FileZilla Untrusted Search Path

Targeting the user with a rogue binary


I found a vulnerability in FileZilla 3.40.0 that could allow a remote attacker to execute arbitrary code. FileZilla depends on a specific executable to handle its SFTP operations, but it will happily load the binary from several locations. By tricking a victim user into downloading a rogue binary, the attacker is able to leverage this bug to execute code in the context of the current user.

Calculator popped

Before I talk about the attack scenario, I’ll discuss how I found the vulnerability.

Discovery Process

I found this bug while performing some basic dynamic analysis. During a system call trace (‘strace’), the following calls were observed (current user name is ‘osboxes’):

10327 getcwd("/home/osboxes", 1024) = 14
10327 stat("/home/osboxes/fzsftp", 0x7ffd184b2cd0) = -1 ENOENT (No such file or directory)
10327 stat("/home/osboxes/bin/fzsftp", 0x7ffd184b2cd0) = -1 ENOENT (No such file or directory)
10327 stat("/home/osboxes/src/putty/fzsftp", 0x7ffd184b2cd0) = -1 ENOENT (No such file or directory)
10327 stat("/home/osboxes/putty/fzsftp", 0x7ffd184b2cd0) = -1 ENOENT (No such file or directory)
10327 stat("/usr/bin/fzsftp", {st_mode=S_IFREG|0755, st_size=568928, …}) = 0

FileZilla is searching for the “fzsftp” binary. Notice the home directory is searched before /usr/bin/. But what is fzsftp needed for?

A search for fzsftp in the code base led me to src/engine/sftp/connect.cpp:

int CSftpConnectOpData::Send()
switch (opState)
case connect_init:
auto executable = fz::to_native(engine_.GetOptions().GetOption(OPTION_FZSFTP_EXECUTABLE));
if (executable.empty()) {
executable = fzT("fzsftp");
LogMessage(MessageType::Debug_Verbose, L"Going to execute %s", executable);
         // snip
         if (!controlSocket_.process_->spawn(executable, args)) {
LogMessage(MessageType::Debug_Warning, L"Could not create process");
// snip

Based on the CSftpConnectOpData::Send() function (note the “sftp”), the “fzsftp” executable will be passed to a spawn() function. This function is defined in libfilezilla/lib/process.cpp. The gist is that the spawn function creates a new process. In the case of Linux, there is a call to fork(), and shortly after there is a call to execv(), thereby launching fzsftp.

execv(cmd.c_str(), argV.get()); // noreturn on success

These pieces of information tell us two important things. First, the FileZilla application checks in multiple locations to find the fzsftp binary. The first place it looks is in the current user’s home directory. Secondly, the fzsftp binary will be executed when an SFTP connection is initiated. As a side note: fzsftp is a custom version of Putty’s “psftp” — used to perform SFTP operations.

Let’s take a look at how to exploit this vulnerability.


In order to exploit this bug, an attacker would have to drop a malicious binary named “fzsftp” into any of the directories shown in the strace output. But how can the attacker accomplish this?

I mentioned earlier that user interaction is required. However, FileZilla makes the attacker’s life simple. When FileZilla loads, the default “local site” is the user’s home directory. This is where downloads will be stored.

Local site is user’s home directory

With this in mind, an attacker needs to simply convince the FileZilla user to download a crafted fzsftp binary from his or her server. After FileZilla is restarted, any new SFTP connection will launch the rogue binary. Below is a video showing what exploitation looks like.

In this case, I popped a calculator. Creating the payload was pretty simple. Add an include and a call to execl() in src/putty/psftp.c, and recompile (it will be built as “fzsftp”). As long as the call is beneath the first call to fzprintf() in psftp_main(), everything will work.

fzprintf(sftpReply, "fzSftp started, protocol_version=%d", FZSFTP_PROTOCOL_VERSION);
execl("/snap/bin/gnome-calculator", "gnome-calculator", "-e", "Tenable", (char *) NULL);


As you can see, an untrusted path vulnerability can give an attacker a simple attack vector. They don’t need any complicated shell code or payload delivery mechanisms. With a small amount of social engineering, they can easily exploit this bug.

Patch details can be found at revision 9112 of the FileZilla SVN repository. This case represents positive strides in making open source software more secure. FileZilla is one of many open source projects to join the EU-funded bug bounty program. Thanks to the EU and HackerOne for making the disclosure process quick and painless.