Sources of dangerous vulnerabilities

There are a lot of whitehat and blackhat security researchers out there. While the whitehat researchers inform the target company before disclosing vulnerabilities, the blackhats either use the vulnerabilities for personal activities or sell them on black market. But both kinds of researchers spend a lot of time stepping through codes around where potential vulnerabilities might exist (e.g. around input manipulation code in a hunt for buffer overflow or format string vulnerabilities).

But there are a couple of other potential tricks to facilitate the hunt. One of this is comparing binaries of critical updates that are pushed by the vendor. If we consider Windows as an example, if Microsoft pushed a critical update, say, for one of the services handled by svchost.exe, an attacker may compare the old binary with the new updated version to see where Microsoft patched the vulnerabilities. In some cases reverse-engineering the patch might also reveal the vulnerabilities. The vulnerabilities found might interest the attacker if they have remote code execution ability, local privilege escalation or any arbitrary code execution. Since not all people update their system as soon as the update is pushed, the attackers will have enough time to craft their exploit and start using. If I remember correctly, the Sasser worm (2004) used the vulnerability discovered in this way to exploit MS04-011.

The other potential source of information is Dr. Watson of Windows. When applications crash, the error reporting feature on Windows XP and later versions might leak some important information on source of error. A reverse-engineering around the location might provide information about a vulnerability in the target application. Gathering the error reporting might be done on a lab computer or from different compromised computers.

These definitely are not going to be the only ways to identify vulnerabilities from binaries.

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