A look under the hood of a decentralised VPN Application.

( original text byDonatas Kučinskas )

MysteriumVPN is the client application of Mysterium Network, a project focused on providing security and privacy to web 3 applications.

In this article, we will discuss the architecture of MysteriumVPN and how it integrates with Mysterium Node to ensure an encrypted end to end flow of data through Mysterium Network.

Cross-platform architecture

Usually, you need separate builds for each platform. Now that cross-platform technology has improved, this is no longer the case.

For desktop:

Electron is a framework which allows us to build cross-platform applications using common web technologies such as HTMLCSS and Javascript. We are using Electron which allows us to develop one application for two platforms for desktop — Windows and Mac OSLinux coming soon. Download our alpha.

Under the hood of an Electron application, sits a Chromium browser; A website, rendered by an embedded browser.

For mobile:

We are kicking off our mobile development for MysteriumVPN, with Android versions set to release shortly.

For this, we are using React Native for cross-platform applications.

Most of MysteriumVPN is written in Javascript, which is run in a separate process. Javascript generates the virtual structure of the user interface. This Javascript process communicates to native mobile processes which are responsible for rendering the actual user interface as you see it.

The architecture of MysteriumVPN Desktop Client Application

How MysteriumVPN works on desktop:

Since we are using Electron, we have two processes, MAIN and RENDERER.

MAIN is the first process which is started when the application starts. It is a NodeJS process which is responsible for managing the following functions:

  • Application state and internal operations
  • Tray
  • Kicking off the RENDERER process

The second process is RENDERER and it is responsible for displaying the graphical user interface for the application.

Communication between processes:

Both the MAIN and RENDERER processes need to communicate with each other to stay in sync. For this reason, we are using a standard approach of Inter-Process Communication (IPC).

Javascript is not type-safe, which isn’t very reliable. We use Flow static type checker which adds type-safety for Javascript. This especially applies to syncing data between processes — it becomes less reliable when using out-of-the-box IPC. To improve that, with custom implementation on top to have type-safety.

MessageTransport describes a single typed message which is sent between processes. It creates alignment between both processes by introducing sender and receiver objects, ensuring that both sides expect the same arguments of this message.

Here is an implementation:

class MessageTransport<T> {
 _channel: string
 _messageBus: MessageBus
constructor (channel: string, messageBus: MessageBus) {
 this._channel = channel
 this._messageBus = messageBus
 }
buildSender (): MessageSender<T> {
 return new MessageSender(this._channel, this._messageBus)
 }
buildReceiver (): MessageReceiver<T> {
 return new MessageReceiver(this._channel, this._messageBus)
 }
}
class MessageSender<T> {
 _channel: string
 _messageBus: MessageBus
constructor (channel: string, messageBus: MessageBus) {
 this._channel = channel
 this._messageBus = messageBus
 }
send (data: T) {
 this._messageBus.send(this._channel, data)
 }
}
class MessageReceiver<T> {
 _channel: string
 _messageBus: MessageBus
constructor (channel: string, messageBus: MessageBus) {
 this._channel = channel
 this._messageBus = messageBus
 }
on (callback: T => void) {
 this._messageBus.on(this._channel, callback)
 }
removeCallback (callback: T => void) {
 this._messageBus.removeCallback(this._channel, callback)
 }
}

Here is an example of communication between both these MAIN and RENDERER processes:

Example: communicating country proposal updates between processes:

MAIN process is managing country proposals internally and it sends all updates:

this._countryList.onUpdate(countries => {
  this._communication.countryUpdate.send(countries)
})

RENDERER process listens for country updates,

this.rendererCommunication.countryUpdate.on(this.onCountriesUpdate)
...
onCountriesUpdate (countries) {
  this.countriesAreLoading = false
  this.countryList = countries
}

Having such an abstraction layer ensures that communication is type-safe, reliable and features around it are simple to test.

How do we integrate Mysterium Node with MysteriumVPN Application?

Once we’ve rendered the application layer, we still need to connect MysteriumVPN to Mysterium NodeMysterium Nodeis a software that connects you to Mysterium Network where you are able to exchange value for bandwidth.

MysteriumVPN is a client application of Mysterium Network. The successful running of our dVPN on the network will attract other use cases from existing or future businesses that require end-to-end encryption of data, thereby expanding Mysterium Network’s ecosystem.

We require specific information to ensure the successful running of our dVPNservice.

Operation System Service
Since we are running Mysterium Node under the MysteriumVPN application we need to supervise the Mysterium Node to ensure that it works.

Our Data Protection Policy
We make a clear distinction between personal data and usage data. We do not collect information on who you are. We collect data on session and connection inputs and outputs. This is important data for us as it gives us visibility on how our technology fares against the realities of cyber oppression. Check out our privacy policy for more information.

Logging
Since we are integrating Mysterium Node into the MysteriumVPN application, the application itself gets quite complex. That’s why we have to be prepared to log errors from everywhere, — our application, Mysterium Node, and from Electron.

That means that there are three sources of inputs. When we are inspecting something, we need to understand that these errors can happen in three different places. We need to synchronise those and collect all relevant data from these sources.

Data management in the era of web 3 is complex and we hope to do so in an ethical and fair manner. Check out how our no logs policy protects your personal data.

Build on Mysterium Network

We have an npm package that allows for you to connect to Mysterium Nodeeasily. This is the same package that the MysteriumVPN uses to connect to Mysterium Network. This can be used for any application — it’s literally plug and play.

