Remote Code Execution (RCE) in CGI Servlet – Apache Tomcat on Windows – CVE-2019-0232


Apache Tomcat has a vulnerability in the CGI Servlet which can be exploited to achieve remote code execution (RCE). This is only exploitable when running on Windows in a non-default configuration in conjunction with batch files.

The vendor released a fix in Tomcat versions 7.0.94, 8.5.40 and 9.0.19. Users are encouraged to upgrade as soon as possible. CVE-2019-0232 has been assigned to track this issue.

Vulnerability Details

Common Gateway Interface (CGI) is a standard protocol to allow web servers to execute command line programs / scripts via web requests. This protocol also allows passing of command line arguments to the script or program being executed via URL parameters. The protocol itself is defined in RFC 3875.

The following CGI request:

  • http://localhost:8080/cgi/test.bat?&dir

converts to:

  • test.bat &dir

Apache Tomcat supports execution of CGI scripts / programs in a non-default configuration via a special CGI servlet. This servlet also parses URL parameters and translates them into command line arguments. The actual execution of the CGI scripts happens via Java Runtime Environment (JRE)’s java.lang.Runtime class, exec() function.

When CGI support is enabled in Apache Tomcat in Windows, and command line argument passing is enabled, it is possible to cause command injection via parameter interpolation when calling a batch file (*.bat / *.cmd). This happens because “cmd.exe” performs interpolation on some special characters before execution which can cause other shell commands to be called. Neither Apache Tomcat or the Windows JRE perform any kind of input validation for these special characters. A partial list of these characters can be found here and here. Additional information about why this issue is specific to the Windows JRE can be found in this blog post by Markus Wulftange.

Steps To Replicate

1. Install a Java Runtime Environment (JRE) in Windows.

2. Download a vulnerable version of Tomcat and extract.

3. Modify the conf\context.xml file on line 19, to enable privileged context:

<Context privileged="true">

4. Modify conf\web.xml to enable the CGI Servlet by removing the comments around line 387 as follows and adding the following parameters (enableCmdLineArguments is only needed for Tomcat 9):


5. Enable the CGI servlet by removing comments around this – you also need to change the URL pattern to match the one in the previous step (“cgi”):


6. Create a folder for the CGI files:

mkdir webapps\ROOT\WEB-INF\cgi

7. Place the following text into a batch file located in “webapps\ROOT\WEB-INF\cgi\test.bat”

@echo off
echo Content-Type: text/plain
echo Hello, World!

8. Run Tomcat via the following command:

cd bin
catalina run

9. Trigger the following URLs and observe the dir command being run:



Additional Notes – Environment Variables and Path

By default, Tomcat doesn’t pass all of the environment variables from the parent process that runs Tomcat itself. That means that if you run “set”, you will not see any environment variables other than those set by Tomcat itself. This also means that you would need to spell out the directory path of the command you are trying to run. However, if the “passShellEnvironment” parameter is set to true, the variables from the parent process will be passed through and you can call any command in PATH as well as view those variables. If the command cannot be found, there will be a error in the console log “XXXX is not recognized as an internal or external command”.

Example of trying to run a command without a full directory including the Tomcat console logs:

s5 s6

Examples of running with the parameter being set or spelling out the directory path:


Example of trying to view the environment variables without and with the passShellEnvironment parameter being set to “true”:



Additional Notes – Memory Leaks / Denial of Service

If the command being executed is a long running command, it maybe possible to cause a denial of service or a memory leak. This happens because Tomcat waits for the OS process to complete.

Here is an example of netstat being triggered:



Additional Notes – Other Commands and STDERR

The “executable” parameter indicates which executable should be used to run the script. By default, this is set to “perl” with the expectation that the files being executed are Perl scripts. If this is set to empty, then it is possible to execute batch files since those are executed by “cmd.exe”. HOWEVER, it seems that the command interpolation only happens with batch files – if this is set to real program, then command interpolation doesn’t necessary occur and this vulnerability may be not exploitable.

Also, if the command being triggered outputs to STDERR instead of STDOUT, that output doesn’t get piped back to the web request – instead it goes to the Tomcat console log.

