Vupen claims 'remote code execution' on Windows 8

Reminds the industry that Windows is unlikely to ever be bulletproof, says one security expert

Vupen, a security company in the business of selling zero-day vulnerabilities, said Friday that it has found a way to bypass security mechanisms on Windows 8 and execute code via a Web page.

Vupen Chief Executive Chaouki Bekrar said in an email that the company's researchers had found "multiple vulnerabilities" in Windows 8 and Internet Explorer 10, the latest version of Microsoft's operating system and Web browser.

"We have researched and discovered multiple vulnerabilities in Windows 8 and Internet Explorer 10 that we have combined together to achieve a full remote code execution via a Web page which bypasses the new exploit-mitigation technologies included in Win8," he said.

Microsoft declined comment on Bekrar's email, saying that it had not received any details of the flaws. "We continue to encourage researchers to participate in Microsoft's Coordinated Vulnerability Disclosure program to help ensure our customers' protection," Dave Forstrom, director of Microsoft Trustworthy Computing, said in a statement.

Wolfgang Kandek, chief technology officer of Qualys, said the fact that Vupen had to chain vulnerabilities was an indication of how well Microsoft has bolstered security in Windows 8. To exploit such a collection of bugs would take considerable skill.

[Bill Brenner in Salted Hash: Windows 8 - Security pros and cons]

Nevertheless, the fact that it was done reminds the industry that Windows is unlikely to ever be bulletproof. "We've not reached the point where the product is perfect, but that's probably not reachable anyway," Kandek said.

Bekrar first announced the feat Tuesday on Twitter. In the email to CSO Online, the chief executive gave Windows 8 self-serving praise, since the more difficult software is to crack, the more Vupen can charge customers.

"This new Microsoft operating system is definitely the most secure version of Windows so far," he said.

The exploit-mitigation technologies Vupen claimed to bypass were HiASLR (high-entropy Address Space Layout Randomization), AntiROP (anti-Return Oriented Programming), DEP (data execution prevention) and the IE 10 Protected Mode sandbox.

Experts have cited ASLR as a particularly useful anti-hacking mechanism because it involves scrambling system memory to make an application's location more difficult to find.

Because of the security features in Microsoft's latest OS, Bekrar did not expect cybercriminals to find vulnerabilities on their own for a while.

"We do not expect to see, in the short term, attackers creating an exploit for Windows 8 and Internet Explorer 10 as the cost would be too high," he said.

Vupen and competitors Endgame Systems and Netragard sell the vulnerabilities they discover or buy from third-party researchers to government agencies and large corporations. The bug hunters are in a gray area of the market because they don't pass along the knowledge to the software makers, which could release patches.

Unlike many of its rivals, Vupen publicly promotes its services. The company claims to vet its customers and won't sell vulnerabilities to cybercriminals. In 2011, consulting firm Frost & Sullivan named Vupen Entrepreneurial Company of the Year.

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