What is Remote Code Execution?

Plus how to mitigate or eliminate your exposure

What is remote code execution?

Remote code execution (or RCE), often also referred to as arbitrary code execution (or ACE), is a classification of vulnerabilities that allow an attacker to run any command or code on a target system or within a target process.

RCE is a top exploitation technique that can be found in software or hardware. RCE vulnerabilities are highly desirable vulnerabilities for adversaries to exploit.

How does remote code execution work?

RCE attacks exploit the possibility of executable code being injected into a file or process and executed or evaluated. This can be due to user input not being validated or other situations not intended by developers. Injected code is usually in the programming language of the targeted application, like PHP, Java, Python, Ruby, etc.

Depending on the vulnerability targeted, attackers will typically use the privileges of the target process to execute the code. For example, if attackers inject code as a user, they will naturally be using that user’s current privilege level.

Because of this, RCE is commonly paired with attempts to escalate privileges and gain control on an administrative or root level. Elevated privilege can also allow attackers to more easily hide the attack.

However, even without more extraordinary privilege, the remote code execution vulnerability has the potential to cause serious harm.

Click the video for a quick tutorial of how remote code execution works.

Key examples of remote code execution:

Impact of remote code execution

The impact of RCE can vary dramatically depending on the application being injected with malicious code, the privileges of the current process or user, or the sensitivity/value of the target system.

Typically, successful exploitation of an RCE vulnerability will lead to the attacker gaining access to an application or the system. This can allow the attacker to access and inject additional code or instructions into the underlying device’s commands or processes.

RCE can also often lead to sensitive data access for exfiltration or utilization in further attacks within the target system and adjacent systems. Attackers could also disrupt or crash the service or host device by executing destructive commands.

The most common outcome of RCE attacks over the past few years however is ransomware or cryptomining. RCE can easily be used to take over the system allowing for a monetizable event for the attacker.

How to mitigate remote code execution

The most effective way to mitigate or eliminate exposure to remote code execution vulnerabilities is through regular security updates. Automox recommends that you take these four steps to effectively mitigate exposure to RCE vulnerabilities:

1. Stay up-to-date on the latest vulnerabilities

First, make sure you have robust vulnerability detection and scanning capabilities to identify, categorize and manage incoming vulnerabilities. Such vulnerabilities can include unsecured system configurations or missing patches, as well as other security-related updates in the systems connected to the enterprise network directly – remotely or in the cloud.

From Rapid7 and Tenable to Qualys, there are many powerful vulnerability scanning vendors to choose from. Make sure they’re integrated within your tech stack and work with your patch solution, such as Automox, to quickly take action against threats whether that’s a patch, a system reconfiguration, or the removal of vulnerable software.

2. Use a single solution for patching

When you have multiple OSes and third-party software installed across on-prem, remote, and devices in the cloud, you can see how the challenge of patching can quickly spiral. Often companies use several patching tools and ad-hoc manual workarounds to patch their environments, but adding more tools to a problem only compounds the issue.

To resolve this, we recommend keeping it simple with a single cloud-based solution that can address every endpoint, regardless of its OS or where it resides.

With a cloud-hosted platform, you can look forward to no maintenance or VPN requirements while eliminating unnecessary hardware investments and resources. This frees up your dollars and technicians’ cycles for more high-value work.

Support for Windows, macOS, and Linux can also offer the same seamless experience for all OS types. And that enables you to patch all devices in your clients’ environments – from a single pane of glass.

3. Keep an up-to-date inventory of assets

You can’t fix what you can’t see. As previously highlighted, more and more endpoints are either located in the cloud or using cloud services to access data. IT departments require visibility across their environment to accurately assess their security posture and risk level.

Find tools that promote endpoint visibility and support a single source of truth. The ability to see all your servers and workstations in one dashboard reduces the time spent assessing patch status, improves your security position, and enables accurate reporting to executives and stakeholders.

4. Automate where you can

Automation won’t just keep your IT staff sane, it will improve user productivity and maintain your organization's ability to pivot quickly in an ever-evolving environment.

From onboarding and de-provisioning users to patching devices across your multi-cloud environments or deploying software, automation holds the key to driving your dynamic cloud infrastructure forward.


Automox for Easy IT Operations

Automox is the cloud-native IT operations platform for modern organizations. It makes it easy to keep every endpoint automatically configured, patched, and secured – anywhere in the world. With the push of a button, IT admins can fix critical vulnerabilities faster, slash cost and complexity, and win back hours in their day.

Grab your free trial of Automox and join thousands of companies transforming IT operations into a strategic business driver.

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