What Is Privilege Escalation in Cyber Security

Written by Web Hosting Expert

July 3, 2023
What Is Privilege Escalation in Cyber Security

Privilege escalation in cyber security involves exploiting system vulnerabilities to gain unauthorized access and higher levels of permissions. This allows attackers to take control, access sensitive data, and perform malicious actions. Organizations should implement access controls, monitor system activity, and regularly update software to to avoid the risk of privilege escalation.

The Importance of Cybersecurity in the Digital Age

In today's digital age, cybersecurity is crucial for protecting computer systems, networks, and data from cyber threats. While the internet has made communication and connectivity easier, it has also exposed us to risks like hacking, spoofing, ransomware attacks, and other malicious activities.

Protection of Personal Information: Cybersecurity protects sensitive personal information, preventing identity theft and privacy breaches

Safeguarding Business Assets: Cybersecurity secures valuable business assets, such as customer data and trade secrets, ensuring competitiveness and reputation protection.

Defense against Cyber Attacks: Effective cybersecurity measures detect and mitigate cyber attacks, thereby minimizing financial loss and service disruptions.

Protection of Critical Infrastructure: Cybersecurity ensures the uninterrupted functioning of essential services like power grids and healthcare facilities.

Maintaining National Security: Cybersecurity protects classified information and critical defense systems, ensuring national security.

Protection of Online Reputation: Cybersecurity mitigates the risks of data breaches and service disruptions, preserving the reputation of individuals and organizations.

Promotion of Digital Innovation: A robust cybersecurity fosters an environment conducive to digital innovation and technological advancements.

Preservation of Privacy: Cybersecurity measures uphold individuals' control over their data, preserving privacy in the digital realm.

Privilege Escalation and its Relevance in Cybersecurity

Privilege Escalation and its relevance in Cybersecurity

Privilege escalation occurs when an attacker exploits system vulnerabilities to gain higher-level permissions, allowing unauthorized access to sensitive data and the execution of malicious code. This threatens cybersecurity as attackers can expand their privileges, move laterally within the network, and potentially gain full control.

Mitigating privilege escalation attacks requires implementing strict access controls, limiting user privileges, monitoring system activity, keeping software up-to-date, educating users about phishing and social engineering risks, and using strong passwords to reduce the risk of unauthorized access and data theft.

Privileges And Access Control in Computing Systems

In computing systems, privileges are the levels of access granted to users, applications, or processes to access resources. Access control involves managing and enforcing these privileges to ensure authorized access and protect against unauthorized actions. Access control a critical role in maintaining the security and integrity of computing systems by allowing only the necessary access required for each user or process.

Different User Privileges in Computing Systems

Root Privileges: The highest level of access granted to system administrators, allowing complete control over the system.

Administrative Privileges: Elevated access for performing administrative tasks, granted to system administrators and trusted users.

User Privileges: Limited access to specific applications or data, granted to regular users for their work.

Managing user privileges is crucial for system security. The principle of least privilege should be followed, granting users only the minimum access needed to perform their tasks, reducing the risk of unauthorized access and data breaches. Additional privileges can also be assigned to specific applications or processes if needed.

Importance of Privilege Separation and Why it Matters

Privilege separation separates system functions into separate components, each with its own set of privileges and access controls. It is an essential security measure that helps to limit the damage that can be caused by a compromised component.

  • Simplifies system management.
  • Privilege separation enhances security
  • System management is simplified with privilege separation.
  • Privilege separation simplifies the design and implementation of complex systems
  • Easier management and maintenance
  • Reduces human error and improves system reliability
  • Privilege separation Implements the principle of least privilege
  • Reduces attack surface and limits damage from compromised components
  • Privilege separation reduces the impact of vulnerabilities and attacks

Types of Privilege Escalation Attacks

There are two main types of privilege escalation attacks that can occur in computing systems:

Vertical Privilege

Vertical privilege escalation is a type of attack where an attacker with low-level privileges on a system attempts to gain higher-level privileges by exploiting system vulnerabilities or misconfigurations. This enables them to access restricted data and resources.

