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Episode 6 – ShellShock Investigation Part 2

Over the past few days, we have been researching about Shellshock and found a number of attack vectors that makes the vulnerability much easier to exploit. This article may not contain the entire list of attack vectors but we are doing our best in updating this list. Kindly leave us a comment if you have faced any attack vectors apart from what we are discussing here.


The most commonly used vectors that can lead to exploiting this vulnerability are

  1. CGI
  2. SSH and
  3. DHCP

Apart from these commonly known attack vectors, we were able to find a list of other attack vectors, which aid in exploiting this vulnerability. We will discuss mainly the above-mentioned vectors and plunge into other less common vectors.

Shellshock is a vulnerability that allows hackers to inject commands to a computer’s operating system over the network. The vulnerability potentially affects most versions of the Linux and Unix operating systems, Mac OS X, Servers, Wi-Fi routers, Firewalls and even appliances, which invoke bash shell.

For a system to be vulnerable to Shellshock, the following 3 conditions must be met:

  1. It must set an environment variable whose value is attacker-controlled and must begin with “() } “
  2. It must invoke bash shell

3.The system must be running on a vulnerable version of bash.

Having a basic idea of Shellshock, let us begin our discussion first on the common attack vectors that are being employed.

1.Common Gateway Interface (CGI) which is an interface between a web server and executable that produce dynamic content and has been identified as the major attack vector.

Let us start our discussion with a typical HTTP request looks like the following:

GET /path?query-param-name=query-param-value HTTP/1.1
Custom: custom-header-value

The CGI specification maps all parts to environment variables. With Apache httpd, the magic string “() {” can appear in these places:

* Host (“”, as REMOTE_HOST)
* Header value (“custom-header-value”, as HTTP_CUSTOM in this example)
* Server protocol (“HTTP/1.1”, as SERVER_PROTOCOL)

The user name embedded in an Authorization header could be a vector as well, but the corresponding REMOTE_USER variable is only set if the user name corresponds to a known account according to the authentication configuration, and a configuration which accepts the magic string appears somewhat unlikely.

In addition, with other CGI implementations, the request method (“GET”), path (“/path”) and query string (“query-param-name=query-param-value”) may be vectors, and it is conceivable for “query-param-value” as well, and perhaps even “query-param-name”.

  1. Secure Shell (SSH) vector arises from the ForceCommand functionality, which allows a SSH server to be configured to restrict user actions. An authenticated malicious user could send a crafted communication that would trigger the BASH vulnerability, effectively allowing the attacker to break out of these restrictions and execute arbitrary commands. Since SSH is often used to tunnel and facilitate other services, applications that depend on this functionality may also be affected.
  1. DHCP clients can manipulate environment variables using data taken from DHCP server. If the DHCP client machine is running BASH, then the vulnerability will be triggered when it connects to a malicious DHCP server. This will often occur automatically, silently and with no user input. To make matters worse, DHCP clients have more privileges than CGI scripts. This affects the default DHCP clients found on most Linux flavors, but OSX is unaffected, as it uses a different implementation

We can start a DHCP server on the network and set the random string value to () { ;}; echo “This is a test”. We can replace the string to “This is a test” to any command that we want the client machine to execute.

Additional information can be grabbed from:


As we have discussed the most common attack vectors of Shellshock vulnerability, we will also have an overview of the less common vectors that are being used to exploit the vulnerability.

MAIL SERVICES: Majority of the UNIX mail services are exposed to Shellshock vulnerability during their mail handling procedures. Exim, Postfix, qmail and Procmail are the mail services that can be used to exploit the vulnerability.

EXIM sets a number of attacker controlled environment variables when invoking the pipe transport. Whether or not it uses the shell invoke it is determined by the use_shell op­tion. Even if the use_shell is not set, the program invoked is often a shell script. Therefore, many Exim configurations are likely to be vulnerable.

Postfix does not set any attacker-controller environment variables, so Postfix is not typically vulnerable.

qmail can be used as an attack vector to exploit the bash vulnerability which can be used to execute arbitrary commands as any valid user with a .qmail containing a program delivery. The conditions that need to be met for exploiting the vulnerability using qmail are:

1) “Shellshock”-vulnerable bash

2) /bin/sh symlinked to bash

3) Email delivery via qmail to a valid user with a .qmail file containing ANY program delivery (the actual program being delivered to is irrelevant)

OPEN VPN can be configured to call out to a number of user-supplied helper programs. Open VPN does not itself use the shell invoke them, but the programs themselves are usually shell scripts. It sets a number of environment variables few of which, such as fields parsed out of the X.509 certificate, are possibly attacker-controlled. Servers can cause clients (but not vice versa) to set $foreign_option_* to arbitrary values. Many Open VPN configurations are likely to be vulnerable.