Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Security Management //

Patch Management

2/12/2019
11:00 AM
Alan
 Zeichick
Alan Zeichick
Alan Zeichick
50%
50%

What You Need to Know About Arbitrary Code Execution Vulnerabilities

Despite their rather innocuous name, ACE vulnerabilities can appear in just about any software. So here's what to do...

They're serious. Notices about arbitrary code execution (ACE) vulnerabilities appear just about every week in alerts from US-CERT — the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team, a part of the Dept. of Homeland Security. And despite their rather innocuous name, ACE can appear in just about any software.

Recently, US-CERT has warned about ACE vulnerabilities in the Android operating system, NVIDIA device drivers, Apple's IOKit and WebKit code libraries, Adobe' Acrobat Reader, Cisco's SD-WAN solution and Webex conferencing clients, McAfee Total Protection security suite, Google's Chrome, the Kubernetes container management system, and lots more besides.

In a quick examination of some vulnerability databases, I found 19,957 reports of arbitrary code execution vulnerabilities -- so it's not something rare or unusual. So what the heck is this vulnerability, and what can you do about it?

Let's take this one piece at a time. A vulnerability is a weakness in software code that could potentially lead to an exploit by a clever hacker. Just because there's a vulnerability doesn't mean that hackers know how to take advantage of it, and even if a hacker could potentially use that vulnerability, that doesn't mean that there's been a successful attack.

Those weaknesses could be caused by a simple coding error, or by failure by the software designers to imagine all the possible ways that a bad actor could subvert the system. Some vulnerabilities are easy to fix by updating the code; some require a redesign of the software; and others are best caught by anti-malware products running on the server.

Arbitrary code means malicious software code that is written by the hacker, and which generally does bad things. It might open a backdoor into a computer system, or steal vital data (like passwords), or turn off security protections, or turn the computer into a zombie that can be used to launch attacks on other computers. And finally, the arbitrary code execution vulnerability means that somehow, the bad actor could upload that malicious code onto the remote computer, by exploiting a vulnerability, and then trick the remote computer into executing, or running that code. In that case, the hacker is said to have created an arbitrary code execution exploit.

The techniques used to upload the malicious code onto the remote computer, often called injection, can be extremely sophisticated. The hacker might overwrite parts of the original program's file that's stored in memory. It might take advantage of flaws in operating systems or even microprocessors to sneak the malware into buffers or caches, and then the bad software is run automatically.

Here's what enterprises and consumers can do about arbitrary code execution vulnerabilities in commercial software:

  • Be aware. Subscribe to alerts from US-CERT or other agencies, and check to see if any of your software has a new vulnerability of any sort.
  • Install patches and fixes immediately to all of your software, especially if US-CERT or other agencies report that the vulnerability is high priority. ACE vulnerabilities sometimes fall into that category, but not always.
  • Keep your anti-malware products up to date as well, because even if the vulnerability software hasn't been patched yet, anti-malware can sometimes detect and block arbitrary code execution exploits.
  • If your software has a high-priority ACE vulnerability, consider stopping use of that software until it is patched. If patches seem to take too long to appear (say, more than a couple of weeks), complain to the software vendor.

Remember, a vulnerability is a weakness. It doesn't necessarily mean that you've been hacked, so don't overreact to an ACE warning report. However, ACE vulnerabilities can be serious, especially the longer they go unpatched, because more and more hackers may choose to exploit them. So, stay on top of those patches and fixes, okay?

Alan Zeichick is principal analyst at Camden Associates, a technology consultancy in Phoenix, Arizona, specializing in enterprise networking, cybersecurity, and software development. Follow him @zeichick.

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
When It Comes To Security Tools, More Isn't More
Lamont Orange, Chief Information Security Officer at Netskope,  1/11/2021
US Capitol Attack a Wake-up Call for the Integration of Physical & IT Security
Seth Rosenblatt, Contributing Writer,  1/11/2021
IoT Vendor Ubiquiti Suffers Data Breach
Dark Reading Staff 1/11/2021
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
2020: The Year in Security
Download this Tech Digest for a look at the biggest security stories that - so far - have shaped a very strange and stressful year.
Flash Poll
Assessing Cybersecurity Risk in Today's Enterprises
Assessing Cybersecurity Risk in Today's Enterprises
COVID-19 has created a new IT paradigm in the enterprise -- and a new level of cybersecurity risk. This report offers a look at how enterprises are assessing and managing cyber-risk under the new normal.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2021-3166
PUBLISHED: 2021-01-18
An issue was discovered on ASUS DSL-N14U-B1 1.1.2.3_805 devices. An attacker can upload arbitrary file content as a firmware update when the filename Settings_DSL-N14U-B1.trx is used. Once this file is loaded, shutdown measures on a wide range of services are triggered as if it were a real update, r...
CVE-2020-29446
PUBLISHED: 2021-01-18
Affected versions of Atlassian Fisheye & Crucible allow remote attackers to browse local files via an Insecure Direct Object References (IDOR) vulnerability in the WEB-INF directory. The affected versions are before version 4.8.5.
CVE-2020-15864
PUBLISHED: 2021-01-17
An issue was discovered in Quali CloudShell 9.3. An XSS vulnerability in the login page allows an attacker to craft a URL, with a constructor.constructor substring in the username field, that executes a payload when the user visits the /Account/Login page.
CVE-2021-3113
PUBLISHED: 2021-01-17
Netsia SEBA+ through 0.16.1 build 70-e669dcd7 allows remote attackers to discover session cookies via a direct /session/list/allActiveSession request. For example, the attacker can discover the admin's cookie if the admin account happens to be logged in when the allActiveSession request occurs, and ...
CVE-2020-25533
PUBLISHED: 2021-01-15
An issue was discovered in Malwarebytes before 4.0 on macOS. A malicious application was able to perform a privileged action within the Malwarebytes launch daemon. The privileged service improperly validated XPC connections by relying on the PID instead of the audit token. An attacker can construct ...