Race in XP SCM Service Shutdown Mechanism

Type securityvulns
Reporter Securityvulns
Modified 2003-04-22T00:00:00


Race Condition in Windows XP Service Control Manager Service Shutdown Mechanism


"The Windows XP Professional operating system is the best choice for businesses of all sizes. Windows XP Professional integrates the strengths of Windows 2000 Professional, such as standards-based security, manageability, and reliability, with the best business features of Windows 98 and Windows Millennium Edition, such as Plug and Play, simplified user interface, and innovative support services. This combination creates the best desktop operating system for business. Whether your business deploys Windows XP Professional on a single computer or throughout a worldwide network, this new operating system increases your computing power while lowering cost of ownership for desktop computers."


"Windows XP Home Edition gives you the freedom to experience more than you ever thought possible with your computer and the Internet. This is the operating system home users have been waiting for-because it offers serious speed and serious stability, so you can have serious fun."



"A service application conforms to the interface rules of the Service Control Manager (SCM). It can be started automatically at system boot, by a user through the Services control panel applet, or by an application that uses the service functions. Services can execute even when no user is logged on to the system."

(http://msdn.microsoft.com/library/default.asp?url=/library/en-us/dllproc/ba se/services.asp&hidetoc=true)

The Service Control Manager dispatches several notifications to service applications, including notifications of imminent system shutdown. The SCM reference page contains the following warning:

"The SERVICE_CONTROL_SHUTDOWN control code should only be processed by services that must absolutely clean up during shutdown, because there is a limited time (about 20 seconds) available for service shutdown. After this time expires, system shutdown proceeds regardless of whether service shutdown is complete. Note that if the system is left in the shutdown state (not restarted or powered down), the service continues to run.

If the service needs more time to clean up, it should send STOP_PENDING status messages, along with a wait hint, so the service controller knows how long to wait before reporting to the system that service shutdown is complete. However, to prevent a service from stopping shutdown, there is a limit to how long the service controller will wait. To change this time limit, modify the WaitToKillServiceTimeout value in the following registry key:


(http://msdn.microsoft.com/library/default.asp?url=/library/en-us/dllproc/ba se/services.asp&hidetoc=true)

During system shutdown, a race condition occurs if service shutdown isn't correctly completed in a desired time period. Specifically, open files may end up with apparently random cached data at the location of the last file pointer under the service' control for a given file. The cached data included files (in my tests) that the given service did not have access to (running as NT AUTHORITY \ LocalService). The files included in the data were file contents recently opened by system administrators. The files each had the following ACLs:

Read Administrators,SYSTEM Write Administrators,SYSTEM Execute Administrators,SYSTEM Full Control Administrators,SYSTEM

The service I observed had contents of some files in the Administrator's home directory appended to log data. This is an obvious security violation, but is made worse by the fact that some of these files were readable by Everyone. By closely monitoring the contents of known service output files immediately after a system reboot, sensitive information may be disclosed.


This vulnerability requires several concurrent factors for successful exploitation:

  • Services with shutdown timing errors (found in a default install)
  • Untrusted users with interactive accounts (IUSR_machinename; Terminal sessions)
  • Output files accessible to low-level users (found in a default install)
  • Cached files with sensitive system details (incidence varies)


There are several workarounds that can be implemented, at various levels, to eliminate this exposure:

  • Service developers

Verify that all services shut down appropriately, and send STOP_PENDING SCM notifications if the service shutdown will not be complete in a given time period.

  • Perimeter security

As successful exploitation requires an interactive (or otherwise locally privileged) account, privilege escalation can be prevented by blocking external access by un-trusted users.


If output files of known vulnerable services can be protected from reading by outside parties, any sensitive contents will not be disclosed. For each such file, set the following ACL:

Read Administrators,SYSTEM Write [LocalService|NetworkService,]Administrators,SYSTEM Execute Administrators,SYSTEM Full Control Administrators,SYSTEM

Systems that are not domain members may be set in a similar manner by selecting the "Make This Folder Private" checkbox in the properties of any folder containing potentially sensitive output.

  • WaitToKillServiceTimeout Change

Set the service timeout to a larger interval to decrease the likelihood of a timing error between services and the SCM in the event that services are not being allotted sufficient time for shutdown. That said, this requires that the service properly synchronizes STOP_PENDING notifications ahead of the timeout.


Microsoft was contacted on March 14, 2003. This issue should be eliminated in the up-coming release of Windows Server 2003. To my knowledge, there are no plans to backport the fix, presumably due to architectural concerns.

Microsoft's official stance is that sites running mission-critical services should run the appropriate server operating system (Windows 2000 Server, Advanced Server, or Datacenter Server), as XP is not designed for these environments.