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Unsafe Signal Handling in Sendmail
From: Michal Zalewski <lcamtuf () bos bindview com>
Date: Mon, 28 May 2001 18:16:57 -0400 (EDT)

RAZOR advisory: Unsafe Signal Handling in Sendmail

   Issue Date: May 28, 2001
   Contact: Michal Zalewski <lcamtuf () razor bindview com>


   Sendmail signal handlers used for dealing with specific signals are
   vulnerable to numerous race conditions.

Affected Systems:

   Any systems running sendmail (tested on sendmail 8.11.0, 8.12.0-Beta5)


   Sendmail signal handlers used for dealing with specific signals
   (SIGINT, SIGTERM, etc) are vulnerable to numerous race conditions,
   including handler re-entry, interrupting non-reentrant libc functions
   and entering them again from the handler (see "References" for more
   details on this family of vulnerabilities). This set of
   vulnerabilities exist because of unsafe library function calls from
   signal handlers (malloc, free, syslog, operations on global buffers,

   As sendmail is setuid root and can be invoked by user, and - moreover
   - keeps running with root privileges almost all the time, there is no
   problem with delivering signals at a specific moment.

   It is worth mentioning that not only sendmail is suspectible to have
   this kind of problems. Moreover, in some situations, unsafe signal
   handlers can be even exploited remotely, by delivering SIGURG over TCP
   stream (OOB message). Whenever SIGURG is handled in remote daemons in
   verbose way using unsafe functions, this is an exploitable condition.
   Note, sendmail is not vulnerable to this.


   One of the attack paths we can see is delivering SIGTERM while
   sendmail is working in 'verbose debugging' mode (-d switch). SIGTERM
   handler works less or more this way:

     - ...
     - syslog(...) call with user-dependent information
     - ...
     - fclose(...)
     - free(...)
     - free(...)
     - ...
     - exit(...)

   This is important that syslog() function effectively calls malloc()
   code to allocate a temporary buffer. As exactly the same handler is
   used for SIGINT, and there is no re-entry protection in this handler,
   we can reach appropriate (usually the second) free() call, and deliver
   SIGTERM. Then, already free()d memory will be overwritten with
   user-dependent data from syslog() buffer, as new memory chunk would
   fit in the place of free()d buffers. Then, duplicate free() attempt on
   the memory region containing user-dependent data will be performed,
   which would lead to program execution path compromise. This is a
   difficult race, but can be attempted numerous times.

   Note that avoiding re-entry into signal handler is not the only thing
   that has to be done. Other possibilities include e.g. re-entering
   functions like malloc() - in this case, signal has to be delivered
   only once, in the middle of malloc() call. That would lead to heap
   corruption. Any functions that are not reentrant should be protected
   in a special way or not used at all in signal handlers.

Vendor response / fix info:

   From sendmail-security () sendmail org:

   We agree with Michal Zalewski's comments regarding the possibility of
   heap corruption due to signal delivery. We do not believe the heap
   corruption to be easily exploitable due to the complexity involved
   with timing and the little control the user has over the contents of
   memory in the signal handler. This is different than buffer overflows
   attacks which occur on the stack and allow users to insert specific
   instructions at a known location. At the present time, there is no
   proof that this is exploitable as there are no known exploits.

   However, the corruption could crash the process and we have taken
   measures to reduce this possibility in 8.11.4. We have eliminated the
   ability to reenter a signal handler making the attack discussed above
   impossible. Additionally, sendmail 8.12 will no longer require a
   set-user-id root binary.

   Note that this attack can only be used by a process started by the
   user and therefore can not be used as a denial of service attack and
   also is not remotely exploitable. The information regarding remote
   attacks and SIGURG does not apply to sendmail as SMTP does not use out
   of band messages.


   For more information on signal delivery race conditions, please
   refer to RAZOR whitepaper at:


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