Observations on CanSecWest 2016

Several members of Adobe’s product security team attended CanSecWest this year. The technical depth and breadth of the research presented in Vancouver this year yet again lived up to expectations.  Of the security conferences that Adobe sponsors throughout the year, CanSecWest consistently draws a critical mass from the security research community, with offensive, defensive and vendor communities well-represented.  Research presented this year ranged from discussions about advanced persistent threats (APTs), to vulnerabilities in software, to frameworks that assist in hardware security testing.

Trending Topics

Securing “the cloud” and the underlying virtualization technology is increasingly recognized as a core competency rather than an add-on.  A presentation by Qinghao Tang from Qihoo 360 demonstrated several security testing techniques for virtualization technology.  In particular, his work outlined a framework for fuzzing virtualization software which lead to the discovery of four critical vulnerabilities in QEMU emulator.

In a separate presentation, Shengping Wang (also from Qihoo 360) described a technique to escape a Docker container and run arbitrary code on the host system.  Specifically, the technique allowed an attacker to tamper with data structures storing kernel process descriptors to yield root access.

As the Internet of Things (IoT) continues along its explosive growth path, the community assembled at CanSecWest is among the more vocal warning of the security implications of billions of inter-connected devices.  Artem Chaykin of Positive Technologies described how almost every Android messaging app that uses Android Wear is vulnerable to message interception.  Moreover, malicious third party apps can be used to not only intercept messages, but also send arbitrary messages to everyone on the contact list of a device.

A separate talk by Song Li of OXID LLC described attacks on “smart” locks.  The attacks exploit pairing between a dedicated app and a bluetooth key-fob to achieve DoS (i.e., inability to unlock the door) and unintended unlocking.

Attributing cyber intrusions to specific actors or APTs can be controversial and subject to error.  This was the topic of an interesting talk by several researchers from Kaspersky Labs.  In particular, APTs have increased their use of deception tactics to confuse investigators attempting to assign attribution, and Kaspersky highlighted several examples of APTs deliberately planting misleading attributes in malware.

Continuing with the APT theme, Gadi Evron of Cymmetria discussed how the OPSEC of APTs have evolved over time to handle public disclosure of their activities.

Additional research

Building on recent advances in static and dynamic program analysis, Sophia D’Antoine of Trail of Bits described a practical technique for automated exploit generation.  The techniques described have inherent scalability issues, but we expect to see increased automation of certain aspects of exploit development.

In an exploration of graphics driver code, the Keen Labs Tencent team described fuzzing and code auditing strategies to identify bugs in Apple’s graphics drivers. Moreover, the team described an interesting method to gain reliable exploitation of a race condition that caused a double-free vulnerability on a doubly-linked list representation.

Guang Tang of Qihoo 360’s Marvel Team demonstrated how to exploit a vulnerability in the J8 javascript engine on a Google Nexus device to achieve remote code execution.  With code execution achieved, his team was then able to perform device actions such as installing arbitrary apps from the app store.  Importantly, they demonstrated that this vulnerability is still present in the Android PAC (Proxy Auto Config) service.

Finally, building on earlier work by Google Project Zero and other research, Chuanda Ding from Tencent Xuandu Lab presented research on abusing flaws in anti-virus software as a means to escape application sandboxes.

The exposure to bleeding edge research presented by subject matter security experts, and the opportunity to forge new relationships with the security research community sets CanSecWest apart from the security conferences Adobe attends throughout the year.  We hope to see you there next year.

Slides for these and other CanSecWest 2016 presentations should be posted on the CanSecWest site in a week or two.

Pieter Ockers
Sr. Security Program Manager

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