Friday, January 4, 2013

Rehashing Pass the Hash

The first question one might ask is, “Really…  Why are you writing about this old news now?”  The answer is simple; even with the release of Window 8 and Server 2012, Pass the Hash (PTH) attacks are still incredibly simple and effective.  While from an academic standpoint passing the hash is simple to understand, it is a bit more complex from an attacker or defender’s stand point.  The reason for this post is that having read a huge number of papers and post on pass the hash, none of them gave me a clear picture.   

The reason pass the hash is so powerful is due to NTLM’s initial design flaw.  NTLM was essentially broken from the day it was released.  While UNIX started saving salted hashes in the 1970s, the designers of NTLM chose to use an unsalted hash.  Salting a hash is probably the most important design criterion when designing an authentication system.

A hash is a one way transformation of a variable input to a fixed length output.  A hash function must be deterministic, meaning that the same input will always generate the same output, no matter what platform it might be run on. Another key property of a good hash function is that even a small change in the input creates a significant change in the output.  The final vital property of a hash function is that it must be truly one way.  There must be no method allowing the input to be derived using only the output.

With these properties, and the benefit of hindsight, a hash is the perfect way to for one party to prove they know a password without the other party actually knowing it.   Storing reversible or god forbid plaintext passwords introduces a significant number or risks.  Only the ignorant do this.

If the hash can’t be reversed, then you might think there are no more risks and you can just hash those passwords and be on your merry way.  If we didn’t have a security model to think about, this might make sense.   The reason we bother to hash the passwords and not store them as plaintext on our authentication servers is that, on the off chance that the auth server is compromised, we want to minimize the value of the stolen identities.  Assuming you kick out the attacker and restore from backup, it would be nice to not have to force all of your users to change their passwords.  It would be nice to be sure that the breach wasn’t just a foothold to a larger attack. Additionally, as users tend to reuse passwords, we don’t want to put the users’ accounts at risk on other systems or sites.  This brings us to the risk created by just storing the password hash with no salt.  If one has access to the hash and wants to derive the input (password), all that needs to be done is test passwords until the outputs (hashes) match.  This Brute force method is always a theoretical option when trying to defeat a cryptographic function.  Trying all possible passwords is time consuming, which works against the attacker.  Unfortunately, with super fast processors and huge amounts of cheap storage, it is now possible to pre-compute and store huge numbers of hashes and the corresponding passwords.  In the space of less than 1 TB, you can store tables that cover 96% of 1 to 9 character passwords containing upper case, lower case, and numbers.  By storing just the password hash we make it completely worth an attacker’s time to create and save the pre-computes values.  Even better, you can just pay when you need to use someone else’s’ tables.

Simply salting the hash wastes all that work the attacker did to pre-compute the hashes.  Salting a hash is simply adding random or pseudo-random data to the input before computing the hash.  The salt is saved and later used when verifying the password.  When verifying the password, the salt is looked up, re-applied to the password that is being tested, and the data hashed.  If the result on file and the real-time computed result match, the password was correct. By applying the random data, we have completely wasted the attackers’ pre-computation effort.  Ideally, every account uses a different salt, so that even if your user database is taken, every password must be brute forced separately. 

Salted Hash Example

Password    Salt  SHA-1 Hash

V3ryStrong  1     88 93 EB 7A 28 DA A4 95 89 B1 B5 A1 E0 C6 A0 83 9D 38 A3 39

V3ryStrong  2     59 86 41 B2 62 B7 C3 C7 54 27 78 94 FB D6 59 24 5F 77 74 40


The example is purposely weak to make for easy understanding.  Usually the salt would be 8 – 16 bytes. It shows the amplification provided by SHA-1.  With a single bit change the data is completely different and we see that there is no way to pre-compute all passwords, unless we pre-compute all passwords with all possible salt values, which in not feasible.   

