Glossary Glossary

RCE Vulnerability

An RCE vulnerability, also known as a “remote code execution vulnerability,” is a type of security flaw that allows a threat actor to execute arbitrary code on a remote computer or system. It enables attackers to perform actions that only the systems’ legitimate users should be authorized to.

RCE vulnerabilities are considered some of the most severe security weaknesses, inevitably expanding attack surfaces and exposing organizations to cyber attacks that lead to data breaches and theft.

Table of Contents

RCE Vulnerability: A Deep Dive

How Do Attackers Exploit an RCE Vulnerability?

RCE vulnerabilities can pave the way for several attacks, including some of the most common ones described below.

Injection Attacks

RCE vulnerabilities can enable attackers to inject malicious code into vulnerable systems through user input fields, such as those found in web forms or command-line prompts. The vulnerable systems would then execute the malicious code, giving threat actors the capability to run commands. Examples of injection attacks are SQL injection, command injection, and cross-site scripting (XSS).

File Inclusion Attacks

File inclusion attacks involve tricking vulnerable systems into executing files under the threat actor’s control. Such attacks can be conducted by uploading malicious files onto web servers or exploiting vulnerabilities in systems’ file handling code.

Insecure Direct Object References

An insecure direct object references (IDOR) web application attack allows attackers to access unauthorized resources by manipulating URLs or other input fields that do not have proper user input validation methods. Threat actors can exploit this vulnerability to access sensitive information or execute arbitrary code.

Unvalidated Redirects

These attacks occur when applications redirect or forward users to different URLs without adequately validating the destination sites. Threat actors who control the destination sites can then expose users’ browsers to malicious code and steal sensitive information.

Deserialization Attacks

In these attacks, threat actors run an arbitrary code on a remote system by manipulating serialized objects. Serialized objects are data objects converted into a stream of bytes that are easy to transmit or store.

Deserialization converts a serialized object back to its original data structure. During this process, threat actors can send a specially crafted serialized object that contains malicious code. When the system deserializes the object, the malicious code gets executed.

What Are Examples of an RCE Vulnerability?

Several vulnerabilities listed on MITRE’s Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) page can be considered RCE vulnerabilities, as they can lead to remote code execution attacks. Vulnerability scanners and attack surface management platforms can detect these CVEs. Some examples include the following:

CVE CodesAffected Systems
CVE-2023-21554Microsoft Message Queuing (MSMQ)
CVE-2020-1300Microsoft Windows 7, 8.1, and 10Windows Server
CVE-2019-0708Remote Desktop Services (RDP)
CVE-2017-0143SMBv1 Server in Certain Operating Systems

How Do You Mitigate an RCE Vulnerability?

Effectively mitigating RCE vulnerabilities is complex and requires accounting for each organization’s specificities and systems in use. The task often includes the following activities:

What Is an RCE Vulnerability?
  • Perform vulnerability scanning: Regularly scan systems and applications for known vulnerabilities, misconfigurations, and other security issues that may leave an organization exposed to attacks.
  • Use web application firewalls (WAFs): Employing WAFs can help block attacks that attempt to exploit RCE vulnerabilities by filtering and analyzing incoming suspicious traffic.
  • Implement input validation: All user inputs should be thoroughly validated before applications process them to prevent malicious code from being injected into systems.
  • Conduct security awareness training: Educate employees about RCE vulnerabilities and their associated risks to promote vigilance and responsible security practices.
  • Keep software updated: Ensure that software, including web servers, content management systems, and third-party plug-ins, are kept up to date with the latest security patches.

Threat actors can exploit RCE vulnerabilities in various ways. However, detecting and mitigating them early through extensive vulnerability scanning and attack surface management can help prevent the resulting cyber attacks.

Key Takeaways

  • An RCE vulnerability allows attackers to execute arbitrary code on remote systems.
  • Threat actors can exploit an RCE vulnerability through malicious code injection, file inclusion, IDOR attacks, unvalidated redirects, and deserialization attacks, among other techniques.
  • Examples of RCE vulnerabilities include CVE-2023-21554, CVE-2020-1300, CVE-2019-0708, and CVE-2017-0143.
  • Mitigating RCE vulnerabilities requires vulnerability scanning, using WAFs, input validation, security awareness training, and keeping software updated.

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