Monday, February 5. 2024
One of the first examples to show up in Google is a blog post on the webpage dev.to. Here is the relevant part of the code:
In this example, the source of randomness is the function Math.random(). It generates a random number between 0 and 1. The documentation of Math.random() in MDN says:
Math.random() does not provide cryptographically secure random numbers. Do not use them for anything related to security. Use the Web Crypto API instead, and more precisely, the window.crypto.getRandomValues() method.
This is pretty clear: We should not use Math.random() for security purposes, as it gives us no guarantees about the security of its output. This is not a merely theoretical concern: here is an example where someone used Math.random() to generate tokens and ended up seeing duplicate tokens in real-world use.
MDN tells us to use the getRandomValues() function of the Web Crypto API, which generates cryptographically strong random numbers.
We can make a more general statement here: Whenever we need randomness for security purposes, we should use a cryptographically secure random number generator. Even in non-security contexts, using secure random sources usually has no downsides. Theoretically, cryptographically strong random number generators can be slower, but unless you generate Gigabytes of random numbers, this is irrelevant. (I am not going to expand on how exactly cryptographically strong random number generators work, as this is something that should be done by the operating system. You can find a good introduction here.)
This generates a random 32-bit unsigned integer with crypto.getRandomValues(), which is good. It divides that by the hexadecimal value 0x100000000, which is the upper bound of the possible values in a 32-bit unsigned integer. In other words, it is converting to a float between 0 and 1, likely trying to emulate what Math.random() provides.
The problem with this approach is that it uses floating-point numbers. It is generally a good idea to avoid floats in security and particularly cryptographic applications whenever possible. Floats introduce rounding errors, and due to the way they are stored, it is practically almost impossible to generate a uniform distribution. (See also this explanation in a StackExchange comment.)
Therefore, while this implementation is better than the first and probably "good enough" for random passwords, it is not ideal. It does not give us the best security we can have with a certain length and character choice of a password.
Another way of mapping a random integer number to an index for our list of characters is to use a random value modulo the size of our character class. Here is an example from a StackOverflow comment:
This is also not ideal. It introduces a modulo bias.
The modulo bias in this example is quite small, so let's look at a different example. Assume we use letters and numbers (a-z, A-Z, 0-9, 62 characters total) and take a single byte (256 different values, 0-255) r from the random number generator. If we use the modulus r % 62, some characters are more likely to appear than others. The reason is that 256 is not a multiple of 62, so it is impossible to map our byte to this list of characters with a uniform distribution.
In our example, the lowercase "a" would be mapped to five values (0, 62, 124, 186, 248). The uppercase "A" would be mapped to only four values (26, 88, 150, 212). Some values have a higher probability than others.
(For more detailed explanations of a modulo bias, check this post by Yolan Romailler from Kudelski Security and this post from Sebastian Pipping.)
One way to avoid a modulo bias is to use rejection sampling. The idea is that you throw away the values that cause higher probabilities. In our example above, 248 and higher values cause the modulo bias, so if we generate such a value, we repeat the process. A piece of code to generate a single random character could look like this:
Values equal or above limit get thrown away. The limit is set to the number of possible values in a byte modulo the number of different characters we want to use. We generate a random byte, and if it is above the limit, we will just repeat that process until we get a suitable value.
An alternative to rejection sampling is to make the modulo bias so small that it does not matter (by using a very large random value).
However, I find rejection sampling to be a much cleaner solution. If you argue that the modulo bias is so small that it does not matter, you must carefully analyze whether this is true. For a password, a small modulo bias may be okay. For cryptographic applications, things can be different. Rejection sampling avoids the modulo bias completely. Therefore, it is always a safe choice.
There are two things you might wonder about this approach. One is that it introduces a timing difference. In cases where the random number generator turns up multiple numbers in a row that are thrown away, the code runs a bit longer.
Timing differences can be a problem in security code, but this one is not. It does not reveal any information about the password because it is only influenced by values we throw away. Even if an attacker were able to measure the exact timing of our password generation, it would not give him any useful information. (This argument is however only true for a cryptographically secure random number generator. It assumes that the ignored random values do not reveal any information about the random number generator's internal state.)
Another issue with this approach is that it is not guaranteed to finish in any given time. Theoretically, the random number generator could produce numbers above our limit so often that the function stalls. However, the probability of that happening quickly becomes so low that it is irrelevant. Such code is generally so fast that even multiple rounds of rejection would not cause a noticeable delay.
To summarize: If we want to write a secure, random password generation function, we should consider three things: We should use a secure random number generation function. We should avoid floating point numbers. And we should avoid a modulo bias.
We first define our length and string of possible characters. We calculate the limit for the modulo bias. We run a for loop 15 times. Inside that loop, we have a while loop generating a random byte and implementing rejection sampling. Finally, we use the generated random value modulo the number of possible characters as our index. Overall, this is just 15 lines of code, and it is not particularly complicated.
If you want to use that code, feel free to do so. I have published it - and a slightly more configurable version that allows optionally setting the length and the set of characters - under a very permissive license (0BSD license).
An online demo generating a password with this code can be found at https://password.hboeck.de/. All code is available on GitHub.
Image Source: SVG Repo, CC0
Wednesday, October 21. 2020
BigBlueButton is a free web-based video conferencing software that lately got quite popular, largely due to Covid-19. Earlier this year I did a brief check on its security which led to an article on Golem.de (German). I want to share the most significant findings here.
BigBlueButton has a feature that lets a presenter upload a presentation in a wide variety of file formats that gets then displayed in the web application. This looked like a huge attack surface. The conversion for many file formats is done with Libreoffice on the server. Looking for ways to exploit server-side Libreoffice rendering I found a blog post by Bret Buerhaus that discussed a number of ways of exploiting such setups.
One of the methods described there is a feature in Opendocument Text (ODT) files that allows embedding a file from an external URL in a text section. This can be a web URL like https or a file url and include a local file.
This directly worked in BigBlueButton. An ODT file that referenced a local file would display that local file. This allows displaying any file that the user running the BigBlueButton service could access on the server. A possible way to exploit this is to exfiltrate the configuration file that contains the API secret key, which then allows basically controlling the BigBlueButton instance. I have a video showing the exploit here. (I will publish the exploit later.)
I reported this to the developers of BigBlueButton in May. Unfortunately my experience with their security process was not very good. At first I did not get an answer at all. After another mail they told me they plan to sandbox the Libreoffice process either via a chroot or a docker container. However that still has not happened yet. It is planned for the upcoming version 2.3 and independent of this bug this is a good idea, as Libreoffice just creates a lot of attack surface.
Recently I looked a bit more into this. The functionality to include external files only happens after a manual user confirmation and if one uses Libreoffice on the command line it does not work at all by default. So in theory this exploit should not have worked, but it did.
It turned out the reason for this was another piece of software that BigBlueButton uses called JODConverter. It provides a wrapper around the conversion functionality of Libreoffice. After contacting both the Libreoffice security team and the developer of JODConverter we figured out that it enables including external URLs by default.
I forwarded this information to the BigBlueButton developers and it finally let to a fix, they now change the default settings of JODConverter manually. The JODConverter developer considers changing the default as well, but this has not happened yet. Other software or web pages using JODConverter for serverside file conversion may thus still be vulnerable.
The fix was included in version 2.2.27. Today I learned that the company RedTeam Pentesting has later independently found the same vulnerability. They also requested a CVE: It is now filed as CVE-2020-25820.
While this issue is fixed, the handling of security issues by BigBlueButton was not exactly stellar. It took around five months from my initial report to a fix. The release notes do not mention that this is an important security update (the change has the note “speed up the conversion”).
I found a bunch of other security issues in BigBlueButton and proposed some hardening changes. This took a lot of back and forth, but all significant issues are resolved now.
Another issue with the presentation upload was that it allowed cross site scripting, because it did not set a proper content type for downloads. This was independently discovered by another person and was fixed a while ago. (If you are interested in details about this class of vulnerabilities: I have given a talk about it at last year’s Security Fest.)