Horizontal Privilege Escalation

Horizontal privilege escalation, on the other hand, is a type of attack where an attacker with a certain level of access attempts to access unauthorized data or resources within the same privilege level. They exploit system or application vulnerabilities to bypass access controls. This type of attack is also known as privilege escalation within the same level.

Preventing privilege escalation attacks requires strict access control measures in place, such as limiting user privileges to the minimum, regularly patching software, and monitoring system logs for suspicious activity. Additionally, implementing defense-in-depth strategies such as multi-factor authentication and intrusion detection systems can help to detect and mitigate potential attacks.

How Privilege Escalation Occurs

Privilege escalation occurs when an attacker gains access to a system with lower-level privileges and then elevates those privileges to gain higher-level permissions or access to restricted resources. Here are some common ways privilege escalation can occur:

Exploiting Software Vulnerabilities: Attackers exploit code vulnerabilities like buffer overflow or SQL injection to gain higher privileges. Flaws in software development allow execution of arbitrary code or modification of system files with escalated privileges.

Exploiting Misconfigured Systems: Misconfigurations in systems or applications create opportunities for privilege escalation. Excessive privileges or incorrect settings enable attackers to escalate their privileges.

Weak Passwords or Authentication Mechanisms: Attackers exploit weak passwords or authentication mechanisms to gain elevated privileges. For example, an attacker may guess or steal a user's password to gain access to a system with higher-level privileges.

Social Engineering: Phishing or physical access can be used for privilege escalation. Deceptive emails or malware installation through social engineering techniques lead to escalated privileges.

Misconfigured Access Control: Poorly configured access control settings enable attackers to access sensitive resources with higher privileges. Poorly protected files or directories allow unauthorized modification or deletion.

The Impact of Privilege Escalation Attacks on System Security

Privilege escalation attacks can have a significant impact on system security, compromising the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data and resources. Here are some examples of the impact of privilege escalation attacks on system security:

Unauthorized Access: Privilege escalation attacks can allow an attacker to gain unauthorized access to data and resources that were previously restricted. This can lead to the theft of sensitive information, such as personal data, financial information, or trade secrets.

Data Tampering: With elevated privileges, attackers can modify or delete data, causing damage to the integrity of the system. This can lead to errors or mistakes in data analysis, and even cause significant financial losses.

Service Disruption: An attacker with elevated privileges can disrupt the normal operation of a system, leading to service disruptions or downtime. This can result in lost productivity, lost revenue, and damage to the reputation of the organization.

Malware Infection: Privilege escalation attacks can also be used to install malware or other malicious code on the system, allowing attackers to take control of the system or use it for other malicious activities.

Compliance Violations: Depending on the type of system being attacked, privilege escalation attacks can result in compliance violations, leading to fines, legal actions, or other penalties.

Common Techniques Used to Gain Higher Privileges

Here are some common techniques used by attackers to gain higher privileges:

Exploiting Software Vulnerabilities: Attackers can exploit software vulnerabilities, such as buffer overflow or injection flaws, to execute arbitrary code with higher privileges.

Exploiting insecure configuration settings: Attackers can exploit insecure configuration settings, such as misconfigured firewalls or access control lists, to gain unauthorized access and escalate privileges.

Privilege Escalation via Misconfigured Access Control: Attackers can exploit misconfigured access control settings, such as insecure files or directory permissions, to access sensitive files or directories with higher privileges.

Privilege Escalation via Weak Passwords: Attackers can use password guessing or cracking techniques to gain access to an account with higher privileges or gain access to a system or application with higher privileges.

Privilege Escalation via Social Engineering: Attackers can use social engineering techniques, such as phishing or pretexting, to trick users into revealing their credentials or granting access to a system with higher privileges.

