Pre-Auth RCE in Moodle Part I - PHP Object Injection in Shibboleth

2021-07-28 23:15:22 Author:查看原文) 阅读量:755 收藏

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Pre-Auth RCE in Moodle Part I - PHP Object Injection in Shibboleth

Vulnerable Version

3.11, 3.10 to 3.10.4, 3.9 to 3.9.7 and earlier unsupported versions

Fixed Version

>= 3.11.1, 3.10.5 and 3.9.8

It was found that the Shibboleth authentication module of Moodle suffers from a beautiful Remote Code Execution vulnerability from the unauthenticated perspective. This is widely used among universities to allow students from one university to authenticate against other universities allowing them to attend external courses and have fiddling fun with others.

A similar joy is sparked by the Remote Code Execution vulnerability that is actually located within the Logout functionality that can be invoked via SOAP. The function LogoutNotification invalidates sessions in different ways, depending on the deployed session manager used by Moodle:

function LogoutNotification($spsessionid) {
    $sessionclass = \core\session\manager::get_handler_class();
    switch ($sessionclass) {
        case '\core\session\file':
            return \auth_shibboleth\helper::logout_file_session($spsessionid);

If the sessions are - as per default config - stored on the filesystem (via \core\session\file) every session will be stored in an individual file on the fileystem. We will now see how a Remote Code Execution can be utilized with the help of this session manager via a PHP Object Injection vulnerability.

PHP Object Injection via File Sessions

First lets inspect the Remote Code Execution vulnerability by diving into the respective logout handler implemented in the logout_file_session function:

public static function logout_file_session($spsessionid) {
  global $CFG;

  if (!empty($CFG->session_file_save_path)) {
    $dir = $CFG->session_file_save_path;
  } else {
    $dir = $CFG->dataroot . '/sessions';

  if (is_dir($dir)) {
    if ($dh = opendir($dir)) {
      // Read all session files.
      while (($file = readdir($dh)) !== false) {
        // Check if it is a file.
        if (is_file($dir.'/'.$file)) {
          // Read session file data.
          $data = file($dir.'/'.$file);
          if (isset($data[0])) {
            $usersession = self::unserializesession($data[0]);
            // Check if we have found session that shall be deleted.
            if (isset($usersession['SESSION']) && 
        isset($usersession['SESSION']->shibboleth_session_id)) {
              // If there is a match, delete file.
              if ($usersession['SESSION']->shibboleth_session_id == $spsessionid) {
                // Delete session file.
                if (!unlink($dir.'/'.$file)) {
                  return new SoapFault('LogoutError', 
              'Could not delete Moodle session file.');

It can be observed that the file handler traverses all session files. Each session file holds a single serialized session object. The handler copes for that, by reading every file and deserializing its contents with the unserializesession function. Once a matching session ID was found in a session object it’s related file is unlink‘ed resulting in a logged out session.

PHPs default internal serialization format for storing sessions looks slightly different than the intuitive serialize($_SESSION). Due to legacy reasons, it is a sequence of the session objects keys glued to their associated serialized values with pipe | character.

To give an example: a session object $_SESSION = array('key1'=>'value1', 'key2' => 'value2) would have the session-serialized form key1|s:6:"value1";key2|s:6:"value2";.

Diving deeper into the unserializesession function one can observe the underlying problem that is located in the parsing of such a session-serialized session object. The handler intends to process it by splitting up the serialized session string on every vertical pipe character | available extracting the key and unserialize()‘ing the serialized value.

private static function unserializesession($serializedstring) {
	$variables = array();
	$a = preg_split("/(\w+)\|/", $serializedstring, -1, PREG_SPLIT_NO_EMPTY
	$counta = count($a);
	for ($i = 0; $i < $counta; $i = $i + 2) {
		$variables[$a[$i]] = unserialize($a[$i + 1]);
	return $variables;

However, this algorithm fails to properly parse the serialized value of a session key if it contains an unexpected Pipe | character due to the intrinsics of preg_split. This induces the risk of the parser misinterpreting the beginning and end of a serialized value within the session object, leading to the deserialization of potentially user-controlled input.

This means that any gadget in the code that allows us to write the pipe character anywhere into the value part of the $_SESSION array will grant us potential to leverage a PHP Object injection. The file grade/report/grader/index.php allows us to do exactly that: supply the ProofOfConcept string xxx|O:8:"Evil":0:{} that will be stored as a value in the $_SESSION object of an unauthenticated guest user.

This will be serialized by the session handler and stored on the filesystem in the form


The colors indicate how PHPs internal sessionhandler would see the string when correctly deserializing the session and its key value pairs iteratively. In contrast, the unserializesession function of moodle that uses preg_split would erroneously parse an additional session key:


The unserializesession() function will detect the xxx| string as a new sessionkey although it belongts to the serialized value of another session key. This prematurely cuts off the serialized value mid-parsing and results in a broken deserialization. The logic then iterates to our evil serialized payload and deserializes it.

From this point on, the dangers are known and documented by PHP and the Remote Code Execution is only a matter of technical skill via PHP’s magic functions. We will leave the exact exploitation technique as practice to the reader.


It is therefore recommended to mitigate this vulnerability by not relying on unserialize in combination with regular expressions to decode the session objects. Instead, keys stored within the session object could hold information about the sessions validity or refer back to the file where this session can be found. When logging out - which should only be possible with an active valid session- the session file of the currently active $_SESSION variable can be removed.

Alternatively, the second parameter of unserialize could be used to only allow the standard class stdClass to be unserialized. This is exactly the path that Moodle has chosen to fix this issue within their recent commit. This would prevent any POI Gadget chains that leverage the POI into more severe vulnerabilities by abusing the magic methods of specific app classes.

However, this mitigation has the drawback of still allowing potential memory corruption bugs that reside in unserialize(). They became much rarer especially with only stdClass objects, but there have been plenty of them in the past.


Date Action
2021-02-21 Submitted Bug via Bugcrowd
2021-02-23 Bugcrowd requested more details on reproduction
2021-02-24 Provided detailed information on how to install Moodle and activate shibboleth
2021-03-17 Bugcrowd failed to reproduce the issue and requested further support
2021-03-17 Free first level support for Bugcrowd
2021-03-17 Once again Bugcrowd failed to setup Moodle
2021-03-18 Once again free first level support for Bugcrowd
2021-03-31 Bugcrowd replied that this issue is still being reviewed and updates are reported shortly
2021-03-31 Bugcrowd created a new setup and still failed to reproduce the issue. They requested a POC VIdeo
2021-04-11 We provided a POC Video and further explanation
2021-04-30 We asked for updates regarding this issue
2021-05-06 Bugcrowd stated that they will provide updates shortly
2021-06-04 We set a deadline to release a patch within the next four weeks
2021-06-08 Moodle replied that they can’t hold the deadline because of the two month release cycle
2021-06-12 Moodle requested support for reproduction
2021-06-12 Moodle modified the payload which broke the POC exploit
2021-06-16 Bugcrowd triaged our report with P1
2021-07-10 Patch released on GitHub