CyberSecurity

What Is Remote Code Execution

Remote code execution attacks are very dangerous. A full-scale attack can compromise and disrupt web apps or an entire web server. RCE attacks can also create vulnerabilities and lead to network pivoting and privilege escalation. These attacks can create additional problems for the user.

RCE or remote code execution forms a software vulnerability or security flaw. RCE attack will allow any malicious actor to execute a unique code on your machine through the internet, WAN, or LAN. The attacker can also install data-stealing malware on your remote machine. The impacts of RCE are great and increasing rapidly. Code evaluation and code vetting can help prevent this issue.

To help counter such attacks and learn more about code evaluation, you must first understand how RCE works. Here is everything you need to know about remote code execution.

How Does An Attacker Install Malicious Code?

RCE can be achieved in a couple of ways. Attackers can attach a unique arbitrary code to your remote device or system. Here are some ways in which arbitrary code execution is done:

Injection Attacks

These are one of the most common attacks. In injection attacks, the attacker will provide you with malformed input deliberately. Part of this malformed content is interpreted as the actual command by your device, thus allowing the attacker to manipulate your system. This RCE vulnerability is caused because many applications use user-provided data to input the command.

Deserialization Attacks

Serialization is when the perpetrator combines data and transforms it into a string, thus making it easy to transmit. The deserialization system in your computer may confuse this new string of data with your input and execute a different function. This opens up your computer to a potential RCE attack.

Out-of-bounds Write

When you install applications, you may do it incorrectly, thus opening up your computer to an RCE vulnerability. The malicious attacker can jump at this chance and add a unique input to your device. This new information must be kept in your computer’s memory, thus leading to an RCE attack.

What Is Remote Code Execution Vulnerability And What Causes It?

Although the causes are diverse, some of the underlying causes of RCE are mentioned below.

Dynamic Code Execution

The most common attack vector, dynamic code execution, can lead to a strong RCE attack. Programming languages are used in almost all applications. They can easily generate codes that can interact with each other and can be used to execute several functions on the spot.

However, attackers can use this to their advantage and manipulate the code. As a user, you will be inputting some code into the program. When these codes are not vetted properly, the program can recognize and accept the malicious code added by the attacker. As a result, the machine will end up executing the attacker’s instructions instead of yours.

RCE attacks are not as simple as they seem. Dynamic code execution can be further divided into two RCE vulnerabilities.

Direct Vulnerability

At this level of vulnerability, the attacker is aware that the input they are sending will be used in code generation and will allow them to get the appropriate response from the target machine.

Indirect Vulnerability

This vulnerability is more complex than direct vulnerability. But it is also related to user input. The user input will have to go through more than one layer. This allows the code to be changed or manipulated a few times before it ends up with DCG. Moreover, dynamic code generation may be a side effect in this and not the primary objective of the attacker.

Deserialization

Deserialization can also incorporate some degree of DCG. In an ideal scenario, no dynamic code generation should ever occur on deserialization. However, this is only limited when serialized objects include primitive data or data fields. When methods or functions are serialized, it opens up your computer to dynamic code generation.

Memory Safety

Memory safety protects your code from accessing any part of the memory that it did not initialize or input. You may think that lack of memory safety is dangerous. However, the presence of memory safety can also open up your computer to vulnerabilities.

Since the memory also stores metadata about code execution, it is vulnerable to an RCE attack. The attacker can get inside this application and carry out their malicious intentions. Here are two main reasons for this:

Software Design Flaws

This happens when there is some design error in the underlying component of your system. The vulnerability can exist in the computer, virtual machine, operating machine, or interpreter.

The Buffer Overreads Or Overflows

A buffer overflow or buffer overread happens when a bug can write to the memory cells that follow the end of the memory buffer. This results in the buffer returning from a legitimate call to a public API. When the buffer overflows, it allows the memory to be modified.

