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Date: Tue, 24 Apr 2018 13:11:09 +0200
From: Matthias Gerstner <>
Subject: ktexteditor / Kate local privilege escalation

Hello list,

following is a report about a local privilege escalation I found in
ktexteditor. I just informed upstream about it and will obtain a CVE

ktexteditor ( provides
a text editor component for KDE applications. It is, for example, used
in the "kate" text editor program.

One of ktexteditor's features is support to write files owned by root or
other users after entering the root password via polkit authentication.
The authentication part is handled via the "kauth" framework. The actual
work of saving files on behalf of the authenticated user is performed by
a small program named "kauth_ktexteditor_helper". The related code is
found in the upstream repository in the following source files:


The logic for saving the file goes roughly as follows:

- the caller provides source and target file paths, a sha512 digest of
  the source file content and (optionally) the target file owner and
  group IDs.
- the helper tries to open a temporary file in the directory containing
  the target file, reads chunk from the source file and writes them to
  the target file, recalculating the sha512 digest on the way.
- in the end, if the digest matches, the temporary file will be
  rename()'d for replacing the target file path with the new file

For temporary file handling the qt5 core library facilities are employed
and the following source code lines are the important ones:

    // We will first generate temporary filename and then use it relatively to prevent an attacker
    // to trick us to write contents to a different file by changing underlying directory.
    QTemporaryFile tempFile(targetFileName);
    if (! {
        return false;
    QString tempFileName = QFileInfo(tempFile).fileName();
    if (! || ! {
        return false;

This code results in the following system call sequence:

    openat(AT_FDCWD, "/etc", O_RDWR|O_CLOEXEC|O_TMPFILE, 0600) = 11
    lseek(11, 0, SEEK_SET)      = 0
    linkat(AT_FDCWD, "/proc/self/fd/11", AT_FDCWD, "/etc/fstab.hdRIFU",
    close(11) = 0
    openat(AT_FDCWD, "fstab.hdRIFU", O_RDWR|O_CREAT|O_CLOEXEC, 0666) = 12

So while the code author(s) have been seemingly aware that temporary
file handling needs to be done carefully they somehow still broke it in
the end which we can see from the system calls. The initially unnamed
temporary file is linked, the associated file descriptor closed and the
now named temporary file is reopened with the `O_CREAT` flag. On file
systems that don't support O_TMPFILE the vulnerability is also existing,
the code will fall back to named files right away.

As it turns out this situation can be exploited in scenarios like the

A user running "kate" wants to edit and save a file in a directory that
is owned by another unprivileged user. Such directories exist for
various software e.g. in /var/lib or in /etc. The user enters root
credentials to perform the privileged save operation.

The other unprivileged user can now perform a symlink attack on the
temporary file being opened by the "kauth_ktexteditor_helper" and
achieve various effects:

- creation of new files in arbitrary file system locations.
- corruption of arbitrary existing files (because the helper will write
  the source file content into the symlinked file).
- taking ownership of arbitrary files (because the helper will perform
  an fchown() call on the symlinked file), thereby facilitating local
  root privilege escalation.

The attached proof of concept code succeeds in gaining ownership of
/etc/shadow in the described situation. Exploiting the race condition
does not work very reliably, because the window of opportunity is very
small. Some more advanced exploit code might improve the chances.

The API of the QTemporaryFile class has some non-obvious semantics. The
close() method does not really close the underlying file descriptor. The
setFileName() function, however, does. I am not clear what the original
intentions of the code above being this way might have been. As far as I
can tell the attached patch fixes the race condition detailed in this
report without breaking anything.

The vulnerable code is already found in upstream commit
f7a9573d973e6ef0cd6f2c419290c0c7e46381b7 and therefore ktexteditor
starting from version 5.34.0 can be considered vulnerable.



Matthias Gerstner <>
Dipl.-Wirtsch.-Inf. (FH), Security Engineer
Telefon: +49 911 740 53 290
GPG Key ID: 0x14C405C971923553

SUSE Linux GmbH
GF: Felix Imendörffer, Jane Smithard, Graham Norton
HRB 21284 (AG Nuernberg)

View attachment "ktexteditor_tmpfile_fix.patch" of type "text/x-patch" (960 bytes)

View attachment "kattack.cpp" of type "text/x-c" (9065 bytes)

Download attachment "signature.asc" of type "application/pgp-signature" (820 bytes)

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