File Globbing Vulnerabilities in Various FTP Servers

Original release date: April 10, 2001
Last revised: May 09, 2001
Source: CERT/CC

A complete revision history can be found at the end of this file.

Systems Affected

FTP servers on various platforms


A variety of FTP servers incorrectly manage buffers in a way that can lead to remote intruders executing arbitrary code on the FTP server. The incorrect management of buffers is centered around the return from the glob() function, and may be confused with a related denial-of-service problem. These problems were discovered by the COVERT Labs at PGP Security.

I. Description

Filename "globbing" is the process of expanding short-hand notation into complete file names. For example, the expression "*.c" (without the quotes) is short-hand notation for "all files ending in ".c" (again, without the quotes). This is commonly used in UNIX shells, in commands such as ls *.c. Globbing also often includes the expansion of certain characters into system-specific paths, such as the expansion of tilde character (~) into the path of the home directory of the user specified to the right of the tilde character. For example, "~foo" expands to the home directory for the user "foo" on the current system. The expressions used in filename globbing are not strictly regular expressions, but they are syntactically similar in many ways.

Many FTP servers also implement globbing, so that the command mget *.c means retrieve all the files ending in ".c," and get ~foo/ means get the file named "" in the home directory of foo.

The COVERT Labs at PGP Security have discovered a means to use the expansion done by the glob function to overflow various buffers in FTP servers, allowing an intruder to execute arbitrary code. For more details about their discovery, see

Quoting from that document:

[...] when an FTP daemon receives a request involving a file that has a tilde as its first character, it typically runs the entire filename string through globbing code in order to resolve the specified home directory into a full path. This has the side effect of expanding other metacharacters in the pathname string, which can lead to very large input strings being passed into the main command processing routines. This can lead to exploitable buffer overflow conditions, depending upon how these routines manipulate their input.

For the latest information regarding this vulnerability, including information related to vendors' exposure to this problem, consult the vulnerability note describing this problem, available at

II. Impact

Intruders can execute arbitrary code with the permissions of the process running the FTP server.

III. Solution

Apply a patch or workaround from your vendor, as described in Appendix A.

Appendix A. - Vendor Information

This appendix contains information provided by vendors for this advisory. When vendors report new information to the CERT/CC, we update this section and note the changes in our revision history. If a particular vendor is not listed below, we have not received their comments.


Mac OS X 10.0.2 and later include a fix for File Globbing vulnerability.

Compaq Computer Corporation


x-ref: J Compaq case id - SSRT1-83

At the time of writing this document, Compaq is currently investigating the potential impact to Compaq's ftp service.

Initial tests indicate Compaq's ftp service is not vulnerable.

As further information becomes available Compaq will provide notice of the completion/availibility of any necessary patches through AES services (DIA,DSNlink FLASH and posted to the Services WEB page) and be available from your normal Compaq Services Support channel.


FreeBSD, Inc.

FreeBSD is vulnerable to the glob-related bugs. We have corrected these bugs in FreeBSD 5.0-CURRENT and FreeBSD 4.2-STABLE, and they will not be present in FreeBSD 4.3-RELEASE.


[...] we have determined that the versions of UXP/V shown below are vulnerable. JPatches are being prepared and will be assigned the patch numbers also shown below:

OS Version,PTF level patch ID
-------------------- --------
UXP/V V20L10 X01021  UX28161
UXP/V V20L10 X00091  UX28160
UXP/V V10L20 X01041  UX15527

Hewlett-Packard Company

As originally stated in the NAI Covert labs Advisory, HP is vulnerable. We will be releasing four patches, one each for Pre 10.20, 10.20 , 11.00 and 11.11. Watch for the associated HP security Bulletin announcing the patches when coding and testing is successfully completed.

IBM Corporation

[...] we have not found the described vulnerabilities to exist in the AIX versions of glob as used in the ftp daemon.


Please be aware that as of March 29, 2001, NetBSD has a fix for both the glob resource consumption (via an application controlled GLOB_LIMIT flag) and the buffer overflow (always enforced). These fixes should work on any 4.4BSD derived glob(3).


publicfile has none of these bugs, deliberately avoids globbing, and has never used any ftpd-derived code. See


SGI acknowledges the vulnerability reported by NAI COVERT Labs and is currently investigating. No further information is available at this time.

As further information becomes available, additional advisories will be issued via the normal SGI security information distribution methods including the wiretap mailing list and

For the protection of all our customers, SGI does not disclose, discuss or confirm vulnerabilities until a full investigation has occurred and any necessary patch(es) or release streams are available for all vulnerable and supported IRIX operating systems.

Until SGI has more definitive information to provide, customers are encouraged to assume all security vulnerabilities as exploitable and take appropriate steps according to local site security policies and requirements.

The CERT Coordination Center would like to thank the COVERT Labs at PGP Security for notifying us about this problem and for their help in constructing this advisory.

Author: Shawn V. Hernan

Copyright 2001 Carnegie Mellon University.

Revision History

April 10, 2001:  Initial release
April 10, 2001: Added a statement from publicfile
May 09, 2001: Added a statement from HP
May 16, 2001: Added a statement from Apple