Testing stateful web application workflows

SANS Institute accepted my GWAPT Gold Paper about testing stateful web application workflows, the paper is now published in the Reading Room.

The paper introduces the problem we’ve been facing more and more while testing complex web applications, and shows two working solutions. Burp Suite is known by most and used by many professionals in this field, so its GUI-based features are presented first. But as Burp is far from a one-size-fits-all perfect solution, an alternative is shown combining mitmproxy and commix – a dynamic duo that can not only detect but also exploit the issues. To make things easier to demonstrate (and possibly replicate and improve by readers), an intentionally vulnerable web application was developed that (unlike the aforementioned complex apps) requires minimal effort to deploy, lowering the bar for developing tools that can be used later in enterprise environment.

The full Gold Paper can be downloaded from the website of SANS Institute:

Testing stateful web application workflows

The accompanying code is available on GitHub.

Proxying nonstandard HTTPS traffic

Depending on the time spent in IT, most professionals have seen an instance of two where developers based their implementations on specific quirks and other non-standard behaviors, a well-known example is greylisting, another oft-used but less-known one is Wi-Fi band steering. In all these cases, the solution works within a range of implementations, which usually covers most client needs. However, just one step outside that range can result in lengthy investigations regarding how such a simple thing like sending an e-mail or joining a Wi-Fi network can go wrong.

During one of our application security assessments, we found an implementation which abused the way HTTP worked. The functionality required server push, but they probably decided to use HTTP anyway to get through corporate firewalls, and the application came from the age before WebSockets and HTTP2. So they came up with the idea of sending headers like the one below, then keeping the connection open, without sending any data.

HTTP/1.0 200 OK
Server: IDealRelay
Date: Wed, 16 Sep 2015 18:03:24 GMT
Content-length: 10000000
Connection: close
Content-type: text/plain

Googling the value of the Server header revealed mostly false positives, however as it turned out, there’s even a patent US 7734791 B2 with the title Asynchronous hypertext messaging that describes this behavior. Sending data to the server happened over separate HTTP channels, which themselves returned worthless responses, and the real response arrived in the first HTTP channel promising to deliver 10 megabytes in its Content-length header.

Some corporate proxies might have handled this well, however the Proxy module of Burp Suite just waited for the full 10 MB to arrive and just hung there, waiting for all eternity – and even if it managed to receive some data, its Scanner module couldn’t have handled the correlation between sending a payload in one request and getting response in another. In order to solve the problem, I decided to throw together a simple HTTPS proxy that doesn’t assume that much about the contents, just accepts CONNECT requests, performs a Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) attack and dumps the plaintext traffic into a file.

Multiple streams needed to be handled asynchronously, so I chose Erlang for its unique properties, and used built-in modules for everything except generating fake certificates for MITM. Since such certificates are cached, I chose to sign them using the command line version of OpenSSL for the sake of simplicity, so a whitelist is applied to the hostname to avoid command injection attacks – even though it’s supposed to be a tool used to debug “well behaving” applications, it never hurts to protect and setting good example. As an output format, PCAP was chosen as it’s simple (the PCAP writer itself is 32 lines of Erlang code) and widely supported by tools such as Wireshark.

The proxy logic fits into 124 lines of code, and waits for new TCP connections. By setting the socket into HTTP mode, the standard library does all the parsing for the CONNECT request. A standard response is sent, and from this point, the mode gets changed back to raw, and both the server and the client gets an SSL handshake from the proxy. Server certificates used for MITM are cached in an ETS (built-in high-performance in-memory database) table, shared between the lightweight thread-like Erlang processes, so certificates are signed only once per hostname, and the private key is the same for the CA and all the certificates.

After the handshake traffic is simply forwarded between the peers, and simultaneously written into the PCAP file. TCP/IP headers are added with the same port/address tuple as the original stream, while sequence/acknowledgement values are adjusted to reflect the plaintext content. This way, Wireshark doesn’t have any problems with reassembling the stream and can even detect and dissect known application protocols. Source code of the SSL proxy is available in our GitHub repository under MIT license, pull requests are welcome.

With the plaintext traffic in our hands, we managed to develop another tool to experiment with the service and as a result, we found several vulnerabilities, including critical ones. So the lesson to learn is that just because tools cannot intercept traffic out of the box, it doesn’t mean that the application is secure – existing tools are great for lots of purposes but one big difference between hackers and script kiddies is the ability of former to develop their own tools.

Finding the salt with SQL inception


Web application penetration testing is a well researched area with proven tools and methodologies. Still, new techniques and interesting scenarios come up all the time that create new challenges even after a hundred projects.

