More Granular Options for CWDIllegalInDllSearch Needed

I’m starting to see a class of issues where plugins rely on their libraries loading from the current working directory (CWD). To me this implies that the 0xffffffff option to completely disable loading from the CWD is not viable for most people in the near term but the 2 option of disabling network locations leaves open luring attacks based on removable storage like USB thumb drives or an attack that relies on an evil DLL that an attacker manages to place in an unprotected directory in the user’s profile somewhere.

I would like to see additional options to CWDIllegalInDllSearch. We need something between blocking loading of DLLs from CWD when CWD is a network location and blocking all loading from CWD at all. I want to be able to allow loading from CWD if CWD is a trusted location on my local computer in order to maintain compatibility with existing software that relies on this behavior but disable loading from CWD from any untrusted location.

A trusted location would be something that requires Administrator privilege to write into. That means the system folders and the “Program Files” folders.

I hope that Microsoft will realize the need for additional granularity and add some more options to CWDIllegalInDllSearch. The following would cover all the bases, I think:

  • 1 = disable CWD in LoadLibrary() search for WebDAV
  • 2 = disable CWD in LoadlLibrary() search for all networked location
  • 3 = option 2 and disable CWD in LoadLibrary() search for removable storage locations
  • 4 = disable CWD in LoadLibrary() anywhere except for “Program Files”
  • 0xffffffff = disable CWD in LoadLibrary() search
    WARNING: Note that options 3 and 4 are hypothetical. Setting CWDIllegalInDllSearch to 3 or 4 is currently equivalent to setting CWDIllegalInDllSearch to 0 and will enable the very insecure DLL loading behavior we are trying to eliminate.

My hypothetical CWDIllegalInDllSearch = 4 should provide equivalent security to CWDIllegalInDllSearch = 0xffffffff because anything in Program Files is trusted by definition. But it provides a backwards compatibility cushion for applications that require loading libraries from CWD.

There are two classes of applications that I can imagine which have a legitimate reason to load DLLs outside of Program Files and system.

  • Some kind of run-from-network corporate app
  • The latest generation of apps designed to run with least-privilege that install themselves into the current user’s profile or the all user’s profile like Chrome and WebEx but I’m not worried about these apps.

My feeling is that the corporate system administrators can handle provisioning rules such that their apps can run or virtualize them and the new apps that are installing themselves into unorthodox locations can fend for themselves. I think there is real utility in a CWD is OK in “Program Files” only mode and I hope that Microsoft will release an update to KB2264107 to give it to us.

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One Response to More Granular Options for CWDIllegalInDllSearch Needed

  1. Pingback: Really Least-Privilege Development: AppLocker and Visual Studio « Thoughtful Code

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