Advanced Unix Text Editors offers extensibility by allowing users to install third-party plugins for ease of use and to enhance the Text Editors functionalities.

Server administrators often run text editors with elevated privileges “sudo gedit” to edit root-owned configuration files. If the text editor contains vulnerable third-party plugin it enlarges attack surface.

A vulnerable third-party text editor plugin could be abused by attackers to escalate the privileges of your system/server.

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According to recent safebreach research, “they found the inadequate separation of regular and elevated modes. Folder permissions integrity is not maintained and that opens the door for an attacker with regular user permissions to get the elevated execution of arbitrary code and to gain privilege escalation on the machine“.

Researchers tested the attacks the well known highly-ranked text editors Sublime, Vim, Emacs, Gedit, pico/nano. They have published a research paper with examples.

Here is the scenario “Imagine that an attacker can run the arbitrary code as a sudoer but not elevated, all he needs is to write the malicious plugin in user folder that uses the text editor and wait for the execution of plugin in elevated status”.

The vulnerability has been notified by researchers to vendors and it still remain’s unpatched. Researchers suggested monitoring modifications to the key files and folders presented by adding OSSEC rules.

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Below is the list of mitigations suggested – Unix Text Editors

  • Implement OSEC monitoring rules.
  • Deny write permissions for non-elevated users.
  • Change folders and file permission models to ensure separation between regular and elevated modes.
  • Prevent loading of 3rd party plugins when an editor is elevated.
  • Provide a manual interface to approve the elevated loading of plugins.


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