Uncover hidden risks

Watch how the Wiz platform can expose unseen risks in your cloud environment without drowning your team in alerts.

Remote Code Execution Attacks Explained

Remote code execution refers to a security vulnerability through which malicious actors can remotely run code on your systems or servers.

Wiz Experts Team
5 minutes read

What is a remote code execution (RCE) attack? 

Remote code execution refers to a security vulnerability through which malicious actors can remotely run code on your systems or servers. This can result in an attacker gaining full and unauthorized control, enabling them to steal data, install malware, or use the system/server for further attacks. 

Hackers often employ RCE attacks repeatedly to compromise systems. RCE vulnerabilities are critical because they compromise the security and integrity of a system without requiring authentication or user interaction, potentially leading to disastrous outcomes for the affected organizations. 

How does an RCE attack work?

In an RCE attack, malicious payloads are often delivered to the vulnerable system through various channels, such as user input fields, network protocols, or manipulated data formats. For example, an attacker might inject malicious code into a web application's input form, which, if not properly validated and sanitized, can be executed on the server side.

Once the malicious code is successfully injected, it is executed on the targeted machine with the same privileges as the compromised application or user. This means that if the vulnerable application runs with elevated privileges, such as administrative rights, the attacker gains those same privileges on the compromised system where the application is running, which could lead to additional attacks.

The success of an RCE attack depends on factors like the attacker's skill level, the strength of the exploited vulnerability, and the effectiveness of the crafted payload. 

Organizations must be aware of these attack vectors and implement targeted security measures to prevent, detect, and respond to RCE attacks promptly and effectively.

The goals of RCE attacks

The main objective of remote code execution attacks is to undermine the targeted system's confidentiality, integrity, and availability. Hackers may seek to steal sensitive data, including PII, intellectual property, or financial data, resulting in data breaches and reputational damage.

So what exactly are hackers leveraging RCE seeking to do?

GoalDescription
Escalate privilegesOnce an attacker successfully executes their code, they can pursue various malicious objectives, e.g., attempt to escalate their privileges and gain administrative rights to take full control of the compromised system. With elevated privileges, attackers can access sensitive files, modify system configurations, or disable security controls.
Deploy malwareHackers can further exploit RCE vulnerabilities to deploy malware, including spyware, ransomware, and Trojans. Malware can encrypt critical data, spy on user activities, or create backdoors for persistent access. Attackers may use the compromised system as a launching pad to spread malware laterally across the network, infecting other vulnerable systems.
Perform DoS attacksIn some cases, malicious actors may launch denial-of-service (DoS) attacks. By consuming system resources or crashing applications, they can disrupt the availability of critical services, causing operational downtime and financial losses.

RCE attacks can result in a company facing severe reputational damage and be a major blow to customer trust. Data breaches due to RCE vulnerabilities can lead to the exposure of sensitive customer information, meaning possible legal and regulatory repercussions, financial penalties, and damage to your brand image.

Real-world impacts of RCE vulnerabilities and attacks

RCE vulnerabilities can appear in a wide range of software and systems. The potential uses of an RCE attack and the impacts it can have highlight the importance of proactively identifying and mitigating RCE vulnerabilities. 

The examples below underline that RCE is still a popular and potent attack strategy.

XZ Utils

XZ Utils Backdoor Threat Notification

A backdoor (CVE-2024-3094), deliberately planted by a malicious actor, was discovered in versions 5.6.0 and 5.6.1 of XZ Utils, a widely used data compression library. The backdoor can lead to remote code execution via SSH authentication in certain Linux distributions that use the compromised library. 

Overview of the backdoor functionality

Ivanti VPN instances

Ivanti 0-day Threat Notification

Several high-severity vulnerabilities were discovered in Ivanti Connect Secure, Ivanti Policy Secure, and ZTA gateways in early 2024. Some of these, like CVE-2023-46805, CVE-2024-21887, and CVE-2024-21893, were exploited in the wild by threat actors before patches were released, giving attackers access to critical VPN infrastructure.

MOVEit transfer

MOVEit Transfer RCE 0-day Threat Notification

The RCE vulnerability (CVE-2023-34362) in MOVEit Transfer has been actively exploited in the wild since at least May 2023. The vulnerability allows unauthenticated attackers to access and potentially modify or delete sensitive data stored in the MOVEit Transfer database. 

MOVEit Transfer is a highly popular managed file transfer (MFT) service, and multiple organizations have disclosed breaches due to this vulnerability, with the Cl0p ransomware group claiming responsibility for the attacks. Given the sensitive nature of data typically handled by MFT services, the potential impact of this vulnerability is severe.

Linux kernel `ksmbd` module

Critical RCE vulnerability found in Linux Kernal ksmbd

The Linux kernel's ksmbd module, introduced in version 5.15, contains a critical remote code execution vulnerability (CVE-2022-47939). This vulnerability allows malicious actors to run arbitrary code on a system without having to authenticate themselves.