Hardware Design Flaws

These are common and pose a huge threat to your computer. However, hardware design flaws are more complex and can only be fixed by a professional. Such RCE vulnerabilities can put your entire system in jeopardy.

What Are The Impacts Of A Remote Code Execution Attack?

RCE attacks are not like other attacks. RCE vulnerabilities can cause a lot of damage. Some of the reasons why an RCE attack is dreaded is because it can lead to denial of service and disclosure of important information. Here are some of the major impacts of a remote code execution attack:

Ability To Install Malware

The first goal of any RCE attack is to gain access to a remote device. Attackers will manipulate a vulnerability to enter a public-facing application, thus allowing them to run several commands on the machine. Once inside the system, they can use RCE to achieve their malicious goals.

Get Important Information

Mobile phones and laptops are an important part of everybody’s life. People have all kinds of important and sensitive information installed on their devices. Through an RCE attack, attackers can install malware and execute commands that extract important information from any vulnerable device.

Deny Services To Your Customers

Through your device, you may have to perform important functions every day. This becomes essential when working for a firm or a multinational corporation. In the case of a threat, the attacker may use RCE to run a specific code on your system, thus exploiting your vulnerability. This, in turn, allows the attacker to disrupt applications and deny service to your customers.

Forcing For Ransom

Attackers can gain leverage by stopping an individual or a company from accessing their files. They can then force the victim to pay a huge sum in exchange for releasing access to the files. Since the trade-off is huge, most people end up falling under pressure and losing a lot of money. This also makes RCE one of the most dangerous threats out there.

Using RCE To Mine Cryptocurrency

Cryptojacking or cryptomaniac malware can be installed on a computer. This gives the attacker the ability to use the computational resources of a vulnerable device to mine cryptocurrency. Since cryptocurrency is proving to be an excellent resource for most companies, this can open you up to many vulnerabilities.

How Do You Detect And Mitigate An RCE Attack?

Since RCE attacks open your device to so many harms, it is important to educate oneself. You should know the basic ways to detect and then potentially mitigate the harm caused by an RCE attack. Although RCE attacks can take advantage of several vulnerabilities, detecting them can be difficult. However, there are some things you can still do.

Secure Memory Management

Applications that you download or have installed should always undergo vulnerability scanning. This allows them to detect buffer overflow, other vulnerabilities, and errors. This is handy when RCE attackers exploit buffer overflows or other memory management issues.

Input Sanitization

Some of the most common vulnerabilities that open up your device to an RCE attack include injection and deserialization. To prevent an attack from this front, you should try validating user input before using any application. This helps protect your computer from a variety of RCE attacks.

Access Control

A company or an individual can implement access management, network segmentation, and even a zero trust security strategy to limit the attackers’ ability to move through their network and exploit any vulnerability. This is crucial because, through RCE, the attacker can get a strong foothold on the system and use it to expand into the rest of the applications.

Traffic Inspection

One of the most important detection mechanisms, Traffic inspection, can help enhance the overall security of your system. The organization can deploy network security solutions that block the exploitation of most application vulnerabilities. Traffic inspection is important because it stops the attacker from getting initial access to the system.

Endnote

RCE vulnerabilities are frequently a source of concern for users. An attacker can harm your computer by leveraging an RCE vulnerability and manipulating user input sent to your computer, allowing them to execute malicious code.

This allows them to execute commands remotely and extract sensitive data from your operating system. RCE attacks commonly begin by code injection. The attackers identify the vulnerable application and then execute arbitrary code into your operating system, thus exploiting RCE vulnerabilities.

Derik Belair

As President and CEO, Derik leads the vision, strategy and growth of Augmentt. Prior to founding Augmentt, Derik was the Vice President at SolarWinds, leading the digital marketing strategy for SolarWinds’ Cloud division. Derik has been working in the channel for over 20 years, starting his career as a channel sales rep at Corel Corp. and eventually becoming the first employee at N-able Technologies in April of 2000.

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