The session Cookies both from BigBlueButton itself and from its default web frontend Greenlight were not set with a secure flag, so the cookies could be transmitted in clear text over the network. This has also been changed now.
By default the BigBlueButton installation script starts several services that open ports that do not need to be publicly accessible. This is now also changed. A freeswitch service run locally was installed with a default password (“ClueCon”), this is now also changed to a random password by the installation script.
What also looks quite problematic is the use of outdated software. BigBlueButton only works on Ubuntu 16.04, which is a long term support version, so it still receives updates. But it also uses several external repositories, including one that installs NodeJS version 8 and shows a warning that this repository no longer receives security updates. There is an open bug in the bug tracker.
If you are using BigBlueButton I strongly recommend you update to at least version 2.2.27. This should fix all the issues I found. I would wish that the BigBlueButton developers improve their security process, react more timely to external reports and more transparent when issues are fixed.
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons / NOAA / Public Domain
Update: Proof of concept published.
Monday, April 13. 2020
For a small web project I recently had to consider how to generate secure tokens to prevent Cross Site Request Forgery (CSRF). I wanted to share how I think this should be done, primarily to get some feedback whether other people agree or see room for improvement.
I am not going to discuss CSRF in general here, I will generally assume that you are aware of how this attack class works. The standard method to protect against CSRF is to add a token to every form that performs an action that is sufficiently random and unique for the session.
Some web applications use the same token for every request or at least the same token for every request of the same kind. However this is problematic due to some TLS attacks.
There are several attacks against TLS and HTTPS that work by generating a large number of requests and then slowly learning about a secret. A common target of such attacks are CSRF tokens. The list of these attacks is long: BEAST, all Padding Oracle attacks (Lucky Thirteen, POODLE, Zombie POODLE, GOLDENDOODLE), RC4 bias attacks and probably a few more that I have forgotten about. The good news is that none of these attacks should be a concern, because they all affect fragile cryptography that is no longer present in modern TLS stacks.
However there is a class of TLS attacks that is still a concern, because there is no good general fix, and these are compression based attacks. The first such attack that has been shown was called CRIME, which targeted TLS compression. TLS compression is no longer used, but a later attack called BREACH used HTTP compression, which is still widely in use and which nobody wants to disable, because HTML code compresses so well. Further improvements of these attacks are known as TIME and HEIST.
I am not going to discuss these attacks in detail, it is sufficient to know that they all rely on a secret being transmitted again and again over a connection. So CSRF tokens are vulnerable to this if they are the same over multiple connections. If we have an always changing CSRF token this attack does not apply to it.
An obvious fix for this is to always generate new CSRF tokens. However this requires quite a bit of state management on the server or other trade-offs, therefore I don’t think it’s desirable. Rather a good concept would be to keep a single server-side secret, but put some randomness in so the token changes on every request.
The BREACH authors have the following brief recommendation (thanks to Ivan Ristic for pointing this out): “Masking secrets (effectively randomizing by XORing with a random secret per request)”.
I read this as having a real token and a random value and the CSRF token would look like random_value + XOR(random_value, real_token). The server could verify this by splitting up the token, XORing the first half with the second and then comparing that to the real token.
However I would like to add something: I would prefer if a token used for one form and action cannot be used for another action. In case there is any form of token exfiltration it seems reasonable to limit the utility of the token as much as possible.
My idea is therefore to use a cryptographic hash function instead of XOR and add a scope string. This could be something like “adduser”, “addblogpost” etc., anything that identifies the action.
The server would keep a secret token per session on the server side and the CSRF token would look like this: random_value + hash(random_value + secret_token + scope). The random value changes each time the token is sent.
I have created some simple PHP code to implement this (if there is sufficient interest I will learn how to turn this into a composer package). The usage is very simple, there is one function to create a token that takes a scope string as the only parameter and another to check a token that takes the public token and the scope and returns true or false.
As for the implementation details I am using 256 bit random values and secret tokens, which is excessively too much and should avoid any discussion about them being too short. For the hash I am using sha364, which is widely supported and not vulnerable to length extension attacks. I do not see any reason why length extension attacks would be relevant here, but still this feels safer. I believe the order of the hash inputs should not matter, but I have seen constructions where having
The CSRF token is Base64-encoded, which should work fine in HTML forms.
My question would be if people think this is a sane design or if they see room for improvement. Also as this is all relatively straightforward and obvious, I am almost sure I am not the first person to invent this, pointers welcome.
Now there is an elephant in the room I also need to discuss. Form tokens are the traditional way to prevent CSRF attacks, but in recent years browsers have introduced a new and completely different way of preventing CSRF attacks called SameSite Cookies. The long term plan is to enable them by default, which would likely make CSRF almost impossible. (These plans have been delayed due to Covid-19 and there will probably be some unfortunate compatibility trade-offs that are reason enough to still set the flag manually in a SameSite-by-default world.)
SameSite Cookies have two flavors: Lax and Strict. When set to Lax, which is what I would recommend that every web application should do, POST requests sent from another host are sent without the Cookie. With Strict all requests, including GET requests, sent from another host are sent without the Cookie. I do not think this is a desirable setting in most cases, as this breaks many workflows and GET requests should not perform any actions anyway.
Now here is a question I have: Are SameSite cookies enough? Do we even need to worry about CSRF tokens any more or can we just skip them? Are there any scenarios where one can bypass SameSite Cookies, but not CSRF tokens?
One could of course say “Why not both?” and see this as a kind of defense in depth. It is a popular mode of thinking to always see more security mechanisms as better, but I do not agree with that reasoning. Security mechanisms introduce complexity and if you can do with less complexity you usually should. CSRF tokens always felt like an ugly solution to me, and I feel SameSite Cookies are a much cleaner way to solve this problem.
So are there situations where SameSite Cookies do not protect and we need tokens? The obvious one is old browsers that do not support SameSite Cookies, however they have been around for a while and if you are willing to not support really old and obscure browsers that should not matter.
A remaining problem I could think of is software that accepts action requests both as GET and POST variables (e. g. in PHP if one uses the $_REQUESTS variable instead of $_POST). These need to be avoided, but using GET for anything that performs actions in the application should not be done anyway. (SameSite=Strict does not really fix his, as GET requests can still plausibly come from links, e. g. on applications that support internal messaging.)
Also an edge case problem may be a transition period: If a web application removes CSRF tokens and starts using SameSite Cookies at the same time Users may still have old Cookies around without the flag. So a transition period at least as long as the Cookie lifetime should be used.
Furthermore there are bypasses for the SameSite-by-default Cookies as planned by browser vendors, but these do not apply when the web application sets the SameSite flag itself. (Essentially the SameSite-by-default Cookies are only SameSite after two minutes, so there is a small window for an attack after setting the Cookie.)
Considering all this if one carefully makes sure that actions can only be performed by POST requests, sets SameSite=Lax on all Cookies and plans a transition period one should be able to safely remove CSRF tokens. Anyone disagrees?
Image sources: Piqsels, Wikimedia Commons
Monday, April 6. 2020
I would like to point out a security problem with a classic variant of web space hosting. While this issue should be obvious to anyone knowing basic web security, I have never seen it being discussed publicly.
Some server operators allow every user on the system to have a personal web space where they can place files in a directory (often ~/public_html) and they will appear on the host under a URL with a tilde and their username (e.g. https://example.org/~username/). The Apache web server provides such a function in the mod_userdir module. While this concept is rather old, it is still used by some and is often used by universities and Linux distributions.
To put this into a practical example: If you read your emails on a web interface on example.com then a script running on example.org should not be able to read your mails, change your password or mess in any other way with the application running on a different host. However if an attacker can place a script on example.com, which is called a Cross Site Scripting or XSS vulnerability, the attacker may be able to do all that.
The problem with userdir URLs should now become obvious: All userdir URLs on one server run on the same host and thus are in the same origin. It has XSS by design.
What does that mean in practice? Let‘s assume we have Bob, who has the username „bob“ on exampe.org, runs a blog on https://example.org/~bob/. User Mallory, who has the username „mallory“ on the same host, wants to attack Bob. If Bob is currently logged into his blog and Mallory manages to convince Bob to open her webpage – hosted at https://example.org/~mallory/ - at the same time she can place an attack script there that will attack Bob. The attack could be a variety of things from adding another user to the blog, changing Bob‘s password or reading unpublished content.
