Summary -Heap-based buffer overflow in the glibc’s syslog ()

We discovered a heap-based buffer overflow in the GNU C Library’s __vsyslog_internal() function, which is called by both syslog() and vsyslog(). This vulnerability was introduced in glibc 2.37 (in August 2022) by the following commit:;a=commit;h=52a5be0df411ef3ff45c10c7c308cb92993d15b1 and was also backported to glibc 2.36 because this commit was a fix for another, minor vulnerability in __vsyslog_internal() (CVE-2022-39046, an “uninitialized memory [read] from the heap”): For example, we confirmed that Debian 12 and 13, Ubuntu 23.04 and 23.10, and Fedora 37 to 39 are vulnerable to this buffer overflow. Furthermore, we successfully exploited an up-to-date, default installation of Fedora 38 (on amd64): a Local Privilege Escalation, from any unprivileged user to full root. Other distributions are probably also exploitable. To the best of our knowledge, this vulnerability cannot be triggered remotely in any likely scenario (because it requires an argv[0], or an openlog() ident argument, longer than 1024 bytes to be triggered). Last-minute note: in December 1997 Solar Designer published information about a very similar vulnerability in the vsyslog() of the old Linux libc (


In the glibc, both syslog() and vsyslog() call the vulnerable function __vsyslog_internal():

122 __vsyslog_internal (int pri, const char *fmt, va_list ap,

123 unsigned int mode_flags)

124 {

125 /* Try to use a static buffer as an optimization. */

126 char bufs[1024];

127 char *buf = NULL;

128 size_t bufsize = 0;

171 #define SYSLOG_HEADER(__pri, __timestamp, __msgoff, pid) \

172 “<%d>%s%n%s%s%.0d%s: “,\

173 __pri, __timestamp, __msgoff,\

174 LogTag == NULL ? __progname : LogTag, \

175 “[” + (pid == 0), pid, “]” + (pid == 0)

182 l = __snprintf (bufs, sizeof bufs,

183 SYSLOG_HEADER (pri, timestamp, &msgoff, pid));

187 if (0 <= l && l < sizeof bufs)

188 {

202 }


204 if (buf == NULL)

205 {

206 buf = malloc ((bufsize + 1) * sizeof (char));

213 __snprintf (buf, l + 1,

214 SYSLOG_HEADER (pri, timestamp, &msgoff, pid));

221 __vsnprintf_internal (buf + l, bufsize – l + 1, fmt, apc,

222 mode_flags);

– at lines 182-183, SYSLOG_HEADER() includes __progname (the basename() of argv[0]) if LogTag is NULL (e.g., if openlog() was not called, or called with a NULL ident argument);

– because a local attacker fully controls argv[0] and hence __progname (even when executing a SUID-root program such as su), at line 187 l (the return value of __snprintf()) can be larger than sizeof bufs (1024), in which case the code block at lines 188-202 is skipped;

– consequently, at line 203 buf is still NULL and bufsize is still 0, and at line 206 a very small 1-byte buf is malloc()ated (because bufsize is 0);

– at lines 213-214 this small buf is overflowed with the attacker- controlled __progname (because l is larger than 1024), and at lines 221-222 this small buf is further overflowed (because bufsize – l + 1 is 0 – l + 1, a very large size_t).

Proof of concept

$ (exec -a “`printf ‘%0128000x’ 1`” /usr/bin/su < /dev/null) Password: Segmentation fault (core dumped)


We decided to exploit this vulnerability through su (the most common SUID-root program) on Fedora 38. To authenticate a user, su calls the PAM library, and if the password provided by the user is incorrect, then PAM calls the glibc’s syslog() function without calling openlog() first, thus allowing us to trigger the buffer overflow in __vsyslog_internal():

782 pam_syslog(pamh, LOG_NOTICE,

783 “authentication failure; “

784 “logname=%s uid=%d euid=%d ”