Privilege Escalation via Exploiting Misconfigured System Settings: Attackers can exploit misconfigured system settings or applications to gain higher privileges. For example, if a service or application is running with excessive privileges or with misconfigured settings, an attacker can take advantage of this to escalate their privileges on the system.

Backdoor Entry: Attackers can create backdoors or install malware on a system to gain higher-level access to sensitive data or applications.

Examples of Common Vulnerabilities That can be Exploited for Privilege Escalation

Here are some examples of common vulnerabilities that can be exploited for privilege escalation:

Buffer overflow vulnerabilities: These occur when an application writes more data to a buffer than it can hold, causing the excess data to overwrite adjacent memory locations. Attackers can exploit this vulnerability to execute arbitrary code with higher privileges.

SQL injection vulnerabilities: These occur when user input is not properly sanitized and validated, allowing attackers to inject malicious SQL statements into the application's database. Attackers can exploit this vulnerability to execute arbitrary SQL statements with higher privileges.

Insecure file or directory permissions: These occur when files or directories are not properly protected, allowing attackers to access sensitive data with higher privileges.

Misconfigured user or service accounts: These occur when user or service accounts are misconfigured or are granted excessive privileges. Attackers can exploit these vulnerabilities to gain higher-level access to the system or application.

Weak passwords: These occur when users select easy-to-guess passwords or use the same password across multiple accounts. Attackers can exploit weak passwords to gain access to a system or application with higher privileges.

Misconfigured or vulnerable services: These occur when network services are not properly configured or contain vulnerabilities that can be exploited by attackers to gain higher-level access to the system or application.

Role of social engineering in privilege escalation

Social engineering can play a significant role in privilege escalation attacks. Social engineering is the use of psychological manipulation to trick people into revealing sensitive information or granting access to systems or resources that they should not have access to. Here are some ways that social engineering can be used for privilege escalation:

Phishing: Phishing attacks involve sending fraudulent emails or messages that appear to be from a legitimate source, such as a bank or a trusted service provider. The messages may contain links to fake websites that look like the real thing but are designed to steal login credentials or other sensitive information. Once an attacker has obtained valid credentials, they can use them to escalate privileges and gain access to sensitive data or systems.

Pretexting: Pretexting is the creation of a false pretext or scenario to trick a person into revealing sensitive information or granting access to resources. For example, an attacker may pose as a technical support representative and ask for login credentials or other sensitive information in order to resolve what appears to be a user account issue.

Baiting: Leaving a tempting bait, such as a USB drive labelled with an intriguing title, in a public place. If someone picks up the bait and plugs it into their computer, the drive may contain malware or other malicious software that can be used to escalate privileges and gain access to sensitive data or systems.

Tailgating: Tailgating involves following an authorized person into a restricted area or building. Once inside, an attacker can use social engineering techniques to convince employees to grant them access to sensitive data or systems.

Various Techniques Used by Attackers to Gain Higher Privileges

Attackers use various techniques to gain higher privileges, some of which are:

Enumeration: Enumeration is the process of gathering information about a system or network to identify potential vulnerabilities or weaknesses. Attackers may use tools like Nmap or Netcat to scan for open ports, services, and operating system information. This information can then be used to plan and launch further attacks.

Brute force attacks: Brute force attacks involve trying a large number of password or username combinations to guess credentials and gain access to systems or applications. Attackers can use automated tools to carry out these attacks, often targeting weak or default passwords.

Injection attacks: Injection attacks involve injecting malicious code or commands into a system or application by exploiting vulnerabilities in input fields, such as web forms or search bars. Common types of injection attacks include SQL injection and cross-site scripting (XSS) attacks.

Man-in-the-middle attacks: In a man-in-the-middle (MitM) attack, an attacker intercepts communication between two parties, allowing them to eavesdrop, modify, or redirect traffic. MitM attacks can be used to steal login credentials, session cookies, or other sensitive information.