This is only an issue if the users on example.org do not trust each other, so the operator of the host may decide this is no problem if there is only a small number of trusted users. However there is another issue: An XSS vulnerability on any of the userdir web pages on the same host may be used to attack any other web page on the same host.
So if for example Alice runs an outdated web application with a known XSS vulnerability on https://example.org/~alice/ and Bob runs his blog on https://example.org/~bob/ then Mallory can use the vulnerability in Alice‘s web application to attack Bob.
All of this is primarily an issue if people run non-trivial web applications that have accounts and logins. If the web pages are only used to host static content the issues become much less problematic, though it is still with some limitations possible that one user could show the webpage of another user in a manipulated way.
So what does that mean? You probably should not use userdir URLs for anything except hosting of simple, static content - and probably not even there if you can avoid it. Even in situations where all users are considered trusted there is an increased risk, as vulnerabilities can cross application boundaries. As for Apache‘s mod_userdir I have contacted the Apache developers and they agreed to add a warning to the documentation.
If you want to provide something similar to your users you might want to give every user a subdomain, for example https://alice.example.org/, https://bob.example.org/ etc. There is however still a caveat with this: Unfortunately the same origin policy does not apply to all web technologies and particularly it does not apply to Cookies. However cross-hostname Cookie attacks are much less straightforward and there is often no practical attack scenario, thus using subdomains is still the more secure choice.
To avoid these Cookie issues for domains where user content is hosted regularly – a well-known example is github.io – there is the Public Suffix List for such domains. If you run a service with user subdomains you might want to consider adding your domain there, which can be done with a pull request.
Monday, December 16. 2019
Recently I saw a tweet where someone mentioned that you can include /dev/stdin in C code compiled with gcc. This is, to say the very least, surprising.
When you see something like this with an IT security background you start to wonder if this can be abused for an attack. While I couldn't come up with anything, I started to wonder what else you could include. As you can basically include arbitrary paths on a system this may be used to exfiltrate data - if you can convince someone else to compile your code.
There are plenty of webpages that offer online services where you can type in C code and run it. It is obvious that such systems are insecure if the code running is not sandboxed in some way. But is it equally obvious that the compiler also needs to be sandboxed?
How would you attack something like this? Exfiltrating data directly through the code is relatively difficult, because you need to include data that ends up being valid C code. Maybe there's a trick to make something like /etc/shadow valid C code (you can put code before and after the include), but I haven't found it. But it's not needed either: The error messages you get from the compiler are all you need. All online tools I tested will show you the errors if your code doesn't compile.
I even found one service that allowed me to add
and showed me the hash of the root password. This effectively means this service is running compile tasks as root.
Including various files in /etc allows to learn something about the system. For example /etc/lsb-release often gives information about the distribution in use. Interestingly, including pseudo-files from /proc does not work. It seems gcc treats them like empty files. This limits possibilities to learn about the system. /sys and /dev work, but they contain less human readable information.
In summary I think services letting other people compile code should consider sandboxing the compile process and thus make sure no interesting information can be exfiltrated with these attack vectors.
Friday, September 13. 2019
In discussions around the PGP ecosystem one thing I often hear is that while PGP has its problems, it's an important tool for package signatures in Linux distributions. I therefore want to highlight a few issues I came across in this context that are rooted in problems in the larger PGP ecosystem.
Let's look at an example of the use of PGP signatures for deb packages, the Ubuntu Linux installation instructions for HHVM. HHVM is an implementation of the HACK programming language and developed by Facebook. I'm just using HHVM as an example here, as it nicely illustrates two attacks I want to talk about, but you'll find plenty of similar installation instructions for other software packages. I have reported these issues to Facebook, but they decided not to change anything.
The instructions for Ubuntu (and very similarly for Debian) recommend that users execute these commands in order to install HHVM from the repository of its developers:
apt-get install software-properties-common apt-transport-https
apt-key adv --recv-keys --keyserver hkp://keyserver.ubuntu.com:80 0xB4112585D386EB94
apt-get install hhvm
The crucial part here is the line starting with apt-key. It fetches the key that is used to sign the repository from the Ubuntu key server, which itself is part of the PGP keyserver network.
Attack 1: Flooding Key with Signatures
The first possible attack is actually quite simple: One can make the signature key offered here unusable by appending many signatures.
A key concept of the PGP keyservers is that they operate append-only. New data gets added, but never removed. PGP keys can sign other keys and these signatures can also be uploaded to the keyservers and get added to a key. Crucially the owner of a key has no influence on this.
This means everyone can grow the size of a key by simply adding many signatures to it. Lately this has happened to a number of keys, see the blog posts by Daniel Kahn Gillmor and Robert Hansen, two members of the PGP community who have personally been affected by this. The effect of this is that when GnuPG tries to import such a key it becomes excessively slow and at some point will simply not work any more.
For the above installation instructions this means anyone can make them unusable by attacking the referenced release key. In my tests I was still able to import one of the attacked keys with apt-key after several minutes, but these keys "only" have a few ten thousand signatures, growing them to a few megabytes size. There's no reason an attacker couldn't use millions of signatures and grow single keys to gigabytes.
Attack 2: Rogue packages with a colliding Key Id
The installation instructions reference the key as 0xB4112585D386EB94, which is a 64 bit hexadecimal key id.
Key ids are a central concept in the PGP ecosystem. The key id is a truncated SHA1 hash of the public key. It's possible to either use the last 32 bit, 64 bit or the full 160 bit of the hash.
It's been pointed out in the past that short key ids allow colliding key ids. This means an attacker can generate a different key with the same key id where he owns the private key simply by bruteforcing the id. In 2014 Richard Klafter and Eric Swanson showed with the Evil32 attack how to create colliding key ids for all keys in the so-called strong set (meaning all keys that are connected with most other keys in the web of trust). Later someone unknown uploaded these keys to the key servers causing quite some confusion.
It should be noted that the issue of colliding key ids was known and discussed in the community way earlier, see for example this discussion from 2002.
The practical attacks targeted 32 bit key ids, but the same attack works against 64 bit key ids, too, it just costs more. I contacted the authors of the Evil32 attack and Eric Swanson estimated in a back of the envelope calculation that it would cost roughly $ 120.000 to perform such an attack with GPUs on cloud providers. This is expensive, but within the possibilities of powerful attackers. Though one can also find similar installation instructions using a 32 bit key id, where the attack is really cheap.
Going back to the installation instructions from above we can imagine the following attack: A man in the middle network attacker can intercept the connection to the keyserver - it's not encrypted or authenticated - and provide the victim a colliding key. Afterwards the key is imported by the victim, so the attacker can provide repositories with packages signed by his key, ultimately leading to code execution.
You may notice that there's a problem with this attack: The repository provided by HHVM is using HTTPS. Thus the attacker can not simply provide a rogue HHVM repository. However the attack still works.
The imported PGP key is not bound to any specific repository. Thus if the victim has any non-HTTPS repository configured in his system the attacker can provide a rogue repository on the next call of "apt update". Notably by default both Debian and Ubuntu use HTTP for their repositories (a Debian developer even runs a dedicated web page explaining why this is no big deal).
Attack 3: Key over HTTP
Issues with package keys aren't confined to Debian/APT-based distributions. I found these installation instructions at Dropbox (Link to Wayback Machine, as Dropbox has changed them after I reported this):
Add the following to /etc/yum.conf.
It should be obvious what the issue here is: Both the key and the repository are fetched over HTTP, a network attacker can simply provide his own key and repository.
The standard answer you often get when you point out security problems with PGP-based systems is: "It's not PGP/GnuPG, people are just using it wrong". But I believe these issues show some deeper problems with the PGP ecosystem. The key flooding issue is inherited from the systemically flawed concept of the append only key servers.
The other issue here is lack of deprecation. Short key ids are problematic, it's been known for a long time and there have been plenty of calls to get rid of them. This begs the question why no effort has been made to deprecate support for them. One could have said at some point: Future versions of GnuPG will show a warning for short key ids and in three years we will stop supporting them.
