Leveraging/Manipulating Configuration File Search Paths
Attack Pattern ID: 38 (Standard Attack Pattern Completeness: Complete)Typical Severity: Very HighStatus: Draft
+ Description


This attack loads a malicious resource into a program's standard path used to bootstrap and/or provide contextual information for a program like a path variable or classpath. J2EE applications and other component based applications that are built from mutliple binaries can have very long list of dependencies to execute. If one of these libraries and/or references is controllable by the attacker then application controls can be circumvented by the attacker.

A standard UNIX path looks similar to this


If the attacker modifies the path variable to point to a locale that includes malicious resources then the user unwittingly can execute commands on the attacker's behalf:


This is a form of usurping control of the program and the attack can be done on the classpath, database resources, or any other resources built from compound parts. At runtime detection and blocking of this attack is nearly impossible, because the configuration allows execution.

+ Attack Prerequisites

The attacker must be able to write to redirect search paths on the victim host.

+ Typical Likelihood of Exploit

Likelihood: High

+ Methods of Attack
  • Modification of Resources
+ Examples-Instances


This attack can be accomplished in two ways. An attacker can insert a malicious program into the path or classpath so that when a known command is executed then the system instead executes the trojans. Another method is to redirect commands by aliasing one legitimate command to another to create unexpected results. the Unix command "rm" could be aliased to "mv" and move all files the victim thinks they are deleting to a directory the attacker controls. In a Unix shell .profile setting

alias rm=mv /usr/home/attacker

In this case the attacker retains a copy of all the files the victim attempts to remove.

+ Attacker Skills or Knowledge Required

Skill or Knowledge Level: Low

To identify and execute against an overprivileged system interface

+ Solutions and Mitigations

Design: Enforce principle of least privilege

Design: Ensure that the program's compound parts, including all system dependencies, classpath, path, and so on, are secured to the same or higher level assurance as the program

Implementation: Host integrity monitoring

+ Attack Motivation-Consequences
  • Run Arbitrary Code
  • Privilege Escalation
+ Related Weaknesses
CWE-IDWeakness NameWeakness Relationship Type
426Untrusted Search PathTargeted
427Uncontrolled Search Path ElementTargeted
428Unquoted Search Path or ElementSecondary
706Use of Incorrectly-Resolved Name or ReferenceTargeted
+ Related Attack Patterns
NatureTypeIDNameDescriptionView(s) this relationship pertains toView\(s\)
ChildOfAttack PatternAttack Pattern13Subverting Environment Variable Values 
Mechanism of Attack1000
ChildOfAttack PatternAttack Pattern148Content Spoofing 
Mechanism of Attack (primary)1000
ChildOfAttack PatternAttack Pattern154Resource Location Attacks 
Mechanism of Attack (primary)1000
+ Purposes
  • Exploitation
+ CIA Impact
Confidentiality Impact: MediumIntegrity Impact: MediumAvailability Impact: Medium
+ Technical Context
Architectural Paradigms
+ References
G. Hoglund and G. McGraw. "Exploiting Software: How to Break Code". Addison-Wesley. February 2004.
+ Content History
G. Hoglund and G. McGraw. Exploiting Software: How to Break Code. Addison-Wesley, February 2004.Cigital, Inc2007-01-01
Gunnar PetersonCigital, Inc2007-02-28Fleshed out content to CAPEC schema from the original descriptions in "Exploiting Software"
Sean BarnumCigital, Inc2007-03-09Review and revise
Richard StruseVOXEM, Inc2007-03-26Review and feedback leading to changes in Name and Related Attack Patterns
Sean BarnumCigital, Inc2007-04-13Modified pattern content according to review and feedback