AIM Security Hole Opens Users to Remote Attack

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2004-08-09 Print this article Print

Researchers discover a remote buffer overflow that could allow an attacker to run arbitrary code on another user's Windows-based system; AOL is expected to issue a patch.

Two security research and consulting companies have reported a vulnerability in the AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) program that could allow an attacker to run arbitrary code on another users Windows-based system. iDEFENSE Inc. reports in its advisory that oversized values passed to the "goaway" function of AIMs "aim:" URI handler may be used to overwrite the pointer to the Structured Exception Handler, which could then be used to execute code written by the attacker. The attack would appear as a link in the instant messaging window, and the user would have to click on the link in order to be subject to the vulnerability.

Secunias advisory is less-detailed but addresses the same vulnerability. Secunia recommends that users switch to another instant messaging product.

In Version 5.5, AIM embraces video chat with the Mac. Click here to read more. America Online Inc.s AIM 5.5 has been tested and shown to be vulnerable, but iDEFENSE suspects that previous versions are also vulnerable. The iDEFENSE advisory says that AOL "recommends that Windows users of AIM upgrade to the latest beta version to be released on Aug. 9. "This new version of AIM addresses the vulnerability described herein and can be obtained via the AOL Instant Messenger portal."

The iDEFENSE advisory notes that AIM 5.5 was compiled with Microsoft Visual Studio .NET 2003 and incorporates that compilers stack protection, but iDEFENSE has confirmed that exploitation is still possible.

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Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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