Log4j Analysis: More JNDI Injection

To be fair, the attack chain is pretty straight forward. I kinda hope all the other vulnerabilities are easy to analyze like this one…


By looking at log4j’s official documents, it’s not hard to get an idea on how it basically works. To build a test environment, start a new Java project, and add log4j as library.

Logger logger = LogManager.getLogger();

When the message enters the error() method, it will be passed into logIfEnabled().

Then if isEnabled() returns true, it will continue to logMessage() method.

By default(I assume), only fatal and error log levels are enabled, but the status can be checked by isInfoEnabled() and other functions. Since only enabled levels will get code execution, so make sure you are using the right log level.

And logMessage() calls logMessageSafely():

And that will enter logMessageTrackRecursion()

Then to tryLogMessage()

Next, to log()

After some checkings and other operations, it will go to PatternFormatter.format() method, and calls format() method from MessagePatternConverter class.

And if config is not null, and nolookups variables is set to false, it will continue and check if the string starts with ${.

Now, before we dive deeper, let’s figure where nolookups variable is from.

It’s a boolean value(duh), and it depends on Constants.FORMAT_MESSAGES_PATTERN_DISABLE_LOOKUPS and noLookupsIdx >= 0.

noLookupsIdx comes from loadNoLookups(options):

with NOLOOKUPS being a constant:

Since there is no option provided, loadNoLookups() will return -1, which makes noLookupsIdx >= 0 false.

Then the constant thing comes from properties value:

and as you probably see from some mitigations require the -Dlog4j2.formatMsgNoLookups=true JVM option to be set, or setting log4j2.formatMsgNoLookups=true in log4j2.component.properties file, that’s how it works.

And let’s continue to go down the road. In

workingBuilder.append(config.getStrSubstitutor().replace(event, value));

substitute() is called:

and…eventually resolveVariable() will be called.

this method resolves the variable, and do lookup call for the correspond event. As you can see, there is a jndi event.

and the lookup() method:

with strLookupMap containing values of:

and finally, the JndiLookup call.

And, that’s the entire data flow, from source, to sink.

More JNDI Injection

So, last time in my analysis of CVE-2021-21985 was my first encounter with JNDI injection. The most basic way to execute a remote lookup is by setting up a RMI registry, and a HTTP server to host the actual compiled malicious Java class.

In higher versions of Java, a property is set by default, so that Java will not load remote codebase. But some researchers discovered a new way to bypass such restriction.

When a refernece is looked up, it will be decoded, and getObjectReference will be called.

which then calls getObjectFactoryFromReference

and that, loads the class with a new instance.

Since a remote codebase will not be loaded, but can still be looked up. If a local reference factory is viable, it can still work.

In org.apache.naming.factory.BeanFactory#getObjectInstance, there is a way to use reflection to invoke methods.

from the reference with name forceString.

and eventually…

There is a lot more code I didn’t include, if you are interested, do the research on your own.

Here is the PoC code:

ResourceRef ref = new ResourceRef("javax.el.ELProcessor", null, "", "", true, "org.apache.naming.factory.BeanFactory", null);
ref.add(new StringRefAddr("forceString", "x=eval"));
ref.add(new StringRefAddr("x", "\"\".getClass().forName(\"javax.script.ScriptEngineManager\").newInstance().getEngineByName(\"JavaScript\").eval(\"new java.lang.ProcessBuilder['(java.lang.String[])'](['/bin/sh','-c','open /Applications/Calculator.app']).start()\")"));
ReferenceWrapper referenceWrapper = new ReferenceWrapper(ref);
registry.bind("calc", referenceWrapper);

And it calls the eval method in ELProcessor. One interesting thing about the payload is, it uses the JavaScript engine in Java. Oh boy, is that a pain to work with. With the script engine, you can do more that just a exec one liner. Since in the JS engine, there is no type, you need to assign types to variables, like

var Thread = Java.type('java.lang.Thread')
var classLoader = Thread.getCurrentThread().getContextClassLoader();

and hey, reflection also works. But providing parameters is a hell.


I wanted to write more, but I want to sleep RIGHT NOW so if there is more, probably will be saved for later. Hope you learned something new like I did, idk, idc. Oh yeah, and hope I didn’t spread false knowledge.

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