785 “tty=%s ruser=%s rhost=%s “

786 “%s%s”,

787 new->name, new->uid, new->euid,

788 tty ? (const char *)tty : “”,

789 ruser ? (const char *)ruser : “”,

790 rhost ? (const char *)rhost : “”,

791 (new->user && new->user[0] != ‘\0’)

792 ? ” user=” : “”,

793 new->user

794 );

107 pam_syslog (const pam_handle_t *pamh, int priority,

108 const char *fmt, …)

109 {

113 pam_vsyslog (pamh, priority, fmt, args);

73 pam_vsyslog (const pam_handle_t *pamh, int priority,

74 const char *fmt, va_list args)

75 {


81 if (asprintf (&msgbuf1, “%s(%s:%s):”, pamh->mod_name,

82 pamh->service_name?pamh->service_name:”<unknown>”,

83 _pam_choice2str (pamh->choice)) < 0)


91 if (vasprintf (&msgbuf2, fmt, args) < 0)


99 syslog (LOG_AUTHPRIV|priority, “%s %s”,

100 (msgbuf1 ? msgbuf1 : _PAM_SYSTEM_LOG_PREFIX), msgbuf2);

But what should we overwrite in the heap to successfully exploit this buffer overflow? Initially, because su calls setlocale(LC_ALL, “”); at the very beginning of its su_main() function, we tried to reuse the key idea from our Baron Samedit exploits (CVE-2021-3156 in Sudo): we wrote a rudimentary fuzzer to execute su with a random argv[0] and random locale environment variables and automatically inspect the resulting crashes in gdb. Unfortunately this fuzzer failed to produce interesting results: we only obtained a handful of unique crashes, and they did not look very promising.

However, we did not investigate the reasons for this failure, because while browsing through su’s source code we noticed that su_main() calls env_whitelist_from_string() to parse the argument of the -w command-line option:

1118 case ‘w’:

1119 env_whitelist_from_string(su, optarg);

1120 break;

692 static int env_whitelist_from_string(struct su_context *su, const char *str)

693 {

694 char **all = strv_split(str, “,”);

703 STRV_FOREACH(one, all)

704 env_whitelist_add(su, *one);

705 strv_free(all);

706 return 0;

707 }

662 static int env_whitelist_add(struct su_context *su, const char *name)

663 {

664 const char *env = getenv(name);


666 if (env)

667 return 1;

668 if (strv_extend(&su->env_whitelist_names, name))

669 err_oom();

670 if (strv_extend(&su->env_whitelist_vals, env))

671 err_oom();

672 return 0;

673 }

Conveniently, env_whitelist_from_string() allows us (attackers) to malloc()ate and free() an arbitrary number of arbitrary strings at the very beginning of su’s execution: an almost perfect heap feng shui. We therefore rewrote our fuzzer to execute su with a random argv[0] and a random whitelist option (instead of random locale environment variables) and immediately observed numerous unique crashes; among these, three in particular caught our attention.

1/ Corruption of PAM structures

Surprisingly, our fuzzer directly overwrote two PAM function pointers (in struct pam_data and struct handler):

Thread 2.1 “su” received signal SIGSEGV, Segmentation fault.

0x00007fa7d3b0e3ac in _pam_free_data (status=7, pamh=0x56211242ec10) at /usr/src/debug/pam-1.5.2-16.fc38.x86_64/libpam/pam_data.c:161

161 last->cleanup(pamh, last->data, status);

=> 0x7fa7d3b0e3ac <pam_end+92>: call *%rax

rax 0x4141414141414141 4702111234474983745

Thread 2.1 “su” received signal SIGSEGV, Segmentation fault.