While this is fun background data, it really has little to do with passing the hash, as PTH lets an attacker who has the hash assume the user’s identity without ever knowing the password.  This is because windows stores the user’s NT hash in Active Directory DIT or the SAM.  The first step of NTLM and NTLMv2 handshakes is that the system converts the user’s password to the NT hash, and the handshake does some fun handshake math that proves the user knew the hash, without the hash ever crossing the network. 

This system makes the hash “password equivalent”.  If an attacker has the user’s hash, they just skip the “convert password to NT hash” and go straight to using it in the handshake.   There are many tools for doing this, depending on where NTLM is being used. NTLM authentication occurs in-band with the protocol that is being used to access data or access a system.  NTLM auth occurs inside remote file access via CIFS/SMB, TDS for accessing SQL server, RPC for all sorts or remote administration and access, HTTP for web auth, and I’m sure a few more things. 

In order for an attacker to pass the hash, they need four things:

1.       The valid NT hash (and username)

2.       A channel to pass the hash through

3.       A server hosting a service that utilizes/allows NTLM auth

4.       A client (or tool) that allows the attacker to input the hash rather than the password

In a world where all four elements are available to an attacker, there is no stopping PTH.  Keeping in mind the four requirements, defenders can limit, and more importantly, and understand their level of exposure. 

Securing the Hash

The most important thing a defender can do is keep the hash from falling into the wrong hands.  The hash resides on a computer in two main areas; the SAM (Security Account Manager) db and in RAM, for users that are logged in.  There is a common misconception that the NT hash is also stored in the registry for cached logon of domain user accounts on domain joined computers.  This is just that, a misconception. Depending on system settings, data is stored that allows a domain user to logon to a machine when no domain controller is available; however this data is an MD4 of the NT hash + username.  It might be worth an attackers’ time to pre-compute the hashes for common user names, such as ‘Administrator’. 

Looking at the threat model, one can conclude that the horse is out of the barn if the hash is stolen.  In order to steal the hash, the attacker had to gain full control of the system.  The attacker must either execute hash stealing code as a member of local administrators, or gain physical access to the poorly protected computer.  While the horse is indeed out of the barn on that host, the attacker should be able to go no further.  At least that is the defenders hope. This is, of course, not the case.  If the user has the other three required elements, she can act as the user at will. 

Stealing the Hash from RAM

In order for an attacker to steal a user’s NT hash from RAM, the attacker must run code with administrator rights.  As with all the advice that will be offered, all the controls are fairly standard and map to basic security concepts.

·         Reduce surface area

o   Don’t leave sessions logged in unnecessarily, as another administrator’s failure can compromise your account.

o   Avoid logging in with administrator rights.  If you screw up and run attackers code, they can’t steal the hash if you aren’t an admin.

·         Use up to date AV software

Stealing the Hash via Physical Access

We all know that if an attacker has physical access to a host then they own the host.  The last thing we want to do is allow the attacker to use that host as a foothold to even more systems and data.  In the case of PTH attacks, we probably have good news here.  The NT hashes are stored in the local SAM. If the computers are not domain joined, the username and password usually don’t cross hosts, unless you took the time to sync up your usernames and passwords across them all.  As I mentioned earlier, the cached domain credentials DO NOT contain the NT hash. This means the SAM from one computer is of no value on anther.  

The one place where there IS a great deal of risk is in an enterprise, where standardization probably means that the local admin password is the same across every domain member.   This means that the compromise of any one server is equivalent to the compromise of every server.  This means that that dev server that you left up running PHP 1.2 can be a great foothold to the rest of your servers and data.

To reduce this risk:

·         Use full disk encryption that requires a token or Password Based Key Derivation Function

·         Enable syskey protection > 1.

o   This requires a password or floppy to boot and decrypt the goodies in the SAM.

o   This scales poorly for an enterprise.

·         Make sure all local admin passwords are different.

Stealing the Hash from the Network

The NTLM and NTLMv2 handshakes assure that the NT hash itself can be verified, without it ever appearing on the network.  There is nothing to see here.

