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Operation Triangulation: The final ({hardware}) thriller

Operation Triangulation: The final ({hardware}) thriller

2023-12-27 09:47:55

At present, on December 27, 2023, we (Boris Larin, Leonid Bezvershenko, and Georgy Kucherin) delivered a presentation, titled, “Operation Triangulation: What You Get When Assault iPhones of Researchers”, on the thirty seventh Chaos Communication Congress (37C3), held at Congress Middle Hamburg. The presentation summarized the outcomes of our long-term analysis into Operation Triangulation, performed with our colleagues, Igor Kuznetsov, Valentin Pashkov, and Mikhail Vinogradov.

This presentation was additionally the primary time we had publicly disclosed the main points of all exploits and vulnerabilities that had been used within the assault. We uncover and analyze new exploits and assaults utilizing these each day, and we’ve got found and reported greater than thirty in-the-wild zero-days in Adobe, Apple, Google, and Microsoft merchandise, however that is undoubtedly probably the most refined assault chain we’ve got ever seen.

Operation Triangulation’ assault chain

Here’s a fast rundown of this 0-click iMessage assault, which used 4 zero-days and was designed to work on iOS variations as much as iOS 16.2.

  • Attackers ship a malicious iMessage attachment, which the applying processes with out displaying any indicators to the person.
  • This attachment exploits the distant code execution vulnerability CVE-2023-41990 within the undocumented, Apple-only ADJUST TrueType font instruction. This instruction had existed for the reason that early nineties earlier than a patch eliminated it.
  • It makes use of return/bounce oriented programming and a number of levels written within the NSExpression/NSPredicate question language, patching the JavaScriptCore library surroundings to execute a privilege escalation exploit written in JavaScript.
  • This JavaScript exploit is obfuscated to make it fully unreadable and to attenuate its measurement. Nonetheless, it has round 11,000 strains of code, that are primarily devoted to JavaScriptCore and kernel reminiscence parsing and manipulation.
  • It exploits the JavaScriptCore debugging characteristic DollarVM ($vm) to realize the flexibility to govern JavaScriptCore’s reminiscence from the script and execute native API capabilities.
  • It was designed to assist each previous and new iPhones and included a Pointer Authentication Code (PAC) bypass for exploitation of latest fashions.
  • It makes use of the integer overflow vulnerability CVE-2023-32434 in XNU’s reminiscence mapping syscalls (mach_make_memory_entry and vm_map) to acquire learn/write entry to all the bodily reminiscence of the machine at person degree.
  • It makes use of {hardware} memory-mapped I/O (MMIO) registers to bypass the Web page Safety Layer (PPL). This was mitigated as CVE-2023-38606.
  • After exploiting all of the vulnerabilities, the JavaScript exploit can do no matter it needs to the machine together with operating adware, however the attackers selected to: (a) launch the IMAgent course of and inject a payload that clears the exploitation artefacts from the machine; (b) run a Safari course of in invisible mode and ahead it to an internet web page with the following stage.
  • The net web page has a script that verifies the sufferer and, if the checks go, receives the following stage: the Safari exploit.
  • The Safari exploit makes use of CVE-2023-32435 to execute a shellcode.
  • The shellcode executes one other kernel exploit within the type of a Mach object file. It makes use of the identical vulnerabilities: CVE-2023-32434 and CVE-2023-38606. It’s also huge when it comes to measurement and performance, however fully totally different from the kernel exploit written in JavaScript. Sure components associated to exploitation of the above-mentioned vulnerabilities are all that the 2 share. Nonetheless, most of its code can be devoted to parsing and manipulation of the kernel reminiscence. It accommodates numerous post-exploitation utilities, that are principally unused.
  • The exploit obtains root privileges and proceeds to execute different levels, which load adware. We lined these levels in our earlier posts.

We’re nearly accomplished reverse-engineering each facet of this assault chain, and we shall be releasing a sequence of articles subsequent yr detailing every vulnerability and the way it was exploited.

Nevertheless, there are particular elements to at least one specific vulnerability that we’ve got not been capable of absolutely perceive.