Remote code execution: Remote code execution (RCE) attacks execute arbitrary code on a remote system by exploiting vulnerabilities in software or applications. Once an attacker gains access to a system via RCE, they can often escalate privileges to gain higher levels of access.

Real-life Examples of Privilege Escalation Attacks

Target data breach: In 2013, attackers gained access to Target's point-of-sale (POS) systems using stolen credentials from a third-party vendor. The attackers were able to escalate their privileges and gain access to Target's corporate network, where they stole the credit card information of over 40 million customers.

Equifax data breach: In 2017, Equifax suffered a data breach that exposed the personal information of 147 million customers. Attackers were able to exploit a vulnerability in Apache Struts, a web application framework, to gain access to Equifax's systems and escalate their privileges to gain access to sensitive data.

Marriott data breach: In 2018, Marriott announced a data breach that exposed the personal information of over 500 million customers. The attackers gained access to Marriott's systems through the compromise of a third-party vendor's credentials and were able to escalate their privileges to access and exfiltrate sensitive data.

Sony Pictures hack: In 2014, attackers gained access to Sony Pictures' systems and stole confidential data, including unreleased movies and sensitive employee information. The attackers were able to escalate their privileges by exploiting vulnerabilities in Sony's Active Directory and other systems.

Impact of These Attacks on Businesses And Organizations

The impact of privilege escalation attacks on businesses and organizations can be significant and wide-ranging. Here are some of the potential consequences:

Financial losses: Financial losses are a significant consequence of privilege escalation attacks, stemming from the theft of sensitive data, disruption of business operations, and potential legal fees and fines. On a global scale, the average cost of a data breach amounts to around $4.35 million.

Reputational damage: A data breach can damage the reputation of a business or organization, leading to a loss of trust from customers, partners, and stakeholders.

Loss of intellectual property: In some cases, privilege escalation attacks can lead to the theft of intellectual property, including trade secrets, research and development data, and other proprietary information.

Operational disruption: Privilege escalation attacks can disrupt business operations, leading to downtime, lost productivity, and potentially affecting the ability of the organization to provide services or products to customers.

Legal and regulatory consequences: Depending on the nature of the data breach and the type of information that was stolen, organizations may face legal and regulatory consequences, including fines and penalties for non-compliance with data protection regulations.

The impact of a privilege escalation attack can be significant and it is important that organizations take proactive measures to prevent this type of attack.

Detecting and Preventing Privilege Escalation Attacks

Detecting and Preventing Privilege Escalation Attacks

Detecting and preventing privilege escalation attacks requires a multi-layered approach that includes technical measures, policies and procedures, and user awareness and education. By taking a proactive approach to security, organizations can reduce the risk of privilege escalation attacks and protect their systems from potential harm. Here are some measures that can be taken to prevent and detect these attacks:

Strong access control measures: Implementing strong access control measures, such as limiting the number of users with administrative privileges, and using strong authentication methods, can help prevent attackers from gaining unauthorized access to systems.

Regularly updating and patching software and applications: Keeping software and applications up to date with the latest security patches can help prevent attackers from exploiting known vulnerabilities to escalate their privileges.

Monitoring and logging: Regular monitoring and logging of system activities can help detect potential privilege escalation attacks, allowing for quick response and remediation.

Least privilege principle: Implementing the least privilege principle, which involves giving users only the privileges necessary to perform their job functions, can help reduce the impact of a privilege escalation attack by limiting the number of privileged accounts that an attacker can exploit.

Penetration testing: Regular penetration testing can help identify vulnerabilities in computing systems and allow for remediation before an attacker can exploit them.

Security awareness training: Providing security awareness training to employees can help prevent social engineering attacks and other forms of human error that can lead to privilege escalation.

