibility points with legacy drivers and software program. With the discharge of Home windows 11, Microsoft has determined to allow HVCI by default for all appropriate units.

Determine 15. VBS benchmark outcomes by Tom’s Hardware

Third-party hypervisor

Much like Microsoft’s VBS, with new sufficient {hardware}, a third-party safety answer might deploy its personal customized hypervisor. Operating the working system beneath a hypervisor offers an in depth oversight of the state of the machine and supplies the potential for inspecting and intercepting any occasion together with execution of a selected instruction. As with VBS, this comes at a price, particularly efficiency and compatibility.

Certificates revocation

On fashionable Home windows programs, drivers have to have a legitimate signature based mostly on an “acceptable” certificates. Therefore, revoking the certificates of a susceptible driver could be a straightforward option to “disarm” it and render it ineffective generally.

Sadly, revocation not often ever occurs and of the susceptible drivers documented in our analysis above, not a single one in all them has had its signature revoked. There are most likely a large number of the reason why such revocations aren’t taking place, however the major ones are more likely to be time and value. As no one requires the revocation, it doesn’t make a lot sense from the seller’s standpoint to ask for revocation, as this will likely be a expensive and time-consuming course of. Furthermore, a signing certificates is normally shared amongst different tasks, so the potential revocation due to a single driver may hinder the event of each undertaking.

Additional, throughout our analysis we learned that drivers with revoked certificates aren’t at all times blocked and that this downside is extra sophisticated than it appeared at first. Revocation is probably not the simplest answer in any case.

Driver blocklisting

Driver blocklisting is a follow adopted by each Microsoft and numerous third-party safety product distributors. A number of of essentially the most infamous susceptible drivers are detected by ESET safety merchandise and deleted when discovered on a system. Microsoft additionally opted to blocklist drivers not solely with its safety answer, but in addition straight by the working system using their HVCI mitigation, which is a part of virtualization-based safety. Whereas blocklisting is efficient, it isn’t a proactive answer – solely beforehand found susceptible drivers will be blocklisted, and it should be executed manually by every vendor. Which means that this mitigation is not going to be efficient towards beforehand unknown, zero-day driver vulnerabilities which may be utilized in a complicated APT assault.

In all probability essentially the most outstanding blocklisted driver is the Capcom “anti-cheat” driver Capcom.sys, which explicitly implements an IOCTL that merely executes the contents of the supplied buffer in kernel mode (see Determine 16). To have the ability to execute a buffer supplied from consumer mode, it even quickly disables SMEP!

When found, the driving force made a number of headlines and plenty of unsigned driver loader instruments have been created based mostly on abusing this perform of the driving force. Consequently, the driving force was finally blocklisted by many security product vendors together with Microsoft and ESET.

Determine 16. Code snippet from Capcom anti-cheat driver


Susceptible drivers have been a recognized downside for a very long time and have been abused by the game-cheating neighborhood and malware authors alike, and whereas some effort has been made to mitigate the results, it’s nonetheless an ongoing battle. Evidently all of the accountable events concerned wish to clear up this downside – the distributors we contacted have been extremely proactive through the disclosure course of, keen to repair the vulnerabilities we uncovered. Microsoft is attempting to strengthen the working system from the within and final however not least, third-party safety distributors try to give you intelligent methods to detect and mitigate such drivers themselves.

Nonetheless, it appears that there’s nonetheless a bit lacking – a typical, unified means of dealing with these points together with extra thorough “disarming” of the drivers, whether or not by revoking or blocklisting their certificates, or some public, shared blocklists adopted by the safety firms.


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[2] R. Warns and T. Harrison, “INFILTRATE 2019: Device Driver Debauchery and MSR Madness,” 2 Might 2019. [Online].
[3] J. Michael and M. Skhatov, “Defcon 27: Get off the Kernel if you can’t Drive,” 13 August 2019. [Online].
[4] N. Economou and E. Nissim, “ekoparty 2015: Windows SMEP bypass: U=S,” 2015. [Online].
[5] A. Shulmin, S. Yunakovsky, V. Berdnikov and A. Dolgushev, “The Slingshot APT,” 6 March 2018. [Online].
[6] Z. Hromcová and A. Cherepanov, “InvisiMole: The Hidden Part of the Story – Unearthing InvisiMole’s Espionage Toolset and Strategic Cooperations,” 18 June 2020. [Online].
[7] A. Ionescu, “UMPOwn: Ring 3 to Ring 0 in 3 acts,” in PoC||GTFO, vol. 2, No Starch Press, 2018, p. 768.
[8] A. Brandt and M. Loman, “Living off another land: Ransomware borrows vulnerable driver to remove security software,” Sophos, 7 February 2020. [Online].

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