Wednesday, October 19, 2016

HENkaku - Exploit teardown - Stage 3

Here it is, Stage 3, the last stage of HENkaku.
This was by far the toughest to crack, so, let's dive in!

HENkaku - Stage 3

In Stage 2, we analyzed how HENkaku exploits two distinct kernel bugs to achieve code execution: a memory leak bug (in the sceIoDevctl function) to defeat KASLR and a use-after-free (in the sceNetIoctl function) to break into the kernel and do ROP.
However, since the execution flow switches over to a ROP chain planted into the kernel, we still couldn't figure out what was happening next.

Like I mentioned in the previous write-up's ending note, dumping the kernel (more specifically, the SceSysmem module) was now necessary. Team molecule did not provide any additional vulnerability that we could use for this purpose, so, it was up to the participants to figure it out themselves.

I had already found a potential memory leak vulnerability while playing around with Stage 2 but, unfortunately, due to it's nature (out-of-bounds read) it wasn't enough to reach the SceSysmem module.
Frustrated, I began looking for other plausible entry-points. It took me several attempts and required analyzing several key components of the Vita's system:
- Network:
    The SceNet module was the origin of the use-after-free and I had already an OOB read there, so, what else could be in there?
- Filesystem:
    The SceDriverUser module exposes a decent amount of unique system calls for the filesystem. Some of them crash. Can I leak memory here?
- Audio:
    Developers don't pay much attention to security when it comes to implement media handling. Some specific audio handling features are taken care by the kernel itself. Can I compromise it?
- Graphics:
    Just like with audio, graphics are a common source of flaws. The Vita has plenty of libraries with unique system calls for this (SceGpuEs4User, SceGxm, ScePaf). Will this help?
- Application:
    User applications are managed by modules that heavily communicate with the kernel (SceAppUtil and SceDriverUser via SceAppMgr calls). Perhaps this can be taken down?
Eventually, one of those gave me what I wanted and I was able to dump the entire Vita's kernel memory. After locating the SceSysmem module among the dumped binaries I became able to solve the rest of the challenge.
On a side note, I did attempt blind ROP at first by relocating a few gadgets and taking wild guesses, but team molecule made sure it wouldn't be that easy. The gadgets' placement makes it very difficult to predict what each one will do.

Anyway, here is the result:

So, random comments and mistakes aside, this gives us a clear view of what the kernel ROP chain is doing:

If you recall, the kernel loader was an encrypted chunk of 0x100 bytes that was appended to the bottom of the ROP chain we copy into a kernel stack using sceIoDevctl:
  • // NULLs for padding at the bottom of the chain
    0x00(x_stack + 0x00008D7C) = 0x00000000;
    0x00(x_stack + 0x00008D80) = 0x00000000;
    0x00(x_stack + 0x00008D84) = 0x00000000;

    // Code starts here
    0x00(x_stack + 0x00008D88) = ...;

The kernel ROP decrypts this chunk using AES-256-ECB and the key is a piece of code from SceSysmem itself.
This is what the kernel loader looks like (note that base offset is set to 0x00000000):

In sum, the loader allocates two memory blocks, one for data and another for code. Then it fetches the HENkaku's payload from user memory (using copy_from_user) and decrypts it in place using a static key (stored inside the kernel loader binary data). Finally, it copies the decrypted payload into an executable memory block, set's PC and SP and jumps to it.

Now we have HENkaku running on our system!
As proof, here are the SHA-1 hashes of the two crucial keys for the entire process:
Kernel loader key (AES-256-ECB): f1a8e9415bf3551377a36a1a5b25ba64f2d96494
Kernel payload key (AES-128-ECB): eacac4a780065c8c106349e412696aabd1b1b8d1

And that's it! This concludes the final stage of the HENkaku's KOTH challenge.
I don't plan on dwelving much into how I leaked the kernel's memory and I don't plan on releasing the keys themselves out of respect for other groups attempting to complete the challenge and for the developers themselves.
I believe the goal of this challenge was not to simply crown the first person to crack HENkaku, but to get the whole community engaged and bringing new ideas to the table.
By not releasing the decrypted binaries or the method I used to leak memory, others still have the chance to solve the challenge themselves.
I may publish a few more posts detailing some interesting features of the HENkaku's payload, but I will leave the full source code reveal to the developers themselves.

Until next time!


  1. Impressive work, was indeed the hardest part of the reversing.

    Looking forward to read your next updates.


  2. And here are the True Heroes, Congratulations.
    I never imagined that someone would reach it this far.

  3. Howdy. Trying to follow through this from a starting point of running some custom userland code, I'm not seeing:

    1) What the purpose of calling sceIoOpen("molecule0:") is. Seems like there's an important missing piece here, and what about the state of r1 and r2 for this call?
    2) Any data being leaked from sceIoDevctl calls. Although it's returning a mysterious error code, nothing is modified in the output buffer.

    Could you fill in any relevant blanks? TIA!

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