The thriller and the CVE-2023-38606 vulnerability

What we wish to focus on is expounded to the vulnerability that has been mitigated as CVE-2023-38606. Current iPhone fashions have further hardware-based safety protection for delicate areas of the kernel reminiscence. This safety prevents attackers from acquiring full management over the machine if they will learn and write kernel reminiscence, as achieved on this assault by exploiting CVE-2023-32434. We found that to bypass this hardware-based safety safety, the attackers used one other {hardware} characteristic of Apple-designed SoCs.

If we attempt to describe this characteristic and the way the attackers took benefit of it, all of it comes right down to this: they can write knowledge to a sure bodily tackle whereas bypassing the hardware-based reminiscence safety by writing the information, vacation spot tackle, and knowledge hash to unknown {hardware} registers of the chip unused by the firmware.

Our guess is that this unknown {hardware} characteristic was most definitely meant for use for debugging or testing functions by Apple engineers or the manufacturing unit, or that it was included by mistake. As a result of this characteristic isn’t utilized by the firmware, we do not know how attackers would know tips on how to use it.

We’re publishing the technical particulars, in order that different iOS safety researchers can affirm our findings and give you potential explanations of how the attackers realized about this {hardware} characteristic.

Technical particulars

Numerous peripheral units obtainable within the SoC could present particular {hardware} registers that can be utilized by the CPU to function these units. For this to work, these {hardware} registers are mapped to the reminiscence accessible by the CPU and are often known as “memory-mapped I/O (MMIO)“.

Deal with ranges for MMIOs of peripheral units in Apple merchandise (iPhones, Macs, and others) are saved in a particular file format: DeviceTree. Gadget tree information could be extracted from the firmware, and their contents could be considered with the assistance of the dt utility.

Instance of how MMIO ranges are saved within the machine tree

For instance, on this screenshot, you possibly can see the beginning (0x210f00000) and the scale (0x50000) of the acc-impl MMIO vary for cpu0.

Whereas analyzing the exploit used within the Operation Triangulation assault, I found that a lot of the MMIOs utilized by the attackers to bypass the hardware-based kernel reminiscence safety don’t belong to any MMIO ranges outlined within the machine tree. The exploit targets Apple A12–A16 Bionic SoCs, concentrating on unknown MMIO blocks of registers which might be positioned on the following addresses: 0x206040000, 0x206140000, and 0x206150000.

The prompted me to strive one thing. I checked totally different machine tree information for various units and totally different firmware information: no luck. I checked publicly obtainable supply code: no luck. I checked the kernel photographs, kernel extensions, iboot, and coprocessor firmware searching for a direct reference to those addresses: nothing.

How might or not it’s that that the exploit used MMIOs that weren’t utilized by the firmware? How did the attackers discover out about them? What peripheral machine(s) do these MMIO addresses belong to?

It occurred to me that I ought to verify what different identified MMIOs had been positioned within the space shut to those unknown MMIO blocks. That strategy was profitable.

Allow us to check out a dump of the machine tree entry for gfx-asc, which is the GPU coprocessor.

Dump of the machine tree entry for gfx-asc

It has two MMIO ranges: 0x206400000–0x20646C000 and 0x206050000–0x206050008. Allow us to check out how they correlate with the areas utilized by the exploit.

Correlation of the gfx-asc MMIO ranges and the addresses utilized by the exploit

To be extra exact, the exploit makes use of the next unknown addresses: 0x206040000, 0x206140008, 0x206140108, 0x206150020, 0x206150040, and 0x206150048. We will see that the majority of those are positioned within the space between the 2 gfx-asc areas, and the remaining one is positioned near the start of the primary gfx-asc area. This prompt that each one these MMIO registers most definitely belonged to the GPU coprocessor!

After that, I took a better take a look at the exploit and located yet one more factor that confirmed my principle. The very first thing the exploit does throughout initialization is writing to another MMIO register, which is positioned at a distinct tackle for every SoC.

Pseudocode for the GFX energy supervisor management code from the exploit

With the assistance of the machine tree and Siguza’s utility, pmgr, I used to be capable of uncover that each one these addresses corresponded to the GFX register within the energy supervisor MMIO vary.

Lastly, I obtained a 3rd affirmation after I determined to try to entry the registers positioned in these unknown areas. Nearly immediately, the GPU coprocessor panicked with a message of, “GFX SERROR Exception class=0x2f (SError interrupt), IL=1, iss=0 – energy(1)”.