If an attacker were to figure out a way to get the hash from the network, it would be an impressive feat.

Securing the Channels

If the attacker steals the hash, but has no path to pass it over, then the hash is of little value.  One nice thing about NTLM auth is that it occurs in band with the protocol utilizing it, so as a defender, you can better understand and limit your exposure.  If you block ports 80, 138,139, and 445, but open 1433, you know that the stolen hash can only be used to access SQL data but not remote file access or websites.

Controls to consider:

·         Reduce Surface Area. Only open the ports you need.  Duh…

·         Authenticate end points with VPN or IPSec.

Stop using NTLM

This one is not so simple.  One can “kerberize” all sorts of servers.  That is, allow them to utilize Kerberos authentication rather than NTLM.  Microsoft has done a pretty good job kerberizing applications, but in almost all cases, if Kerberos fails, the app will allow fallback to NTLM.

I know of no options for a defender here.  This section is really a call to MS, and others, to allow for more granular options related to NTLM auth, Kerberos, and fallback options.

I suppose this is an opportunity for firewall vendors as well.  It would be fairly easy to block NTLM auth and allow Kerberos on a per protocol basis.  I suspect an F5 ninja could write a crazy iRule to do it too.

Stop Clients from Allowing the use of the NT Hash

Assuming you have dealt with the firewall rules, most attackers will have no channel to pass hashes over.  The last option would be to pass from hosts inside your network.  This seems plausible, as the attacker got enough access to steal the hash.  

There are two classes of tools that let you work from the hash rather than the password.  The first are tools like WCE, which run on windows and allow an administrator to inject arbitrary usernames and hashes into a user’s session.  This allows all subsequent uses of any tool in that session to authenticate as the injected user.  This means that any Windows tool that speaks NTLM will work.  The second class are custom tools that may run on any OS and speak the protocol in question, be it SMB, TDS/SQL, RPC, or whatever, AND they speak NTLM taking a hash rather than password.

For a good list of current tools and tons of great info on PTH, see Still Passing the Hash 15 Years Later.

A good list, granted probably dated, of AV test results for detection of the tools, can be found here.

Controls to consider:

·         Make sure EVERY host inside your firewall has up to date AV.

o   Enforce this with NAC or NAP.

o   Make sure hosts with AV match up to your CMDB, such that all hosts are accounted for.

·         Consider AppLocker and Software Restriction Polices.

o   Make sure to block known tools by hash so the attacker can’t just rename at tool

o   Make sure to block known tools by name, in case the attacker makes code changes but chooses to use the same executable name.

o   Consider white listing known good apps rather than trying to blacklist known bad ones.

·         Minimize the number of local administrators.  A local admin can stop AV or add exclusions prior to copying over and loading up tools.

·         Keep up on the latest version of the tools and test your AV yourself.

Understanding Why Pass the Hash Still Works

The best way to learn this stuff is to go to Eric Glass’s NTLM page and do the math along with him.  I am borrowing heavily here to summarize for lazy.  ;-)  Well, there is a lot more great stuff on his page that you don’t need to know to understand PTH.

There are three different types of NTLM responses:

1.       NTLM Response

2.       NTLM2 Response, not to be confused with NTLMv2 Response

3.       NTLMv2 Response

NTLM Response

1.       Convert password to Unicode and apply MD4 hash.  This is the NT hash.

2.       Pad the NT hash with 0s to make it 21 bytes.

3.       Break the 21 bytes in to 3 keys of 7 bytes each.  This is 56 bits.

4.       Apply odd parity to each key.  This makes each key a valid 64 bit DES key.

5.       Encrypt the NTLM challenge (from the server) with each of the three keys.

6.       Concatenate the three encrypted values, creating the response.

7.       Send it.

As you can see, the challenge is provided by the server, and could be substituted by an attacker with network access.  This allows an attacker to create pre-computed responses (rainbow tables) for that challenge.  Obviously this is scary.

