Calling System Service APIs in Kernel

In this post I am not going to shed any new light about this topic, but I didn’t find anything like this organized in one place, so I decided to write it down, hope you will find it useful.

Sometimes when you develop a kernel driver you need to use some internal API that cannot be accessed normally through the DDK. Though you may say “but it’s not an API if it’s not officially exported and supported by MS”. Well that’s kinda true, the point is that some functions like that which are not accessible from the kernel, are really accessible from usermode, hence they are called API. After all, if you can call NtCreateFile from usermode, eventually you’re supposed to be able to do that from kernel, cause it really happens in kernel, right? Obviously, NtCreateFile is an official API in the kernel too.

When I mean using system service APIs, I really mean by doing it platform/version independent, so it will work on all versions of Windows. Except when MS changes the interface (number of parameters for instance, or their type) to the services themselves, but that rarely happens.

I am not going to explain how the architecture of the SSDT and the transitions from user to kernel or how syscalls, etc work. Just how to use it to our advantage. It is clear that MS doesn’t want you to use some of its APIs in the kernel. But sometimes it’s unavoidable, and using undocumented API is fine with me, even in production(!) if you know how to do it well and as robust as possible, but that’s another story. We know that MS doesn’t want you to use some of these APIs because a) they just don’t export it in kernel on purpose, that is. b) starting with 64 bits versions of Windows they made it harder on purpose to use or manipulate the kernel, by removing previously exported symbols from kernel, we will get to that later on.

Specifically I needed ZwProtectVirtualMemory, because I wanted to change the protection of some page in the user address space. And that function isn’t exported by the DDK, bummer. Now remember that it is accessible to usermode (as VirtualProtectMemory through kernel32.dll syscall…), therefore there ought to be a way to get it (the address of the function in kernel) in a reliable manner inside a kernel mode driver in order to use it too. And this is what I’m going to talk about in this post. I’m going to assume that you already run code in the kernel and that you are a legitimate driver because it’s really going to help us with some exported symbols, not talking about shellcodes here, although shellcodes can use this technique by changing it a bit.

We have a few major tasks in order to achieve our goal: Map the usermode equivalent .dll file. We need to get the index number of the service we want to call. Then we need to get the base address of ntos and the address of the (service) table of pointers (the SSDT itself) to the functions in the kernel. And voila…

The first one is easy both in 32 and 64 bits systems. There are mainly 3 files which make the syscalls in usermode, such as: ntdll, kernel32 and user32 (for GDI calls). For each API you want to call in kernel, you have to know its prototype and in which file you will find it (MSDN supplies some of this or just Google it). The idea is to map the file to the address space as an (executable) image. Note that the cool thing about this mapping is that you will get the address of the required file in usermode. Remember that these files are physically shared among all processes after boot time (For instance, addresses might change because of ASLR but stay consistent as long as the machine is up). Following that we will use a similar functionality to GetProcAddress, but one that you have to write yourself in kernel, which is really easy for PE and PE+ (64 bits).

Alright, so we got the image mapped, we can now get some usermode API function’s address using our GetProcAddress, now what? Well, now we have to get the index number of the syscall we want. Before I continue, this is the right place to say that I’ve seen so many approaches to this problem, disassemblers, binary patterns matching, etc. And I decided to come up with something really simple and maybe new. You take two functions that you know for sure that are going to be inside kernel32.dll (for instance), say, CreateFile and CloseHandle. And then simply compare byte after byte from both functions to find the first different byte, that byte contains the index number of the syscall (or the low byte out of the 4 bytes integer really). Probably you have no idea what I’m talking about, let me show you some usermode API’s that directly do syscalls:

XP SP3 ntdll.dll
B8 25 00 00 00                    mov     eax, 25h        ; NtCreateFile
BA 00 03 FE 7F                    mov     edx, 7FFE0300h
FF 12                             call    dword ptr [edx]
C2 2C 00                          retn    2Ch

B8 19 00 00 00                    mov     eax, 19h        ; NtClose
BA 00 03 FE 7F                    mov     edx, 7FFE0300h
FF 12                             call    dword ptr [edx]
C2 04 00                          retn    4

Vista SP1 32 bits ntdll.dll

B8 3C 00 00 00                    mov     eax, 3Ch        ; NtCreateFile
BA 00 03 FE 7F                    mov     edx, 7FFE0300h
FF 12                             call    dword ptr [edx]
C2 2C 00                          retn    2Ch

B8 30 00 00 00                    mov     eax, 30h        ; NtClose
BA 00 03 FE 7F                    mov     edx, 7FFE0300h
FF 12                             call    dword ptr [edx]
C2 04 00                          retn    4

Vista SP2 64 bits ntdll.dll

4C 8B D1                          mov     r10, rcx        ; NtCreateFile
B8 52 00 00 00                    mov     eax, 52h
0F 05                             syscall
C3                                retn

4C 8B D1                          mov     r10, rcx        ; NtClose
B8 0C 00 00 00                    mov     eax, 0Ch
0F 05                             syscall
C3                                retn

2008 sp2 64 bits ntdll.dll

4C 8B D1                          mov     r10, rcx        ; NtCreateFile
B8 52 00 00 00                    mov     eax, 52h
0F 05                             syscall
C3                                retn

