Linux for Pentester: Perl Privilege Escalation

Here we are again coming back with one of very essential command i.e. “Perl”. As we know Perl has it’s significant in the era of programming language specially designed for text editing. Apart from all of this, now it is also very prominent for a variety of purposes including Linux system administration, network programming, web development, etc. So keeping this fact into our mind we will proceed to this article that how we can take more advantage of this command in the operation of Privilege Escalation.

NOTE: “The main objective of publishing the series of “Linux for pentester” is to introduce the circumstances and any kind of hurdles that can be faced by any pentester while solving CTF challenges or OSCP labs which are based on Linux privilege escalations. Here we do not criticize any kind of misconfiguration that a network or system administrator does for providing higher permissions on any programs/binaries/files & etc.” 

Table of Contents

Overview of Perl             

  • Introduction: What is Perl?
  • Where we use Perl?
  • What is it’s necessities?
  • Multiple operations using Perl.

Abusing Perl

  • SUDO Lab setups for privilege Escalation
  • Exploiting SUDO
  • Capabilities

What is Perl?

Perl is a programming language that stands for “Practical Extraction and Reporting Language”.  It was created by Larry Wall in 1987 which is specially designed for text editing purpose.  As we all know computers understand only binary language i.e “0,1” or one can say low-level language, which is very difficult for humans to program in a binary language. So to overcome that difficulty we were needed a programming language which uses natural language elements, words that are used in common English language that can be easily understand by humans [high-level language].

So once a program is coded by a human, it needs to be converted into the form that a computer understands. For that, we need something which can translate the high-level language to low-level language. Here interpreter comes to our help which is a software that converts the program written in the high-level language to low-level language for the computer to understand and execute the instructions written in the program. Hence, Perl is an interpreted programming language.

It was originally a language optimized for scanning arbitrary text files, extracting information from those text files, and printing reports based on that information.

Where we use Perl?

The influence of Perl can be applied in many fields and the most popular use of Perl is in Web development. As we know that the major role and purpose of Perl is for text editing and extracting data and generating reports. Perl has become a popular language used in web development, networking and bioinformatics too. Apart from all this Perl can also be used for CGI programming.

What is it’s necessities?

As we all know there are many programming languages that can be used to do all the stuff which can be achieved by the help of Perl.

So here is the question arises that, why should we specifically use “Perl”? Perl is very easy to learn, particularly if you have a background in computer programming. It is extremely portable which can run on any operating system that has Perl interpreter installed, so it is platform-independent. All Linux Operating Systems come installed with Perl, so you can start Perl coding in Linux out of the box.

Alike other language Perl is faster and more powerful in performing many tasks. It possesses many shortcuts which allow the user to write quick scripts. It was designed specifically for text processing. It built-in text processing ability makes Perl as widely used server-side programming language.

So on moving ahead in achieving our goal of Privilege Escalation varies first we will check for its version. For this purpose, we will use the “-v” option as shown below.

To know more about all those operations that a Perl can do we will use its help command which will direct us for other functionality.

Multiple operations of Perl

Help in scripting: As we know unlike other programs that are written in languages such as C and C++, Perl programs do not need to compile for its execution, it’s simply interpreted and executes the Perl programs. The term script often is used for such interpreted programs written in a shell’s programming language or in Perl.

For example as per below image you can see I’ve created a file “script.pl” in which I have stored some line of codes or can say have created a small script (one can use it in creating any script as per requirements) that need to execute program over the screen. So, to view your script use command as below:

Help to execute code on the command line: This can be used to run a piece of Perl code without creating a file. Due to differences between the Unix/Linux shell and the MS Windows Command prompt we need to use different quotes around our code.

Here in below screenshot, I’m running a piece of code which is “Welcome to Ignite Technologies” by using “-e” argument to execute the same.

Note: In simple words, one can say that this option “-e” is used to execute or print one line of code.

Help in restricted shell environment: A user can use -e option to break out from restricted environments by spawning an interactive system shell and it plays an especial role in privilege escalation. By the help of this, we can also run any command in a restricted environment. Suppose in our case here I’m using this option to run tail command for displaying last few lines of /etc/passwd file.

Help to wrap the code in while loop:  If we wish to wrap our code inside the loop which depends upon certain conditions within a code which is defined by Perl then we will use “-n” option for that case.

For example, in below image, you can see that I have a file named as “Infosec.txt” and here instead of displaying whole content I just want to print those lines which fulfil the condition.

On framing above command Perl will check to each line of file Infosec.txt and will print all those lines which contain our search word i.e Testing.

Help to edit file content: Perl command also is used in editing any file content. For executing the same we will use “-i” argument which will open files one by one and replaces the content with STDOUT.

As you can see in below image I’ve used this option to convert the content of file Infosec.txt in upper case.

The most common use of “-p” together with the “-i” option also helps to provide “in-place editing”. Which means that instead of printing to the screen, all the output spawned by our one-liner will be written back to the same file from where it was taken. Here we are using this to replace a word with another word.

On framing above command you Perl will replace the word “IGNITE” with “Egnite” of file Infosec.txt

Perl in reverse shell: We all knows that reverse shell is a type of shell in which the target machine interconnects to the attacking machine and the attacking machine has a listener port on which it receives the connection.

So, here we are using Perl command which will send back a reverse shell to a listening attacker that will open remote network access.

On framing above command run nc -lvp 1234 on the attacker box to receive the shell.

Abusing Perl

Sudo Rights Lab setups for Privilege Escalation

In above all, we have covered the main objectives that a Perl can perform but now we will move ahead in the task of privilege escalation. So to grab this first, we have to set up our lab of Perl command with administrative rights. After that, we will check for the Perl command that what impression it has after getting sudo rights and how we can use it more for privilege escalation.

From the below image It can be clearly understood I have created a local user (demo) who own all sudo rights as root and can achieve all task as admin.

To add sudo right open etc/sudoers file and type following as user Privilege specification.

Exploiting Sudo rights

On adding user “demo” to etc/sudoers file, now we will start exploiting Perl facility by taking the privilege of sudoer’s permission. For this very first we must have sessions of a victim’s machine then only we can execute this task. Suppose we got the sessions of victim’s machine that will assist us to have local user access of the targeted system through which we can escalate the root user rights.

So now we will connect to the target machine with ssh, therefore, type following command to get access through local user login.

Then we look for sudo right of “demo” user (if given) and found that user “demo” can execute the Perl command as “root” without a password.

Capabilities in Privilege Escalation

As we know that whenever any sticky bit is set to any file then every privileged and unprivileged user can easily access those files but if for security purpose if we want to share or get access those only with limited/single user then we can simply use capabilities for acquiring this operation.

The capability-based security states to the principle of manipulative user programs such that they directly share capabilities with each other according to the principle of least privilege to make transactions efficient and secure. For this task, we simply copy the file to the /home of the selected user to get it securely accessible.

As above stated where I’ve added user “demo” to /etc/sudoers and knows that user “demo” can execute the Perl command as “root” without a password but I also except this user no one can access this file so I will set capabilities for this user as shown below.

From the below image, it has been cleared that user “demo” can easily execute “perl” as root and hence we have successfully accomplished our mission of privilege escalation using perl.

Conclusion: The main influence of this article is to use “Perl” command for privilege escalation that’s why we have just covered the basic operation that can be achieved by the use of this command.

Author: Komal Singh is a Cyber Security Researcher and Technical Content Writer, she is completely enthusiastic pentester and Security Analyst at Ignite Technologies. Contact Here