In this case study we start with a relatively simple blind SQL injection situation and show how this issue could be exploited in a way that made remote code execution possible. The post will also serve as a reference for using Duncan, our simple framework created to facilitate blind exploitation.

Continue reading Finding the salt with SQL inception

Virtual Bank Robbery – In Real Life


This week a Polish bank was breached through its online banking interface. According to the reports the attacker stole 250.000 USD and now uses the personal information of 80.000 customers to blackmail the bank. Allegedly the attacker exploited a remote code execution vulnerability in the online banking application to achieve all this.

We at Silent Signal performed penetration tests on numerous online banking applications, and can say that while these systems are far from flawless, RCE vulnerabilities are fairly rare. Accordingly, the majority of the in-the-wild incidents can be traced back to the client side, to compromised browsers or naive users.

But from time to time we find problems that could easily lead to incidents similar to the aforementioned Polish banks. In this case-study we’re describing a remote code execution vulnerability we discovered in an online banking application. The vulnerability is now fixed, the affected institution was not based in Poland (or our home country, Hungary).

The bug

The online bank testing account had access to an interface where users could upload various files (pictures, HTML files, Office documents, PDFs etc.). The upload interface checked the MIME type of the uploaded documents only (from the Content-Type header), but not the extension. The Content-Type header is user controlled, so uploading a public ASPX shell was an obvious way to go; but after the upload completed I got an error message that the uploaded file was not found and the message revealed the full path of the missing file on the servers filesystem. I was a bit confused because I could not reproduce this error with any other files I tried to upload. I thought it was possible that an antivirus was in place that removes the malicious document before the application could’ve handled it.
I uploaded a simple text file with the EICAR antivirus test string with .docx extension(so I could make sure that the extension wasn’t the problem) that verified this theory. The antivirus deleted the file before the application could parse it that resulted in an error message revealing the full path:

This directory was reachable from the web and the prefix of the file name was based on the current “tick count” of the system. The biggest problem was that the application removed the uploaded files after a short period of time because this was only a temporary directory. I could also only leak the names of deleted files but not the ones that remained on the system for a longer time. So exploitation required a bit more effort.

The Exploit

Before going into the details of the exploit, let’s see what “primitives” I had to work with:

  • I can upload a web shell (antivirus evasion is way too easy…)
  • I can leak the tick count by uploading an EICAR signature
  • I can access my web shell if I’m fast enough and know the tick count of the server at the moment the shell was uploaded

Unfortunately I can’t do these three things at the same time, so this is a kind of a race condition situation. According to the documentation “a single tick represents one hundred nanoseconds or one ten-millionth of a second” so guessing the tick count on a remote system through the Internet seems like a really though job. Luckily, I don’t always trust the documentation ;)

I built a simple test application that models the primitives described and implemented a simple time synchronization algorithm that I used before to predict time on remote servers with seconds precission. The algorithm works basically by making guesses and adjusting them based on the differentials to the actual reported server times.

While this algorithm wasn’t effective on the 100ns scale, the results were really interesting! I could observe that:

  1. Parallel requests result in identical tick counts with high probability
  2. The lower bits of the tick counts tend to represent the same few values

The reason for this is probably that the server processes are not truly parallel, just the OS scheduler makes you believe they are and that the resolution of the tick counter is imperfect. I also found out, that since the filenames are only dependent on the time my requests arrive to the application, the delays of the responses introduce avoidable uncertainty.

My final solution is based on grequests that is an awesome asynchronous HTTP library for Python. This allows me to issue requests very fast without having to wait for the answers in between. I’m using two parallel threads. The first uploads a number of web shells as fast as it can, while the other issues a number of requests with the EICAR string and then tries to access the web shells at constant offsets from the retrieved tick counts. The following chart shows the average hit rates (%) as the server side delays between the creation and deletion of the uploads changes:


And although a few percent doesn’t seem high, don’t forget that I had to only be lucky once! As you can see there is a limit for exploitability (with this setup) between 300 ms and 400 ms but as we later found out the uploads were transferred to a remote host, so the lifetime of the temporary files was above this limit turning the application exploitable.

The model application and the test exploit is available on GitHub.


In this case-study we demonstrated how a low impact information leak and a (seemingly) low exploitability file upload bug could be chained together to an attack that can result in significant financial and reputation loss.

For application developers we have the following advises:

  • If you’re in doubt, use cryptographicaly secure random number generators.
  • Never assume that your software will be deployed to an environment similar to your test machine. A conflicting component (like the antivirus in this case) can and will cause unexpected behavior.
  • File uploads are always fragile parts of web applications, OWASP has some good guidelines about securely handling them.

