An ezmlm-landmine for the unwary sysadmin

By Abhijit Menon-Sen <>

A couple of days ago, I was investigating an obscure permissions problem on a client's production server (having tried and failed to reproduce it on the staging server). The problem was related to the creation of Ezmlm mailing lists through a web interface (the details aren't relevant here, nor especially interesting).

I tracked down and eventually fixed the problem by manually creating a test list using ezmlm-make(1). Afterwards, I wanted to get rid of the junk list, so I looked in the ezmlm command directory for the opposite of ezmlm-make.

$ ls /usr/local/bin/ezmlm
ezmlm-accept   ezmlmglrc     ezmlm-moderate  ezmlm-store
ezmlm-archive  ezmlm-idx     ezmlmrc         ezmlm-sub
ezmlm-check    ezmlm-issubn  ezmlm-reject    ezmlmsubrc
ezmlm-clean    ezmlm-limit   ezmlm-request   ezmlm-tstdig
ezmlm-cron     ezmlm-list    ezmlm-return    ezmlm-unsub
ezmlm-gate     ezmlm-make    ezmlm-rm        ezmlm-warn
ezmlm-get      ezmlm-manage  ezmlm-send      ezmlm-weed
ezmlm-glconf   ezmlm-mktab   ezmlm-split

ezmlm-rm looked promising, so I ran it without arguments to get a usage message (which is how all the other ezmlm commands behave).

$ /usr/local/bin/ezmlm/ezmlm-list
ezmlm-list: usage: ezmlm-list [-mMnNvV] dir
$ /usr/local/bin/ezmlm/ezmlm-rm

Silence? That's not what I expected at all. What was it doing? I looked a little closer.

$ man ezmlm-rm
No manual entry for ezmlm-rm
$ file /usr/local/bin/ezmlm/ezmlm-rm
/usr/local/bin/ezmlm/ezmlm-rm: Bourne shell script text executable
$ cat /usr/local/bin/ezmlm/ezmlm-rm

rm -rf /home/vpopmail/domains/$1
rm -rf /home/vpopmail/domains/$1*

A moment later, the sinking feeling set in when I realised that my argument-less invocation had given the script an empty $1, and what that actually meant for the dozens of lists that were stored under vpopmail:

$ ls /home/vpopmail/domains

It turns out that the previous maintainer of the system—who disappeared some time ago—saw nothing wrong with unchecked rm -rfs in a script disguised as an ezmlm command.