Symlink Attack: What is that?

Symlink Attack: What is that?

Symlink attack, also known as a symbolic link attack, is a type of security vulnerability that allows an attacker to manipulate file system paths and gain unauthorized access to sensitive files or directories. In this guide, we will explore the concept of symlink attack, provide examples of commands, similar commands, use cases, ideas, and even scripts for automation.

Understanding Symlink Attack

A symlink is a special type of file that acts as a pointer to another file or directory. It allows you to create a shortcut or alias to another file or directory. A symlink attack occurs when an attacker is able to manipulate the symbolic link to gain access to files or directories they shouldn’t have access to.

The symlink attack takes advantage of the fact that the operating system does not differentiate between the original file and the symlink. When a program or user accesses the symlink, the operating system follows the symlink and accesses the target file or directory instead.

Commands Examples

Here are some examples of commands that can be used in symlink attacks:

Command Description
ln -s /path/to/target /path/to/symlink Create a symbolic link from /path/to/symlink to /path/to/target.
ls -l List files and directories, showing symbolic links with the target file or directory.
readlink /path/to/symlink Display the target file or directory of a symbolic link.
rm /path/to/symlink Remove a symbolic link.

Similar Commands

While the commands mentioned above are commonly used in symlink attacks, there are also other similar commands that can be used:

  • mv: Move or rename a file or directory.
  • cp: Copy a file or directory.
  • chmod: Change the permissions of a file or directory.
  • chown: Change the owner of a file or directory.

Use Cases

Symlink attacks can be used in various scenarios, including:

  • Gaining unauthorized access to sensitive files or directories.
  • Escalating privileges by redirecting system files or directories.
  • Manipulating file or directory permissions to bypass security measures.
  • Exploiting vulnerable applications that follow symlinks without proper validation.

Ideas for Automation

Automating symlink attacks can be beneficial for penetration testing or security research purposes. Here are some ideas for automation:

  • Write a script that automatically creates symlinks to important system files and directories to test for vulnerabilities.
  • Develop a tool that scans a target system for vulnerable software that follows symlinks without proper validation.
  • Create a script that checks the permissions of symbolic links and identifies potential security risks.

Sample Script: Symlink Scanner

Here’s a sample Python script that scans a target system for vulnerable software that follows symlinks without proper validation:

import os

def scan_directory(path):
for root, dirs, files in os.walk(path):
for file in files:
file_path = os.path.join(root, file)
if os.path.islink(file_path):
target_path = os.readlink(file_path)
if not os.path.exists(target_path):
print(f”Vulnerable symlink found: {file_path}”)


This script recursively scans the “/var/www/html” directory for symbolic links and checks if the target path exists. If the target path does not exist, it indicates a potential vulnerability.


Symlink attacks are a serious security vulnerability that can be exploited to gain unauthorized access to sensitive files or directories. Understanding the concept of symlink attacks, knowing the commands involved, and exploring automation ideas can help security professionals better protect their systems and applications.

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