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What is Remote Code Execution?
5/26/2023 - Brian O'Neill

Remote Code Execution (RCE) is an extremely dangerous attack vector which aims to exploit vulnerabilities in an application’s input validation measures to execute arbitrary code. While RCE is conceptually straightforward, it’s also an extremely broad threat category. There are multiple ways RCE can be accomplished, and the outcomes can vary greatly depending on a threat actor’s individual goals.

hacker writing code

What are Common Remote Code Execution Outcomes?

Threat actors can use Remote Code Execution attacks to accomplish a variety of malicious outcomes. A few of those outcomes are outlined below.

One common goal of an RCE attack is to disrupt regular activity within a system or network, often with the intention of causing Denial of Service. By gaining unrestricted access to a system, a threat actor can arbitrarily change important system information, remove critical files, and deny external users access to the system’s internal resources. This type of RCE attack severely damages the victim’s reputation, often causing irreparable harm to their current and future business prospects.

Another common goal of RCE is Data Theft. Most companies thriving in the modern, digital landscape view data as their most valued asset, including financial data, customer data (e.g., personal contact information), and much more. Motivated threat actors are aware of this fact, and as a result, RCE attacks often aim to retrieve or modify data housed in sensitive storage locations. Once a threat actor gains access to internal data, they can remove (steal) it, corrupt it, or threaten to delete it unless the victim provides financial compensation (i.e., ransomware).

How is Remote Code Execution Accomplished?

At a high level, to accomplish any RCE attack, a threat actor must first find weak points in their target’s system or network. After that, they can begin sharing malicious code by exploiting the vulnerability they found. Once they succeed in the first two steps, the threat actor can hijack their target system/network or compromise data for a variety of purposes.

One common system vulnerability is found in an application’s data deserialization process. By sending malicious objects through a poorly sanitized data parser, a threat actor can trick an application into executing code of their choosing. Several high-profile attacks in the last decade have utilized this method, and in one case, this resulted in theft of customer data on an unprecedented scale.

Another common vulnerability is found in a system’s external file upload process. In recent years, adoption of direct file upload workflows has grown in lockstep with businesses gaining increased access to affordable cloud storage solutions, and this development has encouraged threat actors to seek out file upload vulnerabilities much more actively. If file uploads aren’t scanned and validated thoroughly, threat actors can carry out RCE attacks by loading files with malicious code and delivering them through a vulnerable upload portal.

Protect your System with the Cloudmersive Advanced Virus Scan API

The Cloudmersive Advanced Virus Scan API provides 360-degree content protection for your system and/or network (depending on where you choose to deploy it). Its anti-virus and anti-malware policies reference a continuously updated list of more than 17 million virus and malware threats, and its non-malware threat detection capabilities can be customized to block common RCE file upload attack vectors, including executables, invalid files, scripts, password-protected files, insecure deserialization, and more.

For more information on the Cloudmersive Advanced Virus Scan API, please do not hesitate to contact a member of our sales team.

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