NTLM2 Response

Once again, not to be confused with the NTLMv2 Response.  This one uses nearly the same math as the NTLM Response, but let’s the client add a “client challenge” thus negating the value of an attacker substituting their own challenge.   This is used when the 0x00080000- NTLM 2 session security flag is set.

1.       Convert password to Unicode and apply MD4 hash.  This is the NT hash.

2.       Pad the NT hash with 0s to make it 21 bytes.

3.       Break the 21 bytes in to 3 keys of 7 bytes each.  This is 56 bits.

4.       Apply odd parity to each key.  This makes each key a valid 64 bit DES key.

5.       The client creates a random 8 byte client challenge.

6.       The server challenge and client challenge are concatenated and MD5 is applied, creating the challenge data.

7.       Encrypt the challenge (MD5 output) with each of the three keys.

8.       Concatenate the three encrypted values, creating the response.

9.       Send it.

NTLMv2 Response

This response is next level.  It is totally different that the first two and includes a timestamp, the domain the user belongs to, as well as target information.

1.       Convert password to Unicode and apply MD4 hash.  This is the NT hash.

2.       Concatenate the upper case Unicode username with the Unicode authentication target.

3.       Perform HMAC-MD5 on the result of step 2, using the NT hash.

4.       Construct blob, containing the Blob signature, 4 bytes of all 0s, the time in NT time format, the client challenge, another 4 bytes of all 0s, and the target information from the server Type 2 (challenge) message, and another 4 bytes of all 0s.

5.       The server challenge form the Type 2 message is concatenated to the blob from step 4.

6.       The blob from step 4 is then HMAC-MD5’d using the result of the HMAC-MD5 in step 3.

7.       The HMAC response from step 6 and the blob from 4 are concatenated and constitute the response.

8.       Send it.


Pass the hash attacks are alive and well and are not going away anytime soon.  Protect your systems. 


Rich Rumble said...

Perhaps you've not heard of Mimikatz yet?
"Recovering" the plaintext logon password as opposed to pass the hash or sniffing ntlm(v1)/lm challenges... While the headline made it through to /. it's a bit much to say 100% broken... I'd of dialed that back a bit, maybe cracking ntlmV1 for fun and profit rather than 100% "broken". Mimikatz isn't the only tool out there now, but it was the first.

Unknown said...

You also need to watch out for service accounts, which are often logged in as domain admins (and some applications even recommend you do so), thus leaving hashes exposed on a system...

And even worse, applications that login to all your systems with domain admin account automatically, so you can just compromise the softest target and wait for an automated process to drop a hash into your lap...

Such applications can include:
Network auditing or monitoring tools...
Client checking (eg some such setups login to clients to verify that they comply with company security policy - too late now you've given out your domain admin hashes).
Some AV software also uses service and/or update accounts like this...

And don't forget other places hashes might be found, like backups...

When your using software with such serious design flaws, it can become extremely expensive to work around them in the hope of getting any small semblance of security whatsoever.

Mark Gamache said...

@ Rich Rumble
Rich, you caught me... This post was not meant to cover the entire threat model against widows, or even tools that get the hash or plain-text password from windows. There were two reasons for the post.

1. So I could refer to my own post when writing about breaking NTLMv1 handshakes.

2. So I could put in this line "If an attacker were to figure out a way to get the hash from the network, it would be an impressive feat."

Mimikatz is sweet. I have used it. The change that made it possible to get the plain-text passwords was added in XP sp3 and God knows when in the newer OSs.

CredSSP seems to be a clear sign that MS no longer understand their own platform or basics authentication. It is incredibly poorly documented. The one thing I am sure is that in some cases, it "needs" your username and password, because it passes them to anther host, in reversible format, so they can be used at the host. It appears this is due them not understanding Kerberos delegation. It is so poorly documented, it is hard to know just how much to ridicule them.

I for one disable the security package for CredSSP on all my machines.

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