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Versions of PuTTY and pterm between 0.54 and 0.65 inclusive have a potentially memory-corrupting integer overflow in the handling of the ECH (erase characters) control sequence in the terminal emulator.
To exploit a vulnerability in the terminal emulator, an attacker must be able to insert a carefully crafted escape sequence into the terminal stream. For a PuTTY SSH session, this must be before encryption, so the attacker likely needs access to the server you're connecting to. For instance, an attacker on a multi-user machine that you connect to could trick you into running cat on a file they control containing a malicious escape sequence. (Unix write(1) is not a vector for this, if implemented correctly.)
Only PuTTY, PuTTYtel, and pterm are affected; other PuTTY tools do not include the terminal emulator, so cannot be exploited this way.
The purpose of ECH is to erase multiple characters within a single
line. To this end, it includes a numeric parameter to specify the
number of characters to be erased. PuTTY accumulates this one digit
at a time in an integer variable. As part of the processing of ECH,
check_boundary function checks whether the start or
end of the erased range falls in the middle of a double-width
character (such as a kanji ideograph) so that it can ensure that the
whole character is erased. Each character cell in the live terminal
is held as a structure containing among other things the character
code and a word of attributes. A double-width character is recorded
by having a special value called
UCSWIDE as the character
code in the second cell, and when
that value, it resets the character code of both cells to a fixed
value and copies the attributes from the left one to the right one.
The vulnerability arises because PuTTY uses signed integer
variables to hold the number of characters to be erased and doesn't
adequately check for overflow. This means that by passing a very
large parameter to ECH, an attacker could cause
check_boundary to inspect memory outside the terminal
buffer. Were it to find
UCSWIDE there, it would corrupt
some nearby memory. This might be exploitable if the attacker could
UCSWIDE to be in memory somewhere near a
sensitive data structure.
This bug was found with the help of American Fuzzy Lop and has been assigned CVE ID CVE-2015-5309.