0x00007f928b5e5781 in _pam_dispatch_aux (use_cached_chain=<optimized out>, resumed<optimized out>, h=0x55f2e374aae0, flags=0, pamh=0x55f2e374aae0) at /usr/src/debug/pam-1.5.2-16.fc38.x86_64/libpam/pam_dispatch.c:110

110 retval = h->func(pamh, flags, h->argc, h->argv);

=> 0x7f928b5e5781 <_pam_dispatch+465>: call *%rax

rax 0x4545454545454545 4991471925827290437

Although this sounds exciting at first (a call to 0x4141414141414141!) we decided to not pursue this avenue of exploitation:

– we cannot overwrite such a function pointer with null bytes (because we overflow__vsyslog_internal()’s buffer with a null-terminated string), but userland addresses contain at least two null bytes;

– we could try to partially overwrite such a function pointer, but we do not control the end of the string that overflows __vsyslog_internal()’s buffer (the end of the aforementioned pam_syslog() format string), and such an uncontrolled, partially overwritten function pointer is very unlikely to miraculously point to a useful ROP gadget.

2/ Corruption of heap metadata

Unsurprisingly, our fuzzer also overwrote various pieces of heap metadata (chunk headers managed internally by the glibc’s malloc), and therefore triggered all kinds of assertion failures and security checks:

$ grep -A1 __libc_message fuzzer.out | cut -d'”‘ -f2 | sort -u

chunk_main_arena (bck->bk)

chunk_main_arena (fwd) corrupted double-linked list

corrupted double-linked list (not small)

corrupted size vs. prev_size

corrupted size vs. prev_size in fastbins

double free or corruption (out)

free(): corrupted unsorted chunks

free(): invalid next size (fast)

free(): invalid pointer

free(): invalid size

malloc_consolidate(): invalid chunk size

malloc(): corrupted top size

malloc(): invalid size (unsorted)

malloc(): smallbin double linked list corrupted

malloc(): unaligned tcache chunk detected

malloc(): unsorted double linked list corrupted

munmap_chunk(): invalid pointer

Although some of these corruptions might be exploitable, we decided to not pursue this avenue of exploitation either:

– we cannot overwrite a chunk header with a size field and an fd or bk pointer that are both valid (they must both contain null bytes to be valid), which severely limits our exploitation options;

– in any case, we would probably need a specific heap, mmap, or stack address to exploit such a corruption, but we do not have the luxury of an information leak, and all these addresses are too heavily randomized by ASLR to be brute forced.

3/ Corruption of nss structures

Our fuzzer also produced two crashes that immediately caught our attention because they are directly related to one of the techniques that we used to exploit Baron Samedit:

Thread 2.1 “su” received signal SIGSEGV, Segmentation fault.

__GI___nss_lookup (ni=ni@entry=0x7ffe876a05e8, fct_name=fct_name@entry=0x7fbba214e4e7 “getpwnam_r”, fct2_name=fct2_name@entry=0x0, fctp=fctp@entry=0x7ffe876a05f0) at nsswitch.c:67 67 *fctp = __nss_lookup_function (*ni, fct_name);

=> 0x7fbba20ec50e <__GI___nss_lookup+30>: mov (%rax),%rdi

rax 0x4141414141414141 4702111234474983745

Thread 2.1 “su” received signal SIGSEGV, Segmentation fault.

__nss_module_get_function (module=0x4141414141414141, name=name@entry=0x7f0aed9034e7 “getpwnam_r”) at nss_module.c:328 328 if (!__nss_module_load (module))

=> 0x7f0aed8a34b7 <__nss_module_get_function+39>: mov (%rdi),%eax

rdi 0x4141414141414141 4702111234474983745

As discussed in the “2/ struct service_user overwrite” subsection of our Baron Samedit advisory, if we overwrite the name[] field of a heap-based struct nss_module with a string of characters that contains a slash (for example “A/B/C”), then at lines 180-181 the name of a shared library is constructed (“libnss_A/B/”), and at line 187 this shared library is loaded from our current working directory (because its name contains a slash, but does not start with a slash) and executed as root (because su is a SUID-root program):

170 module_load (struct nss_module *module)

171 {

180 if (__asprintf (&shlib_name, “”,

181 module->name, __nss_shlib_revision) < 0)

187 handle = __libc_dlopen (shlib_name);

Unfortunately, the __progname part (which we control) of the string that overflows __vsyslog_internal()’s buffer cannot contain a slash (because __progname is the basename() of argv[0]). Luckily, however, the part of the overflowing string that we do not control (the pam_syslog() format string) includes the absolute path of our tty, which contains a slash. For example, if:

