Ghostscript Vulnerability Poses Major Threat to Linux Distributors and Open Source Developers

All Linux distributors and software developers leveraging the open-source Ghostscript interpreter for the interpretation of PostScript language and Portable Document Format (PDF) should promptly update their software systems in light of the recently detected critical vulnerability.

The uncovered security flaw, officially registered as CVE-2023-36664, has been evaluated with a high-risk severity rating of 9.8 on the Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS). The vulnerability may potentially enable unauthorized code execution due to a failure in Ghostscript's permission verification mechanism pertaining to pipe devices. Notably, all Ghostscript versions preceding 10.01.2 are susceptible to this threat.

Ghostscript, a pervasive component of many Linux distributions, is typically pre-installed, as indicated by cybersecurity researchers at Kroll. When applications reliant on Ghostscript are ported to different operating systems, for instance, Windows, these systems inherently continue using a version of Ghostscript, posing potential security risks.

In the grand scheme of things, the implication of this vulnerability is significant. It's not confined to a single operating system, rather, it extends its potential threats to any system that hosts printing or publishing applications that depend on open-source components.

Since its inception in 1988, Ghostscript has found its way into many Linux distributions' default installation kits. Though seldom used directly, it has become indispensable for other open-source software packages, providing functionalities for printing or converting files. It serves as a prerequisite dependency for "cups-filters," a fundamental part of the Common Unix Printing System (CUPS), Linux's primary apparatus for print services. Various applications utilize Ghostscript for handling PostScript (PS), Embedded PostScript (EPS), or PDF files.

Investigations performed on a Debian 12 system by Kroll revealed that a staggering number of 131 packages rely on Ghostscript. This includes prominent desktop and productivity applications such as LibreOffice, Inkscape, and Scribus, in addition to utility tools like ImageMagick, which itself is essential for many significant applications.

The root cause of the Ghostscript vulnerability revolves around the operating system pipes, highlighted in the Kroll report. Pipes serve as a conduit for disparate software units to communicate, where the output of one application becomes the input for another. These pipes are commonly symbolized by the "|" character on the command line interface. The vulnerability's description suggests an issue related to permission validation.

In view of these findings, Kroll recommends an urgent update to the latest security patch levels for Ghostscript for Linux and all potentially affected systems. For applications capable of rendering PDF or EPS files, a thorough examination for Ghostscript usage is advised, followed by immediate updates as patches become available from vendors. To fortify defense against known vulnerabilities that cybercriminals may target, it is of paramount importance that infosec professionals maintain a regular patching schedule for all endpoints.

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