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Bash 'shellshock' bug can lead to code injection vulnerability


A bug in the GNU Bash shell (4.3 and lower) exposes a code injection vulnerability via crafted environment variables (Shellshock, CVE-2014-6271, CVE-2014-7169). Through network utilities such as SSH and CGI enabled web servers, this vulnerability can become remotely exploitable. Bash is universal to nearly all Linux distributions as well as Apple OS X.

Affected Services / Software

GNU Bash, Grizzly, Havana, Icehouse


The GNU Bash shell (4.3 and lower) is vulnerable to a code injection attack via the setting of environment variables. This stems from a bug in the way bash processes function definitions present in the environment, an example might look like the following:

 env x='() { :;}; echo vulnerable' bash -c 'echo hello'

when executed, this command line will print:


This behaviour occurs because bash continues to process the rest of the variable string after the function definition, the name of the variable is also unimportant.

Many programs on a Linux installation will 'shell out' to launch helper commands. If a malicious user can set an environment variable in the spawned shell they can execute arbitrary commands with the same user permissions as the legitimate command. If these programs are network connected then this vulnerability becomes remotely exploitable. To illustrate how this might be accomplished, consider the OpenSSH forced command mechanism. This mechanism allows commands run via SSH to be restricted to a specific invocation, however OpenSSH will set an environment variable 'SSH_ORIGINAL_COMMAND' to the command that was requested by the user before executing the forced command. If 'SSH_ORIGINAL_COMMAND' contains a function definition of the form given above, then this will be executed by bash regardless of the forced command specified.

Note that there are many remotely accessible programs that may set one or more environment variables before spawning a bash sub-processes, known examples include but are not limited to:

  • CGI Enabled web servers (Apache mod_cgi, nginx, etc)
  • SSH (OpenSSH mechanisms as above)
  • DHCP (dhcpcd)

OpenStack software itself is not currently understood to be directly affected, however deployments of OpenStack will very likely be using GNU Bash in many places. While employed mechanisms such as rootwrap filter environment variables, any variable that can be set via user provided input becomes a potential security issue.

Recommended Actions

Owing to the ubiquitous nature of the bash shell and its indirect use via other programs it is highly recommended that all systems, guests and virtual machine images update to a patched version of bash immediately. Refer to guidance from the provider of your specific Linux distribution for additional details.

Additionally, network filtering and IDS systems should be configured to detect incoming requests containing bash function-like definitions. System logs should also be interrogated for any such strings as an indication of possible attacks.

Contacts / References