64-bit operating systems, virtualization software vulnerable to privilege escalation attacks on Intel CPUs

Attackers can exploit an Intel CPU-dependent vulnerability to escape virtual machines or gain kernel privileges

Some 64-bit operating systems and virtualization software programs are vulnerable to local privilege escalation attacks when running on Intel processors (CPUs), the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) said in a security advisory on Wednesday.

The vulnerability is identified as CVE-2012-0217 and stems from the way Intel CPUs have implemented the SYSRET instruction in their x86-64 extension, known as Intel 64.

Attackers could exploit the vulnerability to force Intel CPUs to return a general protection fault in privileged mode. This would allow them to execute code with kernel privileges from a least-privileged account, or to escape from a virtual machine and gain control of the host operating system.

The vulnerability can only be exploited on Intel CPUs when the Intel 64 extension is in use. This means that 32-bit operating systems or virtualization software are not vulnerable.

Some of the operating systems confirmed as vulnerable so far include x64-based versions of Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2, the 64-bit versions of FreeBSD and NetBSD, the Xen virtualization software, as well as Red Hat Enterprise Linux and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, which include the Xen hypervisor by default.

The VMWare security response team confirmed that VMware's hypervisor does not make use of the SYSRET instruction and is, therefore, not vulnerable to this attack, US-CERT said.

Most of the affected vendors have released security patches to address this vulnerability and users are advised to install them as soon as possible. Microsoft addressed it on Tuesday as part of its MS12-042 security bulletin.

The privilege escalation attack is not applicable to AMD processors because they handle the SYSRET instruction differently, the Xen security team said in their advisory. However, under similar attack conditions, older AMD CPUs might lock up, resulting in a denial of service condition, the team said.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Lucian Constantin

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Will your data protection strategy be enough when disaster strikes?

    Speakers: - Paul O’Connor, Engagement leader - Performance Audit Group, Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) - Nigel Phair, Managing Director, Centre for Internet Safety - Joshua Stenhouse, Technical Evangelist, Zerto - Anthony Caruana, CSO MC & Moderator

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place