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LFI to RCE... maybe?#

There are many articles written about abusing LFI vulnerabilities to achieve Remote Code/Command Execution. After reading the PHP code that drives the application, my opinion is that it isn't possible in this instance. If someone is able to actually get RCE in this application, I'd love to know how it was achieved.

Understanding the Application#

The website is entirely driven from the single index.html. The page returned to the user is driven by the /?p= query string sent to the page. If p is empty, the main index page is returned. Otherwise, there are checks in the code to look for different values of p, which generate the HTML for the other pages on the site:

} elseif (isset($_GET['p']) && $_GET['p'] == 'opportunities') {

(opportunities page HTML)

} elseif (isset($_GET['p']) && $_GET['p'] == 'about') {

(about page HTML)

} elseif (isset($_GET['p']) && $_GET['p'] == 'apply') {

(apply page HTML)

The HTML for these pages are in index.html and not read or pulled in via PHP's include() function, which eliminates abusing p as a path to LFI or RCE.

The PHP code that drives the actual application is earlier in index.html:


if (array_key_exists("submit", $_GET)) {
    // Applicant submitted application, w00t! Process data.
    if (!preg_match("/^[a-zA-Z0-9' ]+$/", $_GET['inputName'])) {
      die("Invalid name input");

    $filename = $_GET['inputName'] . date('Ymdhis') . ".csv"; //filename
    $file = fopen($filename, 'a');
    if ($file) {
        fputcsv($file, $headers );
        fputcsv($file, $_GET );

        // Start to display response

The code starts by checking whether there are parameters passed in the HTTP GET request. Next, a check of the inputName parameter performed to ensure it only contains upper and lower case ASCII letters, or digits. If it doesn't, the program terminates. This check is important, as the inputName field is later used as the output file for the LFI/SSRF. This filter reduces the likelyhood that an attacker can manipulate the filename generated by the application, in an effort to pivot to an RCE vulnerability.

Next, the application opens a file of inputName appended with a date/time stamp, and a .csv extension. The contents of the query string values are then appended to the file. These files are accessible from the web server, as they're written to the /var/www/html directory:

bash-5.0# ls -l
total 32
drwxr-xr-x    2 root     root          4096 Jan  1 03:04 css
drwxrwxrwx    1 root     root          4096 Jan  7 18:00 images
-rw-r--r--    1 root     root         14167 Dec 29 15:40 index.html
-rw-r--r--    1 nobody   nobody         175 Jan  7 18:00 pugpug20220107060004.csv
-rw-r--r--    1 nobody   nobody         174 Jan  7 18:00 pugpug20220107060007.csv

bash-5.0# cat pugpug20220107060004.csv
pugpug,pug@pug.pug,313-555-1212,"Aggravated pulling of hair",,,,/etc/passwd

While the contents of these files contain user-submitted data and the filenames are easily discoverable, abusing these to execute code isn't possible, as the web server and PHP-FPM instance is only configured to execute .php and .html files, not .csv.

The SSRF/LFI Exploit#

The actual SSRF vulnerability is in the next code block:

    } else {
        die("Unable to open file named $filename");

    if(isset($_GET['inputWorkSample'])) {
        $data = file_get_contents($image_url);
        $new = 'images/' . $_GET['inputName'] . '.jpg';
        $upload = file_put_contents($new, $data);
        if($upload) {
            //echo "<img class='rounded mx-auto d-block img-thumbnail' width='200px' src='images/" . $_GET['inputName'] . ".jpg'>";

The call to file_get_contents() is the vulnerability. The application performs no checks on whether the input to the function is a valid URL, matches an approved whitelist of locations, or other methods of preventing an SSRF attack. The application writes the data retrieved from file_get_contents() to the file images/[inputName].jpg using the file_put_contents() function. As we saw earlier, inputName is filtered to only contain letters and numbers, eliminating any potential filename abuse.

Most LFI-RCE vulerability paths take advantage of PHP's include() function, which will execute any PHP code contained in the data stream to be included. file_get_contents(), however, does not interpret any PHP code in the content returned from the opened URL or filename. The filename itself can contain PHP filters, as we saw when using filters to return large files, but the contents are not executed by PHP.

Most paths of exploiting an LFI vulnerability to achieve RCE from PHP involve using PHP filters such as expect://, zip://, or phar:// to execute commands. However, the PHP installation in the container doesn't contain support for any of those PHP wrappers. This can be seen in the /wwwlog/error.log file in the local container, after attempting a expect:// url:

2022/01/07 17:14:32 [error] 30#30: *1325 FastCGI sent in stderr: "PHP message: PHP Warning: file_get_contents(): Unable to find the wrapper &quot;expect&quot; - did you forget to enable it when you configured PHP? in /var/www/html/index.html on line 97PHP message: PHP Warning: file_get_contents(expect://foo): failed to open stream: No such file or directory in /var/www/html/index.html on line 97" while reading response header from upstream, client:, server: _, request: "GET /?inputName=pugpug228&inputEmail=pug%40pug.pug&inputPhone=313-555-1212&inputField=Aggravated+pulling+of+hair&resumeFile=&additionalInformation=&submit=&inputWorkSample=expect%3A%2F%2Ffoo HTTP/1.1", upstream: "fastcgi://", host: ""

Similar logs are generated when the other methods of RCE are attempted.

Easter Egg, Trolling, or Old Code?#

At the top of index.html are the following lines:

define('DB_NAME', 'intern');
define('DB_USER', 'intern');
define('DB_PASSWORD', 'polarwinds');

The container doesn't appear to contain any database software or database libraries. Are these lines left over from an earlier revision of code? Are they an Easter Egg, a reference to the SolarWinds kerfuffle from 2020, or is Jack trolling potential attackers by sending them down a rabbit hole? Only Jack knows.