Patching CVE-6271 (shellshock) with Chef

If you haven’t heard the news yet, a recently disclosed vulnerability has been released that exploits environmental variables in bash.  This has some far reaching implications because bash is so widespread and runs on many different types of devices, for example network gear, routers, switches, firewalls, etc.  If that doesn’t scare you then you probably don’t need to finish reading this article.  For more information you can check out this article that helped to break the story.

I have been seeing a lot “OMG the world is on fire, patch patch patch!” posts and sentiment surrounding this recently disclosed vulnerability, but basically have not seen anybody taking the time to explain how to patch and fix this issue.  It is not a difficult fix but it might not be obvious to the more casual user or those who do not have a sysadmin or security background.


Use the following commands to search through your installed packages for the correct package release.  You can check the Ubuntu USN for versions.

dpkg -l | grep '^ii' or
dpkg-query --show bash

If you are on Ubuntu 12.04 you will need update to the following version:

bash    4.2-2ubuntu2.3

If you are on Ubuntu 13.10, and have this package (or below), you are vulnerable.  Update to 14.04!

 bash 4.2-5ubuntu3

If you are on Ubuntu 14.04, be sure to update to the most recently patched patch.

bash 4.3-7ubuntu1.3

Luckily, the update process is pretty straight forward.

apt-get update
apt-get --only-upgrade install bash

If you have the luxury of managing your environment with some sort of automation or configuration management tool (get this in place if you don’t have it already!) then this process can be managed quite efficiently.

It is easy to check if a server that is being managed by Chef has the vulnerability by using knife search:

knife search node 'bash_shellshock_vulnerable:true'

From here you could createa a recipe to patch the servers or fix each one by hand.  Another cool trick is that you can blast out the update to Debian based servers with the following command:

knife ssh 'platform_family:debian' 'sudo apt-get update; sudo apt-get install -y bash'; knife ssh 'platform_family:redhat' 'sudo yum -y install bash'

This will iterate over every server in your Chef server environment that is in the Debain family (including Ubuntu) or RHEL family (including CentOS) and update the server packages so that the latest patched bash version gets pulled down and then gets updated to the latest version.

You may need to tweak the syntax a little, -x to override the ssh user and -i to feed an identity file.  This is so much faster than manually installing the update on all your servers or even fiddling around with a tool like Fabric, which is still better than nothing.

One caveat to note:  If you are not on an LTS version of Ubuntu, you will need to upgrade your server(s) first to an LTS, either 12.04 or 14.04 to qualify for this patch.  Ubuntu 13.10 went out of support in August which was about a month ago as per the time of this writing so you will want to get your OS up date.

One more thing:  The early patches to address this vulnerability did not entirely fix the issue, so make sure that you have the correct patch installed.  If you patched right away there is a good chance you may still be vulnerable, so simply rerun your knife ssh command to reapply the newest patch, now that the dust is beginning to settle.

Outside of this vulnerability, it is a good idea to get your OS on an Ubuntu LTS version anyway to continue receiving critical updates for software as well as security patches for a longer duration than the normal, 6 month release cycle of the server distribution.

Josh Reichardt

Josh is the creator of this blog, a system administrator and a contributor to other technology communities such as /r/sysadmin and Ops School. You can also find him on Twitter and Facebook.