PostScript Undead: Pwning the Web with a 35 Years Old Language

Jens Müller, Vladislav Mladenov, Dennis Felsch, Jörg Schwenk

Proc. of 21st Symposium on Research in Attacks, Intrusions, and Defenses (RAID), to appear September 2018.


PostScript is a Turing complete page description language dating back to 1982. It is supported by most laser printers and for a long time it had been the preferred file format for documents like academic papers. In this work, we show that popular services such as Wikipedia, Microsoft OneDrive, and Google Mail can be attacked using malicious PostScript code. Besides abusing legitimate features of the PostScript language, we systematically analyzed the security of the most popular PostScript interpreter – Ghostscript. Our attacks include information disclosure, file inclusion, and remote command execution. Furthermore, we present methods to obfuscate PostScript code and embed it within legitimate PDF files to bypass security filters. This allows us to create a hybrid exploit that can be used to attack web applications, clients systems, print servers, or printers. Our large-scale evaluation reveals that 56% of the analyzed web applications are vulnerable to at least one attack. In addition, three of the top 15 Alexa websites were found vulnerable. We provide different countermeasures and discuss their advantages and disadvantages. Finally, we extend the scope of our research considering further targets and more advanced obfuscation techniques.

Tags: EPS, PDF, PostScript, Web Application Security