Alex wrote a nice blog post showing that the 0day found by David Litchfield [pdf] is now fixed in the newest Oracle release for Windows. He has some analysis of the fix as well as some good examples of using Repscan to view permissions and audit records using the online browser.

Whenever I need to check some security related (and sometimes non-security related) stuff in the database, I find myself using Repscan online browser more and more because of its ease of use and prepared queries.

Good stuff, Alex.

Paul Wright published an interesting post about how you can find traces of Java privilege escalation attacks in the database. Great stuff!

Of course, Hedgehog already protects against these published attacks as Paul showed earlier here. Hedgehog comes with build-in vPatch protections that cover the DBMS_JVM_EXP_PERMS and DBMS_JAVA attacks.

Ah, time flies when you’re having fun. It seams that only yesterday we worked on the October CPU and now Oracle released the January CPU.

This time, Oracle acknowledged 24 security fixes, 9 of them in the database layer. This number is a bit lower than the average but as in the previous CPU, you have a vulnerability that can be exploited remotely without authentication to take control of the machine (on Windows) or the Oracle account (on *nix).

Analyzing the CPU provides an interesting story. As always, Oracle talks about x vulnerabilities but actually patches y (which is much bigger than x). In this CPU, we’ve already analyzed more than 15 different vulnerabilities and we’re still counting!

Based on the severity of some of the vulnerabilities, if you have one of the supported versions you know you need to patch!
It’s also important to understand that if you have any 9i, 10gR1, 10gR2 or 11gR1 you’re vulnerable. Oracle just provides CPUs to the latest patch-sets.

I’m happy to see three Sentrigo researchers were credited in this CPU (including myself!). Go Red Team!

Of course, Sentrigo customers are already protected against many of the vulnerabilities using our own vPatches and we will release updated vPatches to cover the others.

In this case, my advice to wait a week to make sure that there are no issues with the patch and then patch as soon as possible since the vulnerabilities are so severe. Patch as soon as possible – but only after ensuring that your applications are not breaking.

If you can’t patch quickly or unable to patch at all due to valid reasons , try virtual patching as a stop-gap solution.

Oracle has released the October CPU with 38 announced security fixes (and more under the covers). 16 database vulnerabilities out of which a mind blowing 6 may be remotely exploitable without authentication, i.e., may be exploited over a network without the need for a username and password. Also, 3 of those will allow you to completely compromise the machine!
If you have one of the mentioned versions (,, you know you need to patch!
It’s also important to understand that if you have any 9i, 10gR1 or 10gR2, you’re vulnerable. Oracle just provides CPUs to the latest patch-sets.

The usual suspects are present in the credits – Alex, David, Joxean, Dennis, Cesar, Alexandr, Laszlo – good stuff.

Sentrigo was given credit for both discovering vulnerabilities and for security in depth. Way to go, Red Team!
Of course, Sentrigo customers are already protected against many of the vulnerabilities using our own vPatches and we will release updated vPatches to cover the others.

In this case, my advice is not even to wait a week to make sure that there are no issues with the patch since the vulnerabilities are so severe. Patch as soon as possible – but only after ensuring that your applications are not breaking.

If you can’t patch quickly or unable to patch at all due to valid reasons , try virtual patching as a stop-gap solution.

Wow, that’s a big one! Not so much as in the number of security bugs fixed but from the severity point of view.

Oracle fixed 30 vulnerabilities which is a bit less than the previous CPUs. Most of the problems are in the core database product and centered around the network components. The advanced queueing usual suspect also makes an appearance.

The interesting part is the 3 remotely exploitable vulnerabilities without authentication in the Network Authentication, Listener and Secure Enterprise Search (note the irony) components.

As in prevous CPUs, but even more so due to the severity of some of the issues, my advice is to wait for a few days to see if there are problems in the patch itself, test your application and patch as soon as possible.

I’d love to hear from DBAs out there, how soon are you deploying this CPU?

In light of last week’s CPU announcements, I invited my colleague Aviv Pode, Sentrigo’s Head of Security Research, to submit a special guest blog post. Thanks Aviv!