This reminds of other issues like unauthenticated encryption, where people have been arguing that this was fixed back in 1999 by the introduction of the MDC. Yet in 2018 it was still exploitable, because the unauthenticated version was never properly deprecated.
For all people having installation instructions for external repositories my recommendation would be to avoid any use of public key servers. Host the keys on your own infrastructure and provide them via HTTPS. Furthermore any reference to 32 bit or 64 bit key ids should be avoided.
Update: Some people have pointed out to me that the Debian Wiki contains guidelines for third party repositories that avoid the issues mentioned here.
Monday, November 12. 2018
HackerOne is currently one of the most popular bug bounty program platforms. While the usual providers of bug bounty programs are companies, w while ago I noted that some people were running bug bounty programs on Hacker One for their private projects without payouts. It made me curious, so I decided to start one with some of my private web pages in scope.
The HackerOne process requires programs to be private at first, starting with a limited number of invites. Soon after I started the program the first reports came in. Not surprisingly I got plenty of false positives, which I tried to limit by documenting the scope better in the program description. I also got plenty of web security scanner payloads via my contact form. But more to my surprise I also got a number of very high quality reports.
This blog and two other sites in scope use Serendipity (also called S9Y), a blog software written in PHP. Through the bug bounty program I got reports for an Open Redirect, an XSS in the start page, an XSS in the back end, an SQL injection in the back end and another SQL injection in the freetag plugin. All of those were legitimate vulnerabilities in Serendipity and some of them quite severe. I forwarded the reports to the Serendipity developers.
Fixes are available by now, the first round of fixes were released with Serendipity 2.1.3 and another issue got fixed in 2.1.4. The freetag plugin was updated to version 2.69. If you use Serendipity please make sure you run the latest versions.
I'm not always happy with the way the bug bounty platforms work, yet it seems they have attracted an active community of security researchers who are also willing to occasionally look at projects without financial reward. While it's questionable when large corporations run bug bounty programs without rewards, I think that it's totally fine for private projects and volunteer-run free and open source projects.
The conclusion I take from this is that likely more projects should try to make use of the bug bounty community. Essentially Serendipity got a free security audit and is more secure now. It got this through the indirection of my personal bug bounty program, but of course this could also work directly. Free software projects could start their own bug bounty program, and when it's about web applications ideally they should have have a live installation of their own product in scope.
In case you find some security issue with my web pages I welcome reports. And special thanks to Brian Carpenter (Geeknik), Julio Cesar and oreamnos for making my blog more secure.
Wednesday, April 11. 2018
A few days ago I figured out that several blogs operated by T-Mobile Austria had a Git repository exposed which included their wordpress configuration file. Due to the fact that a phpMyAdmin installation was also accessible this would have allowed me to change or delete their database and subsequently take over their blogs.
Git Repositories, Private Keys, Core Dumps
Last year I discovered that the German postal service exposed a database with 200.000 addresses on their webpage, because it was simply named dump.sql (which is the default filename for database exports in the documentation example of mysql). An Australian online pharmacy exposed a database under the filename xaa, which is the output of the "split" tool on Unix systems.
It also turns out that plenty of people store their private keys for TLS certificates on their servers - or their SSH keys. Crashing web applications can leave behind coredumps that may expose application memory.
For a while now I became interested in this class of surprisingly trivial vulnerabilities: People leave files accessible on their web servers that shouldn't be public. I've given talks at a couple of conferences (recordings available from Bornhack, SEC-T, Driving IT). I scanned for these issues with a python script that extended with more and more such checks.
Scan your Web Pages with snallygaster
It's taken a bit longer than intended, but I finally released it: It's called Snallygaster and is available on Github and PyPi.
Apart from many checks for secret files it also contains some checks for related issues like checking invalid src references which can lead to Domain takeover vulnerabilities, for the Optionsleed vulnerability which I discovered during this work and for a couple of other vulnerabilities I found interesting and easily testable.
Some may ask why I wrote my own tool instead of extending an existing project. I thought about it, but I didn't really find any existing free software vulnerability scanner that I found suitable. The tool that comes closest is probably Nikto, but testing it I felt it comes with a lot of checks - thus it's slow - and few results. I wanted a tool with a relatively high impact that doesn't take forever to run. Another commonly mentioned free vulnerability scanner is OpenVAS - a fork from Nessus back when that was free software - but I found that always very annoying to use and overengineered. It's not a tool you can "just run". So I ended up creating my own tool.
A Dragon Legend in US Maryland
Finally you may wonder what the name means. The Snallygaster is a dragon that according to some legends was seen in Maryland and other parts of the US. Why that name? There's no particular reason, I just searched for a suitable name, I thought a mythical creature may make a good name. So I searched Wikipedia for potential names and checked for name collisions. This one had none and also sounded funny and interesting enough.
I hope snallygaster turns out to be useful for administrators and pentesters and helps exposing this class of trivial, but often powerful, vulnerabilities. Obviously I welcome new ideas of further tests that could be added to snallygaster.
Thursday, November 16. 2017
I discovered a couple of more or less minor security issues in Firefox lately. None of them is particularly scary, but they affect interesting corner cases or unusual behavior. I'm posting this mainly hoping that other people will find it inspiring to think about unusual security issues and maybe also come up with more realistic attack scenarios for these bugs.
I'd like to point out that Mozilla hasn't fixed most of those issues, despite all of them being reported several months ago.
Bypassing XSA warning via FTP
XSA or Cross-Site Authentication is an interesting and not very well known attack. It's been discovered by Joachim Breitner in 2005.
Some web pages, mostly forums, allow users to include third party images. This can be abused by an attacker to steal other user's credentials. An attacker first posts something with an image from a server he controls. He then switches on HTTP authentication for that image. All visitors of the page will now see a login dialog on that page. They may be tempted to type in their login credentials into the HTTP authentication dialog, which seems to come from the page they trust.
The original XSA attack is, as said, quite old. As a countermeasure Firefox implements a warning in HTTP authentication dialogs that were created by a subresource like an image. However it only does that for HTTP, not for FTP.
So an attacker can run an FTP server and include an image from there. By then requiring an FTP login and logging all login attempts to the server he can gather credentials. The password dialog will show the host name of the attacker's FTP server, but he could choose one that looks close enough to the targeted web page to not raise suspicion.
I haven't found any popular site that allows embedding images from non-HTTP-protocols. The most popular page that allows embedding external images at all is Stack Overflow, but it only allows HTTPS. Generally embedding third party images is less common these days, most pages keep local copies if they embed external images.
This bug is yet unfixed.
Obviously one could fix it by showing the same warning for FTP that is shown for HTTP authentication. But I'd rather recommend to completely block authentication dialogs on third party content. This is also what Chrome is doing. Mozilla has been discussing this for several years with no result.
Firefox also has an open bug about disallowing FTP on subresources. This would obviously also fix this scenario.
Window-modal popup via FTP
So it is a goal of modern browsers to not allow web pages to create window-modal alerts that block the interaction with the whole browser. However I figured out FTP gives us a bypass of this restriction.
If Firefox receives some random garbage over an FTP connection that it cannot interpret as FTP commands it will open an alert window showing that garbage.
First we open up our fake "FTP-Server" that will simply send a message to all clients. We can just use netcat for this:
while true; do echo "Hello" | nc -l -p 21; done
There are two problems here. One is that server controlled content is showed to the user without any interpretation. This alert window seems to be intended as some kind of error message. However it doesn't make a lot of sense like that. If at all it should probably be prefixed by some message like "the server sent an invalid command". But ultimately if the browser receives random garbage instead of protocol messages it's probably not wise to display that at all. The second problem is that FTP error messages probably should be tab-modal as well.
This bug is also yet unfixed.
FTP considered dangerous
FTP is an old protocol with many problems. Some consider the fact that browsers still support it a problem. I tend to agree, ideally FTP should simply be removed from modern browsers.
