Colin Mc Hugo

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Colin Mc Hugo
Security Engineer Manager & CEO at Quantum Infinite Solutions Group Ltd.

Researchers Demonstrate 2 New Hacks to Modify Certified PDF Documents

May 29, 2021

Cybersecurity researchers have disclosed two new assault strategies on licensed PDF paperwork that would probably allow an attacker to change a doc’s seen content material by displaying malicious content material over the certified content material with out invalidating its signature.

“The assault thought exploits the flexibleness of PDF certification, which permits signing or including annotations to licensed paperwork beneath totally different permission ranges,” said researchers from Ruhr-College Bochum, who’ve systematically analyzed the safety of the PDF specification through the years.

The findings had been offered on the forty second IEEE Symposium on Safety and Privateness (IEEE S&P 2021) held this week.

The 2 assaults — dubbed Evil Annotation and Sneaky Signature attacks — hinge on manipulating the PDF certification course of by exploiting flaws within the specification that governs the implementation of digital signatures (aka approval signature) and its extra versatile variant referred to as certification signatures.

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Certification signatures additionally enable totally different subsets of modifications on the PDF doc primarily based on the permission stage set by the certifier, together with the power to jot down textual content to particular type fields, present annotations, and even add a number of signatures.

The Evil Annotation Assault (EAA) works by modifying a certified doc that is provisioned to insert annotations to incorporate an annotation containing malicious code, which is then despatched to the sufferer. However, the concept behind the Sneaky Signature assault (SSA) is to govern the looks by including overlaying signature components to a doc that permits filling out type fields.

“By inserting a signature area, the signer can outline the precise place of the sector, and moreover its look and content material, the researchers stated. “This flexibility is critical since every new signature might include the signer’s info. The knowledge generally is a graphic, a textual content, or a mix of each. Nonetheless, the attacker can misuse the flexibleness to stealthily manipulate the doc and insert new content material.”

In a hypothetical assault situation detailed by the lecturers, a certifier creates a licensed contract with delicate info whereas enabling the choice so as to add additional signatures to the PDF contract. By benefiting from these permissions, an attacker can modify the contents of the doc, say, to show an Worldwide Financial institution Account Quantity (IBAN) beneath their management and fraudulently switch funds, because the sufferer, unable to detect the manipulation, accepts the tampered contract.

15 of 26 PDF functions evaluated by the researchers, counting Adobe Acrobat Reader (CVE-2021-28545 and CVE-2021-28546), Foxit Reader (CVE-2020-35931), and Nitro Professional, had been discovered susceptible to the EAA assault, enabling an attacker to vary the seen content material within the doc. Soda PDF Desktop, PDF Architect, and 6 different functions had been recognized as vulnerable to SSA assaults.

Extra troublingly, the research revealed that it is attainable to execute high-privileged JavaScript code — e.g., redirect the consumer to a malicious web site — in Adobe Acrobat Professional and Reader by sneaking such code by way of EAA and SSA as an incremental replace to the licensed doc. The weak spot (CVE-2020-24432) was addressed by Adobe as a part of its Patch Tuesday replace for November 2020.

To fend off such assaults, the researchers advocate prohibiting FreeText, Stamp, and Redact annotations in addition to guaranteeing that signature fields are arrange at outlined places within the PDF doc previous to certification, alongside penalizing any subsequent addition of signature fields with an invalid certification standing. The researchers have additionally created a Python-based utility referred to as PDF-Detector, which parses licensed paperwork to spotlight any suspicious components discovered within the PDF doc.

“Though neither EAA nor SSA can change the content material itself – it all the time stays within the PDF – annotations and signature fields can be utilized as an overlay so as to add new content material,” the researchers stated. “Victims opening the PDF are unable to tell apart these additions from common content material. And even worse: annotations can embed excessive privileged JavaScript code that’s allowed to be added to sure licensed paperwork.”

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