Oracle releases Critical Patch Updates (CPUs) every three months, containing security code fixes to vulnerabilities discovered by its security personnel or external researchers and hackers. By exploring these CPUs we can obtain valuable information about the vulnerabilities addressed by the patches and use them to create exploits that attack or hack the database. Thus, ironically, each time Oracle releases a new CPU to help protect databases, it actually increases the risk of Oracle databases worldwide being attacked.

This blog post describes and demonstrates the simple process of exploring Oracle’s CPUs to create working exploits that can be used to attack or hack an Oracle database. Only basic familiarity in information security and databases is required.

I will demonstrate the ease in which hackers can turn Oracle CPUs to attack vectors and its intent is to show IT security personnel the way their opponents operate. I’d like to emphasize that the best way to protect the databases against the hackers is a mix of several defense layers:

  1. You must apply the CPUs as soon as you can after they are released.
  2. You must harden the database and disable any functions in the database that you do not need.
  3. You should deploy security measures such as monitoring and virtual patching in order to augment the security.

Oracle Databases & Critical Patch Updates

Oracle is considered the leading and most widely used Database Management System (DBMS) in the enterprise world. Oracle databases are at the backbone of most critical or sensitive information systems in the world, from government and military, through telecommunications, commercial and financial companies, to some small businesses and web applications. Thus, Oracle databases store probably the most sensitive and valuable information in the world, anything from credit card information and personal health records to business transactions and national security documents.

In the past, Oracle installations contained weak default configurations, which made it easy for malicious users to penetrate Oracle databases. Among these weak default settings were active privileged user accounts with default known passwords, weak authentication settings and more. Since then, Oracle hardened these default settings, reducing many of the quick and easy attack methods that were publicly known and possible, leaving an interesting attack vector – built-in code vulnerability exploitation.

Code patches are released by software vendors to correct bugs discovered in their products. In many cases, these bugs affect security and the patches are actually fixes to security vulnerabilities that reside in the code itself. Oracle releases its Critical Patch Updates (CPUs) every three months since January 2005. These CPUs, which in the past contained fixes to bugs not only affecting security, now focus only on security related issues. Oracle, naturally, publishes very little information about the vulnerabilities or attack possibilities and refrain from delivering  valuable information into the wrong hands. At most, Oracle indicates the high-level component being addressed or details the required privileges and severity level of the bug (using Common Vulnerability Scoring System [CVSS]).

However, the CPUs are not helping protect Oracle customers much. An interesting situation exists in most Oracle installations worldwide, severely compromising data confidentiality, integrity and availability in those systems. A survey conducted by Sentrigo showed that about 90 percent of Oracle customers do not install Oracle CPUs in the 6 months following their release, while about 60 percent do not install them at all – ever. This means that most of Oracle databases worldwide currently contain un-patched vulnerabilities in built-in components, which may be exploited by hackers or malicious users.

Exploring Oracle CPUs

Oracle CPUs are available for every supported chipset and operating system, as a compressed directory containing a bulk of sub-directories. The CPU contains meta-data for the entire patch, listing identification and very basic information about the bug fixes, stored in text and xml files. Each sub-directory is referred to as a ‘molecule’. Each molecule has a unique identification number. The molecule with the number corresponding to the name of the compressed directory is a special molecule with information about the entire CPU. Besides this special molecule, each molecule contains a fix of a different vulnerability found in a built-in component of Oracle. Inside each molecule we will find two sub-directories – “files” and “etc”. Under “files” we can find the corrected files, while under “etc” meta-data such as the location of the corrected files in the Oracle Home, the feature or component these files relate to or the affected versions of Oracle.

Oracle database CPUs usually contain fixes to four types of files: Binary, Java, PL/SQL and SQL files, although on occasion corrections are done in configuration and other types of files. The meta-data in the ‘etc’ sub-directory indicates how the ‘opatch’ (Oracle’s utility for applying patches) should apply this fix. Usually it indicates a simple ‘copy’ to replace a PL/SQL component or SQL script, or an ‘archive’ to store a fixed object (.o binary) file in an archive (.a) file. This can be viewed in the “actions” file, under “etc/config”.