4C 8B D1                          mov     r10, rcx        ; NtClose
B8 0C 00 00 00                    mov     eax, 0Ch
0F 05                             syscall
C3                                retn

Win7 64bits syswow64 ntdll.dll

B8 52 00 00 00                    mov     eax, 52h        ; NtCreateFile
33 C9                             xor     ecx, ecx
8D 54 24 04                       lea     edx, [esp+arg_0]
64 FF 15 C0 00 00+                call    large dword ptr fs:0C0h
83 C4 04                          add     esp, 4
C2 2C 00                          retn    2Ch

B8 0C 00 00 00                    mov     eax, 0Ch        ; NtClose
33 C9                             xor     ecx, ecx
8D 54 24 04                       lea     edx, [esp+arg_0]
64 FF 15 C0 00 00+                call    large dword ptr fs:0C0h
83 C4 04                          add     esp, 4
C2 04 00                          retn    4

These are a few snippets to show you how the syscall function templates look like. They are generated automatically by some tool MS wrote and they don’t change a lot as you can see from the various architectures I gathered here. Anyway, if you take a look at the bytes block of each function, you will see that you can easily spot the correct place where you can read the index of the syscall we are going to use. That’s why doing a diff on two functions from the same .dll would work well and reliably. Needless to say that we are going to use the index number we get with the table inside the kernel in order to get the corresponding function in the kernel.

This technique gives us the index number of the syscall of any exported function in any one of the .dlls mentioned above. This is valid both for 32 and 64 bits. And by the way, notice that the operand type (=immediate) that represents the index number is always a 4 bytes integer (dword) in the ‘mov’ instruction, just makes life easier.

To the next task, in order to find the base address of the service table or what is known as the system service descriptor table (in short SSDT), we will have to get the base address of the ntoskrnl.exe image first. There might be different kernel image loaded in the system (with or without PAE, uni-processor or multi-processor), but it doesn’t matter in the following technique I’m going to use, because it’s based on memory and not files… This task is really easy when you are a driver, means that if you want some exported symbol from the kernel that the DDK supplies – the PE loader will get it for you. So it means we get, without any work, the address of any function like NtClose or NtCreateFile, etc. Both are inside ntos, obviously. Starting with that address we will round down the address to the nearest page and scan downwards to find an ‘MZ’ signature, which will mark the base address of the whole image in memory. If you’re afraid from false positives using this technique you’re welcome to go further and check for a ‘PE’ signature, or use other techniques.

This should do the trick:

PVOID FindNtoskrnlBase(PVOID Addr)
{
    /// Scandown from a given symbol’s address.
    Addr = (PVOID)((ULONG_PTR)Addr & ~0xfff);
    __try {
        while ((*(PUSHORT)Addr != IMAGE_DOS_SIGNATURE)) {
            Addr = (PVOID) ((ULONG_PTR)Addr – PAGE_SIZE);
        }
        return Addr;
    }
    __except(1) { }
    return NULL;
}

And you can call it with a parameter like FindNtoskrnlBase(ZwClose). This is what I meant that you know the address of ZwClose or any other symbol in the image which will give you some “anchor”.

After we got the base address of ntos, we need to retrieve the address of the service table in kernel. That can be done using the same GetProcAddress we used earlier on the mapped user mode .dll files. But this time we will be looking for the “KeServiceDescriptorTable” exported symbol.

So far you can see that we got anchors (what I call for a reliable way to get an address of anything in memory) and we are good to go, this will work in production without the need to worry. If you wanna start the flame war about the unlegitimate use of undocumented APIs, etc. I’m clearly not interested. :)
Anyway, in Windows 32 bits, the latter symbol is exported, but it is not exported in 64 bits! This is part of the PatchGuard system, to make life harder for rootkits, 3rd party drivers doing exactly what I’m talking about, etc. I’m not going to cover how to get that address in 64 bits in this post.

The KeServiceDescriptorTable is a table that holds a few pointers to other service tables which contain the real addresses of the service functions the OS supplies to usermode. So a simple dereference to the table and you get the pointer to the first table which is the one you are looking for. Using that pointer, which is really the base address of the pointers table, you use the index we read earlier from the required function and you got, at last, the pointer to that function in kernel, which you can now use.

The bottom line is that now you can use any API that is given to usermode also in kernelmode and you’re not limited to a specific Windows version, nor updates, etc. and you can do it in a reliable manner which is the most important thing. Also we didn’t require any special algorithms nor disassemblers (as much as I like diStorm…). Doing so in shellcodes make life a bit harder, because we had the assumption that we got some reliable way to find the ntos base address. But every kid around the block knows it’s easy to do it anyway.

Happy coding :)

References I found interesting about this topic:
http://j00ru.vexillium.org/?p=222
http://alter.org.ua/docs/nt_kernel/procaddr/

http://uninformed.org/index.cgi?v=3&a=4&p=5

And how to do it in 64 bits:

http://www.gamedeception.net/threads/20349-X64-Syscall-Index

One Response to “Calling System Service APIs in Kernel”

  1. […] juicy details or at all, and decided to show you a real life example. It is related to the last post about finding service functions in the kernel. The problem is that sometimes inside the kernel you […]

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