And for those who are responsible for online banks or similar systems here are some thought-provoking questions:

  • Do your development teams follow a security focused development methodology? Because a good methodology is the base of a quality product.
  • Do you perform regular, technical security tests on your financial applications? Because people make mistakes.
  • Do you fix the discovered vulnerabilities on your production systems in reasonable time? Because tests worth nothing if it takes forever to fix the findings.
  • Do you have an incident response plan? Because despite all effort, incidents will eventually happen.
  • Would you notice an incident? Because IR doesn’t get started by itself.
  • Could you determine what the exploited vulnerabilities were and which users exploited (or tried to exploit) them? Because an incident is an opportunity to learn.

Poisonous MD5 – Wolves Among the Sheep

MD5 is known to be broken for more than a decade now. Practical attacks have been shown since 2006, and public collision generator tools are also available since that time. The dangers of the developed collision attacks were demonstrated by academia and white-hat hackers too, but in case of the Flame malware we’ve also seen malicious parties exploiting the weaknesses in the wild.

And while most have already moved away from MD5, there is still a notable group that heavily uses this obsolete algorithm: security vendors. It seems that MD5 became the de-facto standard of fingerprinting malware samples and the industry doesn’t seem to be willing to move away from this practice. Our friend Zoltán Balázs collected a surprisingly long list of security vendors using MD5, including the biggest names of the field.

The list includes for example Kaspersky, the discoverer of Flame who just recently reminded us that MD5 is dead, but just a few weeks earlier released a report including  MD5 fingerprints only – ironically even the malware they analysed uses SHA-1 internally…

And in case you think that MD5 “good enough” for malware identification let’s take another example. The following picture shows the management console of a FireEye MAS – take a good look at the MD5 hases, the time delays and the status indicators:

fireeye_duplicateDownload sample files

As you can see, binaries submitted for analysis are identified by their MD5 sums and no sandboxed execution is recorded if there is a duplicate (thus the shorter time delay). This means that if I can create two files with the same MD5 sum – one that behaves in a malicious way while the other doesn’t – I can “poison” the database of the product so that it won’t even try to analyze the malicious sample!

After reading the post of Nat McHugh about creating colliding binaries I decided to create a proof-of-concept for this “attack”. Although Nat demonstrated the issue with ELF binaries, the concept is basically the same with Windows (PE) binaries that security products mostly target. The original example works by diverting the program execution flow based on the comparison of two string constants. The collision is achieved by adjusting these constants so that they match in one case, but not in the other.

My goal was to create two binaries with the same MD5 hash; one that executes arbitrary shellcode (wolf) and another that does something completely different (sheep). My implementation is based on the earlier work of Peter Selinger (the PHP script by Nat turned out to be unreliable across platforms…), with some useful additions:

  • A general template for shellcode hiding and execution;
  • RC4 encryption of the shellcode so that the real payload only appears in the memory of the wolf but not on the disk or in the memory of the sheep;
  • Simplified toolchain for Windows, making use of Marc Stevens fastcoll (Peter used a much slower attack, fastcoll reduces collision generation from hours to minutes);

The approach may work with traditional AV software too as many of these also use fingerprinting (not necessarily MD5) to avoid wasting resources on scanning the same files over and over (although the RC4 encryption results in VT 0/57 anyway…). It would be also interesting to see if “threat intelligence” feeds or reputation databases can be poisoned this way.

The code is available on GitHub. Please use it to test the security solutions in your reach and persuade vendors to implement up-to-date algorithms before compiling their next marketing APT report!

For the affected vendors: Stop using MD5 now! Even if you need MD5 as a common denominator, include stronger hashes in your reports, and don’t rely solely on MD5 for fingerprinting!

Testing Oracle Forms

SANS Institute accepted my GWAPT Gold Paper about testing Oracle Forms applications, the paper is now published in the Reading Room.

Forms is a typical example of proprietary technology that back in the day might have looked a good idea from business perspective but years later causes serious headaches on both the operational and security sides:

  • Forms uses naively implemented crypto with (effectively) 32-bit RC4
  • The key exchange is trivial to attack to achieve full key recovery
  • Bit-flipping is possible since no integrity checking is implemented
  • Database password set at server side is sent to all clients (you read that correctly)

And in case you’re wondering: applications based on Oracle Forms are still in use, thanks to vendor lock-in…

The full Gold Paper can be downloaded from the website of SANS Institute:

Automated Security Testing of Oracle Forms Applications

The accompanying code is available on GitHub.