Now that we know what kinds of files we expect to find inside the CPU, we can proceed to see how these files can be used to find and understand the vulnerabilities fixed by the patch.

Finding an exploitable vulnerability

In order to demonstrate, we will explore the July ‘08 CPU for Oracle running on Linux 32 bit. After downloading and extracting the compressed file we will find 55 molecules. For our learning purpose we can pick a simple one, let’s say – 7154835. This molecule contains, under ‘files’, a single PLB file, to be stored in the directory specified in the ‘etc/config/actions’ file, under the Oracle Home.

PLB files are wrapped PL/SQL files, which contain the code of built-in Oracle components originally written in PL/SQL by Oracle. The PL/SQL code is wrapped using Oracle’s propriety wrapping algorithm. However, the algorithm for Oracle 9i wrapped code has been cracked and published by David Litchfield of NGS-Security at Black-Hat. Oracle 10g and 11g wrapping algorithm has not yet been published, however it is safe to assume that it is available to hackers worldwide. It is important to note here that even Oracle does not consider this wrapping algorithm to be anything more than an obfuscation and it is not cryptologically strong like PKI infrastructure, for example.

Once the PLB file has been unwrapped (using tools available for the hackers) we can view the plain text PL/SQL code. This can not only help us find the vulnerabilities that were patched, but actually find new unknown ones by analyzing the code – but this is a matter for another post 🙂 To continue with our demonstration, the PLB file we found in the molecule and unwrapped was ‘prvtdefr.plb’. We will locate and un-wrap the same file from an unpatched Oracle installation, or better-yet – patched with the previous CPU – April ’08. The file could be found in the same corresponding directory under the Oracle Home, as specified in the molecule meta-data ‘actions’ file – ‘$ORACLE_HOME/rdbms/admin/’.

Now we have two versions of the same Oracle built-in code file, one before and one after the code fix. All we need to do is compare the two files, locate the changes and in most cases a minimal additional effort will be required to understand the vulnerability.

Using a simple text-diff utility, we find several changed lines of code, which we can view in clear text. We can see that changes were made in the ‘dbms_defer_sys’ package, whose code is implemented here. Scrolling down we can examine the changes made in the ‘delete_tran_inner’ procedure. First, let’s look at the procedure header:


We can see three parameters passed to this procedure, among them ‘DESTINATION’, a varchar2.

In the old PL/SQL file, before the code fix, inside the procedure we can see concatenation of parameters passed to the procedure, into new variables:

COND1 := 'd.deferred_tran_id=''' || DELETE_TRAN_INNER.DEFERRED_TRAN_ID
  || ''' AND ';
  || ''' AND ';

These variables are later concatenated into an SQL SELECT statement and then executed:

DBMS_SQL.PARSE(SQLCURSOR, 'SELECT d.deferred_tran_id, d.dblink ' ||
  'WHERE ' || COND1 || COND2 || COND3 || ' 1 = 1', DBMS_SQL.V7);

Let us now examine the corresponding lines in the new fixed code:

COND1 := 'd.deferred_tran_id=:deferred_tran_id AND ';
COND2 := 'd.dblink=:destination AND ';

We can see that bind variables are used, as a safe way to avoid SQL Injection vulnerabilities. From these code changes we can conclude that the patch is intended to fix an SQL injection vulnerability in the old PL/SQL code. However, the ‘delete_tran_inner’ is a private procedure, which a user cannot execute directly. In this simple case, a closer look will find a public ‘delete_tran’ procedure that a user can execute directly, which in turn calls the ‘delete_tran_inner’ without performing input validation or sanitization either. We can now continue to create an exploit for this vulnerability.

Creating an Exploit

After locating the fixed vulnerability and identifying the weak procedure and parameters which we can exploit, we can write (or copy from the web) an exploit and simply adjust it to target our vulnerable procedure. The code we found opens a cursor which grants DBA privileges to Scott, the malicious user account we will use to hack the database. By calling the ‘delete_tran’ procedure in ‘dbms_defer_sys’ and passing an SQL injection, we can execute the evil cursor:

       PRAGMA autonomous_transaction;
         EXECUTE IMMEDIATE ''grant DBA to SCOTT'';

Theoretically, executing this code on an Oracle 10.2.03 un-patched with the July ’08 CPU will result in Scott being granted DBA privileges to the entire database. As a side note, this code will not work on an 11g database because the dbms_sql package was hardened to check if privileges have changed between the parse and the execute stages.

