Exploring Java deserialization in GitHub

22 May 2016

Java deserialization vulnerabilities are easy to exploit thanks to the ysoserial project. Stephen Breen demonstrated Java serialization is used by most application servers and showcased exploits for each one. But how often is serialization used in popular Java projects?

Searching GitHub

I developed a script to search and sort the most popular repositories on GitHub for a language. Searching the 200 most popular Java repositories for uses of new ObjectInputStream showed:

GitHub top 200 chart

16 percent of Java repositories explicitly create and use an ObjectInputStream. Using an ObjectInputStream doesn’t mean the program is vulnerable - a vulnerability exists when the ObjectInputStream processes data from an untrusted source and the class path contains a “gadget chain”.

The majority of the above projects, especially Android projects, use serialization to persist an object to disk and restore it later. If an attacker can modify files then this bug is unlikely to elevate their privileges. But there is a few projects that accept data remotely and deserialize it! Lets explore attempting to exploit one of them.

Note: The real percentage of Java projects using serialization is likely much higher because popular frameworks internally use serialization.

Serialization in Gradle

When writing this blog post Gradle was the 101st most popular Java project on GitHub with more than 3500 stars. This project is an extremely popular build system for Java and is the standard build system for Android.

Gradle deserializes data in the ObjectSocketWrapper class. This class is used in the jetty subproject here and the ui subproject here and here. Both of these plugins open a socket and wait for a client to connect and send serialized data.

The ui subproject is easy to work with, it can be launched by executing ./gradlew –gui.

$ ./gradlew --gui &
[1] 62481
$ lsof -i
... snip ...
java      59699 pokeefe  182u  IPv6 0xb34e0a81bf8fe953      0t0  TCP *:60024 (LISTEN)
... snip ...

An ephemeral port opened and is listening for connections on all interfaces.

Confirming the vulnerability

To confirm the vulnerability lets send a serialized object and confirm the program attempted to deserialized it. I built the project in Intellij Idea and attached breakpoints on the socket accept and readObject method. Sending an arbitrary payload from ysoserial to the socket:

$ lsof -i
... snip ...
java      60042 pokeefe   85u  IPv6 0xb34e0a81a122b933      0t0  TCP *:61973 (LISTEN)
... snip ...
$ java -jar ysoserial-0.0.5-SNAPSHOT-all.jar CommonsBeanutils1 "" > /tmp/payloads/commonsbeanutils1
$ cat /tmp/payloads/commonsbeanutils1 | nc 61973

Stepping through the readObject method confirms the program attempted to deserialize the CommonsBeanutils1 payload

Intellij Debugging

At this point we can consider the ui subproject and jetty subproject vulnerable. Successful exploitation depends on finding a gadget chain in the projects classpath.


Each projects dependencies can be listed using the gradle task dependencies and executing ysoserial with no arguments lists the known gadget chains. Cross checking these two lists:

Library Vulnerable version ui-subproject version Exploitable
BeanShell1 org.beanshell:bsh:2.0b5 n/a N
C3P0 com.mchange:c3p0:, com.mchange:mchange-commons-java:0.2.11 n/a N
CommonsBeanutils1 commons-beanutils:commons-beanutils:1.9.2, commons-collections:commons-collections:3.1, commons-logging:commons-logging:1.2 n/a N
CommonsCollections1 commons-collections:commons-collections:3.1 Commons collections 3.2.2 N
CommonsCollections2 org.apache.commons:commons-collections4:4.0 Commons collections 3.2.2 N
CommonsCollections3 commons-collections:commons-collections:3.1 Commons collections 3.2.2 N
CommonsCollections4 org.apache.commons:commons-collections4:4.0 Commons collections 3.2.2 N
CommonsCollections5 commons-collections:commons-collections:3.1 Commons collections 3.2.2 N
FileUpload1 commons-fileupload:commons-fileupload:1.3.1, commons-io:commons-io:2.4 n/a N
Groovy1 org.codehaus.groovy:groovy:2.3.9 groovy 2.4.4 N
Jdk7u21 Jdk7u21   ?
Jython1 org.python:jython-standalone:2.5.2 n/a N
Spring1 org.springframework:spring-core:4.1.4.RELEASE, org.springframework:spring-beans:4.1.4.RELEASE n/a N
Spring2 org.springframework:spring-core:4.1.4.RELEASE, org.springframework:spring-aop:4.1.4.RELEASE, aopalliance:aopalliance:1.0, commons-logging:commons-logging:1.2 n/a N

The projects dependencies are all non-vulnerable versions. Downloading Gradle 2.12 and checking the library versions again shows commons-collections 3.2.1. The commons-collections5 payload in ysoserial successful executes an arbitary commands.

Looking through the Gradle release notes this vulnerability was not mentioned, I suspect the developers were unaware of it and were just upgrading their libraries. I’ve requested CVE-2016-6199 to track this vulnerability.

Concluding thoughts

If you are running Gradle 2.12 or earlier you should upgrade! While this post details exploiting the UI subproject, the Jetty subproject is similarly vulnerable.

There is some interesting Android projects using serialization, but I am not too familiar with the Android platform. If anyone is interested in exploring these further feel free to contact me. It might also be interesting to identify and search for framework APIs that wrap serialization.