This fashion, I used to be capable of affirm that each one these unknown MMIO registers used for the exploitation belonged to the GPU coprocessor. This motivated me to take a deeper take a look at its firmware, which can be written in ARM and unencrypted, however I couldn’t discover something associated to those registers in there.

I made a decision to take a better take a look at how the exploit operated these unknown MMIO registers. The register 0x206040000 stands out from all of the others as a result of it’s positioned in a separate MMIO block from all the opposite registers. It’s touched solely throughout the initialization and finalization levels of the exploit: it’s the first register to be set throughout initialization and the final one, throughout finalization. From my expertise, it was clear that the register both enabled/disabled the {hardware} characteristic utilized by the exploit or managed interrupts. I began to observe the interrupt route, and pretty quickly, I used to be capable of acknowledge this unknown register, 0x206040000, and in addition found what precisely was mapped to the tackle vary of 0x206000000–0x206050000. Beneath, you possibly can see the reverse-engineered code of the exploit that I used to be capable of acknowledge. I’ve given it a correct identify.

Pseudocode for the utilization of the, 0x206040000 register by the exploit

I used to be capable of match the ml_dbgwrap_halt_cpu perform from the pseudocode above to a perform with the identical identify within the dbgwrap.c file of the XNU supply code. This file accommodates code for working with the ARM CoreSight MMIO debug registers of the primary CPU. The supply code states that there are 4 CoreSight-related MMIO areas, named ED, CTI, PMU, and UTT. Every  occupies 0x10000 bytes, and they’re all positioned subsequent to at least one one other. The ml_dbgwrap_halt_cpu perform makes use of the UTT area, and the supply code states that, not like the opposite three, it doesn’t come from ARM, however is a proprietary Apple characteristic that was added only for comfort.

I used to be capable of affirm that 0x206000000–0x206050000 was certainly a block of CoreSight MMIO debug registers for the GPU coprocessor by writing ARM_DBG_LOCK_ACCESS_KEY to the corresponding location. Every core of the primary CPU has its personal block of CoreSight MMIO debug registers, however not like the GPU coprocessor, their addresses could be discovered within the machine tree.

It’s also attention-grabbing that the writer(s) of this exploit knew tips on how to use the proprietary Apple UTT area to unhalt the CPU: this code isn’t a part of the XNU supply code. Maybe it’s truthful to say that this might simply be discovered by means of experimentation.

One thing that can not be discovered that approach is what the attackers did with the registers within the second unknown area. I’m not certain what blocks of MMIO debug registers are positioned there, or how the attackers discovered tips on how to use them in the event that they weren’t utilized by the firmware.

Allow us to take a look at the remaining unknown registers utilized by the exploit.

The registers 0x206140008 and 0x206140108 management enabling/disabling and operating the {hardware} characteristic utilized by the exploit.

Pseudocode for the utilization of the 0x206140008 and 0x206140108 registers by the exploit

The register 0x206150020 is used just for Apple A15/A16 Bionic SoCs. It’s set to 1 throughout the initialization stage of the exploit, and to its unique worth, throughout the finalization stage.

The register 0x206150040 is used to retailer some flags and the decrease half of the vacation spot bodily tackle.

The final register, 0x206150048, is used for storing the information that must be written and the higher half of the vacation spot bodily tackle, bundled along with the information hash and one other worth (probably a command). This {hardware} characteristic writes the information in aligned blocks of 0x40 bytes, and every part ought to be written to the 0x206150048 register in 9 sequential writes.

Pseudocode for the utilization of the 0x206150040 and 0x206150048 registers by the exploit

So long as every part is completed accurately, the {hardware} ought to carry out a direct reminiscence entry (DMA) operation and write the information to the requested location.

The exploit makes use of this {hardware} characteristic as a Web page Safety Layer (PPL) bypass, primarily for patching web page desk entries. It can be used for patching the information within the protected __PPLDATA phase. The exploit doesn’t use the characteristic to patch the kernel code, however as soon as throughout a check, I used to be capable of overwrite an instruction within the __TEXT_EXEC phase of the kernel and get an “Undefined Kernel Instruction” panic with the anticipated tackle and worth. This solely labored as soon as—the opposite instances I attempted I acquired an AMCC panic. I’ve an concept about what I did proper that one time it labored, and I’m planning to look deeper into this sooner or later, as a result of I feel it might be actually cool to take a vulnerability that was used to hurt us and use it for one thing good, like enabling kernel debugging on new iPhones.

