Microsoft introduced a new kernel security feature with Windows Vista: Integrity Levels. Each process has an integrity level: Low, Medium, High or System. A process with a lower integrity level can’t write to an object with a higher integrity level.
For processes, this means that a process with low integrity level can’t open a handle with full access to a process with medium integrity level. This is what I’ll show in this post: a process with low integrity level can’t inject a DLL in a process with medium (or higher) integrity level.
Normal, non-elevated processes run with medium integrity level by default. Here I inject a DLL into notepad.exe with my bpmtk utility:
The integrity level of the cmd.exe process is medium, and therefor the integrity level of bpmtk.exe (launched by cmd.exe) is also medium. Because the integrity level of the notepad.exe process is also medium, the DLL injection succeeds.
To help you identify the integrity level of processes on your machine, you can add an integrity level column to process explorer:
Now we’ll do the same DLL injection from a cmd.exe and bpmtk.exe process with low integrity level.
The icacls.exe utility can be used to view and set integrity levels. Because I don’t want to change the integrity level of the original cmd.exe, I’m making a copy of cmd.exe: cmd-low-il.exe. Cmd-low-il.exe has no explicit integrity level:
When we set an explicit integrity level (low) on cmd-low-il.exe with icacls.exe, cmd-low-il.exe will run with low integrity level in stead of medium. And every program started by this cmd-low-il.exe process will also run with low integrity level.
You need admin right to assign a low integrity level to cmd-low-il.exe:
Here you can see the low integrity level setting:
When we start cmd-il-low.exe, it will run with low integrity level. Executing bpmtk.exe from cmd-il-low.exe will force bpmtk.exe to run with low integrity level. bpmtk.exe fails to inject the DLL. When bpmtk.exe tries to open a handle with full access to notepad.exe, the call to OpenProcess fails with access denied. Notepad.exe runs with medium integrity level, and bpmtk.exe running with low integrity level has no right to open a handle to modify the notepad.exe process.
Integrity Levels look like a good security feature to sandbox vulnerable, Internet facing applications. But there are issues I’ll highlight in an upcoming post.