FTP in browsers is insecure by design. While TLS-enabled FTP exists browsers have never supported it. The FTP code is probably not well audited, as it's rarely used. And the fact that another protocol exists that can be used similarly to HTTP has the potential of surprises. For example I found it quite surprising to learn that it's possible to have unencrypted and unauthenticated FTP connections to hosts that enabled HSTS. (The lack of cookie support on FTP seems to avoid causing security issues, but it's still unexpected and feels dangerous.)
Self-XSS in bookmark manager export
One could come up with implausible social engineering scenarios (web page asks user to create a bookmark and insert some specific string into the tags field), but that seems very far fetched. A remotely plausible scenario would be a situation where a browser can be used by multiple people who are allowed to create bookmarks and the bookmarks are regularly exported and uploaded to a web page. However that also seems quite far fetched.
This was fixed in the latest Firefox release as CVE-2017-7840 and considered as low severity.
Crashing Firefox on Linux via notification API
The notification API allows browsers to send notification alerts that the operating system will show in small notification windows. A notification can contain a small message and an icon.
When playing this one of the very first things that came to my mind was to check what happens if one simply sends a very large icon. A user has to approve that a web page is allowed to use the notification API, however if he does the result is an immediate crash of the browser. This only "works" on Linux. The proof of concept is quite simple, we just embed a large black PNG via a data URI:
I haven't fully tracked down what's causing this, but it seems that Firefox tries to send a message to the system's notification daemon with libnotify and if that's too large for the message size limit of dbus it will not properly handle the resulting error.
What I found quite frustrating is that when I reported it I learned that this was a duplicate of a bug that has already been reported more than a year ago. I feel having such a simple browser crash bug open for such a long time is not appropriate. It is still unfixed.
Thursday, September 7. 2017
Update: This blogpost was written before NTS was available, and the information is outdated. If you are looking for a modern solution, I recommend using software and a time server with Network Time Security, as specified in RFC 8915.
All our computers and smartphones have an internal clock and need to know the current time. As configuring the time manually is annoying it's common to set the time via Internet services. What tends to get forgotten is that a reasonably accurate clock is often a crucial part of security features like certificate lifetimes or features with expiration times like HSTS. Thus the timesetting should be secure - but usually it isn't.
I'd like my systems to have a secure time. So I'm looking for a timesetting tool that fullfils two requirements:
Although these seem like trivial requirements to my knowledge such a tool doesn't exist. These are relatively loose requirements. One might want to add:
Some people need a very accurate time source, for example for certain scientific use cases. But that's outside of my scope. For the vast majority of use cases a clock that is off by a few seconds doesn't matter. While it's certainly a good idea to consider rogue servers given the current state of things I'd be happy to have a solution where I simply trust a server from Google or any other major Internet entity.
So let's look at what we have:
The common way of setting the clock is the NTP protocol. NTP itself has no transport security built in. It's a plaintext protocol open to manipulation and man in the middle attacks.
There are two variants of "secure" NTP. "Autokey", an authenticated variant of NTP, is broken. There's also a symmetric authentication, but that is impractical for widespread use, as it would require to negotiate a pre-shared key with the time server in advance.
NTPsec and Ntimed
In response to some vulnerabilities in the reference implementation of NTP two projects started developing "more secure" variants of NTP. Ntimed - a rewrite by Poul-Henning Kamp - and NTPsec, a fork of the original NTP software. Ntimed hasn't seen any development for several years, NTPsec seems active. NTPsec had some controversies with the developers of the original NTP reference implementation and its main developer is - to put it mildly - a controversial character.
But none of that matters. Both projects don't implement a "secure" NTP. The "sec" in NTPsec refers to the security of the code, not to the security of the protocol itself. It's still just an implementation of the old, insecure NTP.
Network Time Security
There's a draft for a new secure variant of NTP - called Network Time Security. It adds authentication to NTP.
However it's just a draft and it seems stalled. It hasn't been updated for over a year. In any case: It's not widely implemented and thus it's currently not usable. If that changes it may be an option.
tlsdate is a hack abusing the timestamp of the TLS protocol. The TLS timestamp of a server can be used to set the system time. This doesn't provide high accuracy, as the timestamp is only given in seconds, but it's good enough.
I've used and advocated tlsdate for a while, but it has some problems. The timestamp in the TLS handshake doesn't really have any meaning within the protocol, so several implementers decided to replace it with a random value. Unfortunately that is also true for the default server hardcoded into tlsdate.
Some Linux distributions still ship a package with a default server that will send random timestamps. The result is that your system time is set to a random value. I reported this to Ubuntu a while ago. It never got fixed, however the latest Ubuntu version Zesty Zapis (17.04) doesn't ship tlsdate any more.
Given that Google has shipped tlsdate for some in ChromeOS time it seems unlikely that Google will send randomized timestamps any time soon. Thus if you use tlsdate with www.google.com it should work for now. But it's no future-proof solution.
TLS 1.3 removes the TLS timestamp, so this whole concept isn't future-proof. Alternatively it supports using an HTTPS timestamp. The development of tlsdate has stalled, it hasn't seen any updates lately. It doesn't build with the latest version of OpenSSL (1.1) So it likely will become unusable soon.
The developers of OpenNTPD, the NTP daemon from OpenBSD, came up with a nice idea. NTP provides high accuracy, yet no security. Via HTTPS you can get a timestamp with low accuracy. So they combined the two: They use NTP to set the time, but they check whether the given time deviates significantly from an HTTPS host. So the HTTPS host provides safety boundaries for the NTP time.
This would be really nice, if there wasn't a catch: This feature depends on an API only provided by LibreSSL, the OpenBSD fork of OpenSSL. So it's not available on most common Linux systems. (Also why doesn't the OpenNTPD web page support HTTPS?)
Roughtime is a Google project. It fetches the time from multiple servers and uses some fancy cryptography to make sure that malicious servers get detected. If a roughtime server sends a bad time then the client gets a cryptographic proof of the malicious behavior, making it possible to blame and shame rogue servers. Roughtime doesn't provide the high accuracy that NTP provides.
From a security perspective it's the nicest of all solutions. However it fails the availability test. Google provides two reference implementations in C++ and in Go, but it's not packaged for any major Linux distribution. Google has an unfortunate tendency to use unusual dependencies and arcane build systems nobody else uses, so packaging it comes with some challenges.
One line bash script beats all existing solutions
As you can see none of the currently available solutions is really feasible and none fulfils the two mild requirements of authenticity and availability.
This is frustrating given that it's a really simple problem. In fact, it's so simple that you can solve it with a single line bash script:
date -s "$(curl -sI https://www.google.com/|grep -i 'date:'|sed -e 's/^.ate: //g')"
This line sends an HTTPS request to Google, fetches the date header from the response and passes that to the date command line utility.
It provides authenticity via TLS. If the current system time is far off then this fails, as the TLS connection relies on the validity period of the current certificate. Google currently uses certificates with a validity of around three months. The accuracy is only in seconds, so it doesn't qualify for high accuracy requirements. There's no protection against a rogue Google server providing a wrong time.
Another potential security concern may be that Google might attack the parser of the date setting tool by serving a malformed date string. However I ran american fuzzy lop against it and it looks robust.
While this certainly isn't as accurate as NTP or as secure as roughtime, it's better than everything else that's available. I put this together in a slightly more advanced bash script called httpstime.
Tuesday, September 5. 2017
I recently helped a person whose Wordpress blog had a problem: The layout looked broken. The cause was that the theme used a font from a web host - and that host was down. This was easy to fix. I was able to extract the font file from the Internet Archive and store a copy locally. But it made me thinking: What happens if you include third party content on your webpage and the service from which you're including it disappears?
Yahoo! Web Analytics was shut down in 2012, yet in 2017 Flickr still tried to use it
The webpage of Flickr included a script from Yahoo! Web Analytics. If you don't know Yahoo Analytics - that may be because it's been shut down in 2012. Although Flickr is a Yahoo! company it seems they haven't noted for quite a while. (The code is gone now, likely because I mentioned it on Twitter.) This example has no security impact as the domain still belongs to Yahoo. But it likely caused an unnecessary slowdown of page loads over many years.