CVE-2014-3440 – Symantec Critical System Protection Remote Code Execution

Today we release the details of CVE-2014-3440, a remote code execution vulnerability in Symantec Critical System Protection. You can get the detailed advisory on the following link:

CVE-2014-3440 – Symantec Critical System Protection Remote Code Execution

We reported the vulnerability with the help of Beyond Security, Symantec fixed the vulnerability on 19.01.2015. Although we didn’t manage to get a nice logo :) in this blog post we give some additional information regarding the issue. This is another example that just like any other software, security products can introduce new security risks to their environment too.

First of all, here’s a short video demonstrating our exploit in action:

The exploit consists of two parts: First we need to register ourselves as an Agent to the SCSP Server. In default installations Agents can be registered without any authentication or prior knowledge. Before the official Symantec advisory was available I asked some of my peers there if this step can be hardened/mitigated somehow, but they couldn’t present any method to do this. Even in case that Agent registration would be somehow restricted, the attack could be executed from a compromised host with an Agent installed.

During the registration we obtain a GUID that allows us to make use of the bulk log upload feature. This feature is affected by a path traversal issue that allows arbitrary file writes leading to RCE. The exploitation method is detailed in our advisory.

Regarding the official workarounds: I actually jiggled when read about placing the log directory to different physical drive, but quickly realized that this is not the first case that software exploitation is mitigated by hardware :) The workaround definitely would work and you only need a different logical partition (not a full physical drive) so the drive letters will be different.

Considering the Prevention policies let’s just say that I studied SCSP to measure the behavioral detection capabilities of different endpoint products, and wasn’t really impressed (by any of the tested products)…


While studying SCSP I stumbled upon another interesting thing, that I wouldn’t consider a vulnerability, more like a really strange design decision. In a nutshell, the SCSP management interface allows connecting to different servers and the server list can be edited without authentication. This way an attacker can replace the address of a legitimate server with her own and wait for administrators to log in:

And if you are wondering what that binary thing at the end is, here are some clues:

public byte[] encipherPassword(byte pwd[])
    return pwd;
public static void encode(byte data[])
    for(int i = 0; i < data.length; i++) data[i] ^= 0x5a;

The story of a pentester recruitment


Last year we decided to expand our pentest team, and we figured that offering a hands-on challenge would be a good filter for possible candidates, since we’ve accumulated quite a bit of experience from organizing wargames and CTF at various events. We provided an isolated network with three hosts and anyone could apply by submitting a name, and email address and a CV – we’ve sent VPN configuration packs to literally everyone who did so. These packs included the following message (the original was in Hungarian).

Your task is to perform a comprehensive (!) security assessment of the hosts within range

Typical tasks of a professional penetration tester include

  • asking relevant clarifying questions about new projects,
  • writing the technical part of business proposals,
  • comprehensive penetration testing,
  • report writing and presentation.

That is why we decided to test the candidates’ knowledge about the above subjects. The scope of the challenge consisted of 3 servers, report writing and presentation to the technical staff with a time limit of two weeks. Here is our solution:

Continue reading The story of a pentester recruitment

Code Review on the Cheap

At the 31. Chaos Communication Congress I had the pleasure to watch the presentation of Fabian Yamaguchi about the code analysis platform Joern. I’ve heard about this tool before at Hacktivity but this time I could have deeper view on the internals and the capabilities of the software that inspired me to clean up and release some piece of code I used for some years in code review projects.

My idea was quite similar to the one of Fabs: Recognize potentially vulnerable code patterns, and create a tool that is aware of the sytnax in order to look for the anomalies in the source efficiently. Yes, I could use regular expressions and grep, but  eventually I faced several problems like:

  • Ugly source code 
  • Keywords inside comments or strings
  • The complexity of the regex itself

Since I have to deal with several different languages I also had to come up with a solution that is easily applicable to new grammars. In the end I settled with a solution somehow between grep and Joern and implemented it in CROTCH (Code Review On The CHeap):

Instead of full-blown parsers CROTCH only uses lexers, which are readily available in all flavors in the Pygments Python package (intended to use for source code highlighting), providing support for almost every language one can think of. Other lexers can also be created very easily – although installing them requires some setuptools-fu. With these lexers we can tokenize the source code, splitting it to meaningful parts and assigning types (like scalar, string, comment, keyword, etc.) to them. This is of course far from having an AST for example, but allows us to start creating small, targeted “mini-parsers” which focus only to the relevant parts of the source.

These “mini-parsers” can be implemented through a general purpose state machine, usually in a few dozen lines of Python. The example provided on GitHub implements a state machine similar to the following to identify simple format string bugs without troubling with most of the grammar:


We successfully utilized this approach to find bugs in scale from enterprise Java applications to large PL/SQL projects, hope you’ll find CROTCH useful too! As always, issues, feature- and pull requests are welcome on our GitHub!