Application and Escalation of Privilege

Privilege is the level of access a user has on a system. Read the section in this article about escalation of privilege to learn the meaning of the term. What is the difference between vertical and horizontal escalation of privilege? Who has the highest level of privilege, that of a user at the application level or a system administrator at the kernel level? How can this kind of attack be prevented?

Escalation of Privilege

When an attacker can elevate his privilege on a system from a low-level user to that of an administrator, escalation of privilege has been accomplished. Privilege escalation techniques are shown below.

Vertical Privilege Escalation Horizontal Privilege Escalation
A user or application with low privilege accesses content or functions reserved for high-privilege users A normal user accesses content or functions of another normal user

To prevent a privilege violation, applications and operating systems use rings of protection. Rings of protection provide an operating system with various levels at which code is executed. A ring of circles illustrate the various levels in which code is executed indicating less privilege moving out from the center of the circle. Ring 0: Kernal, most privileged, Ring 1: Device Drivers, Ring 2: Device Drivers, Ring 3: Applications, least privileged. Moving outward corresponds to less privilege as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 2 – Rings of protection

Figure 2 – Rings of protection

Source: Dominique Hubbard and Chatavia Vaval,
Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Last modified: Saturday, November 21, 2020, 5:35 PM