I looked for abandoned domain names that might be worth registering. There weren't many. In most cases the invalid domains were hosts that didn't resolve, but that still belonged to someone. I found a few, but they were only used by one or two hosts.
Takeover of unregistered Azure subdomain
Doing so allowed me to look at the HTTP log files and see what web pages included code from that subdomain. All of them were local newspapers from the US. 20 of them belonged to two adjacent IP addresses, indicating that they were all managed by the same company. I was able to contact them. While I never received any answer, shortly afterwards the code was gone from all those pages.
Saline Courier. I tried contacting them directly, their chief editor and their second chief editor. No answer.
After a while I wondered what I could do. Ultimately at some point Microsoft wouldn't let me host that subdomain any longer for free. I didn't want to risk that others could grab that subdomain, but at the same time I obviously also didn't want to pay in order to keep some web page safe whose owners didn't even bother to read my e-mails.
With some trouble on the way - first they broke their CSS, then they showed a PHP error message, then they reverted to the page with the defacement. But in the end they managed to remove the code.
What happens to abandoned domains?
There are reasons to believe that what I showed here is only the tip of the iceberg. In many cases when services discontinue their domains don't simply disappear. If the domain name is valuable then almost certainly someone will try to register it immediately after it becomes available.
Be sure to know what you include
There are some obvious takeaways from this. If you include other peoples code on your web page then you should know what that means: You give them permission to execute whatever they want on your web page. This means you need to wonder how much you can trust them.
At the very least you should be aware who is allowed to execute code on your web page. If they shut down their business or discontinue the service you have been using then you obviously should remove that code immediately. And if you include code from a web statistics service that you never look at anyway you may simply want to remove that as well.
Thursday, July 20. 2017
Lately, some attention was drawn to a widespread problem with TLS certificates. Many people are accidentally publishing their private keys. Sometimes they are released as part of applications, in Github repositories or with common filenames on web servers.
If a private key is compromised, a certificate authority is obliged to revoke it. The Baseline Requirements – a set of rules that browsers and certificate authorities agreed upon – regulate this and say that in such a case a certificate authority shall revoke the key within 24 hours (Section 220.127.116.11 in the current Baseline Requirements 1.4.8). These rules exist despite the fact that revocation has various problems and doesn’t work very well, but that’s another topic.
I reported various key compromises to certificate authorities recently and while not all of them reacted in time, they eventually revoked all certificates belonging to the private keys. I wondered however how thorough they actually check the key compromises. Obviously one would expect that they cryptographically verify that an exposed private key really is the private key belonging to a certificate.
I registered two test domains at a provider that would allow me to hide my identity and not show up in the whois information. I then ordered test certificates from Symantec (via their brand RapidSSL) and Comodo. These are the biggest certificate authorities and they both offer short term test certificates for free. I then tried to trick them into revoking those certificates with a fake private key.
Forging a private key
To understand this we need to get a bit into the details of RSA keys. In essence a cryptographic key is just a set of numbers. For RSA a public key consists of a modulus (usually named N) and a public exponent (usually called e). You don’t have to understand their mathematical meaning, just keep in mind: They’re nothing more than numbers.
An RSA private key is also just numbers, but more of them. If you have heard any introductory RSA descriptions you may know that a private key consists of a private exponent (called d), but in practice it’s a bit more. Private keys usually contain the full public key (N, e), the private exponent (d) and several other values that are redundant, but they are useful to speed up certain things. But just keep in mind that a public key consists of two numbers and a private key is a public key plus some additional numbers. A certificate ultimately is just a public key with some additional information (like the host name that says for which web page it’s valid) signed by a certificate authority.
A naive check whether a private key belongs to a certificate could be done by extracting the public key parts of both the certificate and the private key for comparison. However it is quite obvious that this isn’t secure. An attacker could construct a private key that contains the public key of an existing certificate and the private key parts of some other, bogus key. Obviously such a fake key couldn’t be used and would only produce errors, but it would survive such a naive check.
I created such fake keys for both domains and uploaded them to Pastebin. If you want to create such fake keys on your own here’s a script. To make my report less suspicious I searched Pastebin for real, compromised private keys belonging to certificates. This again shows how problematic the leakage of private keys is: I easily found seven private keys for Comodo certificates and three for Symantec certificates, plus several more for other certificate authorities, which I also reported. These additional keys allowed me to make my report to Symantec and Comodo less suspicious: I could hide my fake key report within other legitimate reports about a key compromise.
Symantec revoked a certificate based on a forged private key
Comodo didn’t fall for it. They answered me that there is something wrong with this key. Symantec however answered me that they revoked all certificates – including the one with the fake private key.
No harm was done here, because the certificate was only issued for my own test domain. But I could’ve also fake private keys of other peoples' certificates. Very likely Symantec would have revoked them as well, causing downtimes for those sites. I even could’ve easily created a fake key belonging to Symantec’s own certificate.
The communication by Symantec with the domain owner was far from ideal. I first got a mail that they were unable to process my order. Then I got another mail about a “cancellation request”. They didn’t explain what really happened and that the revocation happened due to a key uploaded on Pastebin.
I then informed Symantec about the invalid key (from my “real” identity), claiming that I just noted there’s something wrong with it. At that point they should’ve been aware that they revoked the certificate in error. Then I contacted the support with my “domain owner” identity and asked why the certificate was revoked. The answer: “I wanted to inform you that your FreeSSL certificate was cancelled as during a log check it was determined that the private key was compromised.”
To summarize: Symantec never told the domain owner that the certificate was revoked due to a key leaked on Pastebin. I assume in all the other cases they also didn’t inform their customers. Thus they may have experienced a certificate revocation, but don’t know why. So they can’t learn and can’t improve their processes to make sure this doesn’t happen again. Also, Symantec still insisted to the domain owner that the key was compromised even after I already had informed them that the key was faulty.
How to check if a private key belongs to a certificate?
In case you wonder how you properly check whether a private key belongs to a certificate you may of course resort to a Google search. And this was fascinating – and scary – to me: I searched Google for “check if private key matches certificate”. I got plenty of instructions. Almost all of them were wrong. The first result is a page from SSLShopper. They recommend to compare the MD5 hash of the modulus. That they use MD5 is not the problem here, the problem is that this is a naive check only comparing parts of the public key. They even provide a form to check this. (That they ask you to put your private key into a form is a different issue on its own, but at least they have a warning about this and recommend to check locally.)
Furthermore we get the same wrong instructions from the University of Wisconsin, Comodo (good that their engineers were smart enough not to rely on their own documentation), tbs internet (“SSL expert since 1996”), ShellHacks, IBM and RapidSSL (aka Symantec). A post on Stackexchange is the only result that actually mentions a proper check for RSA keys. Two more Stackexchange posts are not related to RSA, I haven’t checked their solutions in detail.
Going to Google results page two among some unrelated links we find more wrong instructions and tools from Symantec (Update 2020: Link offline), SSL247 (“Symantec Specialist Partner Website Security” - they learned from the best) and some private blog. A documentation by Aspera (belonging to IBM) at least mentions that you can check the private key, but in an unrelated section of the document. Also we get more tools that ask you to upload your private key and then not properly check it from SSLChecker.com, the SSL Store (Symantec “Website Security Platinum Partner”), GlobeSSL (“in SSL we trust”) and - well - RapidSSL.
Documented Security Vulnerability in OpenSSL
So if people google for instructions they’ll almost inevitably end up with non-working instructions or tools. But what about other options? Let’s say we want to automate this and have a tool that verifies whether a certificate matches a private key using OpenSSL. We may end up finding that OpenSSL has a function
x509_check_private_key() that can be used to “check the consistency of a private key with the public key in an X509 certificate or certificate request”. Sounds like exactly what we need, right?
Well, until you read the full docs and find out that it has a BUGS section: “The check_private_key functions don't check if k itself is indeed a private key or not. It merely compares the public materials (e.g. exponent and modulus of an RSA key) and/or key parameters (e.g. EC params of an EC key) of a key pair.”
