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  • CERT Incident Note IN-2001-03: BIND Vulnerabilities Exploited

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The CERT Coordination Center publishes incident notes to provide information about incidents to the Internet community.

Exploitation of BIND Vulnerabilities

Date: Friday, March 30, 2001

On January 29, 2001 the CERT/CC published CERT Advisory CA-2001-02 detailing multiple vulnerabilities in multiple versions of ISC BIND nameserver software. Two of the vulnerabilities described in the advisory are now actively being exploited by the intruder community to compromise systems. In particular, these vulnerabilities are being exploited:

VU#325431 - Queries to ISC BIND servers may disclose environment variables
VU#196945 - ISC BIND 8 contains buffer overflow in transaction signature (TSIG) handling code

Multiple exploits exist for multiple operating system platforms, and we have seen several versions of packaged kits containing exploits used by intruders to automate the process of scanning for and compromising vulnerable systems. At least one known toolkit employs worm-like techniques designed to cause the attack cycle to self-initiate on a compromised host, which can result in the attack propagating across multiple hosts and networks without intruder interaction. To date, reports to the CERT/CC indicate that successful exploitation has involved hosts running Linux.

Attack Profile

In exploitations seen by the CERT/CC, the two vulnerabilities in ISC BIND are used in conjunction with each other during a single attack to compromise a target host.

The exploits we have seen have the following traffic pattern:

  attacker:port -> victim:53 TCP SYN
  victim:53 -> attacker:port TCP SYN ACK
  attacker:port -> victim:53 TCP ACK   (TCP session established)
  attacker:port -> victim:53 UDP DNS inverse query request

The exploit opens a TCP connection to port 53 on the victim host and then sends a specially formed DNS inverse query packet to the target via UDP. The inverse query packet is an exploit of the BIND information leak vulnerability ( VU#325431) described in CERT Advisory CA-2001-02. The nameserver response may vary depending on the configuration of the nameserver and the influence of access control mechanisms. In most cases, we have seen a response in a single UDP packet back to the source indicating a format error in the inverse query.

  victim:53 -> attacker:port UDP DNS inverse query format error

The goal of exploiting the information leak vulnerability is to gain information to enable an exploit attempt against the BIND TSIG vulnerability ( VU#196945) described in CERT Advisory CA-2001-02.

If the information returned in the inverse query response packet indicates that the target DNS server is not vulnerable to the TSIG exploit, the exploit process closes the TCP connection and exits. However, if the information yielded from the information leak exploit indicates a vulnerable BIND, the exploit process proceeds with the TSIG exploit. The traffic pattern looks like this:

  attacker:port -> victim:53 UDP (shellcode)
  victim:53 -> attacker:port UDP DNS format error
  attacker:port -> victim:53 TCP (payload)
In exploits we have seen, the shellcode is sent by the exploit using UDP, causing /bin/sh to be attached to the existing socket connection on port 53/tcp. Then, the exploit sends shell commands on 53/tcp for execution on the compromised host as the user running the nameserver process.

Examples of two specific toolkits employing this type of exploit are discussed below. Note, intruder toolkits often change over time, so exact composition and attack sequences may vary from these descriptions.

'erkms' toolkit

A small number of incidents reported to the CERT/CC since mid February of 2001 have involved the use of a toolkit called 'erkms'. However, the incidents have in total involved more than 10,000 hosts.

The attack portion of 'erkms' uses the following tools:

 MD5 checksum                      Filename     Filesize
 5899fa53c027aa2813c6adcaaf096a25  l               17203
 ccccd7adba38b2f3ed777a398624097e  m.c               234
 40323dbe7d19e41303088f49ce6a4edd  m.o              5535
 7df70d9e426aaaeeadfb24c066d5445f  rscan           39621
 3c856a7f1cfd6d22cbc32a8ccf0a796a  r                  75
  • 'r' is a shell script that calls 'rscan' to scan a /8 network block for TCP port 53. For a victim host listening on TCP port 53 with no influence from packet filtering, the traffic pattern is:
        attacker:port -> victim:53 TCP SYN
        victim:53 -> attacker:port TCP SYN ACK
        attacker:port -> victim:53 TCP RST
  • For hosts responding on 53/tcp, 'rscan' executes 'm.o', which in turn executes the exploit code 'l' against the victim host (see "Attack Profile" above).
The payload of the exploit code uses the rcp(1) program to retrieve additional tools from a remote distribution point. The additional tools are installed on the compromised host. The tools installed and used include:

 MD5 checksum                      Filename     Filesize
 ffe6f1055d4bca4fb56a1124bf293c95  a                 448
 4a2149387c8b538d5b0ff65f85e08dcc  net4           337920
 60959ee2254105bfc55a2740dc1bdaab  bj             212244
 0f81ae0bcb1111f586d673a5818a8ce0  btm.c            7513
 007c4e98ad2ec4c26d30247e5399360a  btm.h            2258
 fcc8ae5a47dcb55e27a7ca37fe7745ef  fix             17653
 f227d09f1697ebb268d36e83f54db55a  go               1024
 f2f8b75aafb1b6314b93b7a0a18fac2a  ls              36952
 662c04f1e5af11fc38a82b736644b591  named          579660
 a8a65bd376f38ce3f99bed64956bdf09  netstat         32800
 6dcd03966a893e2d38e833727cbcc35a  tcpd            14224
  • 'net4' is a trinoo distributed denial of service agent, which is discussed in CERT Incident Note IN-99-07. It is installed and executed as '/usr/sbin/init' and a crontab entry is added to restart the process.
  • The following system files are replaced with intruder supplied versions:
    • /bin/login (from 'bj') - allows backdoor connections
    • /usr/sbin/in.telnetd (via 'btm') - allows backdoor connections
    • /usr/sbin/in.ftpd (via 'btm') - allows backdoor connections
    • /bin/ls (from 'ls')
    • /usr/sbin/tcpd (from 'tcpd')
    • /bin/netstat (from 'netstat')
    • /usr/sbin/named (from 'named')
    • /usr/sbin/in.smb (from '/usr/sbin/in.telnetd')
    • /etc/inetd.conf and /etc/services are both modified to cause inetd to spawn /usr/bin/in.smb for connections to TCP port 54321. The bogus service name used is 'smbd2'.
  • Trojan horse configuration information is written to '/dev/hdbb' and '/dev/ptyq'.

'1i0n' worm

A growing number of incidents reported to the CERT/CC since mid February of 2001 have involved the use of a toolkit called '1i0n', or 'lion'. Multiple versions of '1i0n' are known to exist, but in all versions we have seen the same attack profile described above used to exploit vulnerabilities in victim hosts.

All known versions of '1i0n' seem to perform the following similar actions via automated scripts to locate and attack victim hosts.

  • A program named 'randb' is executed to select a random /16 network block.
  • 'pscan' is executed to scan for TCP port 53 across the random network block. The traffic pattern of the scan differs from that of the 'rscan' tool from 'erkms' in that a full 3-way TCP handshake is completed and the connection is properly terminated. For a victim host listening on TCP port 53 with no influence from packet filtering, the traffic pattern is:
        attacker:port -> victim:53 TCP SYN
        victim:53 -> attacker:port TCP SYN ACK
        attacker:port -> victim:53 TCP ACK
        attacker:port -> victim:53 TCP FIN ACK
        victim:53 -> attacker:port TCP ACK
        victim:53 -> attacker:port TCP FIN ACK
        attacker:port -> victim:53 TCP ACK
  • For each host responding on 53/tcp, the exploit code 'bind' is executed against the victim host (see "Attack Profile" above).

The attack cycle continues through the entire /16 network block, at which point a new /16 network block is randomly selected and the attack cycle begins again.

The payload of the exploit code retrieves a copy of the '1i0n' toolkit and installs it on the compromised victim host. At that point, a new attack cycle is initiated on the victim host without any intruder intervention. The source of the '1i0n' toolkit installed on a compromised host and the composition of that toolkit may vary significantly between versions. Some examples of what we have seen include:

  • sensitive system information, including copies of the /etc/passwd and /etc/shadow files, sent via email to a remote address
  • system binaries replaced with intruder supplied versions to hide intruder processes and network connections, and to provide backdoor privileged access
  • system configuration files altered
  • system logging facilities may be disabled and log files may be destroyed
  • installation of distributed denial of service tools such as Tribe Flood Network (e.g., tfn)

More information about '1i0n' has been published by The SANS Institute.


Intruders are using automated and self-replicating toolkits to exploit known vulnerabilities in ISC BIND. Exploit code is in wide public circulation.

Systems running vulnerable versions of ISC BIND are at risk for being compromised on a widespread basis. Compromised hosts are at high risk for being used to attack other Internet sites, having system binaries and configuration files altered, and having sensitive information exposed to external parties.


The CERT/CC encourages all Internet sites to review CERT Advisory CA-2001-02 and insure workarounds or patches have been applied on all affected hosts on your network.

As a good security practice, access to nameservers on TCP port 53 should be restricted to trusted sources only using nameserver configuration options, host-based access control lists, and/or network-based access control through packet filtering.

If you believe a host under your control has been compromised, you may wish to refer to

Steps for Recovering From a Root Compromise

Author(s): Kevin Houle, George Weaver, Ian Finlay

Copyright 2001 Carnegie Mellon University.

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