Remediating the May 2018 Git Security Vulnerability

Edward Thomson

The Git community has disclosed an industry-wide security vulnerability in Git that can lead to arbitrary code execution when a user operates in a malicious repository. This vulnerability has been assigned CVE 2018-11235 by Mitre, the organization that assigns unique numbers to track security vulnerabilities in software.

Git 2.17.1 was released today and includes this fix. Git for Windows 2.17.1 (2) has been released that includes this fix. The Visual Studio Team Services (VSTS) team takes security issues very seriously, and we encourage all users to update their Git clients as soon as possible to fix this vulnerability. To further protect you, our team has blocked these types of malicious repositories from being pushed to VSTS. This will ensure that we cannot be used as a vector for transmitting maliciously crafted repositories to users who have not yet patched their clients for this vulnerability.

If you’re using Git for Windows, please download the latest version — 2.17.1(2) — from Visual Studio 2017 users should install updates; both Visual Studio 15.7.3 and 15.0.14 include updates to fix this vulnerability. If you are using other Git clients, please contact your vendor to understand if you need to upgrade and how to do that.

What is the Git vulnerability?

A remote repository may contain a definition for a submodule, and also bundle that submodule’s repository data, checked in to the parent repository as a folder. When recursively cloning this repository, git will first checkout the parent repository into the working directory, then prepare to clone the submodule. It will then realize that it doesn’t need to do the clone – the submodule’s repository already exists on disk; since it was checked in to the parent, it was written to the working directory when it was checked out. Therefore git can skip the fetch and simply check out the submodule using the repository that’s on disk.

The problem is that when you git clone a repository, there is some important configuration that you don’t get from the server. This includes the contents of the .git/config file, and things like hooks, which are scripts that will be run at certain points within the git workflow. For example, the post-checkout hook will be run anytime git checks files out into the working directory.

This configuration is not cloned from the remote server because that would open a dangerous vulnerability: that a remote server could provide you code that you would then execute on your computer.

Unfortunately, with this submodule configuration vulnerability, that’s exactly what happens. Since the submodule’s repository is checked in to the parent repository, it’s never actually cloned. The submodule repository can therefore actually have a hook already configured. If when you recursively cloned this carefully crafted malicious parent repository, it will first check out the parent, then read the submodule’s checked-in repository in order to write the submodule to the working directory, and finally it will execute any post-checkout hooks that are configured in the submodule’s checked-in repository.


The solution to this problem is quite simple and effective: submodule’s folder names are now examined more closely by Git clients. They can no longer contain .. as a path segment, and they cannot be symbolic links, so they must be within the .git repository folder, and not in the actual repository’s working directory.


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