Skip links

Windows RDP Client Porting Critical Vulnerabilities to Hyper-V Manager

This month brings us yet another critical RCE (Remote Code Execution) bug found in the RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol) Client which has also been ported to the Hyper-V Manager “Enhanced Session Mode” feature. User interaction is a prerequisite since the vulnerability lies within the RDP client, requiring a victim to connect to a malicious RDP server.

Vulnerability Analysis: CVE-2021-38666

This RCE bug is very closely related to CVE-2021-34535 and to CVE-2020-1374 , where there is a heap-based buffer overflow in mstscax.dll due to an attacker-controlled payload size field. The vulnerability can be triggered via the RDP Smart Card Virtual Channel Extension feature [MS-RDPESC], by leveraging the existing local RDPDR static virtual channel setup between the client and server. The RDP Smart Card Virtual Channel Extension feature [MS-RDPESC] functionality was leveraged in the “EsteemAudit” Exploit released by the “Shadow Brokers,” but that vulnerability targeted the RDP server and not the client. The functionality being exploited here is the ability to share a smart card reader between the client and server. The destination buffer intended for the IOCTL (I/O control) call to locate each host smart card reader is a fixed size, but the user-controlled size field can be altered to cause the client to perform an OOB (Out of Bounds) write. Seeing how simple it is to trigger this vulnerability, our team decided to mutate the test case to verify whether any other IOCTLs within the [MS-RDPESC] specification are vulnerable. Enumerating through the 60 other IOCTL calls tied to the smart card reader, we were able to find two additional unique crashes. All vulnerabilities discovered have been patched in the latest version of the mstscax.dll, which shows that the fix for this bug has mitigated other potentially vulnerable functions. The patched mstscax.dll now simply verifies that the bytes received over the wire do not exceed the user-supplied size field; it does this at the IOCTL dispatch table level before any IOCTL functions are called, so the single validation is applied to all IOCTLs.

This vulnerability has a CVSS (Common Vulnerability Scoring Standard) score of 8.8, dropped down from 9.8 because it requires user interaction in that a victim RDP client must connect to a malicious server.

Attack Scenario

This bug has the same attack scenario as that of CVE-2021-34535, which we also analyzed in depth:

  1. It is a client-side vulnerability so not wormable
  2. Requires a user to connect to a malicious RDP server
  3. It impacts both the traditional RDP client over the network and the local Hyper-V Manager “Enhanced Session Mode” since they both use the vulnerable mstscax.dll
  4. The vulnerability could be used for a guest-to-host escape on Hyper-V Windows 10

Looking Forward

We have seen a regular cadence of critical RDP vulnerabilities since BlueKeep (CVE-2019-0708), but what distinguishes the two vulnerabilities CVE-2021-38666 and CVE-2021-34535 is that they impact Hyper-V Manager “Enhanced Session Mode” and can thus be leveraged for guest-to-host escapes. While we do not rate these vulnerabilities as critical in the same manner as past RDP server-side RCE vulnerabilities, we are now clearly starting to see a trend of vulnerabilities emerging which impact Hyper-V Manager due to the porting of RDP. We recommend patching as a top priority as threat actors will potentially look to weaponize this common protocol for guest-to-host escapes on Windows 10 Hyper-V.

Microsoft has published a Knowledge Base article for this issue here with information regarding patching this vulnerability. As always, we recommend patching as a first course of action and we will continue to monitor this vulnerability for any exploitation in the wild.

For RDP security best practices please see: