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Bash Environment Variable Command Execution

Bash Environment Variable Command Execution
Posted Sep 25, 2014
Authored by Florian Weimer

Due to a processing issue with environment variables it is possible to leverage bash for command execution through various methodologies.

tags | exploit, bash
advisories | CVE-2014-6271
MD5 | 9e9735815c33b1604f8f1ea5da63d971

Bash Environment Variable Command Execution

Change Mirror Download
Date: Wed, 24 Sep 2014 17:03:19 +0200
From: Florian Weimer <>
Subject: Re: CVE-2014-6271: remote code execution through bash

* Florian Weimer:

> Chet Ramey, the GNU bash upstream maintainer, will soon release
> official upstream patches.

Someone has posted large parts of the prenotification as a news
article, so in the interest of full disclosure, here is what we wrote
to the non-vendors (vendors also received patches):

Debian and other GNU/Linux vendors plan to disclose a critical,
remotely exploitable security vulnerability in bash this week, related
to the processing of environment variables. Stephane Chazelas
discovered it, and CVE-2014-6271 has been assigned to it.

The issue is currently under embargo (not public), and you receive
this message as a courtesy notification because we assume that you
have network-based filtering capabilities, so that you can work on
ways to protect a significant number of customers. However, you
should not yet distribute IPS/IDS signatures, publicly or to

At present, public disclosure is scheduled for Wednesday, 2014-09-24
14:00 UTC. We do not expect the schedule to change, but we may be
forced to revise it.

The technical details of the vulnerability follow.

Bash supports exporting not just shell variables, but also shell
functions to other bash instances, via the process environment to
(indirect) child processes. Current bash versions use an environment
variable named by the function name, and a function definition
starting with “() {” in the variable value to propagate function
definitions through the environment. The vulnerability occurs because
bash does not stop after processing the function definition; it
continues to parse and execute shell commands following the function
definition. For example, an environment variable setting of

VAR=() { ignored; }; /bin/id

will execute /bin/id when the environment is imported into the bash
process. (The process is in a slightly undefined state at this point.
The PATH variable may not have been set up yet, and bash could crash
after executing /bin/id, but the damage has already happened at this

The fact that an environment variable with an arbitrary name can be
used as a carrier for a malicious function definition containing
trailing commands makes this vulnerability particularly severe; it
enables network-based exploitation.

So far, HTTP requests to CGI scripts have been identified as the major
attack vector.

A typical HTTP request looks like this:

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

The other vector is OpenSSH, either through AcceptEnv variables, TERM

Other vectors involving different environment variable set by
additional programs are expected.

Again, please do not disclose this issue to customers or the general
public until the embargo has expired.


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