W Privilege Elevation

Popularity:

10

Simplicity:

4

Impact:

10

Risk Rating:

8

As seen in the previous section, an analyst is able to circumvent access controls through savvy use of the tcpdump command. This is part of a larger category of malicious behavior called privilege escalation, which rightly deserves its own book (or perhaps volumes of books) to do it any justice.

Enumerating all the ways that privilege escalation can be accomplished—especially since the identified methodologies increase daily—is impossible, but the end result is about the same. Attackers exploit a lack of physical access control, system misconfiguration, or a flaw in an application to gain access to resources normally inaccessible to that user or application. The resources mentioned can be anything on the system, such as restricted files, privileged address space, other processes, or even user accounts.

Many possibilities for access control gaps and system misconfigurations have been mentioned in previous sections. The existence of any or all of them could lead to a successful privilege escalation attempt, but some obviously have more impact than others. Choosing the best combination of access controls designed to mitigate them in a particular environment is key.

Despite physical or administration security measures, or lack thereof, the main attack vector for privilege escalation is, without a doubt, due to flaws in applications. Poor input validation, or neglecting to bounds check in one or more areas, frequently leads to application security being circumvented and system-level access granted to unintended users.

This exploit method can occur in any way that the application can receive data, locally or remotely. It almost always occurs because the application does not properly validate the type of data, such as with SQL injection, or the amount of data, such as with buffer overflows. In most default software configurations, the vulnerability generally results in a full system compromise.

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