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Vista hacked at Black Hat

Vista hacked at Black Hat
Vista hacked at Black Hat 

By Joris Evers
Staff Writer, CNET
August 4, 2006

LAS VEGAS -- While Microsoft talked up Windows Vista security at Black 
Hat, a researcher in another room demonstrated how to hack the operating 

Joanna Rutkowska, a Polish researcher at Singapore-based Coseinc, showed 
that it is possible to bypass security measures in Vista that should 
prevent unsigned code from running.

And in a second part of her talk, Rutkowska explained how it is possible 
to use virtualization technology to make malicious code undetectable, in 
the same way a rootkit does. She code-named this malicious software Blue 

"Microsoft is investigating solutions for the final release of Windows 
Vista to help protect against the attacks demonstrated," a representative 
for the software maker said. "In addition, we are working with our 
hardware partners to investigate ways to help prevent the virtualization 
attack used by the Blue Pill."

At Black Hat, Microsoft gave out copies of an early Vista release for 
attendees to test. The software maker is still soliciting feedback on the 
successor to Windows XP, which is slated to be broadly available in 

Rutkowska's presentation filled a large ballroom at Caesars Palace to 
capacity, even though it was during the last time slot on the final day of 
the annual Black Hat security confab here. She used an early test version 
of Vista for her research work.

As one of the security measures in Vista, Microsoft is adding a mechanism 
to block unsigned driver software to run on the 64-bit version of the 
operating system. However, Rutkowska found a way to bypass the shield and 
get her code to run. Malicious drivers could pose a serious threat because 
they run at a low level in the operating system, security experts have 

"The fact that this mechanism was bypassed does not mean that Vista is 
completely insecure. It's just not as secure as advertised," Rutkowska 
said. "It's very difficult to implement a 100 percent-efficient kernel 

To stage the attack, however, Vista needs to be running in administrator 
mode, Rutkowska acknowledged. That means her attack would be foiled by 
Microsoft's User Account Control, a Vista feature that runs a PC with 
fewer user privileges. UAC is a key Microsoft effort to prevent malicious 
code from being able to do as much damage as on a PC running in 
administrator mode, a typical setting on Windows XP.

"I just hit accept," Rutkowska replied to a question from the audience 
about how she bypassed UAC. Because of the many security pop-ups in 
Windows, many users will do the same without realizing what they are 
allowing, she said.

Microsoft has touted Vista as its most secure version of Windows yet. It 
is the first operating system client to go through the company's Security 
Development Lifecycle, a process to vet code and stamp out flaws before a 
product ships.

"Windows Vista has many layers of defense, including the firewall, running 
as a standard user, Internet Explorer Protected Mode, /NX support, and 
ASLR, which help prevent arbitrary code from running with administrative 
privileges," the Microsoft representative noted.

After the presentation on bypassing the driver shield, Rutkowska presented 
a way to create the stealthy malicious software she code-named Blue Pill. 
The technique uses Pacifica, a Secure Virtual Machine, from chipmaker 
Advanced Micro Devices, to go undetected.

Blue Pill could serve as a backdoor for attackers, Rutkowska said. While 
it was developed on Vista and AMD's technology, it should also work on 
other operating systems and hardware platforms. "Some people suggested 
that my work is sponsored by Intel, as I focused on AMD virtualization 
technology only," she said, adding that is untrue.

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