Interested in contributing to Mysterium Network? We are an open source project focused on bringing privacy, security and freedom to web 3. Check out our Github.

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Take full control of online compilers through a common exploit

Online compilers are a handy tool to save time and resources for coders, and are freely available for a variety of programming languages. They are useful for learning a new language and developing simple programs, such as the ubiquitous “Hello World” exercise. I often use online compilers when I am out, so that I don’t have to worry about locating and downloading all of the resources myself.

Since these online tools are essentially remote compilers with a web interface, I realized that I might be able to take remote control of the machines through command injection. My research identified a common weakness in many compilers: inadequate sanitization of user-submitted code prior to execution. My analysis revealed that this lack of input filtration enables exploits that an hacker can use to take control of the machine or deliberately cause it to crash.

A clever attacker can exploit built-in C functions and POSIX libraries to gain control over the computer hosting the online compiler. Commands like execl()system(), and GetEnv() can be used to probe the target machine operating system and run any command on its built-in shell.

Vulnerability description


Gaining access

In several of the C/C++ compilers that I analyzed, the GetEnv(), system(), functions allow an attacker to study and execute any command on the remote machine. The GetEnv() function allows a hacker to learn information about the machine that is otherwise concealed from the web interface such as the username an OS version.

Once this information is revealed, the attacker can begin testing various exploits to achieve privilege escalation and gain access to a root shell. For example, the system() command can be used to execute malicious code and access sensitive data such as logs, website files, etc.

Since the exploit I discovered involves inserting hostile commands to gain control of an unwitting machine, this attack vector is classified as a “code injection” vulnerability.

 

Maintaining control

If hacker tries to run the online compiler every time they want to send a new command, the attack would leave an obvious trace, and the resource use might draw attention to the suspicious activity. These obstacles can be conveniently sidestepped by using the execl() function, which allows the user to specify any arbitrary program to replace the current process. An attacker can gain access to the machine’s built-in shell by invoking the execl() function to replace the current process with /bin/sh, with catastrophic implications.

Many compilers allow input from the browser, in which case the hacker can craft a program to relay input commands to the shell of the compromised machine. Once the hacker uses execl() to open a shell via browser, they can simply operate the remote machine using system() to inject various instructions. This avoids the need to run the compiler each time the attacker wishes to explore or exploit the compromised machine.

Implications


A hacker that obtains shell access in this way gains access to files and services typically protected from outside users. The attacker now has many options at their disposal for exploiting the machine and/or wreaking havoc; how they proceed will depend on their tools and motives.

If the attacker wishes to crash the target machine, they can achieve this by (mis)using the fork() function, which creates a new cryptocurrency and generates free money clone of the current process. A fork() function placed within a while (true) loop will execute indefinitely, repeatedly cloning the process to greedily consumed precious RAM memory. This rapid uncontrolled use of resources will overwhelm the machine, causing a self-DOS (denial of service attack).

Instead of maliciously crashing a machine, an attacker may wish to monetize their illicit access. This can be accomplished by injecting a cryptocurrency miner, which will generate funds for the attacker at the expense of the victim’s computational resources and electric bill. My analysis showed that this maneuver allows useful exploitation of online compilers that successfully stymied other attacks by sandboxing the environment or adopting more advanced techniques to limit file access.

Theory


This section documents the commands used to gain and maintain access to the online compiler. These functions require the unistd.h and stdlib.h libraries.

execl()
Declaration
int execl(const char *pathname, const char *arg, ...);
Parameters

pathname — char*, the name of the program

arg — char*, arguments passed to the program, specified by pathname

Description

The execl() function replaces the current process with a new process. This is the command exploited to maintain control over the remote machine without having to repeatedly use the online compiler. Reference the underlying execve() function for more details.

 

System()
Declaration
int system (const char* command);
Parameters

command — char* command name

Description

The C system function passes the command name, specified by command, to the host’s built-in shell (/bin/sh for UNIX-based systems) which executes it. This function is based on execl(), so system() will be called by executing:

execl(, "sh", "-c", command, (char *)0);
Return

This function returns the output of the command after it has been executed. If the shell encounters an error while executing the command, it will return the numeric value -1.

GetEnv()
Declaration
char *getenv(const char *name)
Parameters

name — const char* variable name.

Description

Retrieves a string containing the value of the environment variable whose name is specified as an argument ( name ).

Return

The function returns the contents of the requested environment variable as a string. If the requested variable is not part of the list of environments, the function returns a null pointer.

Proof of Concepts


#include "stdio.h"
#include "unistd.h"

int main(){
	 execl("/bin/sh",NULL,NULL); // Open the shell 
	 return 0;
}
#include "stdio.h"
#include "stdlib.h"

int main(){
	system("whoami"); // Find username 
	system("cd / && ls"); // Lists all files and directories on /
	return 0;
}

Solutions


Thankfully, most of the risks highlighted above can be mitigated relatively easily. Access to protected files and services can be prevented by creating a secure sandbox for the application. This minimizes the potential for collateral damage and inappropriate data access, but will not prevent some attacks such as cryptocurrency miner injection. In order to avoid these «mining» attacks, the sandbox should have limited resources and it should be able to reboot itself every 10 minutes.

To eliminate the underlying weakness, the libraries could be recompiled without the particular exploitable functions. An attacker cannot gain a foothold if the execl() and system() are removed or disabled by recompiling libraries.

Screenshots