NTML credentials can be stolen via malicious Portable Document Format (PDF) files without any user interaction, Check Point security researchers warn.
Attackers looking to steal the credentials for the NT LAN Manager (NTLM) authentication protocol (which consist of a domain name, a user name, and a one-way hash of the user’s password) can do so by abusing a feature where remote documents and files can be embedded inside PDF files.
PDF files, the security researchers explain, consist primarily of objects, together with Document structure, File structure, and content streams. There are eight basic types of objects, including dictionaries, and a malicious actor can abuse these to steal NTLM credentials.
A dictionary object represents a table containing pairs of objects, called entries, where the first element is the key (a name) and the second element is the value (may be any kind of object). Represented by dictionary objects, the pages of a document are called page objects and consist of required and optional entries.
One of the optional entries is the /AA entry, defining actions performed when a page is opened (/O entry) or closed (/C entry). An action dictionary is held within /O (/C) and consists of 3 required entries: /S, /F, and /D, describing the type of action to be performed – GoToR (Go To Remote) and GoToE (Go To Embedded) –, the location location of the other PDF, and the location to go to within the document.
“By injecting a malicious entry (using the fields described above together with his SMB server details via the ‘/F’ key), an attacker can entice arbitrary targets to open the crafted PDF file which then automatically leaks their NTLM hash, challenge, user, host name and domain details,” Check Point explains.
The security researchers, who also published a proof-of-concept, explain that the victim has no way of noticing the abnormal behavior. There is no evidence of the action being performed, nor a security alert.
Once the PDF file has been executed, the NTLM details are sent to the attacker’s server to be used for various SMB relay attacks.
According to Check Point, the issue likely impacts all PDF-viewers for Windows, as all of them will reveal the NTLM credentials.
The security researchers informed Adobe on the vulnerability, but the company said a fix won’t be released, because Microsoft is already offering users the possibility to prevent such attacks from happening in the first place.
In October 2017, the software giant made some optional Windows NTLM Single Sign-On (SSO) authentication changes to prevent “authentication with resources that are not marked as internal by the Windows Firewall.”
“Microsoft is releasing this new functionality as a mitigation to NTLM dictionary attacks. Microsoft continues to recommend that customers move to public key authentication methods for applications which do not support modern authentication, and use negotiate with Kerberos authentication whenever possible,” the company explained in an advisory.