Thursday, November 27, 2014

Windows Thread Suspension Internals Part 1

It's been a while since I haven't shared anything concerning Windows internals and I'm back to talk in detail about how Windows thread suspension and resumption works. I'm going to discuss the mentioned topics in this blog post and incoming ones. Even though it can be discussed in one or two entries but I'm quite busy with studies.

As you might already know Windows uses APCs (Asynchronous Procedure Calls) to perform thread suspension. This may form an incomplete image of what's going on in detail as other tasks are being performed besides queuing the suspend APC. I will share throughout this article the details about what's happening and some pseudo code snippets of the reversed routines (Windows 7 32-bit SMP).

Let's say that a usermode thread 'A' wanted to suspend a second usermode thread 'B' , it has to simply call SuspendThread with a previously opened handle to the target thread.
DWORD WINAPI SuspendThread(HANDLE hThread);
Upon the call we'll be taken to kernel32.dll then to kernelbase.dll which simply provides a supplementary argument to NtSuspendThread and calls it from ntdll.dll .
NTSTATUS NtSuspendThread(HANDLE ThreadHandle,PULONG PreviousSuspendCount );
The thread's previous suspend count is basically copied from kernel to *PreviousSuspendCount.
Ntdll then takes us to kernel land where we'll be executing NtSuspendThread.

- NtSuspendThread :
 If we came from usermode (CurrentThread->PreviousMode == UserMode), probing the PreviousSuspendCount pointer for write is crucial. Next, a pointer to the target thread object is obtained by calling ObReferenceObjectByHandle , if we succeed PsSuspendThread is called ; its return type is NTSTATUS and that is the status code returned to the caller (in PreviousMode) after calling ObDereferenceObject and storing the previous count value in the OUT (PreviousSuspendCount) argument if it's not NULL.

- PsSuspendThread :
Prototype : NTSTATUS PsSuspendThread(PETHREAD Thread,PULONG PreviousSuspendCount)
Here's a pseudo C manual decompilation of the routine code :

As you can see, PsSuspendThread starts with entering a critical region and then it tries to acquire run-down protection of the target thread to suspend , acquiring run-down protection for the thread guarantees that we can access and operate on the thread object safely without it being deleted. As you might already know a present thread object in memory doesn't mean that the thread isn't terminating or wasn't terminated simply because an object isn't deleted until all the references on that object are released (reference count reaches zero). The next check of the Terminated bit explains it , so if the thread is actually terminating or was terminated PsSuspendProcess return STATUS_THREAD_IS_TERMINATING. Let's suppose that our thread is up and running. KeSuspendThread will be called as a result and ,unlike the previous routines, will returns the previous count that we've previously spoken about. As we'll see later on KeSuspendThread raises a critical exception (by calling RtlRaiseStatus) if the thread suspend limit was exceeded (0x7F) that causes a BSOD if no exception handler is in place , so the kernel calls this function within a try-except statement. Upon returning from KeSuspendThread successfully , a recheck of the target thread is done to see if the thread was terminating while suspending , if that's true the thread is forced to resume right away by calling KeForceResumeThread (we'll see this routine in detail later when talking about thread resumption) and the previous suspend count is zeroed. Finally the executing thread leaves the critical region and dereferences the PreviousSuspendCount pointer with the value returned from KeSuspendThread or 0 in the case where KeForceResumeThread was called.

That's all for this short entry , in the next parts about thread suspension I'll talk about KeSuspendThread , the suspend semaphore and the KiSuspendThread kernel APC routine.

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- Souhail.

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