How Hackers Bypassed an Adobe Flash Protection Mechanism

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The number of Flash Player exploits has recently declined, due to Adobe’s introduction of various measures to strengthen Flash’s security. Occasionally, however, an exploit still arises. On January 31, Kr-Cert reported a zero-day vulnerability, identified as CVE-2018-4878, being exploited in the field. (Adobe has released an update to fix this flaw.) We analyzed this vulnerability and found that it bypassed the byte array mitigation feature that was introduced to prevent “length corruption” attacks in Flash. This post will focus on how the exploit bypasses the length checks.


How the Exploit Works

This exploit has been used in targeted attacks and arrives as a Microsoft Office Excel file with an embedded Flash file. On opening the Excel file, the Flash file contacts a server and requests a key. Once the key is received, the file decodes another embedded Flash file, which is the actual exploit.

The key is 100 bytes. It decodes and loads the embedded file using the loader.loadbyte function:

Because the URL for the key was offline, we could not retrieve it. But the sample hash was available online on various sites. We analyzed the sample (SHA-256) 1a3269253784f76e3480e4b3de312dfee878f99045ccfd2231acb5ba57d8ed0d.

This Adobe .SWF file contained multiple ActionScript 3 files as well as two embedded files in the BinaryData section, constituting the shellcode (marked in red in the following screen):

The Exploit in Action

When launched, the exploit checks if the system is running Windows. If so, it triggers the vulnerability.

As we see in the preceding image, the exploit takes several steps:

  • It creates a mediaplayer object
  • It initializes the drmManager property of mediaplayer to a specially crafted class based on the DRMOperationCompleteListener object nugamej.
  • The object nugamej is “freed,” but the drmManager points to the same memory location that nugamej used previously

If we take a close look at nugamej, we can see that it was created from the class Rykim, which implements the DRMOperationCompleteListener class. The Rykim class has various “uint” variables with values set as 0x1111, 0x2222, etc.:

These variables will be used later to access various addresses in the process space and other operations.

The exploit then causes an exception by using Localconnection().connect, creates the new variable “katyt” of the Rykim class, and implements the DRMOperationCompleteListener class. A time check calls the function “cysit”:

Cysit checks whether the newly allocated object’s a1 variable is 0x1111. If the value is not equal to 0x1111, then cysit stops the timer and proceeds with the exploitation.

The exploit creates another object, “kebenid” of the type “Qep,” which extends the byte array class. The length of kebenid is set to 512 bytes. This will be modified later to make a read-write primitive to gain unrestricted access to process memory.

Byte Array Checks to Avoid Corruption

We can see the structure of the byte array from

We can see that the byte array class has array, capacity, and length. In the past we have seen attackers corrupting the length variable to arbitrarily read and write to a memory location. Thus there is an extra check to ensure the integrity of the byte array. The check creates a secret value that is XORed with array/capacity/length and saved in the variables check_array/check_capacity/check_length.

When these variables are accessed, they are XORed with the secret key and their value is compared to the values stored in check_array/check_capacity/check_length. If they match, then we have genuine data; otherwise it will throw an error as in the following image:

Bypassing the Checks

From the preceding code, we can retrieve the key by simply using any of the following calculations:

  • Array ^ check_array = key
  • Capacity ^ check_capacity = key
  • Length ^ check_length = key
  • As mentioned in

If the value of copyOnWrite is 0, then the key will be check_copyOnWrite.

If we look carefully, we see both the katyt and kebenid object variables point to same memory locations. This can be confirmed If we print and compare the variables of the two objects.

Comparing the following variables with the byte array structure, as previously mentioned, we get the following:

So if we change katyt.a24 and katyt.a25, that will actually change the byte array capacity and byte array length. Then we just need to find the XOR key and we can set it to any length we want.

Thus in this exploit the key is found using the logic Array ^ check_array = key.

Once the key is available, we can easily modify the byte array capacity and length to 0xFFFFFFFF and check_length, thus bypassing the byte array security mitigations, and we can read or write anywhere in the process space:

Code Execution

The exploit uses the preceding read-write primitive, gained through the byte array object, to read memory and search for kernel32.dll and functions such as VirtualProtect, and CreateProcessA. Once the addresses of these functions are located, shellcode can be executed on the system. This technique is very well documented online. The following screen shot shows the code responsible for searching kernel32.dll, later locating the VirtualProtect API address as 0x75ff2c15:

The exploit later executes the shellcode and connects to a URL:

It also launches cmd.exe using CreateProcessA:

The shellcode also checks for some antimalware products:


Attackers constantly search for ways to bypass new protection mechanisms. This exploit shows one such way. As always, we advise readers to be careful when opening unknown attachments and documents received in email.