Here is an example when “java.exe” is set as the executable parameter and produces output to STDERR:


Vendor Response

This issue was responsibly reported to the vendor via the EU FOSSA bounty program operated by Intigriti. Vendor analysis indicated that the core cause for this issue has to do with the way the Java Runtime Environment (JRE) interprets command arguments in Windows specifically and doesn’t impact Apache Tomcat when used with other operating systems. The vendor assigned CVE-2019-0232 to track this issue and provided a fix.

The vendor fix consists of two parts:

  • Disabling command line arguments from being passed to the CGI servlet in the default configuration (“enableCmdLineArguments” set to “false“) for Tomcat 7 and 8  – this was already disabled by default in Tomcat 9.
  • Adding a new configuration parameter (“cmdLineArgumentsDecoded“) to the default CGI configuration that will be used for input validation if passing of command line arguments is enabled and will be set to the following regular expression (OS specific). Note that if the user changes this parameter, they may become vulnerable again.
    • Windows - [[a-zA-Z0-9\Q-_.\\/:\E]+]
    • Other operating systems - [.*]

Affected Versions and Mitigation

Apache Tomcat is only vulnerable to this issue if the following conditions are met:

  • Running on Windows
  • CGI support is enabled either via the web.xml for a specific web application or the server as whole (see documentation). This is disabled by default.
  • The “privileged” setting is set to “true” in the Context element. This is “false” by default.
  • Tomcat 9 onlyenableCmdLineArguments is set to “true” (enabled by default in Tomcat 7 and 8)
  • The “executable” parameter is empty, and the the CGI scripts being executed are batch files (either .bat or .cmd). It is not clear if other commands that use “cmd.exe” are vulnerable as well.

The vendor indicated that the following versions are vulnerable (no information is available on earlier versions):

  • Tomcat 9 – versions 9.0.0.M1 through 9.0.17 (9.0.18 is not affected)
  • Tomcat 8 – versions 8.5.0 to 8.5.39
  • Tomcat 7 – versions 7.0.0 to 7.0.93

Users are encouraged to upgrade to the following fixed versions or later:

IMPORTANT NOTE: even when running a fixed version, you SHOULD NOT change the “cmdLineArgumentsDecoded” configuration parameter to a different value. If you do, your installation may become vulnerable. If an upgrade is not possible, users can apply one of the following mitigations:

  • Disable CGI support (it is disabled by default)
  • Or set the “enableCmdLineArguments” parameter to “false“. This setting will disable command line arguments from being passed via the CGI servlet.

Bounty Information

This report satisfied the requirement of the EU FOSSA bounty program and a bounty has been paid.


Blog post on JRE behavior: see here (Markus Wulftange)
CGI Standard: RFC 3875
CVE-ID: CVE-2019-0232
CVSS v2.0 Score: 9.3 – (AV:N/AC:M/Au:N/C:C/I:C/A:C)
CVSS v3.0 Score: 8.1 – (AV:N/AC:H/PR:N/UI:N/S:U/C:H/I:H/A:H)
Tomcat CGI Servlet source code: see GitHub
Vendor advisory: see here


Text of the advisory written by Yakov Shafranovich.


2019-02-14: Initial report submitted to the platform
2019-02-17: Initial report validated by the platform
2019-03-03: Report acknowledged by the vendor
2019-03-14: Interim evaluation received from the vendor
2019-03-22: Communication with the vendor
2019-04-10: Public advisory issued by the vendor
2019-04-30: Public disclosure by reporter

4 thoughts on “Remote Code Execution (RCE) in CGI Servlet – Apache Tomcat on Windows – CVE-2019-0232

  1. Looks like the issue was a 0day for some time. It took several days to ship a patched version after they published the advisory. 9.0.18 was not released in the end, only 9.0.19 contains the patch.

    By the way, is the original report for EU FOSSA bounty program publicly available?

  2. The published the advisory before the official release because the patch could be seen in the commit history publicly

    Regarding the original report – that is not available publicly which is why we wrote this advisory instead.


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