Defanged SystemD exploit code for security holes now out in the wild

In mid-January, Qualys, another security firm, released details about three flaws affecting systemd-journald, a systemd component that handles the collection and storage of log data. Patches for the vulnerabilities – CVE-2018-16864, CVE-2018-16865, and CVE-2018-16866 – have been issued by various Linux distributions.

Exploitation of these code flaws allows an attacker to alter system memory in order to commandeer systemd-journal, which permits privilege escalation to the root account of the system running the software. In other words, malware running on a system, or rogue logged-in users, can abuse these bugs to gain administrator-level access over the whole box, which is not great in uni labs and similar environments.

Nick Gregory, research scientists at Capsule8, in a blog post this week explains that his firm developed proof-of-concept exploit code for testing and verification. As in testing whether or not computers are at risk, and verifying the patches work.

“There are some interesting aspects that were not covered by Qualys’ initial publication, such as how to communicate with the affected service to reach the vulnerable component, and how to control the computed hash value that is actually used to corrupt memory,” he said.


The exploit script, written in Python 3, targets the 20180808.0.0 release of the ubuntu/bionic64 Vagrant image, and assumes that address space layout randomization (ASLR) is disabled. Typically, ASLR is not switched off in production systems, making this largely an academic exercise.

The script exploits CVE-2018-16865 via Linux’s alloca() function, which allocates the specified number of bytes of memory space in the stack frame of the caller; it can be used to manipulate the stack pointer.

Basically, by creating a massive number of log entries and appending them to the journal, the attacker can overwrite memory and take control of the vulnerable system.

Source: The D in SystemD stands for Danger, Will Robinson! Defanged exploit code for security holes now out in the wild • The Register