Wednesday, November 25, 2020

0day in Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2 Gets a Micropatch


by Mitja Kolsek, the 0patch Team
[Update 1/22/2021: This vulnerability did not get patched by December 2020 or January 2021 Extended Security Updates, so we ported our micropatch to these updates.]
"Lol, who's even using Windows 7 anymore?"
"According to NetMarketShare, almost one in four Windows users."

On November 12, 2020, security researcher Clément Labro published a detailed analysis of a local privilege escalation vulnerability affecting Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 for which no official fix exists yet (at the time of this writing). Although these Windows platforms have reached end of support in January this year but Extended Security Updates (ESU) are still available for them until January 2023 - so even fully ESU-updated machines are currently affected by this issue.

As an alternative to ESU, we at 0patch have "security adopted" Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 and are providing critical security patches for these platforms. Consequently, vulnerabilities like this one get our attention - and, usually, micropatches.

The Vulnerability

Clément wrote a very useful permissions-checking tool for Windows that find various misconfigurations in Windows that could allow a local attacker to elevate their privileges. On a typical Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2 machine, the tool found that all local users have write permissions on two registry keys:

  • HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\Dnscache
  • HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\RpcEptMapper

These didn't immediately seem exploitable, but Clément did the legwork and found the Windows Performance Monitoring mechanism can be made to read from these keys - and eventually load the DLL provided by the local attacker. To most everyone's surprise, not as the local user, but as Local System.

In short, a local non-admin user on the computer just creates a Performance subkey in one of the above keys, populates it with some values, and triggers performance monitoring, which leads to a Local System WmiPrvSE.exe process loading attacker's DLL and executing code from it.


The Micropatch 

Now this is clearly a case of incorrect permissions on the above registry keys, and the solution should be obvious - correcting these permissions. However, we don't want our micropatches to make any global changes to the system, so we decided to address this in the code.

We analyzed where the Performance registry key is being read in Windows libraries and found that to be in advapi32.dll, function OpenExtensibleObjects, as a result of a call to RegKeyOpen* function with one of the performance-related predefined keys, in our case HKEY_PERFORMANCE_DATA.

Function OpenExtensibleObjects iterates through all services in the registry looking for Performance keys, and we decided to patch it so that it would ignore this key in both affected services - making it look as if the Performance key wasn't there even if it was.

This obviously breaks performance monitoring for the affected services but that's a trade-off we believe is beneficial to our users. In case performance monitoring is needed for these services, the micropatch can always be temporarily disabled (again, no restart of the service, much less of the computer, is needed for that).

Source code of the micropatch

The video below shows how the attack works on a Windows 7 computer exploiting bad permissions on the Dnscache registry key. An identical attack could be mounted using the RpcEptMapper key.


This micropatch is immediately available to all 0patch users, including those with a FREE plan. It is targeted at:
  1. Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2 computers without ESU, updated to January 2020, and 
  2. Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2 computers with ESU, updated to November 2020, 
  3. [Updated 1/22/2021] Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2 computers with ESU, updated to December 2020 or January 2021
According to our guidelines, this micropatch is free for everyone until Microsoft issues an official fix for it (presumably only as part of Extended Security Updates). By the time you're reading this the micropatch has already been distributed to all online 0patch Agents and also automatically applied except where Enterprise policies prevented that. If you're not a 0patch user and would like to use this micropatch on your computer(s), create an account in 0patch Central, install 0patch Agent and register it to your account. Note that no computer restart is needed for installing the agent or applying/un-applying any 0patch micropatch.

To learn more about 0patch, please visit our Help Center
We'd like to thank  Clément Labro for sharing their analysis and POC, which allowed us to create this micropatch for Windows users. We also encourage security researchers to privately share their analyses with us for micropatching, and further increase the positive impact of their work.
Most of the analysis was done by our young micropatching expert Ziga Sumenjak.
And finally, just one "frequently" asked question:
Q: "Can't I simply manually tighten permissions on affected registry keys to remove the risk instead of using 0patch?"
A: "Yes you can (or you can use this batch script to create Performance keys with tightened permissions). We don't know, however, if that might break some functionality under some conditions. It's quite likely that Microsoft didn't set such permissions by accident."




  1. What is the CVE for this vulnerability?

    1. This issue does not have a CVE ID yet. If/when it is assigned one we will update the blog post.

  2. Where is the actual download link, to get this patch, I see a lot of advertisements for it and that its free, but where???

    1. Our micropatches can't be individually downloaded and installed. Please read the section of the blog post above starting with "If you're not a 0patch user and would like to use this micropatch on your computer(s)"