– our tty is /dev/pts/23 (we use forkpty() in our exploit);

– our unprivileged local user is nobody (uid 65534);

– the argv[0] (and hence __progname) that we use to execute su is a long string of ‘A’ characters (longer than 1024);

then we can overwrite the name[] field of a heap-based struct nss_module with a string of the form:

“AAAAAAAAAA: pam_unix(su:auth): authentication failure; logname= uid=65534 euid=0 tty=/dev/pts/23 ruser=nobody rhost= user=root”

Consequently, if we first create the following three directories (in our current working directory):

“libnss_AAAAAAAAAA: pam_unix(su:auth): authentication failure; logname= uid=65534 euid=0 tty=”

“libnss_AAAAAAAAAA: pam_unix(su:auth): authentication failure; logname= uid=65534 euid=0 tty=/dev”

“libnss_AAAAAAAAAA: pam_unix(su:auth): authentication failure; logname= uid=65534 euid=0 tty=/dev/pts”

and also create the following shared library (in our current working directory):

“libnss_AAAAAAAAAA: pam_unix(su:auth): authentication failure; logname= uid=65534 euid=0 tty=/dev/pts/23 ruser=nobody rhost=”

then this shared library will eventually be loaded and executed with full root privileges. In our tests, it takes a few 10,000s of tries to successfully brute force the exploit parameters (the length of argv[0], and the whitelist option and its associated environment variables).

Note: this exploit could certainly be made much more efficient; in theory, it could even be a one-shot exploit, because we do not need to brute force the ASLR, only the heap layout.


We thank the glibc developers (Carlos O’Donell, Siddhesh Poyarekar, Arjun Shankar, Florian Weimer, and Adhemerval Zanella in particular), Red Hat Product Security (Guilherme Suckevicz in particular), and the members of linux-distros@openwall (Salvatore Bonaccorso in particular).


2023-11-07: We sent a preliminary draft of our advisory to Red Hat Product Security.

2023-11-15: Red Hat Product Security acknowledged receipt of our email.

2023-11-16: Red Hat Product Security asked us if we could share our exploit with them. 2023-11-17: We sent our exploit to Red Hat Product Security.

2023-11-21: Red Hat Product Security confirmed that our exploit worked, and assigned CVE- 2023-6246 to this heap-based buffer overflow in __vsyslog_internal().

2023-12-05: Red Hat Product Security sent us a patch for CVE-2023-6246 (written by the glibc developers), and asked us for our feedback.

2023-12-07: While reviewing this patch, we discovered two more minor vulnerabilities in the same function (an off-by-one buffer overflow and an integer overflow). We immediately sent an analysis, proof of concept, and patch proposal to Red Hat Product Security, and suggested that we directly involve the glibc security team.

2023-12-08: Red Hat Product Security acknowledged receipt of our email, and agreed that we should directly involve the glibc security team. We contacted them on the same day, and they immediately replied with very constructive comments.

2023-12-11: The glibc security team suggested that we postpone the coordinated disclosure of all three vulnerabilities until January 2024 (because of the upcoming holiday season). We agreed.

2023-12-13: Red Hat Product Security assigned CVE-2023-6779 to the off-by-one buffer overflow and CVE-2023-6780 to the integer overflow in __vsyslog_internal().

2024-01-04: We suggested either January 23 or January 30 for the Coordinated Release Date of these vulnerabilities. The glibc developers agreed on January 30.

2024-01-12: The glibc developers sent us an updated version of the patches for these vulnerabilities.

2024-01-13: We reviewed these patches, and sent our feedback to the glibc developers.

2024-01-15: The glibc developers sent us the final version of the patches for these vulnerabilities.

2024-01-16: We sent these patches and a draft of our advisory to the linux-distros@openwall. They immediately acknowledged receipt of our email.

2024-01-30: Coordinated Release Date (18:00 UTC).