FortiGuard Labs Threat Research

Microsoft Removed Journal From Windows Due To Security Issues

By Honggang Ren and Peixue Li | September 23, 2016

Last month, Fortinet researcher Honggang Ren discovered a heap overflow vulnerability in Windows Journal and reported it to Microsoft. This month, Microsoft released update KB3161102 and removed the Journal component from all versions of Windows because the file format used by Journal has been demonstrated to be susceptible to a number of security exploits. Microsoft recommends that all users install this update immediately. On the Microsoft Acknowledgments web page, Microsoft labeled the title of this vulnerability as “Defense-in-depth”.

Windows Journal is a note-taking application with a long history. It was first introduced in Windows XP Tablet PC Edition and was a component of all supported client versions of Windows through Windows 10 version 1511.

The Journal heap overflow vulnerability we reported can be triggered with a crafted JTP file. When the file is parsed by Journal, a heap copy operation with an incorrect length is executed. As a result, the destination heap buffer is overflowed due to improper bounds checking.

In this blog we will share our detailed analysis of this vulnerability.


To reproduce this heap overflow vulnerability, first we need to enable Journal’s full page heap verification with the tool gflags. Afterwards, when we run Journal and open the PoC file “PoC.jtp,” the Journal application crashes.

Following is the call stack when the crash occurs.

Figure 1. Call Stack When Crash Occurs

From the above call stack output we can see that the crash occurs in the function “msvcrt!__ascii_strnicmp,” which is called by the memory copy function “msvcrt!_VEC_memcpy.” The memory copy function copies data from one heap buffer to another. The destination heap buffer’s address is 0x07b3a5f0, and the size of the allocated heap buffer is 0xA0C.

Following is a code snippet of the heap allocation function.

Figure 2. Destination Heap Allocation


By reverse engineering and tracing the program, we can see the following function calls the function IFF_UnpackLine(uchar *,uchar const *,int,int,int,int), which results in the crash.

.text:698D67A7 sub_698D67A7    proc near  ; CODE XREF: _MSFFTIFFGetLine(IFF_FID *,int,uchar *,int)+7Fp


.text:698D67A7 var_24          = byte ptr -24h

.text:698D67A7 var_1C          = dword ptr -1Ch

.text:698D67A7 var_18          = dword ptr -18h

.text:698D67A7 var_14          = dword ptr -14h

.text:698D67A7 var_10          = dword ptr -10h

.text:698D67A7 var_4           = dword ptr -4


.text:698D67A7                 push    18h

.text:698D67A9                 mov     eax, offset loc_6997247C

.text:698D67AE                 call    __EH_prolog3

.text:698D67B3                 mov     ebx, ecx

.text:698D67B5                 push    0               ; __int32 *

.text:698D67B7                 push    offset aGetoneline ; "GetOneLine"

.text:698D67BC                 lea     ecx, [ebp+var_24] ; this


.text:698D683F loc_698D683F:                           ; CODE XREF: sub_698D67A7+91j

.text:698D683F                 xor     edx, edx

.text:698D6841                 cmp     dword ptr [esi+5Ch], 1

.text:698D6845                 setz    dl

.text:698D6848                 push    edx             ; int

.text:698D6849                 mov     edx, [ebp+var_10]

.text:698D684C                 push    eax             ; int

.text:698D684D                 movzx   eax, word ptr [esi+6Ah]

.text:698D6851                 push    eax             ; int

.text:698D6852                 mov     eax, [esi+112h]

.text:698D6858                 mov     eax, [eax+edx*4]

.text:698D685B                 push    edi             ; int

.text:698D685C                 add     eax, ecx

.text:698D685E                 push    eax             ; Src

.text:698D685F                 push    ebx             ; Dst

.text:698D6860                 call    ?IFF_UnpackLine@@YGXPAEPBEHHHH@Z ; IFF_UnpackLine(uchar *,uchar const *,int,int,int,int) is called and causes the heap corruption

.text:698D6865                 cmp     [ebp+var_1C], 5 ;

.text:698D6869                 jnz     short loc_698D68B9

The third parameter passed to the function IFF_UnpackLine(uchar *,uchar const *,int,int,int,int) is actually the size of the heap memory copy. By continuing to trace the execution of the program, we see the size of the heap memory copy is determined by calculating from the data read from the PoC file at offset 0xaf6e.

Figure 3 shows some data of the PoC file.

Figure 3. Partial Content of The PoC File

Size value 0x0283 is derived from offset 0xaf6e. After performing some calculations by comparing this with tag 0x100, 0x101, 0x102, 0x103, 0x106, 0x111, 0x112, 0x115, etc. - which have 0x0c-byte length - the size of the heap copy can be determined to be 0x283*4=0xA0C. This value is same as the value we see in the heap allocation function.

