A Quick Guide To Remote Code Execution (RCE)

Cyber attacks are increasing with cyber crime multiplying, driven by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. One of the most damaging of these attacks are Remote Code Execution (RCE), or an Arbitrary Code Execution. 

RCE attacks can be especially detrimental to corporate and institutional sectors in both North America and the United Kingdom. When someone takes control of another person’s device or computer, it can be scary for the device owner when malware is being installed without their knowledge or permission.

So, how bad are RCEs? This brief guide will show you - the senior general manager or specialist - what they are, and what to look out for:

What is RCE?

First, RCEs are where an attacker remotely runs malicious code within a targeted system (e.g., mobile device, computer, etc.) over local Wi-Fi. While the attacker can’t physically access the device, they can still take control over the system by inserting the code inside it. This allows for the attacker to infiltrate the device, install malware, and steal sensitive data.

How Does RCE Attack?

RCE attacks happen as follows:

  • First, user input is injected into a file (or string).
  • Next, the whole package is run on the programming language’s parser, which is NOT a normal action done by developers of web applications.
  • The attack then compromises the entire web application, along with the webserver, thus leading to the device’s compromise.

With that said, RCE attacks can take on many forms. Such forms include: 

  • Initial Access allows RCE attackers to run commands in a public-facing application, such as installing malware or do other things that the victim can’t control.
  • A denial-of-service attack has RCE attackers run code to interfere with operations of an application or multiple on a system.
  • Information disclosure is when RCE attackers install malware or execute commands to steal data from the vulnerable device.
  • RCE attackers also use ransomware to hijack a person’s device, steal data or files, and demand the user to “pay a ransom” in order to regain access to affected device.
  • RCE attackers can also use cryptomining (or cryptojacking) malware to mine cryptocurrency on a compromised device.
  • RCE attackers may take total control of a device - no questions asked, and the user can’t do anything to get it back. 

Detecting RCE Attacks

While RCE attacks are inevitable, corporate and institutional sectors can still detect and mitigate such attacks.

Here are some ways to detect and mitigate RCE attacks:

 

  • Input Sanitization ensures that user input is validated before it’s used in an application. Since RCE attackers typically try to inject malicious code and files into a device, input sanitization prevents such code and files from RCE attackers.
  • Secure Memory Management is where applications undergo vulnerability scanning to detect any buffer overflow and other vulnerabilities, and then fix these errors right away.
  • Traffic Inspection is where companies and organizations can deploy network security solutions to prevent any attempt of exploitation of vulnerable applications, or if a system is vulnerable to an attacker.
  • Access Control consists of network segmentation, access management, and a zero-trust security strategy – all of which are needed to prevent attackers from moving through the network to gain access to corporate systems.

Conclusion

RCE attacks are no laughing matter, especially when it comes to corporate and institutional sectors. With cyber crime happening all the time these days, it’s important to ensure that your organization is protected from such attacks.

While cyber attacks are inevitable, it’s still important to protect yourself and your devices, so that data is safeguarded, and organizations are protected. 

Madeline Miller is a writer and editor at Essayroo and is focused on cyber security and threat intelligence.

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