I think this is a security vulnerability in OpenSSL (discussion with OpenSSL here). And that doesn’t change just because it’s a documented security vulnerability. Notably there are downstream consumers of this function that failed to copy that part of the documentation, see for example the corresponding PHP function (the limitation is however mentioned in a comment by a user).
So how do you really check whether a private key matches a certificate?
Ultimately there are two reliable ways to check whether a private key belongs to a certificate. One way is to check whether the various values of the private key are consistent and then check whether the public key matches. For example a private key contains values p and q that are the prime factors of the public modulus N. If you multiply them and compare them to N you can be sure that you have a legitimate private key. It’s one of the core properties of RSA that it’s secure based on the assumption that it’s not feasible to calculate p and q from N.
You can use OpenSSL to check the consistency of a private key:
openssl rsa -in [privatekey] -check
For my forged keys it will tell you:
RSA key error: n does not equal p q
You can then compare the public key, for example by calculating the so-called SPKI SHA256 hash:
openssl pkey -in [privatekey] -pubout -outform der | sha256sum
openssl x509 -in [certificate] -pubkey |openssl pkey -pubin -pubout -outform der | sha256sum
Another way is to sign a message with the private key and then verify it with the public key. You could do it like this:
openssl x509 -in [certificate] -noout -pubkey > pubkey.pem
dd if=/dev/urandom of=rnd bs=32 count=1
openssl rsautl -sign -pkcs -inkey [privatekey] -in rnd -out sig
openssl rsautl -verify -pkcs -pubin -inkey pubkey.pem -in sig -out check
cmp rnd check
rm rnd check sig pubkey.pem
If cmp produces no output then the signature matches.
As this is all quite complex due to OpenSSLs arcane command line interface I have put this all together in a script. You can pass a certificate and a private key, both in ASCII/PEM format, and it will do both checks.
Symantec did a major blunder by revoking a certificate based on completely forged evidence. There’s hardly any excuse for this and it indicates that they operate a certificate authority without a proper understanding of the cryptographic background.
Apart from that the problem of checking whether a private key and certificate match seems to be largely documented wrong. Plenty of erroneous guides and tools may cause others to fall for the same trap.
Update: Symantec answered with a blog post.
Thursday, June 15. 2017
Coredumps are a feature of Linux and other Unix systems to analyze crashing software. If a software crashes, for example due to an invalid memory access, the operating system can save the current content of the application's memory to a file. By default it is simply called
While this is useful for debugging purposes it can produce a security risk. If a web application crashes the coredump may simply end up in the web server's root folder. Given that its file name is known an attacker can simply download it via an URL of the form
https://example.org/core. As coredumps contain an application's memory they may expose secret information. A very typical example would be passwords.
PHP used to crash relatively often. Recently a lot of these crash bugs have been fixed, in part because PHP now has a bug bounty program. But there are still situations in which PHP crashes. Some of them likely won't be fixed.
How to disclose?
With a scan of the Alexa Top 1 Million domains for exposed core dumps I found around 1.000 vulnerable hosts. I was faced with a challenge: How can I properly disclose this? It is obvious that I wouldn't write hundreds of manual mails. So I needed an automated way to contact the site owners.
Abusix runs a service where you can query the abuse contacts of IP addresses via a DNS query. This turned out to be very useful for this purpose. One could also imagine contacting domain owners directly, but that's not very practical. The domain whois databases have rate limits and don't always expose contact mail addresses in a machine readable way.
Using the abuse contacts doesn't reach all of the affected host operators. Some abuse contacts were nonexistent mail addresses, others didn't have abuse contacts at all. I also got all kinds of automated replies, some of them asking me to fill out forms or do other things, otherwise my message wouldn't be read. Due to the scale I ignored those. I feel that if people make it hard for me to inform them about security problems that's not my responsibility.
I took away two things that I changed in a second batch of disclosures. Some abuse contacts seem to automatically search for IP addresses in the abuse mails. I originally only included affected URLs. So I changed that to include the affected IPs as well.
In many cases I was informed that the affected hosts are not owned by the company I contacted, but by a customer. Some of them asked me if they're allowed to forward the message to them. I thought that would be obvious, but I made it explicit now. Some of them asked me that I contact their customers, which again, of course, is impractical at scale. And sorry: They are your customers, not mine.
How to fix and prevent it?
If you have a coredump on your web host, the obvious fix is to remove it from there. However you obviously also want to prevent this from happening again.
There are two settings that impact coredump creation: A limits setting, configurable via
ulimit and a sysctl interface that can be found under
The limits setting is a size limit for coredumps. If it is set to zero then no core dumps are created. To set this as the default you can add something like this to your
* soft core 0
The sysctl interface sets a pattern for the file name and can also contain a path. You can set it to something like this:
This would store all coredumps under
/var/log/core/ and add the executable name, process id, host name and timestamp to the filename. The directory needs to be writable by all users, you should use a directory with the sticky bit (
If you set this via the proc file interface it will only be temporary until the next reboot. To set this permanently you can add it to
kernel.core_pattern = /var/log/core/core.%e.%p.%h.%t
Some Linux distributions directly forward core dumps to crash analysis tools. This can be done by prefixing the pattern with a pipe (|). These tools like apport from Ubuntu or abrt from Fedora have also been the source of security vulnerabilities in the past. However that's a separate issue.
Look out for coredumps
My scans showed that this is a relatively common issue. Among popular web pages around one in a thousand were affected before my disclosure attempts. I recommend that pentesters and developers of security scan tools consider checking for this. It's simple: Just try download the
/core file and check if it looks like an executable. In most cases it will be an ELF file, however sometimes it may be a Mach-O (OS X) or an a.out file (very old Linux and Unix systems).
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Université Paris Diderot
Friday, May 19. 2017
Update (2020-09-16): While three years old, people still find this blog post when looking for information about Stapling problems. For Apache the situation has improved considerably in the meantime: mod_md, which is part of recent apache releases, comes with a new stapling implementation which you can enable with the setting MDStapling on.
Today the OCSP servers from Let’s Encrypt were offline for a while. This has caused far more trouble than it should have, because in theory we have all the technologies available to handle such an incident. However due to failures in how they are implemented they don’t really work.
We have to understand some background. Encrypted connections using the TLS protocol like HTTPS use certificates. These are essentially cryptographic public keys together with a signed statement from a certificate authority that they belong to a certain host name.
CRL and OCSP – two technologies that don’t work
Certificates can be revoked. That means that for some reason the certificate should no longer be used. A typical scenario is when a certificate owner learns that his servers have been hacked and his private keys stolen. In this case it’s good to avoid that the stolen keys and their corresponding certificates can still be used. Therefore a TLS client like a browser should check that a certificate provided by a server is not revoked.
That’s the theory at least. However the history of certificate revocation is a history of two technologies that don’t really work.
One method are certificate revocation lists (CRLs). It’s quite simple: A certificate authority provides a list of certificates that are revoked. This has an obvious limitation: These lists can grow. Given that a revocation check needs to happen during a connection it’s obvious that this is non-workable in any realistic scenario.
The second method is called OCSP (Online Certificate Status Protocol). Here a client can query a server about the status of a single certificate and will get a signed answer. This avoids the size problem of CRLs, but it still has a number of problems. Given that connections should be fast it’s quite a high cost for a client to make a connection to an OCSP server during each handshake. It’s also concerning for privacy, as it gives the operator of an OCSP server a lot of information.
However there’s a more severe problem: What happens if an OCSP server is not available? From a security point of view one could say that a certificate that can’t be OCSP-checked should be considered invalid. However OCSP servers are far too unreliable. So practically all clients implement OCSP in soft fail mode (or not at all). Soft fail means that if the OCSP server is not available the certificate is considered valid.
That makes the whole OCSP concept pointless: If an attacker tries to abuse a stolen, revoked certificate he can just block the connection to the OCSP server – and thus a client can’t learn that it’s revoked. Due to this inherent security failure Chrome decided to disable OCSP checking altogether. As a workaround they have something called CRLsets and Mozilla has something similar called OneCRL, which is essentially a big revocation list for important revocations managed by the browser vendor. However this is a weak workaround that doesn’t cover most certificates.
