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Date: Mon, 7 Dec 2015 17:44:57 +0100
From: "Stefan Kanthak" <>
To: <>
Subject: [FD] Executable installers are vulnerable^WEVIL (case 8): vlc-*.exe
	allows remote code execution with escalation of privilege

Hi @ll,

the executable installers [°] of the videolan client (VLC, see
<>) are vulnerable:

1. They load and execute a rogue/bogus/malicious ShFolder.dll ['][²]
   (and other DLLs like SetupAPI.dll or UXTheme.dll too) eventually
   found in the directory they are started from (the "application

   For software downloaded with a web browser this is typically the
   "Downloads" directory: see
   and <>

   If ShFolder.dll (or any of the other DLLs) gets planted in the
   "Downloads" directory per "drive-by download" this vulnerability
   becomes a remote code execution.

   Due to an application manifest embedded in the executable which
   specifies "requireAdministrator" or the "installer detection" (see
   of Windows' "user account control" executable installers are
   typically started with administrative privileges ("protected"
   administrators are prompted for consent, unprivileged standard
   users are prompted for an administrator password); execution of
   ShFolder.dll et. al. then results in an escalation of privilege!

2. They extract embedded DLLs (System.dll, LangInfo.dll, UAC.dll, ...)
   to an unsafe temporary (sub)directory "%TEMP%\ns<letter><random>.tmp\"
   and load them from there [³].

   These DLLs can be overwritten by an unprivileged user between their
   creation and execution, resulting in an escalation of privilege.

3. Their uninstaller copies itself to "%TEMP%\~nsu.tmp\<letter>u_.exe"
   and runs its copy from there, again loading
   "%TEMP%\~nsu.tmp\ShFolder.dll" and other DLLs, which can be created
   (in advance) or overwritten by an unprivileged user.

   Since "%TEMP%\~nsu.tmp\<letter>u_.exe" is typically started with
   administrative privileges this results in another escalation of

Proof of concept/demonstration:

1. visit <>, download
   <> and save
   it as ShFolder.dll in your "Downloads" directory, then copy it
   as UXTheme.dll and SetupAPI.dll there too;

2. download
   (via <> and save it in your "Downloads"

3. execute vlc-2.2.1-win32.exe from your "Downloads" directory;

4. notice the message boxes displayed from ShFolder.dll etc. placed
   in step 1.



   If your favourite applications are not distributed in the native
   installer package format of the resp. target platform: ask^WURGE
   their vendors/developers to provide native installation packages.
   If they don't: dump these applications, stay away from such cruft!

1. Turn off privilege elevation for standard users and installer
   detection for all users:

   "ConsentPromptBehaviorUser"=dword:00000000 ; Automatically deny elevation requests

   See <>

2. NEVER execute files in UNSAFE directories (like "Downloads" and
   and "%TEMP%")!

3. Deny execution (at least) in the "Downloads" directories and all
   "%TEMP%" directories and their subdirectories:

   * Add the NTFS ACE "(D;OIIO;WP;;;WD)" meaning "deny execution of
     files in this directory for everyone, inheritable to all files
     in all subdirectories" (use CACLS.EXE /S:<SDDL> for example);

   * Use "software restriction policies" resp. AppLocker.

   Consider to apply either/both to every "%USERPROFILE%" as well as
   "%ALLUSERSPROFILE%" alias %ProgramData%" and "%PUBLIC%": Windows
   doesn't place executables in these directories and beyond.

   See <> and/or
   <> plus
   or <> and finally

stay tuned
Stefan Kanthak

PS: see <> (resp. the
    not yet finished <!execute.html>)
    for more details!

PPS: the case numbers are not in chronological order.

[°] Self-extracting archives and executable installers are flawed^W
    b(rainde)ad in concept and dangerous in practice.

    ALWAYS use the resp. target platforms native package and archive

    For Windows these are .INF (plus .CAB) and .MSI (plus .CAB),
    introduced 20 years ago (with Windows 95 and Windows NT4) resp.
    16 years ago (with Office 2000).

    Both .INF and .MSI are "opened" by programs residing in
    %SystemRoot%\System32\ which are therefore immune to this kind of
    "DLL (and EXE) Search Order Hijacking" attack.
    Since both .INF and .MSI access the contents of .CAB directly
    they eliminate the attack vector "unsafe temporary directory" too.

['] ShFolder.dll is cruft from the last millennium, it was used on
    Windows 9x without Internet Explorer 4; see

    DONT USE the sample code shown in this MSKB article!

[²] A well-known (trivial, easy to exploit and easy to avoid) and
    well-documented vulnerability: see
    <> and

[³] Another well-known (trivial, easy to exploit and easy to avoid)
    and well-documented vulnerability: see
    <> ...


2015-12-06    vulnerability report sent to authors

2015-12-07    response from author:
              "the issue is not in VLC, but in NSIS."

              I really LOVE this sort of $%§*@ attitude:
              "Once the rockets are up who cares where they come down,
               'That's not my department', says Wernher von Braun"

2015-12-07    it's YOUR software, it's YOUR decision to use NSIS, it's
              YOUR (IR)responsibility!

2015-12-07    report published

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