How Does Privilege Escalation Work?

Privilege Escalation − What Is It?

WordPress offers a function that lets an administrator grant access to other users to edit the website. However, you might not want to offer each user total freedom to make any changes they like. User roles play a role in this.

Subscribers, contributors, authors, editors, admins, and super admins are just a few of the six user roles that are available. In this case, subscribers have the fewest rights while super admins have complete control over everything on the website.

For the sake of network security, it's desirable to adopt these specific user roles rather than giving every user administrator rights.

If a hacker, for instance, gained access to an author's account without authorization, they would only be able to edit, publish, and remove their own writings. They are unable to alter anything else.

However, a hacker can use a privilege escalation vulnerability to bypass these restrictions if it exists. They then begin evading user account control. They can now access features that are supposed to be available only to local administrators after just having author rights previously.

If this occurs, you never know what information the hackers might take or what nefarious deeds they might commit in your name!

Types of Privilege Escalation

Vertical and horizontal privilege escalation are the two categories into which privilege escalation may be divided. In vertical privilege escalation, the attacker attempts to take control of a higher-level account. However, with Horizontal Privilege Escalation (HPE), the hacker first takes control of an account before attempting to acquire access to system-level privileges. Both kinds of activities are accomplished by exploiting current operating system flaws.

Why Is It Important to Prevent Privilege Escalation Attacks?

Privilege escalation serves as a tool for attackers. It enables them to enter a system, maintain and expand their access, and engage in increasingly harmful activities. As an illustration, privilege escalation can turn a minor malware infection into a serious data breach.

Attackers can introduce new attack methods on a target system by escalating their privileges. For illustration, it might entail

  • Gaining access to connected systems elsewhere

  • Additional malware payloads being released on a target machine

  • Modifying the privileges or security settings

  • Gaining access to software or data on a system with more rights than the compromised account originally allowed

  • Obtaining root access to a target system or an entire network is possible in some circumstances

Investigating thoroughly is crucial when security teams suspect privilege escalation. Malware on sensitive systems, shady logins, and strange network communications are all indications of privilege escalation.

Depending on the organization's compliance requirements, each privilege escalation incident must be handled as a severe security incident and may need to be reported to the authorities.

How Does Privilege Escalation Work?

One form of hack that takes place in a number of other hacking operations is privilege escalation. We'll use an example to demonstrate how a privilege escalation attack operates.

Step 1 − Hack into any WordPress website user account

Consider that you manage a website with 10 members. Others are privileged users with admin capabilities who have enhanced access and can manage the entire website, while some are contributors and authors who can publish content.

Let's say that a contributor account is utilizing the flimsy password "password123." Hackers can easily deduce this. The hacker tries a variety of passwords to log into the account using a different kind of hacking technique known as a brute force assault (They can quickly test hundreds of passwords.) The hacker is successful since the password is so simple, and he or she now has contributor access.

A contributor, however, has limited rights. They are only able to create and edit their own posts; they are unable to publish them. This limits what the hacker may do with the account. Since having admin access would grant them total power over the website, they would want to elevate their credentials.

Step 2 − Upgrade Privileges by Disregarding Restrictions

There are plugins and themes installed on every WordPress website. Themes and plugins make the website stand out by enhancing the look and feel as well as the functionality.

Security issues occasionally find their way into plugins and themes. This indicates that there is a flaw in the software's coding that hackers can take advantage of. Therefore, if you have the plugin or theme installed on your website and it has a weakness, hackers may take advantage of it.

A hacker may be able to increase the account's privileges thanks to one of these vulnerabilities.

So, returning to our scenario, the hacker has already acquired access to a contributor account. They can then override the set permissions or grant this account extra rights by taking advantage of a flaw in a plugin.

Step 3 − Execute the Attack

Privilege escalation is used to get ready for larger or more targeted attacks. The hacker might start pursuing their true objective once they have access to an admin account or the data they need. Some of the typical criminal behaviors these miscreants engage in include −

  • Stealing confidential and sensitive data from your company.

  • Stealing data and information from customers or clients, which they can then sell for money or use to carry out other hacks.

  • Stealing more login information from legitimate accounts on your website.

  • Deleting content and data from your website.

  • Altering your website to include their own advertising or propaganda.

  • Sending unsolicited emails and messages to your consumers.

  • Displaying advertising and spam on your website.

  • Using malware to sell illegal goods or drugs on your website.

  • Using malware to trick people into downloading it from your website.

  • Sending users to other websites, such as pornographic or spam sites, via your website.

  • Launching larger (DDoS) attacks from your website to knock down well-known websites.