The heap overflow is caused by the subsequent code when it handles the malformed type 0x0020, which is read from PoC.jtp at offset 0x9df0. (See Figure 4.) On the left side is the data of the PoC file, and on the right we see the normal file. Only the byte at offset 0x9df0 is different. Type 0x0008 is changed to 0x0020.

Figure 4. The PoC File vs The Normal File

Following is the code snippet that parses the type.

.text:698D46E6 ; void __stdcall IFF_UnpackLine(unsigned __int8 *Dst, const unsigned __int8 *Src, int, int, int, int)

.text:698D46E6 ?IFF_UnpackLine@@YGXPAEPBEHHHH@Z proc near ; CODE XREF: sub_698D67A7+B9p


.text:698D46E6 var_18          = byte ptr -18h

.text:698D46E6 var_10          = dword ptr -10h

.text:698D46E6 var_4           = dword ptr -4

.text:698D46E6 Dst             = dword ptr  8

.text:698D46E6 Src             = dword ptr  0Ch

.text:698D46E6 arg_8           = dword ptr  10h

.text:698D46E6 arg_C           = dword ptr  14h

.text:698D46E6 arg_10          = dword ptr  18h

.text:698D46E6 arg_14          = dword ptr  1Ch


.text:698D46E6                 push    0Ch

.text:698D46E8                 mov     eax, offset loc_6997236C

.text:698D46ED                 call    __EH_prolog3

.text:698D46F2                 xor     ebx, ebx

.text:698D46F4                 push    ebx             ; __int32 *

.text:698D46F5                 push    offset aIff_unpackline ; "IFF_UnpackLine"

.text:698D46FA                 lea     ecx, [ebp+var_18] ; this

.text:698D46FD                 call    ??0CLogBlock@Helpers@@QAE@PBDPAJ@Z ; Helpers::CLogBlock::CLogBlock(char const *,long *)

.text:698D4702             mov    edi, [ebp+arg_C] ; read from PoC.jtp at offset 0x9df0, its value is 0x0020.

.text:698D4705             mov    edx, [ebp+arg_10]

.text:698D4708             mov    eax, 0FFh

.text:698D470D             mov    esi, eax

.text:698D470F             mov    ecx, edi


.text:698D4768 loc_698D4768:      ; CODE XREF: IFF_UnpackLine(uchar *,uchar const *,int,int,int,int)+4Bj

.text:698D4768                 push    8

.text:698D476A                 pop     ebx

.text:698D476B                 cmp     edi, ebx ; compare with the first type 8

.text:698D476D                 jg      loc_698D494E


.text:698D494E loc_698D494E:     ; CODE XREF: IFF_UnpackLine(uchar *,uchar const *,int,int,int,int)+87j

.text:698D494E                 cmp     edi, 0Ch ; compare with the second type 0x0c

.text:698D4951                 jz      short loc_698D499C

.text:698D4953                 cmp     edi, 10h ; compare with the third type 0x10

.text:698D4956                 jz      short loc_698D4974

.text:698D4958                 cmp     edi, 20h ; compare with the fourth type 0x20, they are equal

.text:698D495B                 jnz     short loc_698D49C0

.text:698D495D                 mov     eax, [ebp+arg_8]

.text:698D4960                 shl     eax, 2 ; the size of heap copy becomes 0xA0C*4 = 0x2830, it results in the heap overflow.


.text:698D4963 loc_698D4963:      ; CODE XREF: IFF_UnpackLine(uchar *,uchar const *,int,int,int,int)+5Cj

.text:698D4963                 push    eax             ; Size


.text:698D4964 loc_698D4964:      ; CODE XREF: IFF_UnpackLine(uchar *,uchar const *,int,int,int,int)+248j

.text:698D4964                 push    [ebp+Src]       ; Src

.text:698D4967                 push    [ebp+Dst]       ; Dst

.text:698D496A                 call    _memcpy      ; heap overflow occurs here when calling memcpy


From the above code analysis we can see that the malformed type 0x0020 is compared with some pre-defined types. Since the fourth pre-defined type is 0x20, the comparison result is true so that the size of the heap copy 0xA0C is incorrectly multiplied by 4. Thus the memcpy function copies data with size 0x2830 to the destination heap with size 0xA0C, thereby causing the heap overflow.


All Windows users are now being encouraged to remove the Journal application by following the steps found in Microsoft update KB3161102. Additionally, organizations that have deployed Fortinet IPS solutions are already protected from this vulnerability with the signature MS.Windows.Journal.memcpy.Heap.Overflow.