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Code Execution Flaw in QEMU Mostly Impacts Development, Test VMs

The open source machine emulator QEMU is affected by a vulnerability that can lead to a denial-of-service (DoS) condition or arbitrary code execution, but developers say users should not be too concerned about its impact.

The open source machine emulator QEMU is affected by a vulnerability that can lead to a denial-of-service (DoS) condition or arbitrary code execution, but developers say users should not be too concerned about its impact.

The vulnerability, tracked as CVE-2019-14378 with a CVSS score that puts it in the “high severity” category, was discovered by India-based researcher Vishnu Dev, who said he found the flaw through code auditing. Details of the vulnerability were made public recently, roughly four weeks after a patch was released.

The security hole, described as a heap-based buffer overflow that can lead to a virtual machine (VM) escape, is related to Slirp, an old tool that can be used to emulate PPP, SLIP and CSLIP connections via a shell account. According to Wikipedia, Slirp is still useful for connecting mobile devices via their serial ports, and for firewall piercing and port forwarding.

“This flaw occurs in the ip_reass() routine while reassembling incoming packets if the first fragment is bigger than the m->m_dat[] buffer. An attacker could use this flaw to crash the QEMU process on the host, resulting in a Denial of Service or potentially executing arbitrary code with privileges of the QEMU process,” Red Hat explained in an advisory.

QEMU, which is considered a free alternative to VMware, is available for several major Linux distributions and it’s used by Xen, VirtualBox and KVM.

However, QEMU developer Stefan Hajnoczi clarified that production VMs typically do not use Slirp and CVE-2019-14378 mainly impacts users who run QEMU manually for development and testing purposes.

“Slirp is part of the QEMU userspace process, which runs unprivileged and confined by SELinux when launched via libvirt. To be clear: this is not a host ring-0 exploit!” Hajnoczi explained. “Getting root on the host or accessing other VMs requires further exploits to elevate privileges of the QEMU process and escape SELinux confinement.”

Related: Decade-Old VENOM Bug Exposes Virtualized Environments to Attacks

Related: VENOM Bug Poison to Virtual Environments, Not Bigger Than Heartbleed

Written By

Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.

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