Tools And Techniques for Detecting Privilege Escalation Attacks

There are several tools and techniques that can be used to detect privilege escalation attacks. Here are a few examples:

Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) tools: SIEM tools can monitor system logs and detect suspicious activity, such as failed login attempts, privilege escalation attempts, and changes to user permissions.

Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS): IDS tools can be used to detect potential privilege escalation attacks by monitoring network traffic for suspicious activity and alerting security teams when an attack is detected.

Vulnerability scanners: Vulnerability scanners can be used to identify potential vulnerabilities in software and applications that could be exploited for privilege escalation attacks.

File integrity monitoring (FIM) tools: FIM tools can be used to monitor changes to critical system files and detect unauthorized modifications that could indicate attempted privilege escalation.

Privileged Access Management (PAM) tools: PAM tools can be used to monitor and control access to privileged accounts, reducing the risk of an attacker being able to exploit these accounts for privilege escalation.

In addition to using these tools, organizations can also implement policies and procedures to help detect and prevent privilege escalation attacks, such as regular access reviews, segregation of duties, and the implementation of the least privilege principle.

Importance of Keeping Software Up-to-date and Applying Security Patches

Regular software updates and security patches are essential for system and network security, an integral part of any organization's cybersecurity strategy, and reduce the risk of data breaches, system downtime, and security incidents. Here are some reasons why it is important:

Patching vulnerabilities: Applying security patches promptly fixes vulnerabilities that attackers can exploit to gain unauthorized access or cause damage.

Staying ahead of new threats: Regular updates and patches protect you from evolving cyber threats and the latest attack techniques.

Meeting compliance requirements: Compliance standards often require software updates and patches to avoid violations and potential penalties.

Maintaining system stability: Updates and patches address performance issues and bugs, ensuring stable and reliable systems.

Reducing the attack surface: Updated software makes it harder for attackers to target known vulnerabilities, reducing the overall risk and attack surface.



with the discount code


Save Now


Privilege escalation attacks pose a significant security threat to systems and networks, potentially leading to data breaches and financial losses. To prevent these attacks, organizations should implement comprehensive security measures including providing security awareness training and performing security audits and testing.

Following these best practices helps reduce the risk of privilege escalation attacks and protect your systems and data. Staying informed about evolving threats, evaluating security measures, and understanding privilege escalation are crucial for a robust cybersecurity strategy that minimizes breaches, financial losses, and security incidents.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is 7 zip privilege escalation vulnerability?

The 7-Zip privilege escalation vulnerability refers to a security flaw in the popular 7-Zip file archiver utility. An attacker could exploit this vulnerability to elevate privileges on an affected system. This vulnerability is particularly due to the way 7-Zip handles symbolic links when extracting archives. An attacker could create a specially crafted archive that contains symbolic links pointing to a system file, and then trick a victim to extract the archive. If the victim has elevated privileges, such as running the application as an administrator, the attacker could use the symbolic link to overwrite the targeted system file, potentially allowing them to gain elevated privileges on the system. This vulnerability was identified and reported in 2018 and was fixed in 7-Zip version 18.05. It is important to always keep software up to date and apply security patches to prevent such vulnerabilities from being exploited.

What is an example of privileged command?

An example of a privileged command is "sudo" (which stands for "superuser do"), a command that allows a user with administrative or root privileges to execute a command or perform a task as if they were the root user. This command is often used to perform system-level tasks that require elevated privileges, such as installing software or modifying system configurations.

What are privileged roles in Active Directory?

In Active Directory, privileged roles refer to the security principals (such as users or groups) that have special permissions and access to perform critical tasks within the domain. These roles are also known as privileged groups.

Which command is used for privilege escalation?

There is no specific command that is used for privilege escalation. Privilege escalation occurs when an attacker gains higher privileges than they should. This can be achieved through various techniques such as exploiting vulnerabilities or social engineering. Once an attacker gains elevated privileges, they may be able to execute privileged commands that were previously restricted to them.

Jivo Live Chat