Older Keen Team Use-After-Free IE Exploit Added to Angler Exploit Kit

Attackers behind one of the more popular exploit kits, Angler, have added a tweaked version of an exploit from last fall, a use after free vulnerability in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser.

Attackers behind the Angler Exploit Kit have added a tweaked version of an exploit for a patched Internet Explorer use-after-free vulnerability.

Microsoft patched the vulnerability (MS14-056) in last October’s round of Patch Tuesday updates but that hasn’t stopped attackers from adding the vulnerability to the exploit toolkit. Similar to exploits disclosed in October, the sample Angler is using has been modified to target IE’s mitigation technology MEMPROTECT.

According to Dan Caselden, a ‎staff research scientist at FireEye who blogged on Friday about the vulnerability being included in Angler , this one is a use after free with MSHTML!CTitleElement that MEMPROTECT was not originally supposed to mitigate.

Caselden claims the attack angle is interesting on its own because it focuses on IE deployments that use MEMPROTECT – introduced in July 2014 – but added that the vulnerability also cements the idea that attackers remain interested in compromising IE, especially against users running nearly five-month-old versions of it.

Still, the use after free is not a generic exploit – some of its techniques weren’t necessary, Caselden adds – and going forward attackers will still have to find their way around the MEMPROTECT technology.

“Some of the employed techniques (particularly the modified garbage collection routine) were not necessary,” Caselden wrote, “So in the future, exploit authors will need to find a reliable way around the delayed free, or bugs with another object that falls outside of the CMemoryProtector’s domain.”

Chinese researchers with Keen team (a/k/a k33nteam) first talked about how (.PDF) to exploit a use after free vulnerability against MEMPROTECT at the Taiwanese security conference Hitcon X over the summer and went describe how it bypasses memory protection and isolated heap in Windows 8.1 shortly after the bug was patched by Microsoft, in a blog entry last October.

Caselden gets much deeper into the exploit and points out the similarities from k33nteam’s proof of concept and the Angler sample on FireEye’s blog.

For example, unlike the October exploit, this one can also optionally serve up a Flash zero day (CVE-2015-0313) – one of the three that plagued the Adobe software last month – that was also previously seen being used by Angler.

Microsoft introduced MEMPROTECT, or MemoryProtection, in a July 2014 patch for IE and while the heap mitigation technology isn’t failsafe, it was thought to be effective against use after free vulnerabilities. For a short period it seemed as if the move would curb the number of IE exploits spotted in the wild, as attackers wouldn’t have to reuse dated IE use after free exploits. Naturally attackers were able to come up with ways around this.

When reached Monday a spokesperson from Microsoft stressed that the company “addressed this issue in MS14-056 and recommend all customers install security updates to ensure their computers have the most up-to-date protection.”

Attackers that have long had it out for Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and continue to take old, since-patched exploits and add them to their exploit kits just to see what sticks. In January attackers added a nasty, previously unknown Flash zero day that targeted IE on Windows 7 and 8 to the kit.

An analysis of Angler last month called it the most sophisticated kit on the market, namely because it’s been the fastest to integrate newly released zero days and because its obfuscation is reportedly at the top of its game.

Update: This article was updated March 3 to include comments from Microsoft

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