This demonstration focused on a PL/SQL molecule. Many molecules contain binary files which we cannot examine as easily as what we have seen here. In order to examine these binary files, more sophisticated tools (than ‘diff’) are required, such as DataResue’s IDA-Pro and Zynamics BinDiff. However, the idea remains the same – compare the old and new code, find the changed function, understand the fix and create a targeted exploit. In such more complex cases, if you have found the code fix but do not understand the vulnerability or do not know how to successfully exploit it, a fuzzer may come in handy. Running a good fuzzer on the old version of the fixed function or procedure will, in many cases, reveal the information hackers are looking for.


As we have demonstrated, using Oracle’s CPUs to find vulnerabilities and create working exploits that target, attack and hack Oracle databases is quite simple. As a result, hackers and malicious users can easily create such exploits and publish them on the web for other users to utilize. In actuality, this means every time Oracle releases a CPU, hackers are given more critical information on how to successfully attack Oracle databases, which increases the risk level for Oracle installations worldwide.

The conclusion is simple: Apply patches AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. Harden your database by disabling unnecessary components.  Or in case your organization is part of the majority of users who cannot afford it, for availability (downtime) practical or sensitivity considerations – apply a security measure such as virtual patching to block attacks targeting the database.


Oracle has released an announcement about the upcoming January CPU. This time it contains very serious WebLogic and secure backup vulnerabilities, along with 10 vulnerabilities on the database side.  The total number of vulnerabilities is in line with the previous CPUs while the database related  vulnerabilities are a bit less than usual compared with the 15 in the October CPU, 11 in the July CPU and 15 in April.

It’s worth noting that none of the database server vulnerabilities are remotely exploitable which makes them a target for insiders or by using SQL injection in applications.

Some of the vulnerabilities are found in optional components like Oracle Spatial. The take-away here is as follows: Install only what you use, don’t install features you are not going to use.  Remove them if installed by default.

My advice here is to wait about a week or two to make sure that there are no issues with the patch and then patch as soon as possible – but only after ensuring that your applications are not breaking.

If you can’t patch quickly or unable to patch at all due to valid reasons , try virtual patching as a stop-gap solution.

I was invited to post a guest editorial on Ryan Naraine’s Zero Day blog over on ZDNet on the topic of database patching, which you are welcome to read.

In anticipating some responses to that post, I’d like to distill further what I intended to convey. From my exposure to database operations of enterprises large and small, the one issue that keeps haunting me is the database patching issue, about which I’ve posted in the past. Some enterprises do a good job of it, but they are the minority. In most cases, the patching issue seems so insurmountable that instead of doing at least selective patching, companies have a “deer in the headlights” reaction and choose stagnation.

This is asking for trouble. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again – forget all the sophisticated zero-day hacks. Most database attackers will use the easy way in – a published exploit of a known vulnerability. You can’t protect yourself against everything, but you shouldn’t knowingly leave your DBMS wide open. Imagine that you read in the paper that burglars had a master key that can open all locks of a certain brand – wouldn’t you check to see if your door lock was of that make, and have it changed if it were?

So this is why patching is important, but we know it’s also difficult, which is why I proposed this pragmatic approach. It basically says – minimize what you have to patch, prioritize what’s important to patch and the trade-offs with business interruption and cost, then patch according to your priorities. Go into this with your eyes wide open rather than just gambling on not being next… Doing something is better than doing nothing.

When it’s logistically difficult to patch regularly, or to gain an extra layer of security, virtual patching for databases provides a low-cost, low-overhead solution with minimal interruption to daily operations.

It’s that time of the quarter again. Oracle just released another CPU, this time with 15 DB vulnerabilities compared with the 11 in the July CPU and 15 in April. There are also some interesting vulnerabilities for Oracle EBS and application server. Sentrigo is represented by Guy Pilosof and myself in the credits section.

