Vulnerability Note VU#652452

Microsoft Internet Explorer does not adequately validate javascript: protocol URL

Original Release date: 19 Nov 2003 | Last revised: 13 May 2004

Overview

Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) does not adequately validate javascript: protocol URLs. An attacker could exploit this vulnerability to evaluate script in different security domains. By causing script to be evaluated in the Local Machine Zone, the attacker could execute arbitrary code with the privileges of the user running IE.

Description

IE uses a cross-domain security model to maintain separation between browser frames from different sources. This model is designed to prevent code in one domain from accessing data in a different domain. From Microsoft Security Bulletin MS03-048:

    One of the principal security functions of a browser is to ensure that browser windows that are under the control of different Web sites cannot interfere with each other or access each other's data, while allowing windows from the same site to interact with each other. To differentiate between cooperative and uncooperative browser windows, the concept of a "domain" has been created. A domain is a security boundary - any open windows within the same domain can interact with each other, but windows from different domains cannot. The cross-domain security model is the part of the security architecture that keeps windows from different domains from interfering with each other.

IE can evaluate script contained in a URL. For example, either of the following URLs will display an alert dialog containing the text "Hello world.":
javascript:eval('alert("Hello world.")')

javascript:alert("Hello world.")

This URL will display an alert dialog with the contents of the HTTP cookie for the current site:

javascript:alert(document.cookie)

The cross-domain security model should not allow script from one domain to read or modify data in a different domain using this type of URL. At least two DHTML methods, window.open() and external.NavigateAndFind(), do not properly validate javascript: protocol URLs. When the location of a frame in one domain is changed to a URL with the following syntax using either of these methods, the script will be evaluated in the original domain.

file:javascript:alert(document.cookie)

It is possible that vbscript: protocol URLs are similarly affected.

An attacker could exploit this vulnerability using a crafted HTML document containing script. The IE DHTML Object Model supports references to specific frames using the TARGET attribute (or property). Using known TARGET values such as _search or _media, an attacker can cause arbitrary HTML (including script) to be evaluated in the Local Machine Zone. Also, due to the way IE determines the MIME type of a file referenced by a URL, an HTML document may not necessarily have the expected file name extension (.html or .htm). There have been several public incident reports of systems being compromised via this vulnerability.

Any program that uses the WebBrowser ActiveX control or the IE HTML rendering engine (MSHTML) may be affected by this vulnerability. Outlook and Outlook Express are affected; however, recent versions of these programs open mail in the Restricted Sites Zone, where ActiveX controls and Active scripting are disabled by default.

This vulnerability is referenced in MS03-048 as the Script URLs Cross Domain Vulnerability (CAN-2003-0816). The CERT/CC considers VU#652452 to be a different vulnerability than VU#771604.

Impact

By convincing a victim to view an HTML document (web page, HTML email), an attacker could evaluate script in a different security domain than the one containing the attacker's document. By causing script to be evaluated in the Local Machine Zone, the attacker could execute arbitrary code with the privileges of the user running IE. The attacker could also read or modify data in other web sites (read cookies/content, modify/create content, etc.).

Solution

Apply patch
Apply the patch (824145) referenced in Microsoft Security Bulletin MS03-048 or a more recent IE cumulative patch.


Disable Active scripting and ActiveX controls

Disable Active scripting and ActiveX controls for untrusted sites. At a minimum, disable Active scripting in the Internet zone and the zone used by Outlook, Outlook Express, or any other software that uses the WebBrowser ActiveX control or the IE HTML rendering engine (MSHTML). Instructions for disabling Active scripting and ActiveX controls can be found in the CERT/CC Malicious Web Scripts FAQ.

Apply the Outlook Email Security Update

Another way to effectively disable Active scripting and ActiveX controls in Outlook is to install the Outlook Email Security Update. The update configures Outlook to open email messages in the Restricted Sites Zone, where Active scripting and ActiveX controls are disabled by default. In addition, the update provides further protection against malicious code that attempts to propagate via Outlook. The Outlook Email Security Update is available for Outlook 98 and Outlook 2000. The functionality of the Outlook Email Security Update is included in Outlook 2002 and Outlook Express 6.

Maintain updated antivirus software

Antivirus software with updated virus definitions may identify and prevent some exploit attempts. Variations of exploits or attack vectors may not be detected. Do not rely on antivirus software to defend against this vulnerability. The CERT/CC maintains a partial list of antivirus vendors.

Use a different web browser

There are a number of significant vulnerabilities in technologies relating to the IE domain/zone security model, MIME type determination, and ActiveX. It is possible to reduce exposure to these vulnerabilities by using a different web browser. Such a decision may, however, reduce the functionality of sites that require IE-specific features such as DHTML, VBScript, and ActiveX. Note that using a different web browser will not remove IE from a Windows system; and other programs may invoke IE, the WebBrowser ActiveX control, or the HTML rendering engine (MSHTML).

Systems Affected (Learn More)

VendorStatusDate NotifiedDate Updated
Microsoft CorporationAffected-18 Nov 2003
If you are a vendor and your product is affected, let us know.

CVSS Metrics (Learn More)

Group Score Vector
Base N/A N/A
Temporal N/A N/A
Environmental N/A N/A

References

Credit

Two variations of this vulnerability were publicly reported by Liu Die Yu. Thanks to Microsoft and Thor Larholm for information used in this document.

This document was written by Art Manion.

Other Information

  • CVE IDs: CAN-2003-0816
  • Date Public: 10 Sep 2003
  • Date First Published: 19 Nov 2003
  • Date Last Updated: 13 May 2004
  • Severity Metric: 56.04
  • Document Revision: 49

Feedback

If you have feedback, comments, or additional information about this vulnerability, please send us email.