int instruction from user space

I was under the impression that "int" instruction on x86 is not privileged. So, I thought we should be able to execute this instruction from the user space application. But does not seem so.

I am trying to execute int from user application on windows. I know it may not be right to do so. But I wanted to have some fun. But windows is killing my application.

I think the issue is due to condition cpl <=iopl. Does anyone know how to get around it?


Generally the old dispatcher mechanism for user mode code to transition to kernel mode in order to invoke kernel services was implemented by int 2Eh (now replaced by sysenter). Also int 3 is still reserved for breakpoints to this very day.

Basically the kernel sets up traps for certain interrupts (don't remember whether for all, though) and depending the trap code they will perform some service for the user mode invoker or if that is not possible your application would get killed, because it attempts a privileged operation.

Details would anyway depend on the exact interrupt you were trying to invoke. The functions DbgBreakPoint (ntdll.dll) and DebugBreak (kernel32.dll) do nothing other than invoking int 3 (or actually the specific opcode int3), for example.

Edit 1: On newer Windows versions (XP SP2 and newer, IIRC) sysenter replaces int 2Eh as I wrote in my answer. One possible reason why it gets terminated - although you should be able to catch this via exception handling - is because you don't pass the parameters that it expects on the stack. Basically the usermode part of the native API places the parameters for the system service you call onto the stack, then places the number of the service (an index into the system service dispatcher table - SSDT, sometimes SDT) into a specific register and then calls on newer systems sysenter and on older systems int 2Eh.

The minimum ring level of a given interrupt vector (which decides whether a given "int" is privileged) is based on the ring-level descriptor associated with the vector in the interrupt descriptor table.

In Windows the majority of interrupts are privileged instructions. This prevents user-mode from merely calling the double-fault handler to immediately bugcheck the OS.

There are some non-privileged interrupts in Windows. Specifically:

  • int 1 (both CD 01 encoding and debug interrupt occurs after a single instruction if EFLAGS_TF is set in eflags)
  • int 3 (both encoding CC and CD 03)
  • int 2E (Windows system call)

All other interrupts are privileged, and calling them causes the "invalid instruction" interrupt to be issued instead.

INT is a 'privilege controlled' instruction. It has to be this way for the kernel to protect itself from usermode. INT goes through the exact same trap vectors that hardware interrupts and processor exceptions go through, so if usermode could arbitrarily trigger these exceptions, the interrupt dispatching code would get confused.

If you want to trigger an interrupt on a particular vector that's not already set up by Windows, you have to modify the IDT entry for that interrupt vector with a debugger or a kernel driver. Patchguard won't let you do this from a driver on x64 versions of Windows.

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