Exim Buffer Overflow RCE Vulnerability (CVE-2018-6789) – What You Need to Know

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On February 10, the Unix-based email server Exim released an update to address a heap buffer overflow vulnerability that can be used by an unauthenticated attacker to remotely execute arbitrary code. The flaw, assigned CVE-2018-6789, is noted to exist in all versions of Exim, prior to their latest release, 4.90.1, which means the attack surface potential is very wide. A quick search on Shodan yields more than 6 million results.

Vulnerability details

The vulnerability was originally discovered by DEVCORE, and details were published on their blog on March 6. The vulnerability is due to a flaw in the b64decode buffer length in the base64d() function. Due to an off-by-one calculation mistake, heap memory can be overwritten when parsing an invalid base64 string leading to critical data being overwritten.

As base64 decoding is a widely used function, and since the byte is user-controlled, this increases the ease of exploitation, which can be utilized for remote code execution.

Identifying affected systems

To detect systems affected by this critical flaw, Tenable has released Nessus® plugins for Tenable.io Vulnerability Management, SecurityCenter and Nessus Pro. Additionally, Tenable has released passive detection via Nessus Network Monitor, which may be used with Tenable.io Vulnerability Management to detect the vulnerability passively on the network. Tenable.io Container Security has also been updated to detect the Exim off-by-one RCE vulnerability in Docker container images. The following table summarizes Tenable’s coverage.

Cisco has updated the advisory several times since the initial release to reflect the affected vectors as well as to make corrections to the patch versions. Tenable continues to monitor this situation and update our coverage as necessary.

Plugin ID



Exim < 4.90.1 Buffer Overflow RCE Vulnerability

700223 (Nessus Network Monitor)

Exim < 4.90.1 Remote Code Execution


Debian DLA-1274-1 : exim4 security update


Debian DSA-4110-1 : exim4 – security update


Fedora 26 : exim (2018-25a7ba3cb6)


Fedora 27 : exim (2018-5aec14e125)


FreeBSD : exim — a buffer overflow vulnerability, remote code execution (316b3c3e-0e98-11e8-8d41-97657151f8c2)


openSUSE Security Update : exim (openSUSE-2018-170)


Ubuntu 14.04 LTS / 16.04 LTS / 17.10 : exim4 vulnerability (USN-3565-1)


GLSA-201803-01 : Exim: Multiple vulnerabilities

What should you do?

If you’re running a version of Exim prior to 4.90.1, make sure you update to the most current release. Exim notes that all versions of Exim prior to 4.90.1 are now obsolete and that 3.x releases are also obsolete and should not be used.

Get more information

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About Tenable
Tenable™, Inc. is the Cyber Exposure company. Over 24,000 organizations of all sizes around the globe rely on Tenable to manage and measure their modern attack surface to accurately understand and reduce cyber risk. As the creator of Nessus®, Tenable built its platform from the ground up to deeply understand assets, networks and vulnerabilities, extending this knowledge and expertise into Tenable.io™ to deliver the world’s first platform to provide live visibility into any asset on any computing platform. Tenable customers include over 50 percent of the Fortune 500, large government agencies and organizations across the private and public sectors. Learn more at tenable.com.
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