OCSP Stapling and Must Staple to the rescue?
There are two technologies that could fix this: OCSP Stapling and Must-Staple.
OCSP Stapling moves the querying of the OCSP server from the client to the server. The server gets OCSP replies and then sends them within the TLS handshake. This has several advantages: It avoids the latency and privacy implications of OCSP. It also allows surviving short downtimes of OCSP servers, because a TLS server can cache OCSP replies (they’re usually valid for several days).
However it still does not solve the security issue: If an attacker has a stolen, revoked certificate it can be used without Stapling. The browser won’t know about it and will query the OCSP server, this request can again be blocked by the attacker and the browser will accept the certificate.
Therefore an extension for certificates has been introduced that allows us to require Stapling. It’s usually called OCSP Must-Staple and is defined in RFC 7633 (although the RFC doesn’t mention the name Must-Staple, which can cause some confusion). If a browser sees a certificate with this extension that is used without OCSP Stapling it shouldn’t accept it.
So we should be fine. With OCSP Stapling we can avoid the latency and privacy issues of OCSP and we can avoid failing when OCSP servers have short downtimes. With OCSP Must-Staple we fix the security problems. No more soft fail. All good, right?
The OCSP Stapling implementations of Apache and Nginx are broken
Well, here come the implementations. While a lot of protocols use TLS, the most common use case is the web and HTTPS. According to Netcraft statistics by far the biggest share of active sites on the Internet run on Apache (about 46%), followed by Nginx (about 20 %). It’s reasonable to say that if these technologies should provide a solution for revocation they should be usable with the major products in that area. On the server side this is only OCSP Stapling, as OCSP Must Staple only needs to be checked by the client.
What would you expect from a working OCSP Stapling implementation? It should try to avoid a situation where it’s unable to send out a valid OCSP response. Thus roughly what it should do is to fetch a valid OCSP response as soon as possible and cache it until it gets a new one or it expires. It should furthermore try to fetch a new OCSP response long before the old one expires (ideally several days). And it should never throw away a valid response unless it has a newer one. Google developer Ryan Sleevi wrote a detailed description of what a proper OCSP Stapling implementation could look like.
Apache does none of this.
If Apache tries to renew the OCSP response and gets an error from the OCSP server – e. g. because it’s currently malfunctioning – it will throw away the existing, still valid OCSP response and replace it with the error. It will then send out stapled OCSP errors. Which makes zero sense. Firefox will show an error if it sees this. This has been reported in 2014 and is still unfixed.
Now there’s an option in Apache to avoid this behavior: SSLStaplingReturnResponderErrors. It’s defaulting to on. If you switch it off you won’t get sane behavior (that is – use the still valid, cached response), instead Apache will disable Stapling for the time it gets errors from the OCSP server. That’s better than sending out errors, but it obviously makes using Must Staple a no go.
It gets even crazier. I have set this option, but this morning I still got complaints that Firefox users were seeing errors. That’s because in this case the OCSP server wasn’t sending out errors, it was completely unavailable. For that situation Apache has a feature that will fake a tryLater error to send out to the client. If you’re wondering how that makes any sense: It doesn’t. The “tryLater” error of OCSP isn’t useful at all in TLS, because you can’t try later during a handshake which only lasts seconds.
This is controlled by another option: SSLStaplingFakeTryLater. However if we read the documentation it says “Only effective if SSLStaplingReturnResponderErrors is also enabled.” So if we disabled SSLStapingReturnResponderErrors this shouldn’t matter, right? Well: The documentation is wrong.
There are more problems: Apache doesn’t get the OCSP responses on startup, it only fetches them during the handshake. This causes extra latency on the first connection and increases the risk of hitting a situation where you don’t have a valid OCSP response. Also cached OCSP responses don’t survive server restarts, they’re kept in an in-memory cache.
There’s currently no way to configure Apache to handle OCSP stapling in a reasonable way. Here’s the configuration I use, which will at least make sure that it won’t send out errors and cache the responses a bit longer than it does by default:
I’m less familiar with Nginx, but from what I hear it isn’t much better either. According to this blogpost it doesn’t fetch OCSP responses on startup and will send out the first TLS connections without stapling even if it’s enabled. Here’s a blog post that recommends to work around this by connecting to all configured hosts after the server has started.
To summarize: This is all a big mess. Both Apache and Nginx have OCSP Stapling implementations that are essentially broken. As long as you’re using either of those then enabling Must-Staple is a reliable way to shoot yourself in the foot and get into trouble. Don’t enable it if you plan to use Apache or Nginx.
Certificate revocation is broken. It has been broken since the invention of SSL and it’s still broken. OCSP Stapling and OCSP Must-Staple could fix it in theory. But that would require working and stable implementations in the most widely used server products.
Wednesday, April 19. 2017
A while ago I wanted to report a bug in one of Nextcloud's apps. They use the Github issue tracker, after creating a new issue I was welcomed with a long list of things they wanted to know about my installation. I filled the info to the best of my knowledge, until I was asked for this:
The content of config/config.php:
Which made me stop and wonder: The config file probably contains sensitive information like passwords. I quickly checked, and yes it does. It depends on the configuration of your Nextcloud installation, but in many cases the configuration contains variables for the database password (dbpassword), the smtp mail server password (mail_smtppassword) or both. Combined with other information from the config file (e. g. it also contains the smtp hostname) this could be very valuable information for an attacker.
A few lines later the bug reporting template has a warning (“Without the database password, passwordsalt and secret”), though this is incomplete, as it doesn't mention the smtp password. It also provides an alternative way of getting the content of the config file via the command line.
However... you know, this is the Internet. People don't read the fineprint. If you ask them to paste the content of their config file they might just do it.
User's passwords publicly accessible
The issues on github are all public and the URLs are of a very simple form and numbered (e. g. https://github.com/nextcloud/calendar/issues/[number]), so downloading all issues from a project is trivial. Thus with a quick check I could confirm that some users indeed posted real looking passwords to the bug tracker.
Nextcoud is a fork of Owncloud, so I checked that as well. The bug reporting template contained exactly the same words, probably Nextcloud just copied it over when they forked. So I reported the issue to both Owncloud and Nextcloud via their HackerOne bug bounty programs. That was in January.
I proposed that both projects should go through their past bug reports and remove everything that looks like a password or another sensitive value. I also said that I think asking for the content of the configuration file is inherently dangerous and should be avoided. To allow users to share configuration options in a safe way I proposed to offer an option similar to the command line tool (which may not be available or usable for all users) in the web interface.
The reaction wasn't overwhelming. Apart from confirming that both projects acknowledged the problem nothing happened for quite a while. During FOSDEM I reached out to members of both projects and discussed the issue in person. Shortly after that I announced that I intended to disclose this issue three months after the initial report.
Disclosure deadline was nearing with passwords still public
The deadline was nearing and I didn't receive any report on any actions being taken by Owncloud or Nextcloud. I sent out this tweet which received quite some attention (and I'm sorry that some people got worried about a vulnerability in Owncloud/Nextcloud itself, I got a couple of questions):
In all fairness to NextCloud, they had actually started scrubbing data from the existing bug reports, they just hadn't informed me. After the tweet Nextcloud gave me an update and Owncloud asked for a one week extension of the disclosure deadline which I agreed to.
The outcome by now isn't ideal. Both projects have scrubbed all obvious passwords from existing bug reports, although I still find values where it's not entirely clear whether they are replacement values or just very bad passwords (e. g. things like “123456”, but you might argue that people using such passwords have other problems).
Nextcloud has changed the wording of the bug reporting template. The new template still asks for the config file, but it mentions the safer command line option first and has the warning closer to the mentioning of the config. This is still far from ideal and I wouldn't be surprised if people continue pasting their passwords. However Nextcloud developers have indicated in the HackerOne discussion that they might pick up my idea of offering a GUI version to export a scrubbed config file. Owncloud has changed nothing yet.
If you have reported bugs to Owncloud or Nextcloud in the past and are unsure whether you may have pasted your password it's probably best to change it. Even if it's been removed now it may still be available within search engine caches or it might have already been recorded by an attacker.
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