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October 15, 2002
Symantec Norton AntiVirus Corporate Edition 7.x Help File Elevation of Privilege

High (for client systems)

The Symantec Norton AntiVirus Corporate Edition client help function uses winhlp32, the Windows Help interface to provide help support to the client user. There is a vulnerability in the interface process that allow winhlp32 to assume privileges based on Norton AntiVirus Corporate Edition privileges rather those normally assigned to the winhlp32 interface. Since Norton AntiVirus Corporate Edition runs with SYSTEM privileges, the client user can manipulate the help function to access files on the local system with administrative privileges.

Components Affected
Symantec Norton AntiVirus Corporate Edition prior to 7.5.1 build 62
Symantec Norton AntiVirus Corporate Edition prior to 7.6.1 build 35a

Symantec became aware of an issue with the functionality of the Symantec Norton AntiVirus Corporate Edition GUI help interface that allows a client user to gain privileged access to files or functionality on the local system.

When a user accesses the user interface GUI on the Norton AntiVirus Corporate Edition client, e.g., when doing a scan, either manual or scheduled; reviewing history, during real-time protection alerts, etc.; the user can request help by way of the help button in the GUI toolbar. Norton AntiVirus Corporate Edition help functionality was implemented with an interface to winhlp32, the built-in operating system help function. This interface was made to provide the user with a common interface that the user understands, is use to, and is able to implement quickly and easily.

However, there is a weakness in the way the interface was made that permits the winhlp32 functionality to assume permissions from Norton AntiVirus Corporate Edition, which by necessity runs with SYSTEM privileges, rather than retaining the limited user privileges normally assigned to the logged in user. By manipulating the winhlp32 interface the local user gains the ability to search all system files, assume full permission for all directories and files on the client system, or even add themselves to the administrative group on the local system.

Symantec Response
Symantec has verified that this vulnerability does exist in client applications of earlier versions of Symantec Norton AntiVirus Corporate Edition. This vulnerability has been eliminated in current versions of Symantec Norton AntiVirus Corporate Edition, version 7.5.1 Build 62 and later as well as version 7.6.1 Build 35a and later that are available for download.

While this has potential to be a serious vulnerability, there are mitigating circumstances that greatly reduce the risk of intentional or inadvertent use of this weakness in Symantec Norton AntiVirus Corporate Edition.

  • The user must have a user account on the targeted system and be logged on interactively to exploit this weakness.
  • This weakness cannot be exploited remotely.
  • System privileges can only be gained on the local system, which normally limits the impact to the client user system.
  • Access to domain controllers / administrator systems would normally be restricted to trusted Administrators only with restricted access to the physical system.
Symantec strongly recommends all users of Symantec Norton AntiVirus Corporate Edition upgrade to the latest version release to prevent potential misuse of this weakness. Please see immediately below for instructions on upgrading:

Platinum customers
New build downloads and product information are available on the Platinum Web site.
Gold customers
Information to download current builds (updates) will be provided only when the build is known to fix an issue that the customer is experiencing. Please have your customer ID and upgrade insurance information readily available when contacting technical support at the following number: 1-800-927-4017. Software upgrades are available only through Upgrade Insurance shipments.
Customers without Gold or Platinum support
Please contact 1-800-927-4017 to determine if you qualify. You may still qualify for an update if verification can be made that the newer build will solve a problem on your computer.

Symantec takes the security and proper functionality of its products very seriously. Symantec appreciates the efforts of Harry Johnson, Technical Support group, Waikato University, New Zealand in identifying and providing technical details of this issue. Symantec further appreciates the efforts of ERRor of Domain HELL Team for identification of this issue as well.

Symantec takes the security and proper functionality of our products very seriously. As founding members of the Organization for Internet Safety (OISafety), Symantec supports and follows the principles of responsible disclosure. Symantec also subscribes to the vulnerability disclosure guidelines outlined by the National Infrastructure Advisory Council (NIAC).

Please contact secure@symantec.com if you feel you have discovered a security issue in a Symantec product. A Symantec Product Security team member will contact you regarding your submission. Symantec strongly recommends using encrypted email for reporting vulnerability information to secure@symantec.com. The Symantec Product Security PGP key can be found at the end of this message.

Symantec has developed a Product Vulnerability Response document outlining the process we follow in addressing suspected vulnerabilities in our products. This document is available below.

PDF Symantec Vulnerability Response Policy PGP Symantec Product Vulnerability Management PGP Key

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Last modified on: Monday, 25-Oct-04 15:03:07