Researchers at Google's Project Zero have bypassed Microsoft Edge security features that Microsoft designed to prevent the execution of malicious code.
Created to replace the aging Internet Explorer web browser, Microsoft Edge was built with security in mind. As is often the case with large software projects like a web browser, oversights occur, and in this case it is a big one.
Edge's great idea and poor execution
The best way to understand how Project Zero engineers cracked Edge's security is to understand the basics of how it works.
Microsoft tackled arbitrary code mitigation with two interdependent processes: Code Integrity Guard (CIG) and Arbitrary Code Guard (ACG). CIG requires all DLLs entering Edge's content process to be signed and verified.
CIG doesn't prevent modification of signed DLLs once loaded—that's ACG's job. Once CIG verifies code ACG keeps an eye on it to make sure nothing gets injected while it's running.
SEE: Incident response policy (Tech Pro Research)
CIG and ACG also depend on Content Flow Guard (CFG), which restricts where applications can execute code from. CFG is ideally another layer of protection to prevent injection.
The CIG, ACG, and CFG structure creates issues for JIT, which Microsoft moved into a separate siloed process as a workaround.
The Project Zero team discovered weaknesses in CFG that made it possible to inject code into JIT, which could then be passed along to ACG without it being any the wiser. The end result was the ability to run malicious code—the very thing that Edge was designed to prevent.
ACG, Project Zero said, does do its job of preventing arbitrary code execution. "However, due to mutual dependence of CFG, ACG and CIG and the shortcomings of CFG in Microsoft Windows, ACG alone can't be sufficient to stop advanced attackers from escaping a browser's sandbox and mounting other attacks."
What businesses using Edge need to do
Project Zero said that weaknesses it discovered in Microsoft's siloed JIT have been patched, but it doesn't say whether the method it described is still functional. It's safer to assume that such an exploit is still possible, and the team released its PoC for anyone who wants to test it.
Businesses using Microsoft Edge, or any other browser for that matter, shouldn't rely on built-in security to solve all their problems. It's better to not encounter malicious code at all if it can be avoided.
Good browsing habits, script blockers, and other browser extensions can do a lot to protect computers from online threats. Edge's defenses, and those built into other browsers, should be considered a last line of defense.
The big takeaways for tech leaders:
- A vulnerability in the structure of Microsoft Edge's arbitrary code execution prevention makes it possible for attackers to bypass it and inject malicious code.
- Instead of relying on built-in protection to stop internet threats, users should do everything they can to defend themselves, including using safe browsing habits and installing security-focused browser extensions.
- 10 ways to raise your users' cybersecurity IQ (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
- Browser wars 2018: Microsoft Edge falls behind ... Internet Explorer? (ZDNet)
- With new security features in place is it time to try Microsoft Edge? (TechRepublic)
- Windows 10 security: Google exposes how malicious sites can exploit Microsoft Edge (ZDNet)
- Warning, Windows 10 users! Tech support scammers have a new method for phishing attacks (TechRepublic)
Brandon Vigliarolo has nothing to disclose. He does not hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Brandon writes about apps and software for TechRepublic. He's an award-winning feature writer who previously worked as an IT professional and served as an MP in the US Army.