New Linux ‘Mutagen Astronomy’ bug could allow attackers to gain complete control over vulnerable systems

  • The bug currently only impacts CentOS and Red Hat Linux distributions.
  • The Linux kernel flaw is a local privilege escalation (LPE) bug.

A Linux kernel vulnerability was recently discovered by security researchers. The bug, dubbed “Muntegen Astronomy” and classified as CVE-2018-14634, currently only CentOS and Red Hat Enterprise (RHEL) distributions. The flaw has been classified as a local privilege escalation (LPE) bug.

To exploit the vulnerability, an attacker is required to already have gained a foothold on a vulnerable system. Once this is accomplished, the attacker can then exploit Muntegen Astronomy to gain root access and complete control over the system.

According to security experts at Qualys Research Labs, who discovered the flaw and went public with a proof-of-concept (PoC) code about the bug, a shrewdly constructed exploit can allow attackers to gain root access.

Qualys researchers published a detailed write-up with two proofs-of-concept (1,2), that demonstrates how the vulnerability could be exploited. The researchers said that the vulnerability exists in the create_elf_tables() function of the Linux kernel. When exploited, it can cause a buffer overflow, which, in turn, could allow an attacker to execute malicious code with root administrator privileges.

The vulnerability was present in the Linux kernel between July 19, 2007, and July 7, 2017.

“Even though all Linux kernels are technically vulnerable, this issue is mitigated by a one-year-old patch that was backported to most long-term kernels and makes exploitation impossible,” a Qualys spokesperson told ZDNet. “However, Red Hat Enterprise Linux and CentOS have not backported this patch, and are therefore vulnerable and exploitable.”

“This issue affects the version of the kernel packages as shipped with Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6, 7 and Red Hat Enterprise MRG 2. Future kernel updates for Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6, 7 and Red Hat Enterprise MRG 2 will address this issue,” the Red Hat team said in an official statement confirming the issue.

The Red Hat team also published a basic mitigation process that explains how users can protect vulnerable systems until a patch is made available. The updates are expected to be released in the coming days, as the older version of the OS did have a fix for the flaw, and was backported by latest distributions.