The vulnerabilities contain the usual mix of SQL injections, buffer overflows and network attacks but I’m missing some of the usual suspects (vulnerable components) like AQ (advanced queuing) while seeing some old friends like CDC and LT. It’s interesting to note that again, one of the DB vulnerabilties is remotely exploitable without authentication. Of course, you should patch as soon as possible, but as we all know there are many factors that prevent you from doing so as frequently as you’d like.

I can bet on a good Sushi dinner that right now, security researchers and hackers around the world are busy reversing the CPU and understanding exactly what the vulnerabilities are. Expect POC scripts to pop up on various websites in the next few days. We at Sentrigo are already familiar with some of the vulnerabilities and have protections for them, while additional ones will be added over the next few days.

The usual advice applies:

  • Patch as soon as possible
  • Install only what you use, don’t install features you are not going to use and remove them if installed by default – many vulnerabilities are in rarely used components like Oracle Spatial, etc.
  • Use the least privilege principle – give the minimum permissions required for the task – every permission can be used to attack the database (create view, create procedure, etc.). Many packages can be used for an attack. Lock them down.
  • Check for default and weak passwords – there are many tools out there. Check after every patch as there were cases it restored default accounts.
  • Secure the network – use firewalls, valid node checking, etc.
  • Use secure coding – bind variables, bind variables, bind variables.
  • If you can’t patch quickly and your databases remain vulnerable, try virtual patching as a stop-gap solution.

So, when are you going to patch?

I promised to blog a bit about my traveling, so here I go:

I was visiting customers in India and the US and giving presentations to Oracle user groups in the US. Amazingly, the state of US airports is just getting worse every month. Flying from Israel to India and from India to NY went without any problems. However not did a 35 minute flight from NY to Boston take 3 hours, but they managed to lose my suitcase in the process. Every flight I had in the US in the previous week was late.

Enough moaning and back to Oracle security… I would like to share with you some insights I had while giving presentations. First, it looks as if database security is getting more and more attention from both DBAs as well as IT managers. By show of hands at the presentations, I could see that at least some of the DBAs are handling security issues as part of their day-to-day job. But still, DBAs are not hearing the following from their managers – “last year you met your MBOs because no database breach had occurred. Here is your bonus…” – though many have heard the bonus speech for HA or performance MBO achievements.

Second, almost no one had deployed the July 2007 Critical Patch Update from Oracle. From a crowd of about 50, only 2 raised their hands.

Third and most startling of all, only about a third of the DBAs have ever deployed an Oracle CPU. Let me repeat that again – more than two thirds of DBAs in this small but significant sample have never deployed an Oracle CPU. Ever.

So this got me thinking – do we care about Oracle CPUs at all? Oracle was getting a lot of heat from security researchers for not providing security patches or providing them with irregular intervals. Finally, Oracle is stepping up to the plate with the patches. They provide them on regular basis, they announce the the patch before issuing it so organizations can prepare for them. They are improving coding techniques and code vulnerability scanning tools. And after all that, customers are still not protected. The reason for this is that the database is an extremely complicated piece of software and is the life-line of the organization. An enterprise will need to test the CPU thoroughly before deploying and testing takes a lot of time (months). This is further complicated by the fact that many organizations have applications running on top of Oracle databases, and those applications are not “forward compatible” and certified by their vendors to run on future Oracle versions.

Ironically, from a security standpoint the situation after a CPU is announced is actually worse than before it is announced: The hackers get a road-map of all the vulnerabilities while most organizations have not yet plugged those holes. This is a similar notion to hacking IPS software in order to retrieve vulnerabilities (see this black hat presentation).

I’m not saying that Oracle should stop providing CPUs. Quite the contrary, I’m saying that organizations must deploy CPUs as quickly as possible to keep this sensitive period short. Even considering the objective difficulties in applying patches, it seems that enterprises are not taking database vulnerability seriously enough. Also, organizations must have other solutions to mitigate the threat in post-CPU release period. Those solutions must not change the Oracle software at all or else they will fall into the same trap of interdependency, stability issues and so forth. They must provide virtual patches to externally test for attacks and plug the security holes from the outside.

I am curious to know other people’s experiences and views on this topic – so fire away…