IE 5 Allows Arbitrary Code to Run - 05 Dec 1999

IE 5 Allows Arbitrary Code to Execute

Reported December 6, 1999 by
Jeremy Kothe

Internet Explorer 5.0 (5.00.2314.1003IC and 5.00.2614.3500) However, other versions may be affected


Jeremy writes:

"By providing an oversize (360 byte) URL using the protocol, a malicious web site or e-mailer (or...) can cause arbitrary code to be executed on a client machine.

The file with the overrun is MSDXM.OCX - (807,184 bytes.) It came to me with IE, and is identical on every installation I"ve seen so far

Both NT and Windows 9x are vulnerable. Also, I did find one W98 machine which was immune - I didn"t have time to figure why..."


The following is the binary for a URL or link which overflows the stack and displays a simple MessageBox, then loops endlessly (ExitProcess
wasn"t around).

I"ve used addresses from MSDXM.OCX, which is where the overrun is. If you banged your head against richedxx.dll (solar d. spyrit,...), then
you"ll appreciate this file. It"s mapped at 0x1d300000 and is 800k. With all chars except 0, 9, 0a, 0c, 20, 22, 23, 25, 2e, 2f, 5c
allowed in the buffer.

Off Text Binary (where non-text)
010 kwashere9991.... C0890783
020 ..PWWP....0...00 EF0C, FF151416, 1DEBFE
030 0000000000000000
040 0000000000000000
050 0000000000000000
060 0000000000000000
070 0000000000000000
080 0000000000000000
090 0000000000000000
0A0 0000000000000000
0B0 0000000000000000
0C0 0000000000000000
0D0 0000000000000000
0E0 0000000000000000
0F0 0000000000000000
100 0000000000000000
110 0000000000000000
120 0000000000000000
130 0000000000.00000 1D
140 1D, 1D, 1D, 1D
150 000.o6.0000000.0 1A6F361D, 1D
160 000000.0 1D

Straight after the "\\", there is data, then code. I put them there because there"s over 0x100 bytes of space here, and edi
points to offset 1bh at the point of no return. If you need more space (writing a word processor?), IE allows somewhere between 2-4k in
addition to what I"ve used. (which would be large enough for a modest "worm".)

The address at offset 154h overwrites the return address with a pointer to a "call edi"... which calls the code...

All the other "1D""s are to provide readable pointers to avoid exceptions while waiting for the end of the call. (They"re actually

How did it happen?

I coded the exploit without paying much attention to what the source was saying, then at the end decided I"d go and find out how a
relatively new piece of software like this could allow a dreary old unchecked stack overflow.

The original exception was reported within msvcrt.dll"s mcsstr function. The stack had been overwritten, but the arguments and return address for mcsstr (and no further) were written over the top. This meant the overrun must have ocurred in the calling function. (Besides, I trust Microsoft to know their crt by now.)

The return address is in MSDXM.OCX at 0x1d365585. Looking back upwards from the call to mcsstr, the previous call is to _mbsnbcat
(strncat). Should be safe enough. Above that is _mbsrchr (strrchr). That"s begnign also. Next comes the (I suppose) inevitable - an inline
strcpy into a 0x100 byte buffer situated on the stack 0x40 bytes into the local frame.

Examining further reveals that the author is assuming that the final portion of the url (after the last forward or back-slash) is less than 256 chars.

Basically, it boils down to:

char acBuffer\[ 256 \];
strcpy( acBuffer, pszInput )



1. Static buffers kill.
2. Functions which fill buffers without size constraints are evil.
3. If you don"t know how big it is, find out before you copy it.
4. None of these conclusions are new.

In short, sized strings: 12329852, null-terminated strings: 0.

The root of the problem is this: The API"s of nearly all OSes require terminated strings. The programmer is therefore required to use them,
and because the provided functions for converting are so messy, and the support functions for sized strings so (comparitively) convoluted that using sized strings internally while converting them for the API is not practical. Programming for Windows in particular gets messy, because you must use ANSI-style strings to maintain 9x compatibility, and convert to sized to use COM/OLE.

If you EVER see a classic-style overrun in, say, a Delphi app, you know it was related (however distantly) to an API call. Other than that, there is no reason to use anything but "string"s, and therefore no maximum string lengths - Unless you count 4gb as a limit...
(one day.)

The C-Standards people need to do something. This is an almost uniquely C-based problem. Deprecate null-terminated strings and/or any function which fills one without a maximum. Make sized strings a compiler-supplied service with syntax as simple as vb or delphi, with
typecasting support for converting for API"s. Relying on classes and macros is very noble, but produces unavoidable syntactical subtleties
which detract from the simplicity of the concept of string-manipulation. This leaves most programmers resorting to the (still too-messy) concept of using BSS or stack buffers.

Why should any programmer have to think about people feeding programs into their "strings"?

Strings should be as easy to use as integers.

Arrays of characters can then revert to being...just that, and can be strictly bounds-checked...and the script kiddies will have to learn
cryptography... and might get jobs.


Microsoft is aware of this issue, however no official comments have come forth to date.

Discovered by
Jeremy Kothe

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