Exim

Exim 0-day Threat Notification

Multiple vulnerabilities, including a critical one (CVE-2023-42115), were recently disclosed in Exim, one of the world's most popular mail transfer agents (MTAs). 

CVE-2023-42115 allows unauthenticated remote code execution on Exim servers with "External" authentication enabled, potentially leading to attackers gaining initial access to organizations through exposed SMTP ports.

FortiOS

CVE-2023-25610, a critical remote code execution vulnerability in Fortinet's FortiOS and FortiProxy, was recently disclosed. The vulnerability is due to a buffer underwrite bug in the administrative interface, potentially allowing unauthenticated attackers to execute arbitrary code or cause denial-of-service using specially crafted requests.

Best practices for mitigating and detecting RCE attacks

To effectively mitigate and detect RCE attacks, organizations will need to adopt the following best practices.

Regularly update the OS and dependencies 

  • Ensure that all operating systems, programs, and apps are consistently updated to the most current versions.

  • Manage patches to guarantee the prompt application of essential security updates.

  • Monitor for new vulnerabilities and prioritize patching based on risk level and potential impact.

Implement strict input validation and sanitization 

  • Check and sanitize all input from users to avoid cross-site scripting (XSS), SQL injection, and other attacks.

  • Adopt secure programming techniques, e.g., validating inputs, encoding outputs, and utilizing parameterized queries, to lower the chances of vulnerabilities due to malicious code injection.

  • Use well-established libraries and frameworks that provide built-in input validation and sanitization mechanisms.

Follow the principle of least privilege 

  • Give users and applications only the permissions they need for their assigned functions.

  • Develop comprehensive access management protocols and consistently re-evaluate and refine user permission settings.

  • Limit the exposure of any critical systems and data by segmenting the network and applying the principle of least access.

Monitor systems for suspicious activities

  • Use intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDPS) to track network traffic and uncover any possible security threats.

  • Configure IDPS rules to identify and block RCE attempts in real time.

  • Monitor endpoint activities, including process execution, file modifications, and network connections, to identify anomalous behavior indicative of RCE attacks.

Practice continuous vulnerability assessments and penetration testing 

  • Perform assessments on a regular basis to uncover weaknesses in your systems and apps.

  • Prioritize identified vulnerabilities for remediation depending on how serious a threat they pose to your organization.

Adopting these best practices and taking a proactive approach to security can significantly diminish an organization's risk of falling prey to remote code execution (RCE) attacks and minimize the potential impact of successful intrusions. 

Security is an ongoing endeavor, and organizations must continuously monitor, assess, and adapt their security measures to keep pace with the ever-evolving threat landscape.

Conclusion

Remote code execution vulnerabilities represent a critical security risk that organizations must address proactively. The potential consequences of a successful RCE attack can be far-reaching, including unauthorized access, data breaches, and system compromise. To effectively mitigate these risks, a robust security solution is essential.

Wiz offers a comprehensive solution to detecting and preventing RCE vulnerabilities and attacks within cloud environments. By employing advanced scanning and analysis, Wiz can identify potential risks across multiple categories, including insecure configurations and communication with malicious IPs or domains. 

This holistic approach enables organizations to gain visibility into their cloud infrastructure and pinpoint areas of weakness that could be exploited by attackers.

The Wiz edge

One of the key strengths of Wiz is its ability to detect RCE vulnerabilities based on the specific software versions running in the environment. By considering not only the software itself but also its configurations and other relevant factors, Wiz provides a thorough assessment of the attack surface. This level of granularity is crucial in identifying and prioritizing remediation efforts.

In the event of an active RCE attack, Wiz's capabilities extend beyond vulnerability detection to:

  • Identifying the presence of malware and monitoring communication with known malicious IPs or domains

  • Leveraging powerful queries to quickly identify infected resources or those engaging in suspicious communication with threat actors

  • Enabling real-time detection so teams can respond swiftly and contain the impact of an ongoing attack

To learn more about how Wiz can help secure your software against RCE attacks, request a demo today and take the first step toward improving your security posture.

Detect real-time malicious behavior in the cloud

Learn why CISOs at the fastest growing companies choose Wiz to secure their cloud environments.

Get a demo

Continue reading

Understanding Cloud Security Risks

Wiz Experts Team

A cloud security risk is any threat that might impact the confidentiality, integrity, and availability (CIA) of data and applications hosted in the cloud.

Cloud Sprawl Explained

Wiz Experts Team

Cloud sprawl is a phenomenon that involves the unmanaged growth of cloud-based resources and services.

CSPM vs DSPM: Why You Need Both

Wiz Experts Team

Discover the similarities between CSPM and DSPM, what factors set them apart, and which one is the best choice for your organization’s needs.

Container monitoring explained

Container monitoring is the process of collecting, analyzing, and reporting metrics and data related to the performance and health of containerized applications and their hosting environments.

Data Exfiltration Explained

Wiz Experts Team

Data exfiltration is when sensitive data is accessed without authorization or stolen. Just like any data breach, it can lead to financial loss, reputational damage, and business disruptions.