Now that each one the work with all of the MMIO registers has been lined, allow us to check out one final thing: how hashes are calculated. The algorithm is proven beneath.

Pseudocode for the hash perform utilized by this unknown {hardware} characteristic

As you possibly can see, it’s a customized algorithm, and the hash is calculated by utilizing a predefined sbox desk. I attempted to seek for it in a big assortment of binaries, however discovered nothing.

You might discover that this hash doesn’t look very safe, because it occupies simply 20 bits (10+10, as it’s calculated twice), however it does its job so long as nobody is aware of tips on how to calculate and use it. It’s best summarized with the time period “security by obscurity“.

How might attackers uncover and exploit this {hardware} characteristic if it’s not used and there are not any directions wherever within the firmware on tips on how to use it?

I ran yet one more check. I checked and located that the M1 chip contained in the Mac additionally has this unknown {hardware} characteristic. Then I used the superb  m1n1 instrument to conduct an experiment. This instrument has a trace_range perform, which traces all entry to a supplied vary of MMIO registers. I used it to arrange tracing for the reminiscence vary 0x206110000–0x206400000, however it reported no utilization of those registers by macOS.

Via a tremendous coincidence, each my 37C3 presentation and this publish focus on a vulnerability similar to the one I talked about throughout my presentation on the thirty sixth Chaos Communication Congress (36C3) in 2019.

Within the presentation titled, “Hacking Sony PlayStation Blu-ray Drives”, I talked about how I used to be capable of dump firmware and obtain code execution on the Blu-ray drives of Sony PlayStation 3 and 4 by utilizing MMIO DMA registers that had been accessible by means of SCSI instructions.

I used to be capable of uncover and exploit this vulnerability, as a result of earlier variations of the firmware used these registers for all DRAM operations, however then Sony stopped utilizing them and began simply accessing DRAM instantly, as a result of all DRAM was additionally mapped to the CPU tackle area. As a result of nobody was utilizing these registers anymore and I knew tips on how to use them, I took benefit of them. It didn’t have to know any secret hash algorithm.

May one thing related have occurred on this case? I have no idea that, however this GPU coprocessor first appeared within the latest Apple SoCs. In my private opinion, based mostly on all the knowledge that I supplied above, I extremely doubt that this {hardware} characteristic was beforehand used for something in retail firmware. Nonetheless, there’s a chance that it was beforehand revealed by mistake in some specific firmware or XNU supply code launch after which eliminated.

I hoped to search out out what was positioned contained in the second unknown area from the repair for this vulnerability applied in iOS 16.6. I used to be capable of learn how Apple mitigated this challenge, however they obfuscated the repair.

Apple mitigated this vulnerability by including the MMIO ranges 0x206000000–0x206050000 and 0x206110000–0x206400000 utilized by the exploit to the pmap-io-ranges saved within the machine tree. XNU makes use of the knowledge saved there to find out whether or not to permit mapping of sure bodily addresses. All entries saved there have a significant tag identify that explains what sort of reminiscence the vary belongs to.

Instance of entries saved within the pmap-io-ranges

Right here, PCIe stands for “Peripheral Element Interconnect Categorical”, DART stands for “Gadget Deal with Decision Desk”, DAPF means “Gadget Deal with Filter”, and so forth.

And listed below are the tag names for areas utilized by the exploit. They stand out from the remainder.

Entries for areas utilized by the exploit


That is no bizarre vulnerability, and we’ve got many unanswered questions. We have no idea how the attackers realized to make use of this unknown {hardware} characteristic or what its unique objective was. Neither do we all know if it was developed by Apple or it’s a third-party part like ARM CoreSight.

What we do know—and what this vulnerability demonstrates—is that superior hardware-based protections are ineffective within the face of a complicated attacker so long as there are {hardware} options that may bypass these protections.

{Hardware} safety fairly often depends on “safety by means of obscurity”, and it’s way more tough to reverse-engineer than software program, however it is a flawed strategy, as a result of in the end, all secrets and techniques are revealed. Techniques that depend on “safety by means of obscurity” can by no means be actually safe.

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