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Buffer overflow in MSIE gopher code
From: Jouko Pynnonen <jouko () solutions fi>
Date: Tue, 4 Jun 2002 16:07:34 +0300 (EEST)


Gopher is a protocol developed at the University of Minnesota in the 
early 1990's. Gopher servers offer hierarchically organized directories 
and files. These form a "gopherspace" which can be thought of as the 
predecessor of the World Wide Web. Gopher was mostly abandoned soon after 
HTTP and the World Wide Web started gaining popularity.

Microsoft Internet Explorer has a built-in gopher client. Gopher pages can 
be accessed via URLs starting with "gopher://";. The part of code in IE 
which parses gopher replies contains an exploitable buffer overflow 
bug. A malicious server may be used to run arbitrary code on an IE user's 


When the overflow is triggered, a fixed sized buffer in stack gets 
overwritten with data from the gopher server. This data can contain most 
octets from 0 to 255 (also nulls) which makes it particularly easy to 
inject a working shellcode in it. This is a traditional, trivially 
exploitable buffer overflow. A test exploit has been successfully used to 
run arbitrary code without user intervention with various IE versions and 
systems including IE 5.5 and 6.0.

The attack can be launched via a web page or an HTML mail message which 
redirect the user to a malicious gopher server when the victim views them.
The server can be very minimal, ie. a program that can listen on a TCP 
port and write a block of data; a fully operational gopher server isn't 
necessary in order to carry out the attack.

The exploiter could do anything that a regular user could do on the 
system: retrieve, install, or remove files, upload and run programs, etc.

Full technical details aren't disclosed at this time to prevent 


Internet Explorer users can protect themselves from the flaw by disabling 
the gopher protocol. Barely any gopher servers exist on the Internet 
today, so this is unlikely to cause problems. If needed, a gopher client 
or some other web browser can be used to access the gopherspace.

An easy way to disable processing and displaying gopher pages is to define 
a non-functional gopher proxy in Internet Options. Select Tools -> 
Internet options -> Connections. Click on "LAN settings". Check "Use a 
proxy server for your LAN".  Click on "Advanced...". Here you can define 
proxy servers to be used with different protocols. Go to the Gopher text 
field and enter "localhost", and "1" in the port text field. This will 
stop Internet Explorer from fetching any gopher documents.

After installing the patch from Microsoft you can remove these gopher 
proxy settings (or restore them to values they had before).

For more information and a vulnerability test see 



Microsoft was contacted on May 20th. At the moment of writing this 
advisory, Microsoft has started designing and coding a fix, but hasn't 
given any approximation of when it would be released. The patch will be 
available at


when it is completed.

Jouko Pynnonen          Online Solutions Ltd       Secure your Linux -
jouko () solutions fi      http://www.solutions.fi    http://www.secmod.com

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