While poking around Parallels Desktop I found a script which is invoked by a setuid-root binary, which has the following snippet:

local prl_dir="${usr_home}/Library/Parallels"
if [ -e "$prl_dir" -a ! -d "$prl_dir" ]; then
  log warning "'${prl_dir}' is not a directory. Renaming it."
  mv -f "$prl_dir"{,~}

Here ${usr_home} represents the home directory of the user for which Parallels Desktop is installed. The code says if ~/Library/Parallels exists and is not a directory then move it to ~/Library/Parallels~, presumably to back it up before creating this path as a directory.

However, given this is our home directory, we (a low privileged user) can create ~/Library/Parallels~ beforehand, and make it a symlink to another directory, for example. This would mean the code actually moves ~/Library/Parallels into the directory pointed to by the symlink. Additionally, we can fully control the ~/Library/Parallels file, it can have whatever content we want, or it could even be a symlink to some other file.

Great, so now we can move a file of controlled content, or a symlink, into an arbitrary directory. How can we use this to escalate our privileges to root?

Digging around the filesystem, some ways which came to mind:

  • /etc/periodic/{daily,monthly,weekly}
    • Files must be owned by root, which our file isn’t
    • Besides, I don’t want to wait days for this privesc
  • /etc/pam.d/
    • Files must be owned by root, which our file isn’t
    • Filenames are important, we can’t use the Parallels filename for this
  • /etc/ssh/sshd_config.d/
    • Could use something like AuthorizedKeysCommand and AuthorizedKeysCommandUser to execute a command as root
    • Would need a reboot or some other way to force sshd to reload its config
    • sshd would need to be running in the first place, which it’s not by default
  • /etc/sudoers.d/
    • Files must be owned by root, which our file isn’t
    • Files must not be world writeable

Of these, the hurdles which seemed easiest to overcome were those of /etc/sudoers.d. So I started digging for files which are owned by root, are not world-writeable, and we can partially control. With some searching I found /var/log/install.log.

-rw-r--r--@ 1 root  admin  637109 23 Jun 12:00 /var/log/install.log

It turns out we can write to this log using the logger utility, specifying the install.error priority. Like so:

logger -p install.error "Hello, World!"

Log file entry

Even better, we can get our content onto a new line using a carriage return, which is replaced with a newline, like so:

logger -p install.error $(echo -e "\rHello, World!")

Log file newline injection

We can use this to insert a line of sudo config:

logger -p install.error $(echo -e "\r$USER ALL=(ALL) NOPASSWD: ALL")

Log file sudo config

So now we have a log file with a bunch of invalid sudo config lines (i.e. normal log entries), with one line of valid sudo config, which says that our current user can use sudo with no password, allowing us to escalate our privileges.

Now we can make ~/Library/Parallels a symlink pointing to /var/log/install.log and ~/Library/Parallels~ a symlink pointing to /etc/sudoers.d/. When we invoke the vulnerable script, which runs as root, it will move our symlink, pointing to the log file, into /etc/sudoers.d/.

After that we can run sudo su, which will follow the symlink, parse the log file, spitting out pages of errors about the invalid syntax of the log entries in the process (but kindly continuing processing) until it reaches a line of valid syntax which we’ve injected, and eventually we’ll be dropped into a root shell.

Hopefully other people find this trick useful, beyond just Parallels. You can find the code for this exploit on my GitHub.


  • 2023-05-19 - ZDI submission, assigned ZDI-CAN-21227
  • 2023-06-21 - reported to vendor
  • 2023-07-06 - fix released in version 18.3.2
  • 2023-12-19 - public release of advisory, CVE-2023-50226