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Remote code execution

(also RCE)

Remote code execution definition

Remote code execution, frequently shortened to RCE, refers to a class of cybersecurity weaknesses that permit malicious parties to run any code of their choice on a target system from a distant location. It usually works by exploiting distinct system or application flaws, thereby giving the intruder unwarranted access. RCE's impact can be significant because it often grants the invader complete dominion over the breached system.

See also: SQL injection, XSS, buffer overflow attack

Remote code execution examples

  • Web applications: Vulnerable web applications, particularly those with insecure input validation, can allow remote code execution. For example, the attacker could exploit SQL injection or cross-site scripting (XSS) flaws to execute arbitrary code remotely.
  • Operating systems: Exploits in operating systems, such as buffer overflow vulnerabilities, can lead to RCE. An attacker can send malicious data packets, triggering the vulnerability and executing arbitrary code.

Advantages and disadvantages of remote code execution


  • For ethical hackers or penetration testers, identifying RCE vulnerabilities helps to secure systems by patching these weaknesses before malicious hackers can exploit them.


  • System takeover: Remote code execution can lead to the total compromise of a system, allowing the attacker to perform any action on the system.
  • Data theft: Once an RCE attack is successful, sensitive data is often at risk of theft or manipulation.

Mitigating remote code execution

  • Routinely update and patch systems and applications to protect against known vulnerabilities that could lead to RCE.
  • Employ strong input validation and sanitization measures, particularly for web applications, to prevent exploitation by malicious inputs.