Avira VPN Local Privilege Escalation via Insecure Update Location

Product Version: Avira VPN
Operating System tested on: Windows 10 1709 (x64)
Vulnerability: Avira VPN Service Local Privilege Escalation

Brief Description: When the Phantom VPN Service (Avira.VPNService.exe) starts, it checks to see if there are any updates available. The service executes the update from C:\ProgramData\Avira\VPN\Update, which is writable by a low privileged user. Additionally, the service implements checks to prevent exploitation that can be circumvented. This allows an attacker to plant a valid Avira executable along with a malicious DLL in “C:\ProgramData\Avira\VPN\Update” and cause the service to execute the update file. A DLL hijack will occur, resulting in code-execution as SYSTEM.

Vulnerability Explanation:
When the Phantom VPN Service (Avira.VPNService.exe) starts, one of the first things it does is check for updates, which is done in C:\ProgramData (which is writable for low privileged users by default). The service does so by calling “VPNUpdater.UpdateProduct()”, which in turn calls “Updater.UpdateToNewPackageIfValid()”. This function handles all the logic for updating the VPN software:

Upon entering “Updater.UpdateToNewPackageifValid()”, the service first checks if there is an update that is downloaded via a call to “Updater.CheckForDownloadedUpdatePackage()”. In order to do this, it checks for the existence of “C:\ProgramData\Avira\VPN\Update\AviraVPNInstaller.exe” and if the update file has already been installed or not:

The service determines if the update is already present or not by comparing the “ProductVersion” property on the update executable with the “ProductVersion” property on the VPN service itself (Avira.VPNService.exe). If the update executable’s ProductVersion is greater than the ProductVersion of “Avira.VPNService.exe”, then the service continues down the path to install it:

After validating that “C:\ProgramData\Avira\VPN\Update\AviraVPNInstaller.exe” exists and hasn’t already been installed, the service makes a call to “Updater.IsUpdateFolderAccessRestricted()”. This function appears to make sure that “C:\ProgramData\Avira\VPN\Update” is locked down and cannot be written to by a low privileged user (in order to protect the update executable before it is executed). The service does this by first checking that the folder is owned by either NT AUTHORITY\SYSTEM, NT AUTHORITY\SERVICE or Administrators (values stored in “AcceptedSIDs”):

If the update folder is not owned by any of those SIDs, the function returns and a call is made to “Updater.RestoreUpdateFolder()”, which promptly deletes “C:\ProgramData\Avira\VPN\Update” and then re-creates it with a DACL that restricts access to the 3 accepted SIDs mentioned above. If the folder has an owner that is any of those accepted SIDs, the service then loops through each entry in the folder’s DACL to make sure that those 3 accepted SIDs are in the DACL as well (I assume to make sure that only those 3 privileged users/groups have the ability to control the folder’s contents).

The issue here is that it is possible to circumvent those checks and plant a malicious update in “C:\ProgramData\Avira\Update”. The first task is to pass the “Owner” check on the update folder. This can be accomplished by simply moving another folder on the filesystem that is owned by SYSTEM yet is writable by low privileged users to “C:\ProgramData\Avira\Update”. Since moving a file/folder on the same volume retains the permission set, the update folder will have an Owner of “SYSTEM”, which is what the service is checking for.

To abuse this, we can copy our version of “AviraVPNInstaller.exe” (and dependencies) to “C:\ProgramData\Avira\Launcher\LogFiles”, which is owned by SYSTEM yet writable by low privileged users:

Once done, we can move “C:\ProgramData\Avira\Launcher\Logfiles” to “C:\ProgramData\Avira\VPN\Update”:

At this point, we have a version of “C:\ProgramData\Avira\VPN\Update” that passes the “Owner” check. The next hurdle is to pass the DACL check that the service does to ensure the 3 accepted SIDs are present. This can simply be done by setting the DACL on the update folder to include “Administrators”, “SYSTEM” and “SERVICE”:

Once done, the update folder will only be accessible by the 3 accepted SIDs. After circumventing the Owner and DACL checks, the last hurdle is to circumvent the file integrity checks. Before executing the update file, the service checks to make sure it is signed by Avira and that the signature is valid (via a call to Updater.IsUpdatePackageAuthentic()). If “C:\ProgramData\Avira\VPN\Update\AviraVPNInstaller.exe” is not signed by Avira and does not contain a valid digital signature, the service will not execute it. In order to circumvent this, we need a file signed by Avira that has a ProductVersion greater than the currently installed version of Avira.VPNService.exe. After some hunting, I came across an Avira signed executable named “CefSharp.BrowserSubprocess.exe” that has a product version of “”:

Since this executable is signed by Avira, has a valid digital certificate and has a product version greater than the present version of “Avira.VPNService.exe”, it will pass all of the checks that the service implements. This executable was renamed to “AviraVPNInstaller.exe” and used above in the file copy and folder move actions.

At this point, we have the following:

  1. A valid Avira signed executable that has a ProductVersion greater than the installed version of Avira.VPNService.exe
    1. When this executable starts, it looks for “VERSION.dll” in the current working directory
  2. The ability to plant this renamed executable, along with a malicious copy of VERSION.dll, in C:\ProgramData\Avira\VPN\Update via circumventing the folder Owner and DACL checks

Once the VPN service starts (via a reboot or manually), it will see that “C:\ProgramData\Avira\VPN\Update\AviraVPNInstaller.exe” is present. It will then see that the “Update” folder is owned by “SYSTEM” and that the folder DACL contains the “Administrators”, “SYSTEM”, and “SERVICE” SIDs. It will then check the file integrity of “AviraVPNInstaller.exe” and see that it is signed by Avira, that the digital signature is valid and that the ProductVersion is greater than the deployed VPN service. After passing all of those checks, the service will then execute the renamed version of “AviraVPNInstaller.exe” as SYSTEM and load our malicious “VERSION.dll”, resulting in local privilege escalation:

This issue has been fixed in the latest Avira VPN version.